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To be or not to be social

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  • 1. SOCIAL MEDIA Ammar Yasir How many of us out there think that social media is over-rated – that ‘Facebooking’ and tweeting is nothing but a waste of time? The truth of the matter is we spend half our day “liking” pictures we don’t actually like, and re- tweeting articles we hardly read. Social media has bred a culture where it’s normal to not bond with real-life relations, yet take pride in having hundreds of virtual friends one hasn’t met in years. Why then, are the supposed “smart people” at Silicon Valley still investing in startup after startup, and product after product to facilitate people in the way they interact on social media? To understand the dimensions of social media, we need to venture back in time and see how societies functioned before the advent of internet, computers or even electricity. Back then, people had to rely on word-of-mouth. Information travelled from person to person, and anyone who was interested in the facts had to find the right person to respond to their query. This method of information retrieval and knowledge acquisition is often referred to as the village paradigm, where information- seekers’ trust (the information) which comes from someone whom they know personally. In contrast, the modern digital technique of information retrieval comes from impersonal resources like libraries – online and offline. This is called the library paradigm. If we dig deep and compare the two methods of information retrieval, we will find a lot of interesting points. | 88 | april 2011 | SPIDER Tobeornotto besocial? When it comes to social media, there’s a fine line between social good and information overload
  • 2. For instance, in the library paradigm, queries are made based on keywords (“new iPad specs”, “Android firmware download” etcetera). In this instance, the knowledge base exists prior to making the query, whereas trust is built based on the authority and credibility of the content publisher (Tech Crunch, Gizmodo etcetera). So is the village paradigm still relevant? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. It is useful for retrieving information in real- time, real-life situations, like for a traffic update or the law and order situation. In this case, queries are answered by members of the community in real-time, and the authority’s reliability is based on one’s personal affiliation with it. Keeping these facts in mind, one must understand that though the human race is evolving technologically, it is sticking to the innate instinct of information retrieval. The difference is, with the additional layer of library-supported knowledge base, information retrieval can be done in real- time, and be verified from multiple sources. This scenario may have been perfect 10 years ago, but considering the current state of the ever- growing pile of data, one has the right to complain about information overload. Another issue is differentiating between the useful data and all the existing white noise – a task that is anything but easy. Of course, with technology, one has to be patient; it always eventually catches up with people’s demands. | 89 | april 2011 | SPIDER S O C I A L M E D I A Location-based Fans of location-based social networks (LBSNs) agree that these tools have great potential to succeed on both commercial and humanitarian grounds. This is exactly why the initial success of Foursquare forced social media giant Facebook to jump on the LBSN bandwagon, with its product Facebook Places. Initially, all that Foursquare offered was a game, based on the number of times a user publicly checked into his favourite places. Fast-forward a couple of months and truckloads of success across the globe, Foursquare evolved into a network that could recommend users to check out bookshops, restaurants, coffee shops etcetera, based on their interests and needs. Similarly, online deal broker Groupon offers shopping deals via social media, earning significant profits for Groupon and its clients. Rumour has it that a similar product is in the pipeline in Pakistan. We must also open our eyes to the humanitarian benefits of social networking, with projects like Ushahidi, an open-source platform used to collect information. It has also been used for interactive mapping and visualisation during many recent global crises. Even in Pakistan, Ushahidi came in handy during rehabilitation and rescue efforts for the flood survivors. Following Japan’s recent incidents of a devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown, technology giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter assisted in rescue efforts, by providing their platforms for the greater good. Google’s Person Finder is one example. Taking into consideration, the growing acceptance of social media in our society, and the progress of telecommunications, it is time we plan a future where we can build or customise existing platforms to take advantage of our understanding of the library and village paradigms