Online and Overseas

July 8, 2008

For next week’s class, I want you all to go to Global Voices Online, which rounds out the bloggers around the world, and pick a country that begins with the same letter as your name (to get the country listing click on countries in the upper right-hand corner). Explore that country’s blogosphere and write your blog post of the week about your findings.


Your Final Project

July 6, 2008

For your final project, as we discussed in class, my hope is that you will be able to apply the lessons learned in class to your own professional lives and careers.

As such you will prepare a project plan to incorporate social media/Web 2.0 techniques into your current workplace or towards a cause on which you work or care about. The final project must include no fewer than five different “Web 2.0″ platforms, including but not limited to social networking, blogging, gaming, Google ad campaigns, podcasts, vlogs, online viral videos, wikis, Wikipedia, and anything else you’ve stumbled across that interests you.

The ideas need not be budget-constrained (i.e. even though games or Facebook widgets can be incredibly expensive to build, you may include them). For each idea, you must outline and include the following characteristics: (1) the tool’s purpose; (2) the intended audience; (3) the social component; and (4) how it fits into your larger strategy.

For instance, if you’re building a game, who would you want to play the game, what would the game play be like, and what’s the game’s intended message? If you’re building a Facebook widget, what would it do, what’s the social component that would make people put it onto their Facebook pages, and how does it advance the your workplace or cause, and/or educate people as to your position? If you’re building a Google Adwords campaign, who would you hope to draw into your website, what search terms would the campaign be built around, and what’s the hook/language you’d use to get people to click on your ad?

You must also justify your choices—for instance, why would a social networking site make sense for your intended group? Why would you choose a video podcast instead of an audio podcast? Why would you choose Vimeo as your videosharing site instead of YouTube? Why create a wiki instead of a blog?

If you’re using something like a blog, you must think about and answer  these questions along these lines: Who will write on it? What’s the voice? How often are you looking to post? Would you include comments? Why or why not?  Will the blog require extra staff? What’s your goal for the blog?

All of these justifications and arguments and choices are your opportunity to demonstrate to me what you have picked up out of this class. You must cite readings, statistics, and case studies from class to get a top grade. There’s a big difference between not being budget-constrained and making smart choices. We’ve certainly looked at many examples in class of companies and organizations that haven’t done social media well – and how that is more dangerous than not doing it at all. This memo is your chance to think through all of these concerns and trade-offs and make smart choices that demonstrate your understanding of how social media works in today’s world.

You must also include a survey of the existing Web 2.0 landscape for your project. This will count as the social media project from the syllabus. In it you must answer the following questions at a minimum: Who are your online competitors? Your online friends/allies/potential partners? What are the leading authorities on your topic online? If you choose a cause, what are opponents doing? What’s going on around the world on your topic/cause? What lessons can you draw into your own projects from the successes or failures of allies/competitors?

For the competitive surveys, I’m going to be looking for at least 15 social media sites spread across at least three of the four following areas: Blogs/Microblogging, Wikis, Social Networking (including both sites and groups), and general social media (Vlogs/Podcasts/Citizen Journalism/Audio/Video). If you have picked a subject that doesn’t get you 15 sites in three areas, you need to change your definition or pick a new topic.

Write up a brief description of each site, classify it, the URL, any traffic details or size numbers you can track down, as well as some analysis of the level of engagement.  Give specifics—don’t just tell me that Facebook or MySpace are the most popular social networking sites on the Internet, figure out how much activity there is in the profiles you were examining, your groups, or fan pages. Remember the concept of the long tail! Don’t forget some of the resources we’ve used like TruthLaidBear and Quantcast. Here’s an example entry for a Facebook group that I belong to:

Site: Vermont State Society Facebook Group
URL: http://harvard.facebook.com/group.php?gid=8156815255
Type: Social Networking Site
Traffic:  22 members in group; Facebook ranks 15th on the web according to Quantcast
Description: This largely inactive group suppo Arts Vermonters in Washington and members post job listings and news stories of interest to it. It is an open group which anyone can join with a single administrator. No one other than the administrator has posted to it.

Your plan, complete with competitive survey, should be written in the form of a memo to your boss (in this case, me), outlining your argument for engaging in social media at all, each tool you’ve chosen and why you’ve chosen it, the potential applications, and your goals for growth. While there is no set page length, I would be very surprised if you could accomplish all of the above in fewer than eight pages with normal spacing and font sizes.

Your final project plan must be ready for class on July 28th.

As the syllabus says, your final project is worth thirty points (the 20 points of the project plus 10 of the social media report), i.e. thirty percent of your final grade. The grading will be divided into the following:

Competitive Survey: This section will be worth ten points (or two points for each three sites you survey). I will look at the applicability of those sites to your larger project as well as the research you’ve done to examine who your competitors/allies are in this particular field.

Project Outline: Twenty points; ten points of the grade will examine your overall thinking and justification, your citations and case studies, statistics, and arguments for engaging in social media. The other ten points of the grade will focus on the specific tools you’ve chosen, how you’ve justified them, how you’ve thought through the challenges (i.e. staffing, comments, etc.) and how they fit into the larger strategy. You will the be graded on how realistically your plan is outlined, how fully you demonstrate comprehension of the Web 2.0 landscape and its various tools, and how clearly you establish your goals and objectives. I want to specifically emphasize the first and third criteria, because those can get lost in the rush of fun tools.

Any project plans not turned in on July 28th will be docked five points (half-a-letter grade). Any project plans turned in by August 1st will be docked ten points (one letter grade). Projects will not be accepted after August 1st and, if you have not turned in your project by Friday the 1st, you will not be able to pass the class. This is a real world scenario and, in actual project pitches, late pitches aren’t accepted.

Please email me if you have questions. We will also discuss this more in class. Make sure to put some good thought into how you approach this. This is your chance to really wow me with how much you’ve learned.


Wikipedia and Truthiness

June 18, 2008

With the Wikipedia class, we’re going to delve into the world of what Stephen Colbert calls “Truthiness.”

As your first journey into Truthiness and the challenges of the web, take a look at the documentary “Loose Change,” which was put together online to highlight the U.S. government’s role in the 9/11 attacks. On YouTube, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to view “Loose Change”—and, if you take the time to watch it, it makes a pretty convincing case that we don’t know the full truth about the 9/11 attacks. All told, across its various postings and versions, more than ten million people have watched the video. The challenge, of course, is that at best the documentary aspires to “truthiness,” that is it’s hard for a lay viewer to judge its actual level of factual interaction. Places like Popular Mechanics have tried to debunk the theories. One student last semested pointed out to me in class a parody of “Loose Change” called “Unfastened Coins.”

It’s easy to dismiss endeavors like “Loose Change” (or is it?), but the journey into Wikipedia is much more complicated. Here’s some background reading and viewing on Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia. Its founder, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, has turned into one of the web’s big celebs. He’s a big proponent of collaboration and “crowd-sourcing.” The project, though, despite becoming the default research tool for most college students and lazy journalists/researchers is very controversial for its “truthiness.” It’s very hard to know what exactly you can and can’t trust on Wikipedia. Newsman John Seigenthaler got very burned by a libelous write-up, and not surprisingly Encyclopedia Britannica thinks the project is the devil incarnate. On the other hand, a Nature study found that the two are about equal in accuracy. Of course, the beauty/challenge of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it, as Colbert likes to demonstrate by raising the subject of “Wikiality” on subjects like elephants.

If you want a few other examples of wikis and how they’re used, check out the DisInfopedia and these useful resources on what wikis are and how to use them to collaborate. The articles also include some useful tips on how you might apply wikis to the work that you’re doing.

This is the week that I want you to be most wary of what we’re learning. Ask hard questions about wikis and Wikipedia—we’re going to talk in class about your mini-project, which will include contributing to a Wikipedia entry and preparing a research report on using a program that allows you to track who’s been editing a particular entry. Your blog entry should focus on the following two questions: Should we trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

In class, I’ll walk you through some Wikipedia pages, help you set up accounts, and explain WikiScanner.

For your reading for the week, tackle the following in “Here Comes Everybody”: Pages 1 – 54, 109 – 304. It’s a good book and a fast read so I hope you enjoy it.

REMINDER: Make sure next week to check my Twitter feed for a note that I’ll make it back to Washington in time for class.


Hello class!

May 19, 2008

Welcome to Georgetown’s Summer 2008 social media class, MPPR 850-60. Stay tuned here for lots more information over the course of the semester.