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Tag Archives: Boston

Refining the Social and Techincal Design of NfN

It comes down to design and culture. Fairly obvious conclusion to draw, but after my travels through the Neighbors for Neighbors network, the discussion in last weeks class on the relationship between the technical and social could not have been more relevant as I tried to determine how NfN could be more effective in reaching its goals.

Across the network, the key area needed for improvement is that of user participation. While NfN’s JP network does boast a user base of over 1500 and does feature constant blog and forum posts, the aspect of blog and forum responses is fairly low. Also, with the addition of sites for the other towns in Boston, NfN has an imperative to increase participation and boost membership for the new sites.

In my previous post I presented accounts and ideas around increasing participation in networks. One of the more theoretical ideas that was considered was that of social objects, where a social network is defined by an “object” of common interest. While I proposed that NfN’s social object was community organizing for Boston’s neighborhoods, Mushon prompted me to reify this further as he, and rightfully so, felt that community organizing was too abstract and would most likely not boost NfN’s gravitational pull.

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Access is only the beginning

“There is no such thing as a poor community. Even neighborhoods without much money have substantial human resources. Often, however, the human resources are not appreciated or utilized, partly because people do not have information about each other and about what their neighborhood has to offer. For example, a family whose heater is broken may go cold for lack of knowledge that someone just down the block knows how to fix it. [Technologies] of all kinds have great potential for building and maintaining communities.” (Resnick & King, 1997, pp. 229-230)

MIT Media Lab student Randal Pinkett used this quote in his dissertation on a community network site he built in Boston for the Camfield Estates, a public housing community in Boston. This quote is central to emphasizing the importance of what role community network sites can play in helping its members turn to each other in times of need rather than appealing to service institutions. In a time when many are struggling to make ends meet, the need for establishing micro bartering economies has become more pressing, and the ability for a social networking site to make community resource more visible is an important step in this direction.

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