Monday, September 7, 2009

a preliminary plan for our final product

We'll build a freestanding website on a Ning platform so that it can include a strong element of social networking. When you visit the website, you will see:

1. A homepage with ...
    a. a portion of the whole Boston map
    b. an invitation to create a personal profile
    c. a powerful search function that allows you to find specific nodes by keyword but also offers smarter search functions. E.g., "Who is central to the network on [fill in an issue or place]?" Or "List all the people and organizations within 2 steps of [fill in name of issue or organization]"
    d. links to groups. Each group is composed of people who have profiles on the Ning site and are part of a team, like my class this semester
    e. a blog, on which selected student and community leaders have permission to post about the project as a whole
    f. a FAQ page and maybe an explanatory video
2. If you create a profile of your own ...
    a. You are asked to state your interests in volunteering and service (e.g., homelessness, global warming) and some facts about who you are, e.g., Tufts student
    b. Your name is placed on the Boston map and is searchable
    c. A portion of the interactive Boston map appears on your profile for others to see, with you at the center
    d. You can also enter text and links and upload videos to your profile page
    e. You can be contacted through the Ning interface, for instance, to be recruited for a volunteering activity
    f. You can add nodes to the main map
    g. When you take any of these actions, your Facebook, Twitter etc accounts can be notified. (For instance, my Facebook page would say, "Peter Levine has added Boston Food Pantry to the Boston Civic Network map.")
    h. You get points or reach ranks or levels depending on your activity
3. When a group forms ...
    It creates a page that shows a list of members, a portion of the Boston map that highlights their work, and space for some text and video explanations. If any member of the group changes the page, everyone is pinged. The group gets points for its level of activity.

As a first assignment, you can comment on this plan or post a new entry on the reading for next week.


  1. As the final and most important aspect of our class will be this website, it seems only fitting to spend the first blog response thinking about how to make the website the best possible. These are some of the things that we talked about in class as well as a few others.

    The most important thing to the success of this project is scale. In order for it to be useful many people must be using the program. Even the most minimal barrier will stop casual users from participating. For that reason I would like to see a website with out any sort of log-in. A log-in profile should be optional to use the more advanced features such as showing peoples individual network connections, but users should still be allowed to edit content with out ever having to jump through any hoops.

    Another thing to get people to use this site will be how easy it is to navigate. Although this is very far down the line, here is an example of a very well executed network map. I like their user interface because of the easy to use color coding and the movability of the dots.

    One thing I am hesitant about is the use of points/rank. If they are used to show who is the most reliable poster, then it is a perfectly legitimate tool. If rank/points are being used as an incentive to get people to post things, then the site becomes a game type of attraction which is not the direction that I believe the site should go.

    Overall I am very excited to get started working on this project and excited to see how it shapes up over the course of this semester.

  2. Hi Daniel,

    Thanks for the comment. The link to your "well executed network map" didn't get posted, for some reason. Can you post it again?

    Also, I really want to discuss the "game" concept because I have mixed feelings about it myself and have received mixed feedback from others.


  3. Upon reading the preliminary plan, I was also most wary of the aspect of obtaining points or reaching ranks or levels. I think it is important that we clearly define to the users what these points and/or ranks mean, so as to clearly articulate how these points and rankings are meant to act as incentives. In this vain, it is most important that we evaluate the functioning of these points/rankings. There is the possibility that whatever the rankings were originally intended to incentivize and whatever they end up truly serving as incentives for may not match up with each other. Thus, we may run into the problem of inadvertently steering users toward uses of the program different from those originally intended.

    Also, another issue that struck me was the question of privacy. This is going to serve as a powerful search function and may provide information that people may not want exposed through a public search engine. Obviously, having the maximum amount of information about each individual entity would be ideal, because it would maximize the abilities of the social networking program. However, in doing so, it is also important that the privacy of these entities (perhaps through individual control over how one may be found through searches) should be respected.

    That being said, I think this project has tremendous potential. One of our most important obstacles to focus on will clearly be making the map as visually and easily navigable as possible while not sacrificing the amount of information included. I would be interested to see examples of other social networking maps in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of our preliminary plan.

  4. I think we should spend some time considering how the organizations will use the network map. This information would eventually be used to refine the user interface, but since we are starting to gather data now, we should ensure that we capture any of the information that would be needed.

    For example: What information is useful to show up front vs. behind a link. If knowing that an organization has a certain focus is important at a glance, we might want to further break down the organizations into type: eg. Educational, Funding, Services etc and have these organizations be listed in different colors. This could be in addition to or a replacement of the current categorization of issues, people and organizations.

    Brainstorming on how volunteer organizations might use the site may help us to define other ideas for information presentation:
    - If Org A wants to connect to Org Z - we might provide a path(s ) feature that outlines the various ways to connect.
    - Ability to identify all organizations that are ' like ' your own in terms of important issues may help organizations create teams to tackle problems.
    - Is there a need to show the link / relationship type ( issue, person , etc ) up front in the visual display - or is this ok to have to click to determine what the connection is. ( should we show multiple links for multiple connection types - and would it help to label or otherwise code the link connection on the map? )

    It would be important to think about the data that would be required to set up the correct map before we start collecting data.