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Tag Archives: community informatics

Corey Bookers Social Media Arsenal and how he uses it

Since his election in 2006, Booker has overseen a 36% drop in crime, doubled the amount invested in public housing development, attracted some 100 million dollars in donations to local charities, and recently turned down an appointment to Obama’s cabinet. After graduating from Yale Law, he lived in a public housing complex in Newark where he organized the residents to fight for better living conditions. Now, as mayor, he lives in a neighborhood traditionally known to be overrun by drugs and gangs.

Mayor Booker is the type of public servant who, despite coming from a wealthy family, being a rhodes scholar, and generally being a member of the professional elite, keeps his feet on the ground and lives with the people he is working for. So how does he use different social networking tools to further his quest to stay as connected as possible?

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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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Hyperlocal Social Networking

Neighbors for Neighbors is a social networking site in Boston that features separate pages for each neighborhood in the city. The idea behind the site is to provide a platform for members of each neighborhood to connect, share ideas, and organize for action. Recently, Boston City Hall got behind Neighbors for Neighbors to explore new ways to engage and connect with its constituency.
In recent conversations with both IMS people at city hall and the founder of neighbors for neighbors, a core objective behind this work is to improve the visibility of resource in the community so as to promote self sufficiency amongst the constituency.
In this travelogue I would like to begin by examining the types of conversations that take place on the site, interview some of the individuals on the habits of their use, and find out more about the follow through for activities proposed on the site and their translation to action. From there I plan to investigate other examples of community based social networking sites in order to learn more about their best practices and challenges.
The idea of the web as complementary public space has been around since the early 1990’s and has been expressed in the field of community informatics which examines the design and implementation of platforms for community dialogue and distribution of community based information.I plan on using the realm of community informatics as a framework for my investigation. On a more theoretical level, I plan on engaging the ideas around new institutional forms to look at how such sites might transform the nature and role of governments and representative systems of democracy.