You Are Not Alone – You Do Not Live In A Vacuum!
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 15 July 2011
Back in April 2011 I attended a Bathcamp Startup night. One of the talks which I found particularly interesting described the Frintr service. However the talk was of interest to me not as an example of best practices for setting up a startup company (the speaker admitted that he had lost money on the business) but in the service itself and the ideas which it generated.
Frintr is an online service which allows you to create an image based on a mosaic portraits taken from portraits of one’s contacts on Twitter, Facebook or MySpace. As an example the accompanying image was created by the service by taking the people I follow on Twitter and creating a mosaic from a portrait which I uploaded.
Of course this probably raise interesting legal issues: Does Frintr have the rights to harvest the images in this way? What if one of the Twitter user wishes to change their image or delete their profile? In addition, as I discovered during the talk, there is also the question of patents for creating images based on mosaics (it seems that there is a patent which covers this technology).
But putting such issues to one side for me this provided an interesting visual way of presenting the ways in which creative work is not done in isolation – we are all influenced by others. In particular I feel that users of Twitter may be influenced by their engagement on the service – I know this is the case for myself as I have described in posts on how A Tweet Takes me to Catalonia and my reflections on 5,000 Tweets On.
The day before the Bathcamp meeting I came across a link to a video of a talk given by Cameron Neylon on “The Gatekeeper is dead. Long live the Gatekeeper“. The slides of this talk are available on Slideshare and I’ve read a report on the talk – but what I found interesting was Cameron’s licence for the talk and the presentation of the talk. Cameron had made the presentation available under a Creative Commons licence and, on the video, described how his ideas were the result of interactions with many other people. I agree with Cameron – I feel that a great deal of the activities which takes place in higher education is based on individual interpretations of existing knowledge rather than the creation of new knowledge.
Last week Tony Hirst published a post entitled A Map of My Twitter Follower Network which provided another visualisation of the way in which online communities are interacting. Tony described how he had created “a map of how the connected component of the graph of how my Twitter followers follow each other; it excludes people who aren’t followed by anyone in the graph (which may include folk who do follow me but who have private accounts)“. Tony concluded by volunteering to spend up to 20 minutes in creating a similar map for a handful of people who were willing to donation to charity such as Ovacome (an idea initially suggested by Martin Hawksey). I thought this was a great idea (the Big Society in action in the blogosphere, perhaps?). Tony has created a visualisation of my Twitter community and provided annotations on his thoughts on the different communities which are depicted.
I think Tony has correctly identified some of the key sectors I have engaged with on Twitter over the years. The Ed-tech, libraries and Info pros sectors should be self-explanatory and will probably be well-represented by readers of this blog. The IWMW sector is shorthand for this involved in the provision of institutional Web services who ware likely to attend UKOLN’s annual IWMW event. The Museums sector reflects involvement with the sector when UKOLN received funding from the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives council) which finished in April prior to the MLA’s demise. The Spanish community, as Tony suggests, is interesting and is probably based on my trip to Spain last year and the talks I gave in Catalonia and the Basque Country.
There are an increasing number of social media analytic tools being developed and, as Lorcan Dempsey pointed out in a post on “Analysing influence .. the personal reputational hamsterwheel” in which he referred to services such as Klout, Twitalyzer and Peerindex “analysing influence has been a central part of academic life“.
These analytic tools are worthy of further investigation. But there is also a need to step back in order to be able to see the big picture and the relevance of social media for those of us working in higher education. These two images help me to understand the Twitter-friendly sound bite which I might use if I was asked why social media is relevant to higher education: “The relevance of social media in Higher Education? You are not alone – you do not live an a vacuum!“. I think this is a particularly timely message as the fifteenth annual Institutional Web Management Workshop, IWMW 2011, starts on Tuesday 26 July and I’m sure that those who are new to the sector will be pleased to discover that they are not alone.