Archive for June 28th, 2007

Third part of a virtual roundtable for OCLC NextSpace:

Specifically, how do you see it [online social networks] affecting libraries/museums? Right now, and in the future?

The question might be rephrased as how will the online affect the offline and vice versa.

We’ve seen vividly how the frictionless movement of information and goods is affecting the world economies. How the music industry while trying to mount a resistance is in meltdown. How publishing and reading has been changed in what seems for the near term to be irreversible ways. Ask the encyclopedia folks. Ask a small textile town in the Southern US.

If libraries and museum act on their heritage as places for intellectual improvement and social interaction and cultural cohesion, there is a great future for them.

If they act as warehouses for cultural treasures as interpreted by the dominant culture, their days are numbered.

Academic libraries lead public libraries in the transition since more and more academic knowledge is shared digitally more quickly than popular knowledge. But this is only for the moment.

In the past few months, I have been in meeting with several different groups planning small town museums and cultural destinations. All of them talk more about services and events and involvement of the public than about amassing treasures in the traditional sense.

Online, whether social or no, distributes access to the treasures widely and without much friction. The online social networks can, if wisely participated in, increase the value of the institution and to the access of the original.

Oddly, digital access creates a fetish for the original, a desire to see the object up close, a need to meet the person who wrote those words or is represented by that avatar.

Cultural institutions are challenged to find creative and effective ways to exploit this need to meet, to see the original, to follow discussions with physical actions, to enhance the social.

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Second part of a virtual roundtable for OCLC NextSpace:

What are the impacts, overall, do you think [of online social networks] on industry, education and cultural institutions?

As with the advent of writing, telegraph, TV and radio, we are seeing reconfigurations of power and of structures for social capital exchange. That is the Bourdieu-ian closure are being restuctured if not smashed.

There is no deterministic answer to this question, but we can make some guesses. Although I remind myself how much we cannot see whilst in the midst of the process (see Forecasting the Telephone by Pool for a cold awaking as to how wrong and how right we can be), — am I hedging enough? I notice that others have perhaps wisely avoided this question — I will say that we are surely seeing a restructuring in knowledge access and in cultural production and in preservation that allows for widely distributed holdings of materials and centrally facilitated access. Additionally there will be strong reactions, including moral panic, to this change. As the tensions resolve, we may have a new period of enlightenment or a new dark ages.

We can count on change, reorder, and reconfigurations of institutions and of the powers that they represent.

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I’m one of four participants in a virtual roundtable for OCLC NextSpace. The others are Fred Stutzman, Lori Bell, and Ed Castronova. I’ll not post their writings here — for that go to the next issue of OCLC NextSpace — but I will post mine here for your comments.

How do you define online social networking? Examples of how it’s working well and not so well…

Relying first on social networked groups to get at a definition, we find that Wikipedia defines social networks as:

a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of relations, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes.

[...]

In its simplest form, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines.

A friend from Europe twittered me that an online social network is an Interactive e-PLAYground community.

This last elides the other work of social networks as seen in LinkedIn and Match and Classmates to name three.

Bourdieu writing in the 80s saw that social networks were defined largely by who was left out, by their exclusiveness and by how they allocated social and knowledge capital to their members to provide them with an advantage over outsiders.

Lin, Burt and Granovetter all notice that closed social networks have certain advantages but the interactions between such networks — not closure or density — are more important to social capital growth and exchange.

Online social networks draw their strength by not just hosting one social network bound by a Dunbar number (150), but a highly porous set of interactions between “natural” social networks. Not just kids at a certain school or from a certain class but a broader mesh of such smaller networks with casual interactions building and supporting stronger interactions. Messages culminating in a meetup say.

Some sites allow social interactions but are not really supporting social networks explicitly (say newspaper site discussion boards), some are swamped by social networks that change the nature of the networks on that site (say Brazilians on Orkut or Burning Man attendees on Friendster).

Whatever the technology, it is the social that actually provides the networks and the interactions.

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Robert “great hairstyling” Kaye announces that MusicBrainz will be driving the new BBC Music site allowing users to create song level metadata.

Rolling Stone explains (again) how the Music industry blew it over and over and how they plan to reconfigure yet again in a two part series (part one out today). Hillary Rosen, once RIAA flackcatcher, says of the Napster period: “The record companies needed to jump off a cliff, and they couldn’t bring themselves to jump.”

And yes we bought the Paul McCartney CD at Starbuck’s, but once we listened Tucker and I could only stand a few songs. Would we have bought only portions of the collecton on iTunes? Yes.

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