Quantifying the impact of social media

Kerrie Smith asked some discerning questions about my last post Google Generation and Virtual Libraries, making the link to the debate that’s going on over on the Economist.com about whether social networks do/can/will have a positive impact on education.

I do believe that blogs can provide solid, authoritative “knowledge” – but as these bloggers are doing the research (leg work) to investigate topics, doing the critical analysis and synthesis of what they have found – they are few and far between. That is not to say that other bloggers are any less valuable – just that they are fitting a different social network niche. Bloggers that more easily fit this category of comprehensive reflective research and analysis are Stephen Downes, Will RichardsonChristopher Sessums, Dough Johnson, and Ewan McIntosh as examples. Many blogs are reflective conversations, others are disseminators of information or providers of tips and tricks in ‘how to’ do things – and are part of that personal learning environment at each of us is building around ourselves to help us in our networked world.

Can blogs be authoritative resources? I thinks so – sometimes. At other times they are informative or trivial, relevant or off-beat, extroverted or muted – but whatever form they take they will have relevance to someone somewhere.

Technobabble 2.0 provides a white paper outlining the thoughts and views of several key stakeholders who met late last year to discuss the issue of measuring online influence.

Download: “Distributed influence: quantifying the impact of social media” (PDF)

The catalyst behind this document was the publication of Edelman’s Social Media Index in July 2007 with David Brain. This attempted to propose a new way of calculating an individuals online influence beyond the ‘traditional’ method of analysing a blog’s inbound links to incorporate other social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook.

The issue of influence is an important dimension of the creation of authority – particularly in the field of blogging and social networks. This is a concept we need to think about, and understand in the creation of knowledge networks.

Read the paper. I look forward to Stephen’s analysis of the white paper :-)

From my point of view it raises some critical issues in relation to data mining and information manipulation that takes place in such arenas as marketing or monetizing of information.

What do I think of ‘authority’ when this sort of activity is common. For example, its fascinating to follow Caroline Middlebrook, who has shared all her work extensively, and in the process allowed educators like myself to gain a little insight into the strategies adopted by those who wish to earn a living by disseminating information – pure and simple.

I started with a single article which I re-wrote four times and then mashed up manually using the article mashup method I have blogged about to stretch that to 16 articles.

I guess my answer would be that the material being produced would not fit into my understanding of ‘authority’. At what point then does blogging and other social networking activities become more noise (staff room/coffee shop babble) rather than activities in the pursuit of learning. I don’t know. Who am I to judge anyway?

Photo: I make stuff up.

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