ICS 491 S12 The Social Information Infrastructure

University of Hawaii Department of Information & Computer Sciences

Session 7: How solutions happen

In Session 6, I asked you to consider problems on the broadest possible scale: grand challenges.  In every case you identified in your blogs and discussed in the series of excellent comments, there was not just a single problem but a network of them that contributed to the current situation, and resisted fundamental change.  The rewards of meeting a grand challenge are obvious in some cases: better education, higher standard of living worldwide, more equality, new knowledge that can then be used to solve other challenges, both grand and more mundane.

The goal of this final session is to make you aware of what one or a few people can do to address large problems like these, by understanding and navigating this complex infrastructure we’ve been considering all semester, to get information to the right place at the right time. Last session I asked you to identify a grand challenge, but not solve it.  This session I’m going to ask you to identify a problem at a smaller scale, and to outline a solution that takes explicit advantage of the social information infrastructure.

In parallel, your GOMC campaigns should either be running now or starting very soon.  This will be the last checkpoint before your Post-Campaign reports are due both to me and uploaded to Google.  Since this constitutes your final project grade, plus some of you have asked for an extra credit opportunity, we will address both this session.

By Sunday, April 15, 11:59pm

Every student should email me individually with a report on the current status of your GOMC project, and your role in it.  Focus on the work you have done individually, your interactions with your group and organization, and how you have divided the work so far.  Identify any obstacles or roadblocks that you have encountered.  Confirm the beginning and end dates of your campaign, your group’s plan for completing the Post-Campaign report, and any other comments.  This email is a first draft of your required Individual Reflective Assessment that’s worth 5% of your grade, but by sending this working draft to me by the deadline, you can earn up to 2 points of extra credit (2% of your grade).

Read: Paul Graham (2012). Frighteningly ambitious startup ideas. http://www.paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

On your blog: address the following questions/points:

  • Who is Paul Graham, and why should you listen to him?
  • Critique and/or extend one of Graham’s startup ideas.
  • Propose a “frighteningly ambitious” startup idea of your own.  Spend at least a paragraph or two describing it.  What problems would it solve?  What problems would it create?
  • This is the part of your post that I will evaluate most heavily when it comes to your grade for this session: which two specific aspects of the social information infrastructure would help make your idea happen, and why?  Choose aspects from readings or other students’ blogs throughout the course that demonstrate your understanding of what the social information infrastructure is, and its potential to translate ideas into reality.

By Friday, April 20, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students’ blogs.  Those of who you haven’t consistently commented at this level throughout the course may post more comments to earn up to 2 points of extra credit (3 additional substantive comments beyond the 5 required = 1 extra credit point).

By Sunday, April 22, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations.

By Sunday, May 6, 11:59pm

Your Post-Campaign Report (one per team) and individual reflective assessments are due via email to me, though earlier submissions are appreciated.

I will be in contact with you over the coming weeks for GOMC, but since this is our last session, I’d like to thank you for giving this online course a chance, and I hope you’ve found it informative, interesting and a refreshing change from the standard lecture/lab format.  I look forward to reading your suggestions on the course evaluations, and I’ll send out the instructions for those when the eCafe site opens.

Session 6: Grand Challenges

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish. We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.

President John F. Kennedy

Address to joint session of Congress

25 May 1961

A Grand Challenge is a large-scale problem that the social information infrastructure is uniquely able to help address.  Grand challenges typically require the integration of diverse people and areas of study, and once accomplished, they open up possibilities for entirely new levels of scientific and technical advancements.  The above quote from John F. Kennedy is probably the most canonical example of a grand challenge, but the idea has been adopted in many fields to provide inspiration and motivation.

What can we, as humble students and instructors, hope to contribute to such huge efforts?  Don’t worry, in the readings and assignments for this session you won’t be asked to solve any grand challenges.  But you will be asked to extend some of the ideas you’ve already encountered this semester: what information matters, for and from whom, and how does it get where it’s needed?

This session has a GOMC component as well.  (UPDATE March 20: GOMC registration is working, captains, please register your teams immediately at this address: https://www.google.com/appserve/onlinechallenge/register) I am sorry to report that at this writing I have still had no feedback from Google on the registration problems we’re having.   I registered a third time this past weekend, using different institutional information (initially I linked to my home page, which has a www2.hawaii.edu URL; absent any other clues I thought maybe linking to a www.hawaii.edu site with my name would bypass some filter and allow us to register).  My current thought is to give Google this week to get back to me, and after that, change the final assignment to a report to your organization structured similarly to the Post-Campaign Report, on how they can improve their Web presence and search rankings, based on the Google AdWords tool you’ll be using this session as well.

By Sunday March 25, 11:59pm

View: What is Google AdWords? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=05we2g3Edgs

Read: Strategy for American Innovation: Catalyze Breakthroughs for National Priorities http://www.whitehouse.gov/innovation/strategy/catalyze

Read:  Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations (summary pdf pp. 1-3, not counting cover page) http://www.nap.edu/nap-cgi/report.cgi?record_id=13078&type=pdfxsum

On your blog:

  • Use the Web to find and describe a grand challenge of interest to you, something you would be interested in working on.  Use the two readings for this session to get an overview and examples of grand challenges, and how diverse stakeholders participate toward its solution.  You might find your grand challenge described with another euphemism, like “big question,” but in any case, try to choose one not covered in the readings.  Summarize it, and why you’re interested, in about a paragraph, and provide a link in case people are interested in learning more.
  • Describe three core stakeholders (organizations or groups of people) whose practice would change fundamentally if the grand challenge was achieved.  For example, advancing science education via computer games would involve computer game companies, schools and teachers, among others.
  • Last session, you described some of the distractions you encounter while working.  For each stakeholder group, describe a similar distraction: a competing practice or idea that might distract the organization from participating in the grand challenge.  For example, gaming companies might lose market share or credibility with hardcore gamers if their products were perceived as educational.  Schools might resist on grounds of cost, or if they get funding or make admission decisions based on how well students meet traditional education standards, which may not be met with a gaming-based approach.  Teachers may resist if they are technophobes, or traditionalists—or perhaps they will embrace the technology too much, using it as busy work for students.   Be creative and realistic in describing the stakeholder practices that must be overcome.
  • Finally, describe how each stakeholder group could overcome their resistance via the social information infrastructure.  Describe one key piece of information, its source, and its path—that each stakeholder group would need to overcome, or at least address, that resistance.   For example, a school might be open to game-based science education if a government or scientific report on its positive educational outcomes could be found, authored by a prestigious individual or group, and found via a trustworthy journal article database.  One way to test your proposals is to ask yourself if the stakeholder would be as convinced with a different piece of information, a different source, or a different discovery path.  For example, the same educational report released via Facebook wouldn’t be as convincing—but a Facebook page with hundreds of thousands of followers mass-liking educational gaming software would convince a software company that this is a worthwhile investment in a way no research article ever could.

Also on your blog:

A limited set of Google AdWords functions is available without logging in.  Using the Google AdWords Keyword Tool: (https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal):

  • Enter three keyword phrases, each using different synonyms for your GOMC organization’s area of interest or target audience.  Don’t do this in collaboration with your team at this point—the idea is to get a broad spread of potential search term suggestions.  Enter each phrase on a separate line in the “Word or phrase” field of the keyword tool, then click search.
  • What are the global and local monthly searches for each phrase you entered?  These results are displayed in the “Search terms” box.
  • What are the global and local monthly searches for the three most frequently searched phrases in the Google-generated “Keyword ideas” box?
  • Critique the Google keyword suggestions.  Explain which if any of the suggested search phrases are likely to be used by the organization’s target audience, and why you think so.

Mon March 26-Fri March 30

Enjoy Spring Break!

By Friday, April 6, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students’ blogs.

By Sunday April 8, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations.

Session 5: Collaboration and coordination

Virtual teams are a microcosm of the social information infrastructure.  The central goal of this session is to get you to understand how virtual teams work (and often don’t work), to integrate a few of the large-scale ideas we’ve discussed previously, and to apply some of these ideas to your current GOMC project.

Most groups are off to a good start with GOMC, though some of you have yet to send me notice that your organization has given you approval to work with them.  If not, do so immediately.  If this presents a problem for any reason, it’s not too late to change organizations, but it soon will be.  Keep consulting the GOMC literature for step-by-step guidance (http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/about.html), but what you should be working on now is the Pre-Campaign Report, registering your organization via the Student Dashboard, familiarizing yourself with the AdWords tools, and meeting with your organization.  If you have any roadblocks for any reason, contact me immediately—don’t wait til the due date is approaching or passed.

If you’re unfamiliar with management literature, you may find some terminology somewhat eye-rolling.  Using a term like “high-performing team” to describe a group that gets stuff done may help sell management books, but regardless of the packaging, the core skill of working with those you may never meet face to face is one you’ll need regardless of the field you go into.  I’ve chosen a brief excerpt from a virtual teams workshop and two TED talks to introduce some of these ideas, but it’s your job to consider how the success factors of virtual teams are influenced by the social information infrastructure.


By Sunday, March 11, 11:59pm:

1) Team captains, email me your GOMC Pre-Campaign Reports.  I’m giving you two extra days because some organizations have been responding more quickly than others.

2) Read/View:

3) Post on your blog:

  • Choose an idea or concept from one reading and one student’s blog post (other than your own) from any previous session that you feel is applicable to creating a successful virtual team in the modern social information infrastructure.  Make it something that isn’t obvious and that’s likely to generate discussion in the comments.  Provide a reference to the reading and a link to the blog post that you’re discussing so people can easily review them.
  • From the Team Building workshop excerpt, discuss three realistic, actionable ways you can develop trust at this early stage of your GOMC virtual team.  You may consult with the other members of your team to answer this question, though you need not all choose the same strategies.
  • Your reactions to the Fried and Wujec talks, and at least one idea from each talk that you feel would be productive and realistic to implement in your GOMC team.  Are there any that are unrealistic?
  • The environment in which you work best, the three biggest distractions in that environment, and how you overcome them
  • Your biggest fear about working as a team on this project.  In other words, post how you think your virtual team might fail, and what steps you–or the instructor–can take to prevent that.


By Friday, March 16, 11:59pm

Comment substantively on at least five other students’ blogs.


By Sunday March 18, 11:59pm

Conclude your conversations.  The next session will be bisected by Spring Break, so I urge you to make as much progress with GOMC beforehand as you can.

Session 4: Social information seeking

GOMC groups

Following the principles of (1) forming groups around the most-mentioned organizations, (2) maximizing the number of organizations, (3) equalizing the number of people in each group, (4) distributing people to their favorite or near-favorite groups, and (5) first come first served, here are the GOMC organizations and members:

(One student remains unaffiliated.)

Understand that a component of your individual reflective assessment papers (due at the end of the course) will be to evaluate how your group members worked together and communicated, which will be reflected in your final grade–so don’t slack.  If any issues arise in your groups, contact me as soon as possible.

Captains should contact the members of their groups, make initial contact with the organization to get their approval, and begin the GOMC Pre-Campaign Report immediately.   Email me to confirm that your organization has approved by Friday March 2.  The Pre-Campaign Report will be due Friday March 9 as part of the Session 5 assignment.  Spending time reading the GOMC requirements and documentation now will let you ask better questions of your organization at the outset, create a better campaign…and allow you to relax at the end of the term.

Session 4 assignment

Because you have some extra GOMC coordination responsibilities this session, as well as less time, I’m assigning you about half of what I’d planned–hopefully you agree that it’s the more interesting half!

By Tuesday Feb 28

1) Read (posted in Laulima Resources section):

  • Evans and Chi (2008). Towards a Model of Understanding Social Search. Proceedings of ACM SSM 2008.
  • Horowitz, D. and Kamvar, S.D. (2010).  The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Social Search Engine.  Proceedings of ACM WWW 2010.

2) Post on your blog:

  • An example of a “social search” you’ve engaged in recently, following the definition proposed by Evans & Chi.  In your example, respond specifically to each of the six questions posed by Evans and Chi on p. 83.
  • Try to break their proposed “canonical social model” of search on p. 85, based on the social search experience you described above.  Did your search flow precisely through the components they describe?  Are there elements missing in their model that would describe an important step in your social search?
  • What is Aardvark’s “central technical challenge”?  In your opinion, what are two pros and two cons of a social information seeking system like this?  Would you use it?
  • What happened to Aardvark, and why?

By Friday Mar 2: Comment substantively on at least five other students’ posts.  Remember to moderate your comments often.

By Sunday Mar 4: Conclude your conversations.


(initial Session 4 post)

Hope you’re enjoying the long weekend!

In Session 3, I asked each of you to propose an organization for the Google Online Marketing Challenge project, then to communicate among yourselves to form teams around 3-4 organizations, since we have 14 students and Google mandates a minimum of three students per team.  I know it’s hard to commit when you have such a fine array of choices, but now’s the time, and we will be departing from the usual structure of the course session to get this done as soon as possible:

If you’ve agreed with other students to form a group, have the team captain email me the name of the organization, the group members, and whether or not you’re open to having any other students join your team.

If you haven’t yet joined a group, email me your top three choices of organizations to work with, in descending order of preference (include the organization you proposed, unless it doesn’t make your top three).  Understand that if other students want to work with the organization you proposed, you will be the team captain, though once your teams are formed, you can certainly negotiate roles in your teams however you’d like.

I encourage you to communicate with other students and take the first option, but either way, email me this information immediately if you can, but no later than Wednesday Feb 22.  I will finalize the teams based as closely as I can on your preferences.  After everyone has joined a team, I’ll update this post with the final teams, along with the Session 4 readings and assignment.

Session 3: Why are people on the Web?

Instead of giving you paragraphs of text and a few long readings in an attempt to address this session’s topic question, let’s get straight to the answer: people use the Web to discover relevant information.  Hopefully that’s not too surprising!  But two better questions, which lead directly into the Google Online Marketing Challenge (GOMC), are: what does relevance mean to Web searchers, and how can content providers present information accordingly?

Traditional search engine relevance was based on simple keyword matching—if your search term matched a string in the document, it was returned in the results list.  Google rose to prominence by adding a new dimension to this basic structure: popularity.  If other sites linked to you, that was an indicator of quality, and thus relevance, in addition to the number and position of search terms in the page.   Google also considers your physical location via your IP address when determining relevance ranking: do a Google search and in the left panel your location should read “Honolulu, HI”—do the same search on the mainland and your results will be different.  Now we’re transitioning yet again, to a social search model. Services like iTunes Genius propose relevant songs based on what other users have grouped in the same playlist, and other systems base relevance on the actions of people who have mutually identified as friends.  The point to remember is that relevance isn’t just about topical match (the what).  It’s also about why a search is being done, when, where, and by whom.  All of these are elements of relevance, and to a greater or lesser extent, all are being considered when modern search engines present results to you.

From the side of the content providers, meaning any organization that has a Web presence, generic traffic looks good, but doesn’t necessarily help you.  A community service site may appreciate recognition for their work via site visits and Facebook likes, but what they really need are donors and volunteers to take action.  Organizations have to be very specific about who they want visiting their site, from where, when, and why.  A reggae band struggling to make it in New Orleans wants local people to come to their shows, and they want people to find their site before or during a tour, not three weeks after the tour is over.

Understanding Web search from the perspective of both the modern searcher and content provider is critical for the GOMC.  And some more good news—they’ve increased the amount of free advertising to $250 this year.

Session 3, Week 1 (Mon Feb 6-Sun Feb 12)

Read the following in the order listed:

  • Savolainen, R., & Kari, J. (2006).  User-defined relevance criteria in Web searching.  Journal of Documentation 62(6), 685-707.  The pdf of this paper is in Resources section of the ICS 491 Laulima page.  Focus particularly on the 18 forms of relevance criteria in Table 1 on p. 695.
  • Google Online Marketing Challenge overview http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/about.html
  • The detailed GOMC guidelines for 2012.  Focus specifically on the instructions for students, and the guidelines for selecting an organization (p. 10).  Remember, this document constitutes the guidelines for your final project, particularly the reports in Appendix C.  The sooner you familiarize yourself with this document, the easier it will be for you to choose an organization and craft a campaign that yields good results. http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/files/gomc_guidelines.pdf

On your blog:

  • Identify a specific organization that you would like to work with for the GOMC, and post a link to its home page.  This is your formal proposal, and other students will be choosing among the organizations you propose.  Read the guidelines carefully, and make sure the organization is eligible for GOMC.
  • Who is the organization’s core audience?  Who is the audience it would like to have, but doesn’t currently (its desired audience)? You can usually determine this information by reading the organization’s mission statement or similar “About Us” page.
  • How could the desired audience find this organization on the Web?  Suggest five query terms that would be likely to retrieve the organization’s page in a Google search.  Exclude the name of the organization—by definition, seekers unfamiliar with the organization wouldn’t know it.  Also, don’t repeat the same term with different suffixes or pluralization (e.g. dog/dogs/doggies)
  • Suggest five other, non-textual dimensions of relevance that the desired audience specifically would value, and briefly explain why.  Link each of the five with a corresponding dimension of relevance proposed in the Savolainen & Kari paper–though you are encouraged to come up with dimensions that do not appear in the paper.
  • Conclude by suggesting one thing the organization could do with its Web page to attract more members of its desired audience.

Session 3, Week 2 (Mon Feb 13-Sun Feb 20)

  • As usual, read as many of your fellow students’ blogs as you like, but comment substantively on at least five.  Most of you have been doing a great job with this so far.  Try to focus your comments on the likely actions of the organization’s desired audience, and ways to link them with the organization’s page.
  • In your blog comments, communicate among yourselves, form 3-4 teams, and choose team captains.  The captain should be someone who can (or already has) made contact with the organization.  Again, make sure you read the GOMC guidelines carefully, can deliver what’s expected based on the organization you choose, and that every member has an idea of their role.  But most importantly, choose an organization you would genuinely like to work with, and one you would enjoy helping.
  • Once groups are finalized, I will give you instructions on how to create your accounts.  Please contact me as soon as possible if you have any questions.

Session 2: How ideas emerge and flow

Compliments on a strong first session!  Courses like this thrive on interaction, and I was very happy to see in the blog comments how many of your ideas evolved after reading the posts of your fellow students.  It’s also good to see the same topics discussed in very different blog styles, from casual to more formal, and I encourage you to communicate in whichever way you feel expresses your thoughts best.  If you haven’t already, take one more look at the blogs and comments from session 1, see which you feel were most helpful, and compose your future posts with the idea that they’re not just an assignment for a grade, but an important resource for your fellow students.

One point of caution: WordPress defaults to requiring comment moderation, and there’s nothing more discouraging than posting a comment no one can see or respond to because it’s awaiting moderation.  Make sure that you’re set up to receive notifications when people comment on your blog, and approve the comments as soon as possible.  Alternatively, you may choose to disable comment moderation so posts appear immediately, but that risks having to remove spam posts later.  When leaving a comment, I also recommend that you tick the checkbox to receive a notification when any follow-up comments are posted, so conversations can flow.

Another note: starting Jan 30 my office hours will be Mondays 1-2:30 in Hamilton Library 2H.  Feel free to drop by, but it’s usually best to email beforehand to make sure I’m there, or to arrange a meeting at a different time.

Admittedly, the Session 2 title, How ideas emerge and flow, makes promises no blog post could possibly keep!   We’ll be building on some concepts from last session that came up in your blog comments about how memes emerge and propagate, but extend that to innovations and ideas.  Lots has been written on this topic, but these few readings should give you a workable overview of some of the most common ways others have conceptualized the spread of ideas.  This is another block in the foundation you’ll need to understand how to link people with information in the Google Online Marketing Challenge, which we’ll begin discussing directly in Session 3.

Session 2, Week 1 (Mon Jan 23-Sun Jan 29)

1) Complete the Session 2 readings, in the order listed.  You can try jumping right into the Wejnert review, but if you find it slow going, you may want to start with the Wikipedia entry on diffusion of innovations for an overview.

2) In a paragraph or so, discuss how you think the three readings are related.  Are they different, or all talking about the same thing?

3) Pick an issue or innovation you think will be the center of attention in five years.  Make it something you genuinely care about, that you would love to have a career working on.  Describe it and provide a link to a Web resource that discusses it.   Contrast Agre’s suggested approach with one of those found in the Wejnert review.   What aspects of each approach can help you draw attention to the issue or innovation you described?  What are three other ways not found in the readings that you would draw attention to your issue or innovation?  For the latter question, don’t just say “Facebook”–consider how your potential audience would be most likely to give your issue or innovation their attention, and offer detailed suggestions.

4) Conclude your post by briefly discussing what the Hong blog contributes to your discussion above.

Session 2, Week 2 (Mon Jan 30-Sun Feb 5)

1) Read as many of the other students’ blog posts as you wish, but comment substantively on at least five by Friday Feb 3.  Usually I won’t instruct you to make specific comments, but for this session, I’d like you to actively help your classmates with their chosen topic: include in each of your comments one additional suggestion of a way to draw attention to the blog author’s issue or innovation.  Try to comment on the blogs of students you didn’t comment on last session, and remember to moderate and approve comments frequently!

2) Respond to comments and conclude your discussions by Sun Feb 5.

Session 1: The social information infrastructure

First, if you haven’t already done so, please read the course overview and syllabus:


When you signed up for a course titled “the social information infrastructure,” you probably had only a vague idea of what it would be about.  A lot of the professional and popular literature on this topic gets bogged down in conflicting terminology.  For example, “social information architecture” seems like it would be related, but that’s used mostly as a design term, where a designer crafts interactions on a Website.  The social information infrastructure is much broader than that, and well beyond anyone’s control.  Our goal in this first session is to come to some consensus on a working definition, and to consider how the social aspects of the information infrastructure influence the messages flowing through it.

To do this, your first two readings cover information infrastructures and social computing, along with a third that I think is an example of both in action.  As with any discussion of large and abstract topics, you might find the first two readings this week pretty challenging.  You will encounter sentences like “Let us now anathematize techno hubris.”  Stay with them.  We’ll be doing some practical projects throughout the course, but the first step toward helping people make useful connections across this infrastructure is to understand at a conceptual level what it is and how it works.

Session 1, Week 1 (Mon Jan 9-Sun Jan 15)

1) Create a blog specifically for this course, and post under a handle or pseudonym.  Post your handle and a link to your course blog as a comment to this post as soon as you can. Email me (gazan at hawaii ~dot~ edu) so I can link your blog handle with your real name.

2) Choose and set up an aggregator to follow this course blog and those of the other students, so you can be notified of updates on a single page.  If you’re not familiar with these tools, here’s a gentle overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_feed

3) Complete the Session 1 readings.  Read them in the order listed:

4) By 11:59pm Sun Jan 16, post on your blog your response to the following:

  • In your own words, define social information infrastructure.  Link your response to at least one element of both the Bowker et al. and Erickson readings.
  • Comment briefly on the format of the Erickson chapter, which attempts to be an open source, dynamic textbook.  Did the videos, commentary and quotes embedded in the bibliography add to or detract from your experience?
  • Provide a link and brief description of a useful or otherwise valuable item you found on the Web because of the actions of other people.  Make the item you discuss something memorable, that other people are not likely to have seen.  How did you become aware of it?  Discuss at least five examples of social, cultural and/or technical practices that had to occur for you to discover this piece of information (in other words, things other people had to do in order for you to find it).  Is there anything other people could have done that would have prevented you from finding it?  Ground your response with one specific example from both the Bowker et al. and Erickson readings.  Here and throughout the course, feel free to discuss how your examples either support or contradict points made in the readings.
  • Conclude your post by contrasting your experience with finding the “useful or otherwise valuable” item with the Bacon Cat Law of Internet Popularity as described by Buhlert.  Discuss two actions of other people that cause this law to be true, or undermine it in your opinion.  Are they the same or different than those you wrote about above?  Of every ten items on the Web that you discover through the actions of others, roughly how many would you estimate are useful, valuable and memorable, and how many are, essentially, bacon cats?

Remember, one of the main goals of your blog posts is to generate discussion, so feel free to ask questions or go off on brief tangents that are of interest to you.

Session 1, Week 2 (Mon Jan 16-Sun Jan 22)

1) Subscribe to the other students’ blogs

2) Read as many posts as you like, but comment substantively on at least five by Friday Jan 20.

3) Respond to comments on your blog, and those of other students, as appropriate. I’ll be jumping in too, though I may not comment on every post every week.  Conclude your discussions by Sunday Jan 22.

4) At the end of the session, skim the other students’ blogs and see if you can identify any common characteristics of the most informative and engaging posts, and those that generated the most lively/interesting comment threads.  Use these characteristics as a set of guidelines for your future posts.

Okay, that should be enough to get you started. Please ask any questions about the course as a comment to this post so all students can view them, and always feel free to make technical suggestions about good blog hosts, readers and other tools to make our communication easier.

Overview and syllabus

Welcome!  This site serves as the hub of activity for ICS 491, The Social Information Infrastructure, a course offered by the University of Hawaii Department of Information and Computer Sciences in the Spring 2012 semester.  I’m the instructor, Rich Gazan.  This is an online, asynchronous course, and it probably has a different pace and structure than you’re used to, so take some time to read through this post and see if it’s right for you.  As a department, we’ve experimented with this structure in several previous online courses for graduate students, but this is the first time we’re offering it to undergrads.  If it goes as well with you as it has with the grad students, we’ll offer courses like this more often, so please feel free to email me anytime throughout the course with questions or suggestions.


In your professional lives you will be evaluated not just on how well you can accomplish tasks, but in how well you can link your skills with those of other people to solve larger problems.  This course surveys the current and near-future landscape of this medium of information creation and exchange: the social information infrastructure.  You will learn some of the ways information can be created, translated, transported, coordinated or blocked through this socio-technical medium, and how people navigate through it.

One of the ways you will apply the skills developed in this course is by participating in the 2012 Google Online Marketing Challenge (http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/), where you will work with a local business or nonprofit, and receive US$200 of free online advertising and access to professional Google backend tools to help drive traffic to the organization’s site.

This is an online course designed for advanced undergraduates with a high level of internal motivation.  This course has no prerequisites, and is open to students from all majors, but ICS majors who have taken ICS 413, 414, 419 or 464 will have a useful grounding in the main concepts.


The course will be divided into seven two-week sessions, each centered around a subtopic of the social information infrastructure.  Here’s the current list, but you should expect topics, readings and assignments to change throughout the course:

  • Session 1: The social information infrastructure
  • Session 2: How ideas emerge and flow
  • Session 3: Why are people on the Web?
  • Session 4: Social information seeking
  • Session 5: Collaboration and coordination
  • Session 6: Grand challenges in ICS
  • Session 7: How solutions happen

Course structure

This course blog (https://ics491s12.wordpress.com) will be the center for information exchange.  You will create your own blog, specific to this course (i.e. not your existing blog), and use a feed aggregator to follow the blogs of your fellow students.  Please post under a handle or pseudonym, and use the same one consistently throughout the course.  Email me individually so I can link your blog handle with your real name.

The course will be conducted as a series of seven two-week sessions, loosely organized by topic.  Each session will follow this pattern:

  • First week: Every other Monday, I will post the session’s readings on the course blog, with comments and a related assignment.  I’ll use the Resources section of laulima (http://laulima.hawaii.edu/) to post readings not available online.  Assignments will usually take the form of questions to address and/or sites to visit and evaluate in the context of the session’s readings.  Respond to the assignments with a post on your blog by 11:59 pm Sunday, i.e. in one week.  An acceptable blog post will be between 500-1000 words (more is fine), will specifically and critically address a majority of the session’s readings, and will address all aspects of the associated assignment.  An outstanding blog post will use the readings and assignments as starting points for further exploration about points you find interesting.  You may use a formal or informal tone, as long as the content is there.  A friendly but serious reminder: don’t plagiarize.  Copying, adapting or otherwise borrowing ideas without proper citation will be considered a violation of the UH Manoa Student Conduct Code (http://studentaffairs.manoa.hawaii.edu/policies/conduct_code/) relating to academic honesty, and will result in an F in the course.
  • Second week: Read as many of your fellow students’ blog posts as you like, but comment substantively on at least five per session.  Acceptable blog comments will engage specifics of the blog author’s and/or paper author’s points, possibly including illustrative links to content from other sessions and elsewhere.  Respond to other students’ comments on your own and other students’ posts as appropriate.  Not all blog posts will generate long comment threads and lively conversation, but one of your goals in the second week of each session (and in the course as a whole) is to take every opportunity to move productive conversations forward, to both create and benefit from a collaborative learning environment.

For the final project, you will put what you have learned into practice, and participate in the 2012 Google Online Marketing Challenge (http://www.google.com/onlinechallenge/).   Student teams receive US$200 of free online advertising and access to professional Google AdWords backend tools, and work with a local business or nonprofit to help drive traffic to the organization’s site.  The GOMC includes several standardized reports that will form the basis of your grade—your grade will not be based on the outcome of your group’s campaign or standing in the competition.  We’ll be talking more about GOMC as the course progresses, but here’s a list of some local organizations past UH students have worked with:

  • University of Hawaii Foundation
  • The Wedding Café, a resource center for brides and grooms
  • University of Hawaii Press
  • Hawaii Bicycling League
  • INPEACE, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of Native Hawaiians through early childhood education, employment training and land stewardship
  • Youth Speaks Hawaii, a nonprofit dedicated to teen poetry workshops and events
  • Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii
  • Cara Mia, a gift boutique for girls
  • Kanu Hawaii, an online community where people post and join ‘commitments’ to improve the local community and engender collective action


As this is an online, asynchronous course, active, timely and substantive participation is critical.  You must complete all assignments in order to pass the course.  Late work will be penalized 50%, unless you make arrangements with me (and your team, if applicable) prior to the due date.

  • Quality and timeliness of blog posts and comments (10 points/session=70%)
  • Google Online Marketing Challenge (25%)
  • Individual reflective assessment (5%)

For feedback, I will post comments on most blogs most sessions, and I’ll send you individual email as needed to make sure you’re on the right track.