29 Jul

The Amateur Internet Sociologist

Well, each summer, I seem to stumble into a project. Last summer, it was that documentary on Race and Humor; this summer, it’s about Web 2.0. I’m a couple years too late in documenting thoughts and theories about Web 2.0, but I’m gonna do it anyway since Web 2.0 services recently seem to be choose-your-own-cliched-metaphor (skyrocketing, getting out of hand, growing to new heights, multiplying, proliferating).

Earlier this year, I joined Facebook. I did it because it makes finding people easy (in this case I was looking for current and former students of the high school where I teach); I was putting together a tribute website for a couple of retiring teachers, which I did via Ning, and I wanted to get a hold of students and alums who might have had some positive words for the retirees. I tracked the website’s traffic using Google Analytics, which allowed me to see how many people were going to the Ning site everyday and where they were coming from. I even made a vlog and posted some pictures and videos, which I might have done using my Flickr or Vimeo or YouTube accounts if the Ning site hadn’t allowed direct uploads of pictures and videos also.

It’s not that the Ning project was my induction into Web 2.0 services; it’s just that it got me a little more immersed into it. I was already wading into the water; the Ning thing simply required me to dunk my head. And it turned out to be an interesting experiment in the web’s interconnectedness. I’d email the few people who had already registered on the tribute site, imploring them to spread the word; I might tell them about the vlog I had posted, or the new pictures that were up. The next day, though I may only have gotten one or two new registrants, I could see through Google Analytics that the site had gotten 50 hits. Meanwhile, on my Facebook account, I was getting friend requests left and right from students. Students! Most students don’t want teachers to be able to look into their social lives with such clarity; and to tell the truth, I don’t want to look into my students social lives with such clarity (that’s why I never — NEVER — chaperone a dance). But once we were friends (I made it my policy to accept all friend requests), I could navigate to their profile pages and essentially eavesdrop on their wall-posted conversations with other students. (Could!) Once, while updating my Facebook page with a picture of me next to some cow’s asses, I even got a pop-up window from a student wanting to chat.

In short, the Facebook thing, though potentially disturbing, was doing exactly what I wanted it to do. It was helping to attract attention so I could spread the word about the retirement tribute. Such is the power of the web’s interconnectedness.

But it gets better.
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