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Higher Education

Chapter 5: Social Networks and Participatory Culture

Most people are familiar with the top social networking sites, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, but you might not be familiar with some of the smaller ones. Wikipedia maintains a list of social networking sites.

That Wikipedia list itself is a good example of crowdsourced knowledge, one of the topics discussed in detail in the chapter.

Barry Wellman of the University of Toronto is one of Canada’s leading thinkers on social networks. His personal web page has many links to valuable resources.

Online social networks are used by a broad range of activists, and you can read more about the use of social networks for activism in Beth Kanter’s blog, subtitled “How Networked Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change.”

Cyberbullying has been in the news a lot recently, and it makes an excellent search term in a news site or just in Google. The challenge with things like this, that have a high degree of popularity, is that you have a deluge of information, and much of it is unreliable. When this happens, a Google Scholar search for “cyberbullying” can be your friend.

Social network analysis predates most of the popular online social networks, as it was a technique used to investigate older paper-based and face-to-face networks. Wikipedia maintains a good page on the topic, and there are tons of scholarly articles on Google Scholar, but you might also be interested in an actual online course on the topic. It is free and a good example of a growing number of online resources that are not structured like a book or a magazine (as many web sites are), nor are they interactive or conversational and casual in the sense that Facebook or Twitter are. Rather, they are structured just like a university course. From the Khan Academy to Harvard and MIT courses, online courses are a growing option for people interested in a topic is just to take a course.

Actor network theory, notoriously hard to explain, is captured simply and eloquently in this short video. I found that video by choosing the “actor network theory for dummies” suggestion that Google provided, when I started typing “actor network theory” in the search box. Adding “for dummies” to the name of a theory might seem demeaning, and it isn’t necessarily going to result in a good answer, but sometimes it provides just the right introduction when you are just getting started on a topic. You can also often find “distillations” of theories, provided by graduate students and professors in the field. Here is an example from York University.

If you need some help understanding Yochai Benkler’s work on open source economies, you could view his TED Talk, and you could also look at his home page. Fittingly, since he uses Wikipedia as an example of social production, there is a significant page on the site dedicated to the topic.

Much of Benkler’s writings on social production, or Clay Shirky’s on cognitive surplus (see his web page or his Twitter feed) are fundamentally optimistic about the impact of technology and networks. Not everyone is so sure. Critics such as Nicholas Carr show another side. Carr has written a number of books, maintains a blog and is a frequent magazine contributor who tries to show the more challenging aspects of our connection to technology.

New media, and especially mobile and Internet technologies, have been identified as potential change agents for greater participation in government and changes to democracy. Numerous organizations, like the Association for Progressive Communication work toward a more progressive Internet and more progressive society through the use of Internet technologies. Canadian charity PeaceGeeks pursues a similar mandate with a focus on peace and human rights. You might also want to read this article from the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), entitled “Can ICT change how democracies function?”

Henry Jenkins’ influential writing on the role of fans, including his book on media convergence, participatory culture, and collective intelligence, Convergence Culture, can be found at his personal web site. You can also hear Henry deliver a lecture using converged media, on this YouTube video.

Lawrence Lessig, too, has excellent videos online in which he gives compelling talks complete with great music and PowerPoint presentations. For example, you may want to watch this TED Talk. Lessig is also active on Twitter and Tumblr. While Lessig has largely shifted his attention from copyright issues to US government corruption, his earlier writings are still broadly available and his use of social media and the Internet for his current interest remains instructive.

In the section on blogging, we mention the Pew Internet Report. It maintains a major Internet presence.