This week’s readings all discuss the concept of a website having/being a community for users and a way for them to dialogue. While I agree that this is an important feature for websites I wondered about the practical application for museums, archives, and public history sites. The examples Shirky gave in his book were hit-or-miss in their success and all were started from the ground up. But what about a site that already exists and wants to incorporate a user community within its organizational framework? History sites are attached to institutions, and as of right now there isn’t any getting around that, so how do they compensate for it? And once they do find a way to create a community, how do they attract an audience and sustain them? Shirky says that there is no magical one tool that can be applied to every situation, but are there any successful examples of history websites that can be used as an example for other sites?
I’m considering the negative effects of freedom that have been made possible through easier modes of forming groups online. I was disheartened by Shirky’s story of the pro-ana group of teenagers on the YM forums and the other groups he mentions, who label themselves as “self-help” but are in truth quite the opposite. Shirky uses their story to illustrate one of the three losses that result from increased group formation — the ability to police groups (the first two losses being “amateurization” and social bargains). There are many groups that can now form which would be considered harmful, if not very dangerous. Shirky also briefly mentions crime networks and local terrorist organizations within this category. I also think of several school shootings, before which the shooter(s) have discussed his/their ideas in online communities.
In response to this third loss, which he believes is the most troubling, Shirky states that “the problem now becomes actively deciding which groups to support and which groups to oppose” (pp. 209-211). This seems to intimate that there will have to be some type of organized body given the specific task to police (or watch) these groups. Is there any plausible solution to that problem? Should the host website that’s providing this platform have the right to censor/shut down these communities? How can they define what is “harmful”? It’s an interesting moral dilemma…
(Ah! Sorry Meredith, just realized we posted similar Qs within a short time of each other…)
In a broad response to the readings and Anderson’s Smithsonian webcast, I’m wondering how much of the community, organizing, learning that’s taking place online and via digital tools is new and how much is just a different ways of doing things that people have always done. How much has Facebook, for example, fundamentally changed the social experience? Or, to what extent is Facebook just a reflection of the fact that people have always had a small group of close friends and a lot more not-so-close friends that we sort-of keep track of?
I felt similarly about Rosenzweig’s article and his evaluation of Wikipedia– yes, Wikipedia is completely unlike any source of information that has ever existed before but, on the other hand, it’s still an encyclopedia, sometimes a shotty encyclopedia at that, and no encyclopedia should be cited in a term paper. That part really isn’t new and the pressure is still on us – the individual, the scholar, whoever – to evaluate the things we read, hear, and see.
How much of the digital age is about a fundamental change in society? How much of it is about the speed and degree to which old relationships and communities are taking place via new media? Does the latter create the former?
When Shirky discusses the “Pro-ana” websites and their “self help” characteristics he notes that these types of sites are a product of the ability to gather easily on the internet in the first place. He states, “The gathering of pro-ana girls isn’t a side effect of our social tools; it’s an effect of those tools.” 207
He ends this same chapter by noting that self help groups are founded on the criteria of affirmation and support of group members (which is what he suggests is exactly what pro-anorexic sites do).
Using this example, what kinds of social responsibility do people have to combat groups like this? If groups which are unhealthy simply move to another site, (i.e. Seventeen taking down their comment board once pro-anorexic young women began using it as a meet up point) what other actions can and should we do as communities whose daughters/sisters/friends might be participating in these communities?
Secondly, I’m really interested in Shirky’s point that the internet opens the opportunity to be creative because the “cost of failure” is so low. I’m wondering what people think about this point in conjunction with our own projects. Since we jumped right into using free software and were given a very open ended opportunity to “Build an online archive and exhibit of primary sources” what are some of the advantages and disadvantages we have faced with the “try it and then if it doesn’t work try something else” approach to digital projects? Although I like Shirky’s idea on pg 249 that “In a world were anyone can try anything, even risky stuff can be tried eventually. If a large enough population of users is trying things, then the happy accidents have a much higher chance of being discovered,” I have to wonder… What about planning? What about proposals? What about thinking things through before jumping in head first?
Clay Shirky discussed the amateurization of professions such as journalists, photographers, and publishers that were previously defined by the community, the work, and also the scarcity of professionals in that field. Now that everyone can essentially write, photograph, and publish their materials online – breaking down the idea of who constitutes a professional. Is this something that is or will happen to historians?
While Chris Anderson’s discussion of the “long tail” in the context of the Smithsonian had some interesting and relevant points (for example that only 1% of museum artifacts are on display at any one time), his lack of expertise in the museum world also seemed very apparent. While there may not be enough curators to perfectly identify each object, his “good enough” solution is not the way to go, especially when you’re dealing with an institution that often deals with and employs select “authorities” in various fields. Should we really hire curators (per his suggestion) that claim to be the expert in a certain area, trust them around priceless artifacts, take away time from someone’s schedule to monitor their progress, and then trust the information they produce? It seems that he is taking a “quantity” approach (which adds to the information abundance of our period) rather than a “quality” approach. Is this diminished authority in favor of object abundance really the best solution for the Smithsonian?
Last semester for Local and Community History we read “Here Comes Everybody” and discussed the ways in which the internet and web sites either foster or actually create community. I am curious to see in this class, especially after creating our own web sites, whether or not we see our sites as community or as facilitating in community. Not to regurgitate what we discussed last semester, but I still feel the same way, Shirky’s book is to me what my experience is every time I go to the ITP floor at Tisch: you walk in and you are amazed and you think to yourself “this is sooo cool!” You see a wooden mirror that “reflects” when you walk in front of it and a projected image of a sleeping guy that is meant to be a “virtual boyfriend.” But, as you continue to wander around you realize that the majority of this stuff is completely worthless and not at all democratized. Just as not everybody can get into or afford ITP, not everybody has access to the internet and to computers. Having access to technology gives you an ability that others, most often of a lower socieo-economic strata, don’t have, as we saw in the case of the stolen cell phone.
1. In thinking about the readings this week and our discussion a few weeks ago about born digital objects we hope are preserved, how do we resolve the collaboration, empowerment, and interactivity promised by new media with its corporate backing? And what do we make of the surveillance made possible by Web 2.0 technologies? As our Facebook profiles are used for market research and our gmail accounts searched to determine ad placements, to what degree are we really empowered through the use of these technologies?
2. While Clay Shirky predicts the end of publishing as an industry and profession, he has nonetheless chosen to publish a book, of which he is the single author to convey his message. I just wanted to point out the lack of collaboration in his own work and its existence as a print artifact. Perhaps Shirky found working with editors through multiple review passes and Penguin’s established distribution network helpful? Perhaps the book publishing industry has something even more valuable to offer in a world of instant publishing, commentary, and gratification?
One of the concepts I found most compelling in this week’s readings is the idea, expressed by Clay Shirky in both his book “Here Comes Everybody” and his Smithsonian webcast, that failure now comes at a lower price than ever before. With the rise of the Internet and, more recently, the proliferation of user-friendly programs and software which non-computer-programmers can handle and even master with ease, publishing one’s work in a digital environment becomes a matter of “publish, then filter” rather than the traditional reverse.
I couldn’t help but think about our own projects while reading and listening to his ideas. I’m sure we are all proud of our research and our work and are eager to demonstrate what we know to the public. Before the internet (or, really, before web-designing software made it easy for beginners to make their own sites) how many of us could have published what we’re currently working on? Would a book publisher have risked money and reputation printing the work of a student with few credentials and no previous publishing experience? And yet, here we are about to make our work public with no risk or financial loss.
It is this notion that binds this week’s readings together. If more risk were involved with this type of production, Nina Simon’s belief in museum interactivity (with guidelines as she proposes) would be nearly impossible to carry out. It would just be too financially risky an endeavor to offer museum visitors the chance to shape the exhibits themselves, rather than remaining passive visitors but ones who pose no potential loss to the museum. The same is true for Wikipedia. If the cost of digital production was not so low and the notion of “publish, then filter” did not exist for things created digitally, then a digital encyclopedia relying on contributions from amateurs and non-scholars would be too great a risk to attempt (although as Roy Rosenzweig points out, Wikipedia critics might argue that the risk involved in Wikipedia’s case is not as much financial as it is a loss in true education and knowledge).
I am not that social with technologies. Just the other day I was talk to my co-workers and some of my friends and found out that myspace is no longer popular. Myspace is use for sharing of music only now by my friends. Everyone is using facebook. I am on facebook, but not on myspace. Just last year I was told your only on facebook, you need to be on myspace. Turns out everyone has which to facebook. I find it interesting at how fast things come into favor and leave with social networks. As an organization I think it is important to remember that social networks come and go. So don’t put all organization eggs in one basket and be prepared to which. Agree, disagree?