Friday, May 30, 2008

Street Cred

The UC Santa Barbara Social Computing Workshop convened today for a wide ranging discussion about technologies that "can be defined as the deployment of network communication systems for the purpose of allowing communities of people to interact within particular domains of knowledge for one or more goals." Led by digital pioneer Alan Liu, who launched the Voice of the Shuttle, the sessions of the day were intended to get beyond merely defending traditional academic gate-keeping and aspired to more creative brainstorming activities that looked toward the future as well as back to the past.

Credibility was perhaps the most obvious theme for many of the attendees. Several of the suggested readings designed to foster discussion related to UCSB's MacArthur-funded project about Credibility Online, which is headed up by Miriam Metzger and Andrew Flanigan, who contributed a lot to the discussion. During sessions, Metzger talked about how we "manage mulitple bounded identities," the problems with umbrella terms like "credibility" and "social computing," and the importance of being able to "visualize disagreement."

Pre-workshop suggested readings had included "The Hidden Order of Wikipedia," "Digital Media and Youth: Unparalleled Opportunity and Unprecedented Responsibility," "The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority," and a range of other articles and links. My only criticism of these reference points might be that too often they emphasized receptive rather than productive literacy. From my own anecdotal experiences I might suggest that assessing credibility and content-creation are often related activities and that initiatives for information literacy and distributed digital media production should not be separated in ways that they often are. In connection with this concern, Kathy Im of the MacArthur Foundation pointed me to the work of the University of Michigan's Soo Rieh, who is testing the hypothesis that forms of Internet participation and judgment may be related.

The other big agenda item involved constructive criticism of the campus's IGERT Proposal for a Social Computing Research Training program. Many attendees at the conference cautioned that this kind of interdisciplinary research program can fall prey to excessive rationalism and formalism, especially if the orientation of the inquiry focuses exclusively on online behaviors that are obviously purposive. For example, some called for inclusion of emotional considerations, meme-sharing, and the formation of collective identities on the principle that "expressive" practices should not be relegated to "entertainment." They also urged incorporation of the study of virtual worlds, ubiquitous computing, and games in the proposal, since social computing is already much more than use of the World Wide Web. Audience members also noted the disiciplinary absences of philosophy and ethnography in the current draft of the project.

(More photos of the social computing group being social are here.)

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