Archive for the ‘social networks’ Category

As a follow-on to last night’s work with social network application development,  today’s sections of my MIS class were devoted to walking the class through the systems development process for social network applications.  We talked about the textbook case from Experiencing MIS (2nd Ed.) to identify the case company’s business needs.  Then we investigated key terms around viral marketing and viral hooks. After introducing the concept of viral distribution, I asked the class to generate a list of things that make something (like a YouTube video) potentially viral.  Concepts like funny, scary, emotional, unique, easy-to-share, educational, and politically charged came up.

We then spent some time looking at examples online of viral marketing campaigns including the Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” and its derivatives, Burger King’s Subservient Chicken, Starburst’s Berries and Cream ad, the Embrace Life seat belt PSA as well as wing suit base jumpers.  After comparing and contrasting these, we talked about how good viral efforts need to do more than just “create buzz.” They also need to be able to support the organizations strategic goals (e.g., did Old Spice actually make money?).

To help students understand what social networking applications are for, we looked into the Facebook Application Directory and looked at friend quizzes, Trip Advisor’s map sharing application, and a variety of Facebook games including Farmville, Frontierville, and Social City.  I talked about the business model for these types of applications and discussed some of the ideas in my two previous posts.  Afterward, I assigned the students to take 5-10 minutes to browse applications on Facebook to get ideas for how MRV (the textbook case company) might use the functionality available through social networking platforms and to list some possible applications that could be inspirational for an MRV, “Let’s go rafting” application.

As I went around the classroom, I joked it was difficult to tell whether the students were on task or simply playing games and watching videos.  We got some useful examples and the exercise led to an interesting (but too short) discussion about different options for such an application. Across both sections some of the ideas included, using a Facebook Page instead of an application to focus on community development among existing and potential customers, using a rafting game to generate experience points that can be converted to discounts or promotional items, using an application as a travelogue tool to track where people have been and to share photos, videos, and narratives of the experience, and creating an application to identify interest in potential rafting sites and to plan future expeditions.

Overall, I think today’s exercise was worthwhile. I wanted my students to understand how fuzzy and complicated systems definition and requirements analysis can be. My biggest challenge today, I think, was estimating how much time everything was going to take. We could easily spend a full week on an exercise like this.  So today’s activity didn’t feel completed, but we have to move on next week.  Hopefully over time, I’ll get a better feeling for how much can be accomplished in a single class period.

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Social Networking provider Facebook has definitely garnered attention with its recent media announcement. Bloggers such as Paul Allen are predicting the day when Facebook will be the largest social network in the world. The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on how members of Barack Obama’s campaign are using Facebook to raise funds and coordinate activities among supporters. Social networks, such as Facebook certainly have tremendous potential for providing platforms to facilitate coordination, communication, and other forms of collective activity, but if we’re really going to leverage collective activity, I think we need to look beyond the social network platform provider paradigm.

I believe the greatest collaborative technologies are the most transparent. Technologies like the telephone systems (landline, cellular, VOIP, etc.), radio, and e-mail are killer applications for collaboration, because they are largely transparent to the user. Furthermore, these are technologies that can sustain themselves without large inversions of ad revenue. I recognize that millions of people rely on hosted email that is funded by ad revenue, and that centralized Internet services such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. will likely have a hay day of prosperity in the coming years. But beyond that horizon, I believe that social networks will evolve along the same path the telephone networks did–from a collection of closed networks of subscribers to a specific provider to an interconnected network based on standard protocols. Instant messaging applications are gradually moving in that direction.

I’m picturing a future of collaboration with cellphone / handheld computing devices playing a more central role. I’m thinking about billions of people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America who do not have the luxury of spending hours at work streaming videos and clicking on targeted ads through their employer’s broadband connection. I’m thinking of power-crunched and war-torn economies trying to utilize network technology despite intermittent access to Internet Service Providers. I think mobile ad hoc networking will play a prominent role among collaborators in both devleoped and developing nations. And hopefully, in such an environment, interaction will surpass broadcasting as the favored mode of online communication. In such an environment, I can imagine viral networking taking on a new meaning. What if each person in the world had an addressed electronic device with wireless connectivity that served as a router on the Internet? Individual social networks would function as address lookup tables to route messages from one individual to another. Such a network would be more redundant than the backbone & hub modeled Internet we currently rely on, but it would also be more capable of self-healing. In such a day, I think Cisco would finally have a legitimate reason to rename the Internet into the Human Network.  

 I’m not suggesting the demise of the fantastic broadband capabilities enabled by miles of fiber-optic cable, sattelite connectivity, etc. I think ad-hoc peer-to-peer networks will complement such infrastructure in ways we can’t currently imagine. But with such emerging, disruptive technologies, I can envision a day when social networking will not be carried out in these online gated communities. 

As an information systems scholar, I think it’s important to understand the phenomena associated with social networking communities. We will likely spend years analyzing social capital, migration among online communities, and technology infrastructures and revenue models for hosted services like Google Apps and Facebook. But I believe the best technologies have a way of becoming transparent over time, and that as information sytems scholars, we are not just trying to understand individual interaction with information stored on a dispassionate hard drive. We are trying to support collaboration through human-to-human interaction mediated by technology.

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