Participation and Collaboration within Networks

Howard Rheingold‘s Net Smart gets more and more interesting, as the chapters that follow deal with participatory culture and the intentions of forming and being part of online communities. Different kinds of networks are developed and the motivation of their members can vary:

  • express ideas and opinions about specific topics
  • socialize and get to know other members of the group
  • consult and narrate own experience about a problem or issue
  • organize information and manage knowledge
  • educate and provide resources on multiple scientific fields
  • grow collective intelligence using creative communication

Participatory culture relies on the internal individual skills and strategies of people that consist a community. There are several ideas about the social-digital know-how:

In the first place, the successful use of the medium would be the appropriate adjustment and coordination of the network one follows and on the other hand, a strategy to maintain and then boost the interest of the audience (own followers), making posts that capture their attention and grow their appetite.

Some of the reasons that lead netizens to be part of virtual communities could be:

  • reputation: Often related to interest-driven groups or “followers’ recruiters”.
  • altruism: The power of social capital brings together volunteers and sensitive groups in need.
  • curiosity: We all have questions and answers. Let’s search and share!
  • learning: Students, scientists and researchers explore and wonder forming intellectual networks.

The transformation of mass collaboration, according to Howard Rheingold derives from the new trends and behaviors that define the digital era:

  • The way people use the internet
  • The way we search information and end up with the results
  • The way knowledge is aggregated and distributed
  • The way science is conducted
  • The way software is created
  • The way computing power is harnessed for research
  • The way people are entertained
  • The way problems are solved
  • The way news is gathered
  • The way disaster relief is delivered
  • The way communities are formed
  • The way commercial products are designed and tested

Unicorns took blood and flesh!

Talking about trends, unicorns is the recent trend that has been viral due to social media. It has been a thing since the 80s and 90s, but the contemporary mania of like and share in digital culture made the unicorn symbol powerful. Google searches for unicorn pool floats spiked and that’s how the unicorn market has made such a major business success once launched!

According to Jess Weiner, brand strategist and CEO of Talk To Jess (she’s the one who helped give Barbie a more realistic, body positive makeover), “women are in need of fantastical magic in their lives right now, because we’re surrounded by culture and politics that are very bleak and dark and oppressive,” she says. “Unicorns are rare, they’re powerful, and they’re imaginary, so they’re capable of anything. And they do have a certain girly undertone because many of us associate them with our childhood, so they’re unapologetically feminine. Why wouldn’t we own something that’s just for us and inspires us to believe in our otherworldly capabilities? We’re being faced with some dire messaging around being female. Unicorns are our chance to escape and have some fun.”

Hannah Dick, a professor in media, culture, and communication at New York University, says the popularity of unicorn food and beauty photos makes sense when you look at the way we currently consume social media. “Our social media profiles are shaped around visual culture,” she says. “Instagram and Snapchat are now more popular than text-based social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, so it’s not surprising that rainbows, unicorns, and highly saturated multicolored representations have taken over the visual field.”

Mass collaboration towards collective intelligence

Collaboration can enhance collective intelligence by empowering attention, the ability to look where another person is pointing. Therefore, humans become supercooperators and can overcome social dilemmas. After all, new media turn into a new kind of institutions forming new rules that associate to a reciprocating collaboration.

Let’s take Twitter as an example; my curiosity and personal interest about Twitter led me reading a significant collection of work, found in the book “Twitter and Society”. This platform had been often considered as a source of “pointless babble”, nevertheless, Twitter is studied not only as an emergency communication channel in times of disasters and other major events, but also as a data set, from which researchers have made collections and used hashtags, tweets and re-tweets for textual analysis. Furthermore, Twitter is quite useful for learning in massive communities, due to the fact that microblogging can help make learning more engaging and interactive, especially in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). When it comes to participation and collaboration, Twitter is a powerful medium that can be used in learning sessions, academic conferences, documentation, face-to-face interaction and forming connections within professional and academic networks. Unfortunately, I am not familiar yet with Twitter, but I hope I can make the best out of it through our “Networked Transformations” class!

How can I become network aware?

To be honest, I struggle “surviving” in this new era of digital connectivity 🙁

What has changed? What am I doing wrong?

Rheingold highlights that the structural dynamics of networks influence how people relate via social networks, as the electronic extensions of human social networks. Thus, social groups discuss and debate around specific interests, trying to catch the attention of “the internet watchers”.

In his book The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser includes a chapter “The user is the content” where he exposed his ideas about the personalized filters that give the idea of prioritizing information through preferences, ending up that all that matters is to give to people what they want!

“But the rise of the filter bubble doesn’t just affect how we process news. It can also affect how we think.”

Personally, I feel that we live in a transition era; I don’t feel quite confident yet to participate in chaotic networks that are disguised through extensional, mimic structures and be part of interest-driven communities, at a moment when:

  1. there are not clear policies on the social perspectives of digital citizens
  2. both privacy and surveillance remain legal issues that limit our creative expression
  3. everything we do online is used to improve our experience as users

What if I wait till the work is done and when the services provided will be ready to use as the ultimate experience, I can make my mind about this one.

In the meantime, I can observe and do my own research 🙂 I am just wondering…


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