Happy Birthday Charlie the Poodle

On September 30th, 2012, Charlie the Poodle entered the world. Tomorrow we celebrate having kept him alive for 1 whole year. Whether in Mississippi or Massachusetts, we laugh each day because he is a part of our lives. Today, we are grateful for Charlie and all our friends and family that have tolerated and welcomed him over the last 365 days. Enjoy.

Until Next Time!

SA

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How do you connect? Strong ties, weak ties and privacy in your online life

Note: This post is a blog assignment for Nicco Mele’s course “Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age” at the Kennedy School of Government. Many of the thoughts in the post come from readings we have covered in the class on privacy and relationships through social media. Many of the thoughts are not my own, but I make connections to our lives here in Cambridge and back in Mississippi.

One plus of living in a large urban area is the convenience of things: a vet around the corner, good public transportation, front door grocery delivery. Grocery delivery is particularly intriguing to me. Put in your online order for honey nut cheerios, asparagus, and milk, and the store’s service makes sure it gets to your door step.

Processing this order online is convenient, but have customers ever considered the trust they put in the company when sharing their grocery preferences?

“What if your health insurance premiums were calculated based on data from online food orders?” asks John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in their dated, but still relevant book, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. The duo emphasizes that terms of service in online media are often malleable, and companies may change how they disclose your personal data from one year to the next. Gasser and Palfrey underscore that economic pressures on a company can quickly reshape what data they sell to other companies.

Even as terms of service change, we as consumers rarely read them in the first place. When a class of Kennedy School students was asked if they had ever read through the full terms of service for a site, 1 out of 50-something said they had taken the time.

It is also possible that an online service could change our privacy in a way people notice. Gasser and Palfrey use the introduction of the Facebook news feed as an example of a change in privacy that set off a storm of response from users. However, even if a social media outlet like Facebook violates individual’s standards for privacy, it is possible that they would not unsubscribe because of the high cost of losing that network and easy connection to others.

Ease of connection is a key piece of what attracts so many to Facebook. You can follow friends of friends, a colleague at work or the girl you met once at a party when you were 20. These more distant relationships are characterized as “weak ties” in Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. In contrast, strong ties are those that exist with your closest family and friends, the ones you turn to first to share significant events in your life whether good or bad. Rheingold shares that these weak ties are particularly important if you are looking to share or gain information outside of your bubble of close connections—

“Numerous weak ties can be important in seeking new information or stimulating innovation. You are more likely to find a job if you have a large and diverse network of weak ties.”

This distinction of weak and strong ties reminds me a lot of how a good friend at Bike Walk Mississippi leverages support for her events – whether she knows it or not. When Bike Walk puts on a festival, they often put out a call on Facebook for volunteers to run activities or sell food at booths. Friends of the director and those with whom the organization has strong ties often see the call and sign up to help. At the same time, the organization is promoting the event for those that have weaker ties, trying to generate attendance through the larger network of diverse connections that follow their Facebook page.

 

For me, the lesson learned is that running events for an organization with limited resources means depending heavily on both weak and strong ties. Focusing on both weak and strong ties is critical to the success of an event and critical to generating momentum for a cause in the months and years to come.

A side note: Bike Walk Mississippi is a fantastic organization doing hard work to promote and protect bikers across communities in Mississippi. They are also in the midst of a strong push to generate more resources to support their programming. Take a look! Learn more and think about contributing (as you might guess I feel a ‘strong tie’ to the organization).

Until next time!

Sarah

Cookies and Ice Cream and Dal, Oh My!

This weekend was full of good food and good friends. As a Kennedy School Student, every weekend starts Friday at 4pm when kegs of beer and tables of snacks are rolled out in our courtyard for Quorum Call. We munch on popcorn or goldfish, enjoy a beer (or two) and sit at umbrella covered tables in the courtyard. It is a great way to unwind from a problem set and catch up with the other awesome students at HKS in a more laid back atmosphere than class.

After Quorum Call, Tom and I headed to the South End of Boston to see our dear Delta friends Nick and Becca. We were introduced to box hockey — a game I thoroughly enjoyed because I can certainly beat Tom at least 50% of the time. I can already tell there will be many nights of box hockey in their apartment as the days get colder. Tom headed to the Red Sox/Blue Jays game with Nick, but I definitely got the better end of the Friday night plans thanks to Becca. First, I got a full scale view of downtown Boston from Top of the Hub in the Prudential Building (see photo). More importantly, we also ordered a plate FULL of warm, soft cookies and a glass of red wine. Who doesn’t love a ginger cookie on the top of a sky scraper to top off their Friday night?

Mick Power, a fellow HKS student and perhaps my new favorite Aussie, had us  over for some scumptous homemade indian food on Saturday night. He had his guests flipping naan in pans and making cocktails. He provided us with a great meal full of dal, rice, cashews, and curry. It was lovely, and so is Mick who you can see sporting a plate full of goodness. We also had some food creations of our own as we pulled out the wedding gifts and successfully made pumpkin pie ice cream. Nick came for dinner and can vouch for the high quality ice cream outcome. He was also a good sport and let me take his photograph before he dug in to the final product.

No weekend is complete without some good shots from the Nunziato Dog Park.  There were some great dog personalities romping around on Saturday. Enjoy. And as a final note, this week marks the birthday of one of our dearest friends, Rachel Myers. We hope her week is full of dancing, singing and good friends, and we wish we were there to celebrate with her.

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Until next time!

SA

A Boston Weekend: Drink, Dachshunds, and Defeat

This weekend brought some adventures: a dachshund chasing Charlie, our first Red Sox game, and our first (but not last) trip to Drink.

All credit goes to Tom for finding Drink. It was cocktail heaven for two Jacksonians missing our Fridays at the Parlor Market bar. Drink is known for being a cocktail bar “without” a menu. Cocktail drinkers enter with ingredients and other descriptors (grapefruit and bubbly!) for their desired beverage, and a very knowledgeable bartender undergoes the art of drink construction.

Having walked from Somerville to Boston, I was ready for “some gin and something refreshing.” What I got was an Aviation which was spot on and a great cocktail love from my Fridays at PM. Well done. Tom’s request involved Old Overholt Rye, and the result can be found below… I’m not sure which part to call my favorite – our fantastic bartender or the fact she used a saw and chisel to break her gigantic block of ice into individual cubes (also below). Either way we plan on returning and bringing lots of guests over the next few years.

To make a great weekend a superb one, we also had tickets to the Red Sox, Yankees game on Sunday. After making the mistake of not knowing what the Green Monster was when a fellow student asked me earlier in the week, I was glad to acquire this critical piece of Boston knowledge in person. We ate hot dogs, booed Rodriquez and saw the Yankees put in 7 pitchers (really?). Red Sox won 9-2. I don’t think an introduction to Red Sox fandom gets much better than that.

And finally… for all you Charlie the Poodle lovers out there, Charlie got to run his heart out at the Nunziato Dog Park many times this week. The highlight came when a dachshund decided to go on the hunt against two standard poodles. Interestingly enough, the dachshund later escaped the dog park and proceeded to chase two pet rabbits around the larger park. No rabbits were permanently harmed in the incident.

IMG_0707Until next time!

SA

The Web’s Value: From #HailState to Social Policy Change

This post takes a closer look at two readings from a course I’m taking at HKS – Media, Politics, and Power in the Digital Age. The first reading is “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations,” by Clay Shirky and the second (and shorter) piece is the article “What is Web 2.0” by Tim O’Reilly. The vast majority of the concepts and ideas in this piece are theirs and not my own.

During Mississippi State football games, I often open up Twitter and search the #HailState hashtag. Fans pile in tweets like “Maroon and White, fight, fight, fight #HailState.”

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What compels so many fans watching both in the stadium and at home to participate through Twitter? What has made Twitter so successful at bringing people together, and what does it have in common with other thriving web applications used by thousands of people across the globe?

The HailState hashtag – or any hashtag for that matter – is a wonderful example of how the internet can reduce barriers to forming communities that might not otherwise have existed.[1] In the words of Tim O’Reilly, successful applications in today’s “Web 2.0” era often capitalize on “users pursuing their own ‘selfish’ interests to build collective value as an automated byproduct.” O’Reilly posits that online applications that flourish today are geared toward collective participation and collective intelligence. Shirky adds by pointing out that these successful applications are always evolving and “a process, not a product.”

Hashtags are also simple to use, another key principal that O’Reilly says is instrumental for survival in the Web 2.0 era. RSS feeds, Amazon’s ‘1-click’ buying, apps that customize your weather: he uses each of these to highlight that applications should be simple and provide a service.  However, O’Reilly and Shirky both emphasize that applications also need to reach to ‘The Long Tail’ of the internet by allowing all consumers to benefit from the products sites are offering – not just those that are interested in the best-selling products.

Let’s step away from hashtags, but still stick in the realm of successful applications that are collaborative, simple and provide a service. Wikipedia is regularly sited by O’Reilly and Shirky as an example of an application that harnesses the collective power of the internet. Shirky notes, however, that Wikipedia – and many other sites – are subject to the ‘Power Law Distribution,’ the idea that a small percentage of users contribute the vast majority of a site’s content. This is not noted as a problem, but instead more as a principle of how the sites and their content are driven.

What do all these seemingly distinct websites – Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter – also have in common? On the most basic level, they are applications that rely on the web to operate and connect with a wide audience rather than relying on your computer’s operating system as a platform. This idea – web as a platform – is the critical difference between using Windows (on your computer) and using the web to operate applications, and it has reshaped the world in which applications are created and successful.

O’Reilly’s and Shirky’s ideas combine to create a model of how to succeed as an application generator. Applications must use the web as a platform, be collaborative, be simple to use, provide a service, and be constantly updated.

For me, the most compelling pieces of both readings were the discussions about how the internet – and our mobile use of it – has reshaped how news spreads and the value of individuals to elevate critical events and issues that traditional media does not highlight. O’Reilly notes that:

        “The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of… we the media, a world in which the former audience, not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.”

Both authors discuss how the evolution of group communication has changed the news business significantly. My favorite example – again a Mississippi connection – comes from Shirky’s book. In 2002, Senator Trent Lott’s remarks that the nation would have been better off if Strom Thurmond – a segregationist – had been elected President were not picked up by mainstream media. Only after a wave of individual protest through social media was Senator Lott forced to apologize for his comments and eventually step down as Speaker of the House.

Whether it’s criticizing a senator’s words or supporting an education bill, the internet and its applications change how people come together and elevate critical public issues. My hope for this class is to better understand how 1) to use these online tools to inform people of state-level social policy that affects their communities and their families and 2) to give people paths for sharing their views on those issues.

More to come!

SA


[1] It should be noted that the vast majority of ideas in this blog, including this one, are not mine but taken from the readings mentioned in the introduction of this blog.

Starting things off right…

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This fantastic creature is my 11 month old poodle, Charlie. He likes to meet other Somerville dogs, run around the house with dirty socks in his mouth, and eat. He also makes me laugh every single day. My hope is that this blog will include many more photos of Charlie the poodle and many moments of laughter for me and you. Excited to start! – Sarah