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By GCN Staff

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Professors propose research-based approach to social media

Ben Shneiderman, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland, has joined forces with his colleagues and authored a white paper about the potentially world-changing role technology-mediated social participation can play in education, health, the environment, government and daily life.

The 51-page paper, titled National Initiative for Social Participation, is available as a free download. In it, Shneiderman and his team propose a national initiative for social participation to promote online social-media research, just “as NASA leads space research and [National Institutes of Health] promotes medical research.”

Social media such as wikis, blogs, forums, networking sites and virtual worlds are just the beginning, the paper notes. If these tools could be harnessed in a more scientific way, they could “create the conditions for citizens to participate, connect and undertake constructive action.” Social media could make for better government and a better, safer, healthier world.

This more analytical study of social participation could help answer the questions nearly everybody is asking: How does good social networking work, when does it go awry and why? How do you balance privacy and freedom? Shneiderman and his team want to go beyond the usual social-networking cheerleading and take a more scientific approach to get at the real reasons behind the human behavior that fuels technology-mediated social participation.

For example, the paper notes that the success of Wikipedia is the exception, not the rule. “Of the more than 9,000 wikis using the MediaWiki platform, more than half have seven or fewer contributors. An important reason for these failures is a lack of evidence-based scientific guidance in building and managing online communities.”

The paper looks closely at six areas that are ripe for social-participation research: crime prevention through neighborhood watch programs; deliberation sites where people can submit their opinions on given topics; the Encyclopedia of Life, a Web site about 1.8 million species; an online community focused on climate change issues; an online community focused on renewable and sustainable energy sources; and sites centered around health topics.

Download the white paper here.

Posted by Trudy Walsh on Aug 10, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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