All posts by moranhks15

Final Deliverable: The makings of a digital strategy memo for the MA Executive Office of Public Safety and Security

I have decided to draft a digital strategy memo for my current (or perhaps former – TBD) office, the MA Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS). Having served as its Chief of Staff for the last four years, I am intimately aware of its current operations, traditional hesitancy toward new media and its previous capacity challenges which hindered potential execution of the most moderate of digital strategies.

As a Secretariat that represents 13 state agencies specializing in public safety and criminal justice issues, we often find good news stories in short supply. Interactions with our agencies are often perceived to be negative in nature. You have either been arrested or ticketed by the MA State Police (MSP), and subsequently entering the criminal justice system where you will interact with Corrections (DOC), Parole or the Sex Offender Registry Board, or quite tragically, you are a victim of a crime. Or perhaps you have experienced great loss as a result of a tornado, hurricane or blizzard and have interacted with the MA Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) or the Department of Fire Services (DFS). I have overstated my case to drive home the point that our potential stakeholder groups are limited due to the nature of our business.

Regardless of its limitations, EOPSS has made little effort in maximizing the potential space within its own network. For example, a twitter account was created and quickly abandoned. An issue blog saw some use, but ultimately suffered the same fate in 2011. The EOPSS email info line handles hundreds of interested citizen’s inquiries, but does nothing to convert them into greater participants. These are all failings resulting from limited personal capital and capacity and the lack of a carefully crafted digital strategy. I have completed a basic gap analysis, identifying what we currently do well and where we need considerable investment and attention.

For instance, a small number of agencies (MEMA, MSP, DFS and MA National Guard) maintain active twitter and Facebook pages, but they largely operate in silos. My strategy memo will contemplate a secretariat wide digital program that involves collapsing these silos into a singular, coordinated list leverageable by any of our agencies through a variety of mechanisms. I am proposing that EOPSS serve as the strong tie that connects each of the agency nodes/networks. Further, there are a number of high level policy decisions and program announcements that require a coordinated approach that an integrated network would help facilitate. EOPSS stands singularly positioned to carry out that level of messaging.

Utilizing the POST method, I will consider the following as I draft my document:

People – There are three categories of individuals I will focus on, with each consisting of their own subset of individuals – stakeholders, clients and the public. Stakeholders will be broken up into two categories – 1) the well-organized, but often adversarial groups; and 2) the various advisory councils and interests groups that EOPSS collaborates with on public policy changes. Clients can be broken down into 1) professional organizations with a high interaction rate such as police and fire departments and first responders, and also 2) those entities that receive grant funding through our Office of Grants and Research. Finally, the public can be addressed in two groups, hyper focusing on those who have contacted us with specific public safety interests, while also expanding our reach when providing general state-wide emergency notifications, etc.

Objective – My objective will be to develop and expand the network of stakeholders noted above, while simultaneously expanding the messaging capabilities and reach of the Secretariat via a number of technological tools.

Strategy – The strategy begins with a full review of agency contacts and stakeholders, and EOPSS current mechanisms for interaction. Next EOPSS will conduct gap analysis of those entities not currently accounted for. Effort will be made to convert so-called inactives and spectators to collectors and critics. This can be accomplished by converting constituent emails into mailing list members, or public members of our new network. Contact lists, twitter page access and pertinent information will be pushed out via email and press release to draw a larger audience. Those subordinate agencies referenced earlier in this blog will reinforce EOPSS branding and messaging efforts in the form of retweets and inbound links.

Technology – While the design of the main Secretariat website is dictated by an external agency outside EOPSS control, we will better utilize the landing page to advertise EOPSS’ new digital strategy, and other positive news stories. Too often content gets stale and is rarely turned over. Further, EOPSS will place heavy emphasis on Twitter in an effort to expand its network and audience. EOPSS will piggyback on the tweets of its agencies with very large followings, like MEMA and MSP, in an effort to build a follower base that it can utilize to spread the word about major policy initiatives, grant opportunities, or even beat a bad story to the punch by articulate the positives of the program or issue being covered in traditional print media.

When a positive public safety news story presents itself, EOPSS has to hunt down a reporter willing to cover the topic, and frankly, it rarely yields coverage worthy of the effort. What’s worse is the only time you hear from an EOPSS agency is when they are being asked to respond to a negative story, and the reporters rarely print what you want them to run. My hope is that this digital strategy memo will move the secretariat in the right direction, reclaiming ownership over its own public messaging in the next Administration.


The responsibility of a netizen

The free and unfettered access to information and technology is a privilege I often take for granted – most Americans do. Emily Parker’s Now I know Who My Comrades Are and Rebecca McKinnon’s Consent of the Networked, bring that realization squarely to the forefront. Access to the awe inspiring power of the internet is something certain countries simply don’t allow.

Imagine a world where you are completely isolated from the truth, forced to gather information from a faucet filtered by the government. A world where you can be unaware of tragedy and disaster, supported by the disillusioned, mutual ignorance of your personal network. It sounds awful. It sounds Orwellian. But in fact, it is actually China – or at least a version of China that the majority experience. As I read Parker’s “Comrades”, I envisioned the story of Michael Anti’s revelation about the true atrocity of the Tiananmen Square protests. I pictured his realization, having been told a completely inaccurate accounting of the day’s events, similar to a scene from the Usual Suspects, where Chaz Palminteri drops his coffee mug in earth shattering realization that he had just been fed a fabricated accounting by none other than Keyser Soze.

Equally shocking was MacKinnon’s referencing of a 2005 PBS crew unable to get Chinese students to identify the iconic Tiananmen Square photo. It reinforces the effects of a country willing and interested in blocking its citizenry from necessary and important information. While some argue that blocking websites is not an effective mechanism of control, it does play upon the apathy of the average citizen, largely content with consuming their daily dose of state-designed news. For those with a desire for the truth, you need the know-how to circumvent the restrictions. Again, some may argue that the use of a VPN or proxy server is not difficult, but if it was easy and convenient then China would have more than 1% of its online population capable of accessing the other side of the Great Fire Wall (GFW) of China. Interestingly, MacKinnon notes that improvement in the performance of Tencent, Baidu and Allibaba will only exacerbate the apathetic approach toward accessing information outside the GFW.

It seems clear from the readings that there are many ways to block, obscure and obfuscate. Certain countries see value in different approaches to information access, press and privacy. MacKinnon, citing Philip Howard from the University of Washington, states “how governments manage these technologies has a major impact on whether activists can actually succeed in using technology to change.” These differences can be seen in Cuba, where fear supersedes activism; in Russia, where they have legalized surveillance; and in Syria where the government does not limit your access, but coopts your experience to drive home the message of the state. All outstanding examples of networked authoritarianism.

Next, you cannot discuss issues around access to information without a discussion about the responsibilities that come with possessing said information. A prime example of someone who has access to information, yet acts in misguided reference to responsibility is Julian Assange. As outlined in Raffi Khatchadourian’s New Yorker piece, Assange believes he has started a “social movement” with WikiLeaks. A movement intent on exposing secrets. While you may not be able to challenge Assange’s commitment to the cause, his intent is misaligned and void of any redeeming qualities. His so-called “social movement” includes no semblance of social responsibility. He leaks with reckless abandon, unconcerned for the damage left in his wake. Worse, he accepts the damage noting the inevitability of blood on his hands. This hypocrisy is ever-present in  Assange’s Plan B, Apache Helicopter video he ironically calls “Collateral Murder”, yet remains disinterested in the collateral damage he causes. This notion of “power without accountability” that Khatchadourian raises is the perfect summation of the hypocritical nature of Assange. He claims WikiLeaks was created to root out such an unacceptable dynamic, but yet it seems to embody the very essence of this imbalance, as Assange refuses to stand on his merits and answer any of the lawsuits thrown his way.

Many compare Assange and Edward Snowden as one in the same. For me, they represent very different ideals. Assange represents what Jaron Lanier would call a “random leaker”, for which he says “is no substitute for focused digging.” Snowden, on the other hand, was specific and thoughtful in his approach. As someone who maintains top level clearance from DHS, I in no way condone the treason he has allegedly committed, but I can see fit to separate his intentions from those of Assange. Snowden has been described as a man with a conscience that took a deliberate act against an institution he felt violated the law and the public’s trust. He was deliberate and coordinated in his release of information, perhaps as a result of concern for its unintended consequences. Most whistleblowers act from their conscience, and not their crude attempt at flaunting their power over you.

Regardless of how history views Assange and Snowden – separately or similarly – they will have considerable company. For as Bruce Sterling warns, and I have heeded, “…there’s more coming. Lots, lots more.”

That “List” Really Tied the Campaign Together….

In the same way Jeffrey Lebowski’s stolen rug “really tied the room together,” having a truly exceptional “List” can really tie together all of your targeted efforts on a campaign. In short, your “list” is an accounting of your supporters, donors, and virtually anyone else who has indicated an interest in your policy platform or general candidacy. This concept of a “list” exists as a common theme in all of my readings on persuasion and Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts – a malleable collection of interested individuals with expansive, yet measurable power, awaiting activation if engaged in the proper manner. The legitimacy of your list is evaluated by its size, diversity and measurability. Is it large? Is it tested? Is it responsive to influence? Or better, is it persuadable? If yes, then your list is respectable. But you will be measured by what you do with it. Can you persuade your list to activate? Will they donate? Or better, will they vote?

These questions are not new. What is new is the way technology has advanced over the last 6-10 years, allowing the internet and social media to change the way we engage “The List”. The possibilities seem endless. In retrospect, I wish I had taken this course in 2007. Having recently joined a State Senator’s office to focus on public safety policy, I was co-opted to the campaign in my free time, and on weekends. Rapidly approaching an election cycle where the Senator would face a candidate his more senior staff described as “his biggest threat”, I was shocked to learn the status of their website and fundraising efforts. In the shortest of summaries, the website had been abandoned a year prior, there was no Facebook page, and the fundraising list was simply an aggregation of mailing addresses and a scant trace of email addresses. To make matters worse, there was very little record of any measuring from the list. No accounting of donors and their donation patterns, or whether the list was fresh.

At the time, I had no real knowledge of the tactical pillars of digital media, but I did my best to move things in the right direction. I worked to revamp the website, and waged a year-long battle to establish a Facebook page for the Senator. You see they were from the old school, as they say, and resistant to new media initiatives. Much of their success came from friends and family that worked on the Senator’s first campaign, but that was years ago, and now the strong ties that once anchored the fundraising and GOTV efforts are older, have children and drastically different responsibilities and priorities.

One of the clear breaking points for me came when some our campaign team spent a late evening stuffing envelopes for the last big fundraising push. We set up a division of labor, mindlessly stuffing, sealing and addressing these invites. About 4 hours in, and I hear a scream. The campaign director realizes that she left the return envelopes in her car, and that we had stuffed the envelopes without a way to get donors to send the money back. It was 2007/2008 and we were about to suffer a failure akin to Senator Gary Hart in 1984. After scouring the shelves for thousands of envelopes at a Target open at midnight – in an effort to rectify the fundraiser mishap – I saw this opportunity as a way to refresh the base.

We retooled the website, paid for some SEO, and added a fundraising component – crafted these Halloween looking add-ons to the campaign sign that listed the new website, and had them added to every lawn sign in the state. We also refreshed the fundraising list and attempted some basic analytics, calculating who was maxed out, who never donates, and who needed more attention or encouragement.   I also moved the office toward harnessing the power of the Senator’s inbox, implementing some vague semblance of Leichman’s best practices. He would receive nearly 1,200 emails a day. We started categorizing them. Before I understood what JD Schlough’s “nanotargeting” was, I tried to isolate constituents by policy issue and then tailor messaging toward them on an individual basis in an effort to convert their email from concerned constituent to active supporter.

Emphasis on persuasion came next. I received authorization to produce the Senator’s first TV commercial. Through a series of strong and weak tie connections, I was given access to a legit film studio staff to craft a very basic commercial. We had crafted a narrative around family, jobs, education and public safety, and strategically solicited a woman who did voiceover work for NESN to contrast the two male candidates in the race, especially considering our crafted message. Buying the Ad space was intimidating and I thought I may have spent too much money. I was sure I spent too much money when I would be approached by supporters complimenting me on the commercial, but informing me they saw it air at 4am on TNT when they couldn’t sleep the night before. The insomniacs turned out in droves for my guy, apparently.

I learned a lot from that experience. It set the table for my future campaign work, and allows me to better appreciate the readings and discussions in our larger class setting. However, I still struggle to understand why online advertisement has such a limited effect on young voters. I agree with Collins, Kalla and Keane that young voters are hard to reach through the door-to-door method. I also agree that, due to media fragmentation, the logical contact point would be via social media; however, I do not see the influence they cite as significant. I also question the future of TV advertisements. As noted, younger viewers have moved away from TV and to the internet. The rest of the TV loyalist are likely owners of a DVR. As the proliferation of DVR continues, I would argue that TV ad buys will diminish – or at least their impact will fall off considerably. I cannot remember the last time I watched a commercial by choice. It’s an automatic fast forward, unless I am watching a Patriots game, or sporting event in general.

How will we be able to enjoy the salacious attacks that are replayed over and over again, if ads disappear? Without the attacks would Scott Brown have beaten Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s seat? Being from Massachusetts, I will not forget the moment Scott Brown released his thirty-second spot in response to Coakley attack ads. In my opinion, he won the race when he hit David Gergen’s “the People’s Seat” softball out of the park during the debate, and then followed it up with the half-zip sweater appeal in his kitchen. I think that special election is a perfect example of how messaging, persuasion and a strong GOTV in a short time-table can change the dynamic of an institution.   It has had a lasting effect here in MA. Consider the Congressional Race for the 6th District. See if the Tisei ad looks similar to the Brown kitchen add. Scott Brown’s legendary truck has even influenced the race. Yes, the same truck he drives in a $645 barn jacket. During the last debate between Moulton and Tisei, the candidates were asked what kind of car they drove. Tisei owned it saying he bought a new 2013 Jeep last year. Moulton, on the other hand, divined “Mikey” from the movie Swingers, and said “um, uh, what kind of car do I drive…um, uh, uh…for the campaign I am driving a Nissan.” Well played. But nothing will ever eclipse Scott Brown’s truck. It had its own Facebook page, and even a bobble head. Apparently the truck thing still works in New Hampshire.

None of it matters if you cannot get your list off the couch and into a voting booth. I cannot wait to see how some of these races play out on Tuesday.

The death of the newspaper

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”          Charles Darwin

I am reminded of this obvious, and perhaps overused, quote from Darwin as I review the readings that have examined the current state of Journalism and News Media. Adaptation is the key to survival for any species – or institution. There are no exceptions – full stop. Print media is a prime example of an institution that failed to manage change in the face of an evolving enterprise. It wasn’t enough to know the internet would change the face of the industry. It wasn’t enough to move Dave Winer’s cardboard box around from place to place – it still contained the same content, generating the same level of interest, regardless of the format.

When thinking about the inevitable extinction of the newspaper, I think back to how many friends I had growing up who actually had a paper route. While that was the 1980’s, some thirty plus years later, and I cannot recall seeing anyone deliver a newspaper in person. While that is partly a result of the changing business model, and perhaps the deconstruction of traditional neighborhoods in lieu of social networks, the reality is the industry did not evolve with this change in society. It is simply not enough to integrate new technology – according to Anderson, Bell and Shirky in “Post-Industrial Journalism,” you must also change your processes. The only question left is whether or not journalism will follow the newspaper to the grave?

In “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” Clay Shirky argues that “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” Moreover, he feels we should untie newspapers and journalism from one another, and worry about strengthening journalism. I tend to agree. I cannot recall the last time I read an actual newspaper; however, I cannot reconcile with Shirky’s notion of strengthening journalism when the internet and the networked individual have effectively eliminated the professional boundaries of a journalist. Making information public is no longer done by professionals or institutions. As professionalism disappears, the expansive network of engaged amateurs fills the void, making anyone with a camera phone, blog or Twitter account a voice to be heard.

In the age of the all-powerful social network, even small publications can succeed if they change their processes. The Tow Center Report discusses the concept of “Super Distribution” as the forwarding of media through social networks, and “that tiny publications with an important article can reach a big audience quickly, at no additional cost.” The elimination of these distribution barriers is a familiar theme. I referenced this concept in my first blog post, citing a coworker’s tween fiction novel. A further example that resonates with me is the ease in which former Boston Herald reporter Dave Wedge published a book on the Boston Marathon Bombings entitled “Boston Strong”.   As Dave Winer might angrily point out, Wedge was merely one of a thousand “witnesses” to the week’s events. Fortunately for Wedge, he was the first across the finish line with a published accounting of the tragedy, and now Hollywood celebrities like Casey Affleck are lining up to star in the movie.

Dean Starkman, in Confidence Game, describes a collection of thinkers, some I have quoted here, as the Future of News (FON) consensus. He says that the FON favors “iterative journalism”, or reporting on the fly, fixing mistakes along the way. Dave Wedge was a seasoned journalist collecting stories and information from the Marathon events, but what about all of the other witnesses that were there? The tendency toward iterative journalism led to CNN to confirm that an arrest had been made in the case without confirmation. This type of journalism also put lives in jeopardy when an institution like the New York Post attempted to confirm the photo identities of the two suspects, wrongly targeting two young kids.

It is dangerous when institutions try to mimic the flexibility of their usership’s social network, and engage in this on the fly journalism. They not only jeopardize their reputation for accuracy and reliability, but they allow other more malleable forms to enter the conversation and establish themselves as the authority on an issue. As CNN raced to inaccurately report that the Supreme Court had rejected the individual mandate, they open the door for SCOTUSblog to enter the conversation and establish themselves as a new authority.

I find myself landing somewhere in between Shirky and the members of the FON, and Starkman on the role of these traditional journalism institutions. I believe these institutions, as Shirky puts it, do the heavy lifting by covering all angles of a story, and that this creates a benefit that everyone can capitalize on – especially for new media sources that do not possess the “slack” to shift surplus reporters and resources to a breaking news story.

Having spent years of my life in Government dealing with investigative reporters, I can honestly say that without the backing of an old media institution, the bureaucrats will simply wait you out. If you do not have the power and reputation to reinforce your efforts, you will not be taken seriously. This accountability is critical, and would simply be non-existent without these formal institutions. While I am certain the newspaper is dead, I am hopeful that journalism will survive – and survive in a way that contemplates the legitimacy of these storied institutions, or I fear the FON will be proven right and large scale corruption will spread across government on all levels.

Review: The Boston Marathon Bombing Wiki page

Thankfully, I was not injured in the Boston Marathon Bombings, nor were any of my close friends or family. However, the events of April 15-19, 2013 left an indelible mark on my memory. As Chief of Staff for the MA Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, I wore many hats from policy advisor and budget analyst to office manager. One of the hats I wore most frequently was that of a crisis manager. I was responsible for assisting in the deployment of our agencies’ resources and ensuring that the Secretary and Governor were briefed and advised on any developing issues. As a result, there are really only a handful of people who had a more complete look at the week’s events. For this reason, I thought I would evaluate the Boston Marathon Bombing Wikipedia page.

Having never visited the page before I was shocked to see how much information had been edited and uploaded to the page. I had anticipated that critical aspects of the investigation and critical contextual issues would have been omitted. After a complete review, I find the page to be very comprehensive. There are over 10 subsections that cover obvious topics like the response, investigation and manhunt, but also a synopsis on the bombers’ alleged motivations and affiliated arrests that took place in the aftermath of the bombings. If I had to nitpick, the introduction is missing references to the MA State Police and the critical role they played in the intelligence analysis through the State Police Fusion Center and Crime Lab. It also references the exchange of gunfire during the standoff in Watertown as occurring after midnight, but I believe it happened earlier in the evening, as I was already on scene shortly after midnight, and it was the shootout that prompted my deployment to the area. The article is also up to date, as recent developments in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial have been referenced as his defense counsel pushes a change of venue order. In fact, it was actually last edited on September 28, 2014.

I was surprised, however, that there were links to the Todashev shooting in Florida. My good friend was “Trooper 1,” who was referred to by the Florida State’s Attorney in the report on the Todashev shooting by an FBI agent during his interrogation. There were also references to certain persons of interest linked to the Tsarnaevs. I did not anticipate that thorough of a link created between these individuals on a Wikipedia page. There are obviously a number of relevant things not included in this article, but they are law enforcement sensitive and in some instances classified, and therefore have not been publicly reported on.

As far as sourcing is considered, there are 335 references listed along with a handful of additional external links. This event received national and international coverage which resulted in hundreds of newspaper articles and magazine citations contained throughout the page. Even the report put out by our very own Harvard University was included in the references.

The article demonstrated Wikipedia’s commitment to neutrality by not only using the term “allegedly” to described actions carried out by the Tsarnaev brothers, but also by including references to statements by Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau and former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis that were eventually proved inaccurate. Deveau alleged, in reference to the shootout his officers engaged in with Tamerlan, that they had an arsenal of guns. Fact remained that Tamerlan only had a Ruger 9mm at his disposal, and a few remaining pressure cooker bombs. They did have a lot of 9mm rounds, in which Dzhokhar reloaded into clips that he handed his brother during the firefight. This must have appeared like an arsenal in the chaos. Another reference to the mystery gun Dzhokhar had in the boat was proved wrong. Commissioner Davis and others were quoted as saying that Dzhokhar exchange gunfire at the boat standoff on Franklin St. It would later be revealed that he was unarmed.

Overall, the article was well structured. I thought readability, formatting and illustrations were generally on point. If there was one area that could have been improved upon it would be the illustrations. There were so many photos taken from the week’s events, that to have a picture of a building in West New York, NJ seems silly. It also did not include any of the leaked MA State Police photos that were published in Boston Magazine.

Being my first time to the page, I was very impressed. There were more aspects of the investigation listed than I had anticipated. It also served to conjure up those memories again. I was expecting to be compelled to edit the page, but I think they have done a great job. I was, however, annoyed at the section critiquing the Governor’s decision to have residents stay indoors during the manhunt. As one of the 6 people who recommended that course of action to the Governor, the criticism still aggravates me. If only the public knew the full breadth of what we were dealing with, and the limited time we had to make that decision.

Perhaps I will edit in my rant and see how long it takes the truth seekers to schedule it for deletion.

By Wikipedia user: theYOTM

I hate to burst your (filter) bubble…

Do you wonder why lately you haven’t noticed the conservative rantings of your freshman year roommate on your Facebook news feed? As your social network expands, do you wonder if it will keep pace and properly respond to advances in algorithmic personalization? As Jonathan Stray describes in “Are we struck in filter bubbles? Here are five potential paths out”, you are likely trapped “in your own sycophantic universe”, void of any contradicting thoughts or challenges to your belief structure. Your salvation lies in the power and diversity of the social network you have created.

In Net Smart, Howard Rheingold suggests, that despite what we might think, our individual happiness is more closely “depend[ent] on those people we have never met”. Perhaps that is why I used to arrive at work angry each morning, having listened to the poorly crafted, and occasionally sexist, sports takes on WEEI 850AM.

More to the point, we have moved away from the old manner of thinking about information. Stray explains that it is less about content and more about connecting people to people. Content has always been curated and filtered. Complex algorithms have now replaced media editors who once used to dictate what content was valuable for the public to read. So as Stray alludes, the filter bubble is not new, but I believe we now possess the ability to change the dynamic by enhancing our network.

I found it interesting to consider Mark Granovetter’s theory on the “Strength of weak ties” in relation to a job hunt. Those of us who are tied to a “highly clustered” network would likely be aware of the same job openings, or lack thereof. It is the individual that seeks the assistance of their weak ties that will likely find a diverse and rewarding opportunity. I can relate to this in my professional life, having made a number of hires based on loosely connected referrals. I am also keenly aware that I will be relying on this same network as I move from graduation to the job market. The more diverse I make my network now, the greater likelihood of success in May.

It is this issue of diversity, however, that I find the most challenging when comparing Stray’s explanation of the perils of the filter bubble and Rheingold’s emphasis on building your network. Rheingold suggests that it is worthwhile to invest time in connecting with less prominently linked individuals in order to diversify your network. These individuals likely have a different set of skills and core beliefs, while also having a varying degree of importance. Regardless, however, they exist as weak ties located at the edges of your network. But these are the very same weak ties that Stray insists get marginalized by the improvements in personalization. While it is valuable to connect with the weak ties from Rheingold’s point of view, the unlikelihood that you engage regularly with them via shared links, will almost certainly guarantee they will be filtered out. How do you reconcile that contradiction? Further, if you accept the contradiction and adjust your efforts toward increasing your strong ties, you become complicit in your own filter bubble never exposing yourself to challenging points of view, never broadening your horizons.

As a result of this course I have a renewed sense of commitment to my social network. The potential gains in what Rheingold calls “social capital” are too great to pass up. The funds and awareness raised through the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the most recent example of the power and leverage of your network. Even on a personal level I helped raise funds for one of my best friends who lost his home during the June 2011 Tornadoes here in MA (photo 11 in gallery) or more recently, a simple meal wagon set up for a classmate who had a baby. All great stories, and all derived from a combination of strong and weak ties, but largely from people the beneficiaries have never met.

I used to mock the legitimacy of people’s networks. While I focused wrongly on those who care about the number of Facebook friends they have, or “likes” on their most recent post, without the power of my network, I would never have received a birthday present from Celtic great Larry Bird.

For the record, I have never met Larry Bird, but I grew up idolizing him and Michael Jordan. To make the leap from a childhood fixation to the signed bobble head birthday wishes story, all I had to do was hang a framed photo of the Legend in my office. A fellow manager that I was loosely acquainted with noticed the portrait and asked about my interest. He revealed that his wife was from French Lick, Indiana, home of none other than Larry Bird, and that they were good friends in High School. A few months later I was in receipt of a rare bobble head and a personalized birthday card from #33. Not only is that a demonstration of the strength my weak ties, but it also closes on Rheingold’s emphasis on social capital, and how “doing favors for strangers in a network without anticipation of reciprocation is the best way to operate”.

As network linkages and connectivity go, my Bacon Number may be 0, but my Larry Bird number is a 3.

Blog Post #1: Here Comes Everybody

In Here Comes Every Body: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky examines technological changes and the integration and impact of new social media tools on the way we communicate with one another in an evolving digital age.

One of Shirky’s central themes involves what he refers to as the “elimination of scarcity,” an “old world disadvantage” that placed limitations on an individual’s ability to organize and share information. Shirky utilizes a wide range of examples to highlight the fact that, in our current digital age, prior barriers to publish, distribute, reproduce and categorize information have disappeared or have been intentionally eliminated based on new ways of utilizing technology to expand concepts of community.

Shirky’s notion of the “amateurization” of certain professions was an interesting proposition, and one that I have often struggled with. Who is a journalist? What does that title constitute? Am I now considered a journalist after my first foray into blogging? A former co-worker, who will remain nameless, wrote a “tween” fiction novel recently. The plot is derivative of the latest Hunger Games or Twilight-style offering, and would stand no chance at print in a competitive publishing market. However, in this digital age, he was able to self-publish and distribute copies to friends and family to generate interest from their networks. Does the elimination of the barrier, or “scarcity” to publish and the amatuerization of this industry require that I refer to him as an author or novelist? Perhaps I must.

Another theme I focused on was the way “sharing can anchor community” and the impact a wide and expansive network can have on an issue as small as the return of a cell phone, or something as heart wrenching as sifting through the aftermath of a Tsunami. The latter example conjured memories of the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombings. After the explosions and the initial chaos, there was a small network of marathoners who were, for security and logistics reasons, cut off from their backpacks, wallets, car keys and even families. These people would essentially have no place to go. No shelter – simply waiting for direction and opportunity to reconnect with their belongings and/or loved ones. In an outpouring of support for their neighbor’s, individuals took to social media sites like Twitter, Craigslist, and Facebook to offer their homes to stranded runners and their families. It happened instantly and without provocation or request from some higher authority. A truly remarkable showing in the midst of such sadness and uncertainty.

I also agree with Shirky’s acknowledgement of the impossibility of responding to one’s entire network, with respect to fame and scale, as it closely touched on experiences I have had working for elected officials. Shirky asserts that as fame increases, the size and scale of your network or organization will also increase. As an elected official, interacting with your constituency is essential. While social media tools have made this interaction much easier, expectations have increased along with technology. I recall working for a MA State Senator who was interested in expanding his social media presence to Facebook and Twitter. In the early stages, as we began to roll out his twitter account and facebook page, the experience was very positive. In fact, he insisted on handling 100% of the responses. This insistence would prove temporary, for at the time we only maintained followers who were very loyal to the Senator. He was able to handle the two-way communication in what Shirky calls “tight conversation clusters”, but once the network grew, and with its growth came divergent feelings toward the Senator, it became unwieldy for the Senator to handle all of the responses. Shortly after that evolution, it became unwieldy to respond to most of the questions posed through those mediums.  A complex challenge to operating within the new digital reality.

In all, I have enjoyed my reading of Here Comes Everybody. Shirky has provided a diverse set of examples to highlight the impact of this technological revolution, and while he notes that “the old world of scarcity may have some disadvantages, it spared us the worst of amateur production”, I will take to poorest of amateur production rather than return to the age TV and radio.