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Social Weather

H79.2014   Lecture   4 Credits
Instructor(s): Shirky

When you walk into a restaurant, you immediately understand the social weather. It is busy or calm, loud or quiet, people are dining in couples or groups, they are whispering or shouting, and so on. All these things tell you, almost instantly, what the mood of the room is.  Reading social weather is a basic human skill.  Social software—software used for group communications, from mailing lists and "IRC" to Everquest and Groove—also has social weather, but it is much harder to read. The culture and behavior of online groups is not as readily apparent as it is in a real room, for several reasons, including limited interfaces, separation of the participants in space and time, and lack of contextual clues.  Social Weather examines how we read the mood and feeling of online spaces, and the ways software affects the social weather (and vice-versa). The class work consists of both theoretical readings and written observations made 'in the field'. The final can either be a research paper documenting some aspect of social software, or an attempt to create new interfaces or engines for such software, in order to examine its effects.