Thoughts on Morville’s “The Sociosemantic Web”

Today for Critical Studies, we read a chapter from Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability, “The Sociosemantic Web.” This chapter suggests that taxonomies are out, folksonomies are in, yet (given the choice) Morville says, “I’ll take the ancient tree of knowledge over the transient leaves of popularity any day” (p. 139). That was the one line of the text that confused most of us, given his overwhelming support of how links, tags, and other forms of metadata can contribute to our understanding of the web, but that was one of our only concerns.

A few things that the chapter raised, however, related to the ways in which we, as researchers and educators, find, use, and distribute knowledge, as well as what counts as literacy now. First, we talked about the ways in which we “traditionally” did research in school with 3×5 cards, encyclopedias, and card catalogs which then lead to a final, polished paper of regurgitated information. Today, students are (or, at least, they could be) working from Wikipedia, keeping Google Notebooks, checking out social bookmarks and blogs of others working on similar research, and creating collaborative reports with a wiki. In what ways does this challenge the traditional power structures evident in schooling, in general, and literacy education, in particular? Was there ever a “pure and good” way to do research, despite the clear and concise steps that we would like to believe comprises good research?

Second, the idea that the world was built on taxonomies and is now working in folksonomies (although we are not so sure there was ever a dichotomy) makes what we want students to do as literate citizens very different than what it used to be. It is no longer about memorizing one idea sequentially after another, but instead looking for connections — sometimes suggested by experts, sometimes by peers — and trying to synthesize ideas into something new and useful, not just to repeat it for a test. We talked about the list of genres represented in hypertext (p. 146) and the ways in which composing those texts on paper as compared to using hypertext drastically changes the task. In some ways, linking is the new way to create citations (although, looking at a list of someone’s references to see what to read next has been a skill that we’ve used before the Internet).At any rate, it was an interesting read and since Morville might be coming to campus later this year for a talk, I figured it would be good to write a little bit about his work now.

Another Example of Negative Networking

Newsweek has added its thoughts on the negative aspects of social networking:

What happens when the identity you reveal to friends suddenly overwhelms the façade you present to grown-ups? The results can be awkward—or worse. Photos from drunken parties, recollections of sexual escapades, profanity or threats—all these indiscretions, posted online, have gotten students suspended or expelled, or harmed job prospects. In a couple of decades, a presidential candidate may be called on to answer for a college misadventure that he or she impetuously detailed in a blog entry.

Dangers of Social-Networking Sites – Kaplan College Guide – MSNBC.com

I agree with the above example of how someone can represent him or herself poorly online. And, to the best of my ability,
I have tried to manage my own online persona so that I won’t have to deal with
any situations like this when someone Googles my name. However, there is more to the story than this.

First, why is everything about social networking in the media about the negatives? Why aren’t there more stories about the positive interactions that blogs and wikis promote as well as the great examples of online communities like ELGG?

In particular, I want to take up the point – and it only appears as a caption on a photo of a college adviser – that a site like Facebook (or MySpace or any of the other social networking sites that DOPA is attempting to ban from schools) could and should be treated “like a résumé,” or, I would add, a digital portfolio. These snapshots of your life – good, bad, and ugly – are what will represent you online as you prepare for college, jobs, and life.
To me, this just adds to the buzz about DOPA and how, instead of banning social networking from schools (including blogs, wikis, and the like), we as educators need to push harder to help students understand how the types of situations like the one quoted above could happen; in turn, we need to help them become better citizens of the read/write web. Moreover, we could use these tools as digital portfolios – they allow files to be uploaded and shared, right – that could grow and change over time. If done well, these sites could keep a running record of a student’s ideas (through the blog part) and an archive of their work (by uploading files).
At any rate, if you are interested in finding out more about DOPA, visit the Wikipedia entry on it. And, if you want to send a quick and easy email to your senator stating your opposition to DOPA, visit David Warlick’s blog and click on the “Revise DOPA” badge.

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