Teaching “Social Media”: Open for Suggestions!

The Naaman and Boase team are about to teach, for the first time ever (for us and at Rutgers), a “social media” class (informal announcement and silly photo here, Facebook group with some more information here). We are pretty excited about this opportunity (if I may speak for Jeff here) – I am looking forward for a very interesting semester.

But in the open teaching tradition I started last January, I am going to ask the one dear reader of this blog (it’s not Ayman, he just writes it) for input. What do you think a social media class should include? Try to think about it for a minute before looking at our tentative plan for the class, below. What did you hit that we didn’t?

Of course, two questions are immediately raised: 1) what is social media and 2) what is the target audience for the class. Let me start with the second, which is easier to answer. We target PhD and Masters students in various programs including Computer Science, Information Science and Communication (we even have a business school student registered). Letting both PhD and Masters students take the class means we need to balance theory/research and practical learnings that the Masters students can take with them to the workplace. Also, the interdisciplinary approach and audience means we will handle material from the social sciences, HCI and design, as well as computer science and information science topics.  One last thing to know: the students will form interdisciplinary teams to create/design a social media application (e.g. a Facebook app).

So, what is social media? Well, as you can see below it is the topic of the first session, so I am not going to give the full story here. In short, we see social media in a new (an emerging) Information and Communication Technology (ICT) that allows people to communicate in a public or semi-public manner, with emphasis on the personal identity of contributors and social connections. I will keep it short here so just a few positive and negative examples: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, MySpace are social media. Wikipedia, comments on New York Times articles, Instant Messenger and Newsgroups are NOT social media. Let’s argue about that definition later…

So, what would you teach that’s important to understand this emerging ICT? What are the key readings that are not to be missed? Here’s what we have for now, without the readings. Feel free to suggest your favorite reading on each topic, as well!

  • What is Social Media: introduction, definition and examples.
  • Communities and social networks: Concept of communities, offline and online, how this concept is shifting; what are social networks (i.e. ties between people) and what to they enable.
  • Social network models and structure: online social networks, analysis of social networks, structure of networks, ego-centric network view, etc.
  • Open Platforms: “Web 2.0”, “the Web of data“, APIs – some idea of what can be built on top of existing social media applications.
  • HCI and Design: introduction to the design process with emphasis on Web and social applications.
  • Motivation and adoption: when do people adopt certain social media services, and why do they contribute to them? In other words, what is the motivation of people to join and stay active on social media sites?
  • Social media across cultures: a cross-cultural look at the social media phenomena.
  • Mobile-social and Social Media for Good: with a very special guest speaker!
  • Data Addicts: Data Collection, Analysis, and Visualization (for research or application purposes) of social media data.
  • Study Design and Data Analysis: introduction to research on social media services; how to design studies and analyze the data.
  • Social Information Design: an information-centric approach to social media; what are the different information factors in play (yes, this is where we talk about tagging).
  • Privacy, Legal Issues, Copyright, and IRB.
  • Economics of social media.

That’s it for now. As you can see, we plan jump from the theoretic, to the practical, to the research-y topics, hopefully making for a good mix. What did we leave out? What should we leave out? Your input is welcome, or as Dr. Boase would say, “we will try our darnedest to include suggestions, but may not be able to include all of them”.

13 thoughts on “Teaching “Social Media”: Open for Suggestions!

  1. Ian Smith

    I was thinking of the cross-cultural elements of privacy (and disclosure) w.r.t. to social media:

    My sense (and this is not backed up by data, only what I see surfing around) is that Europeans are more open with their personal information on social networking sites than US-based folks. I am again guessing, but I suspect this is because of the “better” protection that governments offer for personal data. It would be interesting to write a crawler to get some numbers and perhaps do some interviews… Heck, I might even be willing to dig up a few europeans to talk to a student on the phone…

  2. Brynn Evans

    Of course I’m going to suggest that you include a piece on ‘social search.’ I would probably talk about it under Social Information Design since that could cover both information discovery, filtering, and question-answering (or other information behaviors in social networks). I’d be happy to guest lecture or help out with with the syllabus on this (or other parts of the course). Sounds awesome!

  3. ayman

    Metrics! Of course Metrics! How do we measure engagement? What do we look at? How does this vary given the pragmatics of the social application and how can it describe social semantics. I say this as if I just gave a talk on the matter. See next post (coming soon!).

  4. naaman Post author

    Ian (hey!): that is both a great research question, and a good practical point to deliver in the class. My initial hypothesis would be the exact opposite of yours, actually (though not based on much experience – not quite enough European friends, I guess). I would guess that Europeans are more guarded and reserved because of the 1) heightened awareness of these issues and 2) a more proactive approach. I will check whether the readings we have touch on that topic, but calling up someone from the old continent might not be a bad idea (I’ll see if I can bug some of my friends, but if you have a perfect candidate don’t hesitate to let me know).

    Brynn (hey!): social search can definitely be included, as well as how Information Encountering happens in social media. Would be great to have you talk, but we should also chat sometime soon regardless.

    Ayman (no hey, I “see” you all the time): Come on, post it, and you better link to some exciting reading material (or make the post complete enough so that we can assign it to the class).

  5. Christine Goldthwaite

    I’m really looking forward to the class. I am an MCIS student and interested in looking at social media from an organizational communication perspective, specifically learning more about how social media can be used to influence organizational culture and improve knowledge management.

  6. naaman Post author

    Christine –

    While a lot of these topics will be relevant to your interest to some degree, I cannot believe I actually forgot to list the “social media in organizations” topic we are planning! We may even have an exciting guest speaker for that lecture.

  7. Cathy Salomon

    Related to motivation and adoption, and also to social media in organizations: how do individuals and organizations manage their social media involvement – there are so many choices. Do people or organizations communicate in just one media, or a few or many? What is best or does it matter?

  8. Raphaël Troncy

    Would love to attend the class … though New York might not be a convenient location for a European 🙂

    First, a suggestion: I think it is important you say a little about standardisation effort in this domain, and in particular about the Social Web Incubator Group @W3C, http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/
    What this group has already achieved:
    – a long list of interesting user stories: http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/wiki/UserStories
    – an attempt to produce a matrix comparing various Social Networks in terms of functionalities / privacy settings / openness / etc. (http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/wiki/SN_Platform_Functionality and http://www.w3.org/2005/Incubator/socialweb/wiki/PolicyCommons)
    – a pretty accurate glossary
    The final technical report of this group will be delivered in 4-6 months, so perhaps on time for your class!

    Second, regarding your observation whether Europeans are more open with their personal information on SS than US-based folks or not, I think it really depends and all Europeans cannot be put in the same bag 🙂 Dutch people clearly are (very open) and I would suspect you will find this trend in some North European countries. French are much more conservative: among my friends, most of them have a very restricted privacy policy on their facebook accounts for example. Would be _very_ interesting to have some raw data confirming or infirming this intuition!


  9. Jeffrey Boase

    Hey, this is Jeff — the Boase part of the Naaman and Boase team teaching this course. Just wanted to comment on Ian’s idea that Europeans may be more open with their personal information than Americans on social media sites. I’ve actually been thinking more about this topic in terms of differences between Japan and the US. I just finished a postdoc in Tokyo last year and have been researching offline differences between these two countries. I need to more research, but it looks like lower amounts of trust in weak ties fostered by strong relationships in Japan accounts for the greater amount of privacy found on Mixi as compared to FB. But the idea that (at least some) countries in Europe might be more concerned about privacy is fascinating and not something that I know much about. If you, or anyone, knows of any literature comparing privacy norms between European countries and the US, please let us know!

  10. Sarah Legins

    Marketing. Maybe this is included in “economics of social media” — but I’d like to discuss the growing efforts of companies to make use of social media in their marketing efforts.

  11. Frank Bridges

    Totally thinking out loud on this one – I watched “RiP: A remix manifesto” last night and it was amazing. Though it’s mainly about copyright law, it flirts with social media throughout, and then at end the viewer is invited to go to the website, and take the footage and remix it however they see fit, and upload it back to the RiP community. So that got me thinking about discussing using social media for project-oriented results.

    THEN I really got thinking and thought, why don’t we, as a class, hold a screening of “RiP,” either during the class period or right after? Maybe it could be done later in the semester when we have more knowledge under our belts, and could facilitate some excellent conversation with folks outside of the class?

  12. Eric Cook

    Though it might not be entirely in line with your plan for the course, I’d add a week or so on historical perspective — lots of media could be considered “social” (in the sense of supporting, underwriting and acting as a trigger for sociality) before capital-S, capital-M Social Media was created. A sense of lineage and persistent behaviors across technologies always helps keeps things in perspective.

  13. Robert

    I think I may have said this before on the FB page, but I think that the double edged sword of reputation in online/virtual communities is amazing complex and powerful: (1) I don’t remember the source, but one of the top three motivations for people to post content online was the sense of fame associated with it; (2) Reputation is such a critical proxy for trust in our overly networked, information overloaded world; (3) Reputation ratings seem to provide one of the primary normative mechanisms for many volunteer / informal communities; (4) Conversely, people have been shown to be less creative and to share less knowledge when they know/worry they will be evaluated.

    p.s. on the cross cultural question, although this is a single example, I had an heated discussion with some chinese friends who were angry since I had not asked their permission to post pictures that included them on FB. I had to tell them that it was typical for people in modern western culture to post pictures on FB of everyone at a party, night out, or event that this was core to the emergent nature of these technologies. They have since come around…

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