Choosing social media for communities - mixing strong and weak ties


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A video goes with these slides: -- Effat University talk in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - Dec 2010

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  • Now that I’m at home in Oregon, I decided to take all those “Oh!! I-coulda-also-saids” and just revise the talk I gave in Jeddah last December. This video is a revision to incorporate what I learned at Effat University’s conference on in Saudi Arabia!
  • The conference was organized around how social media enabled a powerful and unexpected response to the Jeddah floods in 2009. Although at first the official media ignored the flooding, people posted lots of videos on YouTube and there was an amazing self-organized recovery effort afterwards, using BB’s, Twitter, Facebook and other tools.The talk that I gave was about “technologies for communities” but the conference was focused on “social media.” Part of what I have to say is that people use whatever they have available to them, including face-to-face and BB’s (which is what the Saudi’s affectionately call their ubiquitous BlackBerries).
  • We need to put technologies in a framework to think about social change or a surprise event like the Jeddah floods. We want to avoid: Too much emphasis on either individual behavior or the collective side. We have to look at both and how they interact. Too much optimism about or disparagement of Social Media. Too much emphasis on short-term, one off eventsThe other reason to use a community of practice perspective is that I think that learning is key – learning about the world and about who we are. A community of practice frame is also useful because it helps us compare communities and so become more skillful & purposeful.
  • I want to share an example of ongoing interaction over a sustained period of time aimed at improving a practice –using “old fashioned” technology that doesn’t focus on a disaster. Joseph Sikeku tells his story in a YouTube video that I posted at . I recommend the whole interview to you. (We’ve heard several examples of the power of YouTube, and this is a further, possibly different example.)See the video here:’s remarkable how purposeful and skillful Joseph Sikeku is in supporting a sustained conversation among rural farmers in Tanzania. And that’s the most important thing about choosing a technology: it serves to sustain interaction in his community.
  • Using Wenger’s framework to look at Sikeku’s story, we consider how community, domain and practice interact to advance the community’s connection with itself and awareness of itself, of the community’s knowledge of local farming practice (about techniques, about prices, about what it means to be a farmer in Tanzania). The way Sikeku links the community relies on his choice of several technologies that work together: an MP3 recorder that he takes around to interview farmers, a computer to edit the interviews before broadcasting them, SMS text message from farmers and even cell phone interviews all work together to connect the community.
  • Malcolm Gladwell recently has argued that authors like Clay Shirky misunderstand social and political change when they argue that tools like Twitter can make any real difference in terms of social change. He argues that progress in racial relations in the US were due to close, not weak, ties and that Web 2.0 tools only support weak ties. Granovetter suggests that change (through “bridging ties”) comes from weak ties. I see Sikeku’s community as an example of how a community of practice combines both strong and weak ties. That’s very important. We see strong ties at the center of a community. People help Sikeku with the project, by giving him a used computer or helping him buy a microphone or being interviewed. And there are many weak ties on the periphery of the community, between listeners and more peripheral contributors.
  • We need to talk about what exactly we mean by social change. I personally don’t see how positive social change can happen without sustained conversations over a sustained period of time about the skills and knowledge that we need. And I think it has to include learning as a fundamental element. Sikeku’s community is learning to listen to itself and to pay more attention to agricultural practice in the field. The sense of voice and of community competence takes the learning beyond the dissemination of technical information.
  • With a community framework we can ask ourselves and our communities questions like “Who are we? Where are we going? How are we to get there?” and then put social media to work (using old technologies like radio or new ones like Twitter) we have a better opportunity for meaningful social change, whether in Africa, in Jedda, or on YouTube.
  • Choosing social media for communities - mixing strong and weak ties

    1. 1. Choosing social mediafor communities –mixing strong and weak ties<br />JOHN DAVID SMITH<br />Coaching communities, their leaders and their sponsors <br />about technologies, politics and learning<br />Jan-11 Learning Alliances<br />1<br />LEARNING ALLIANCES<br />
    2. 2. What I wish I had said<br />Social GROUPS  discover and use social mediaDigital HABITATS  support interaction & change<br />The Jeddah floods can help us understand: social media and Saudi society<br />
    3. 3. A community of practice is a group of people who interact over a sustained period of time to improve a skill or area of knowledge.<br />
    4. 4. Joseph Sikeku<br />Community radio in Tanzania<br /><br />
    5. 5. Community radio in Tanzania<br /><ul><li>Community – Farmers, Joseph Sikeku, & others
    6. 6. Domain – Farming practices, prices, etc.
    7. 7. Practice –
    8. 8. Farming
    9. 9. Listen to radio, audio interviews, send SMS text messages, face-to-face connections.</li></ul>COMMUNITY<br />PRACTICE<br />DOMAIN<br />Learningcapability<br />
    10. 10. L<br />Community orientations…<br /> … meetings<br /> … projects<br />… open-ended conversation<br />… access to<br /> expertise<br />… content publishing<br />Community activities oriented to …<br />… relationships<br />… individual<br /> participation<br />… community<br /> cultivation<br /> … context<br />Digital Habitats, Chapter 6<br />© 2009 Wenger, White, and Smith<br />
    11. 11. Strength of Ties and Communities<br />Granovetter’s (1973) definition<br />Strength a result of a combination of:<br />Amount of time<br />Emotional intensity<br />Intimacy (mutual confiding)<br />Reciprocal services<br />(“Multiplexity”)<br />… impacts tool choice<br />Twitter and blogs extend weak ties<br />Skype and face-to-face essential for strong ties<br />E-mail and forums are in between<br />“All bridges are weak ties.”<br />
    12. 12. Community outcomes<br />Technical knowledge dissemination<br />A visible practice emerges<br />Farmers as researchers<br />Voice for a voiceless group<br />A sense of community empowerment<br />…. leads to a reduction in poverty<br />
    13. 13. Communities ask themselves…<br />What tools to use?Who are we?Where are we going?How reach our destination?<br />
    14. 14. Jan-11 Learning Alliances<br />10<br />Thank you!<br />John David Smith<br />LEARNING ALLIANCES<br />503. 963. 8229<br /><br /><br />Skype and Twitter: smithjd<br />