From Friday on Mercedes Bunz and me will chair a course on Social Media at the European Forum Alpbach. The topic is extremely broad-ranging, we will focus on networked publics and the impact of digital media and digitization on society.
I am wondering what would be the questions of a student who wants to attend a course with the general title Social Media? What might she like to know? What are the most interesting topics in that field for young people not specialized in a discipline with close connections to social media like journalism, public relations or marketing?
I can’t possibly answer a question in the place of people who are approximately 30 years younger than me. But I can try to ask myself: What do I want to know about social media? What would I ask people who are expected to know something about social media or simply people interested in that subject? Having contemplated the topic I came up with ten questions I myself would like to pose. So these are my personal questions. They are targeted at media, not at other important developments related to the internet as open science, open innovation, online education, open government and so on:
- Do social media really exist? Has the notion social media a App.net)?
- What will truly dialogical publishing and writing forms look like? Up to now social media are using more or less monologue formats. Polyphonic formats (e.g. Google Wave) were not successful. Commenting in the social web is a mess; a post may be commented on different platforms and it is very difficult to follow the threads. Will there be formats allowing joint authorship while maintaining several voices (hot topics: Branch, Hangouts On Air)?
- What will be the influence of social media on publishing of books and other longer forms and on reading and writing in general? So far social media have been mostly used for short pieces of content. The last years have seen the rise of social reading platforms. Books can easily be published in new interactive formats. What will be the impact of these developments? Will the borders between social media formats (blogs, micro-blogs, social networks) and traditional publishing formats (books, magazines) dissolve?
- What will be the impact of realtime technologies on writing forms and networked publics? Realtime use of information and production of realtime information by the actors themselves (e.g. politicians) is one of the most important characteristics of the new media formats. Our writing formats and our methods to organise news (magazines, newspapers) however are oriented towards retrospective news. What are the appropriate formats for the production, observation, filtering and organization of realtime information? What is the time character (Zeitcharakter) of the different social media formats? What will be the relationship between realtime publishing and curation (hot topic: Twitter’s Expanded Tweets)?
- Which role will intelligent predictive technologies play for media and media applications? Up to now the cognitive processes involved in production, curation and consumption of media are usually not supported by computing. The large scale use of machine learning by Google or the filtering algorithms used for the generation of the Facebook newsfeed are examples of customization of information for individual needs. How will media and media applications work in order to make full use of the computing and data aggregation capacity of modern cloud services? Will social media be supplanted? Will social media be followed or replaced by radically personalized media (hot topics: My6Sense Home Page, Pulse, Wavii)?
- How will location based services evolve in the era of ubiquitous computing and Augmented Reality? Location based services are an important part of existing social media. The rising computing power and a number of new technologies make it easy to seamlessly connect people, physical reality and information. How can these technologies be used for the development and publishing of content and how will they change personal communication?
- What will be the respective roles of general and special purpose social media? Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are examples of platforms for all kinds of uses, from commercial to personal and private. In the last years these platforms were by far the most successful, but during the same time services like LinkedIn and Yammer conquered an important part of the social media market. Other services like Path and Pair are focusing on privacy and private exchange. Will these specialized platforms prevail in the long run? Will the likes of Twitter and Facebook serve as a kind of basic layer in a common ecosystem with special interest and special purpose services like Path or LinkedIn? Or will the largest platforms integrate/imitate more specialized social media services like facebook, which has swallowed FriendFeed and Instagram?
- Will there be something like an open unified globalized social media public sphere or will we live in a world of different social media spheres more or less controlled by governments and held separated from each other? We know Facebook and Twitter as social media giants, but only rarely do we take notice of platforms like Weibo or kontakti. Most countries today try to limit access to critical information to a more or less large extent and regular commercial services comply with the regulations of authoritarian regimes. After the opening of the Olympic Games in London Twitter banned the account of a critical journalist for several days. Will the tendency towards a national compartimentalization and censorship of social media persist and prevail or will the most open platforms be the most accepted on a global scale?
- By which technical and political means is it possible to guarantee the freedom of publishing and expression? The rise of social media has been closely linked to the promise that every user can publish and share everything. In nearly all countries governments and lobbyists are trying to limit this freedom and they have been rather successful at it. Infrastructures for censorship and surveillance have been installed in many regions. Is it possible to secure free ways and free havens for information, which may be of the same historical importance as the press freedom in the Netherlands during the absolutism era? Can such free havens be established by purely technical means/hacking? Which political strategies are used to safeguard freedom of information press in the information age?
I don’t intend to use these questions to structure our course. On the contrary during the course I will encourage the younger participants to feel free to ask their own questions. My impression is that these questions say more about my own understanding of social media than any thesis I could phrase. The purpose of the Alpbach course is a group learning experience of connections we did not know of before. So I hope to leave the colloquium with manifold new questions.
(Many thanks to Zuzana Stern for editing my broken English!)