Friday, November 3, 2006

Gliffy and Facebook

The week's quasi-experiment in WRT302 blended Facebook and Gliffy. In the session dedicated to Facebook (what of it?), I wanted to prime our upcoming discussion of networks when we read a few chapters from Critical Mass. But reading about Facebook didn't seem to me to be enough. I was mildly bored with the idea of reading about Facebook. Next, pose as if critical. Next, rehearse the cautions about visibility and decorum. Thorny! It's a fairly reliable pattern that when I'm bored, my students are doubly bored. And so.

By involving Gliffy (Draw and share diagrams on the web), we prefaced the conversation about Facebook by mapping ourselves as a network, first assembling into small clusters of three or four and then by researching ties that would connect each person within a cluster and then each cluster to another. Gliffy did the trick. I could easily start a file (one for each group) and then invite collaborators. Each collaborator received an email with a temporary password. Once logged in, each collaborator was able to draw and rearrange elements on the canvas. Saving the file swiftly captures that iteration of the glyph and adds it to running list of versions for all to see (enabling restorations of earlier versions as well). It's especially suited to collaborative diagramming, activities like composing a network map or chart.

At first this meant that students had to spend time (re)learning names of peers and looking over their Facebook profiles for link-worthy criteria. This stage was only loosely defined; the one caveat was that students should try to avoid obvious ties (direct friends; live in N.Y.; taking WRT302). Dig around, prefer the non-obvious, and make use of degrees of separation as needed. In twenty-five minutes, each of the clusters of students was finished with the first phase. Gliffy includes one-click publishing to the web, so the groups were able to publish, then drop the links to their network diagrams into the class's account for simplified sharing. Everyone could then see the work performed by other groups.

I'm blogging this mainly to record (for an eventual return) that this might serve well as an ice breaker (if, that is, the ice must be broken) provided everyone has a Facebook account. For those who don't, however, it's still possible for them to suggest a basis for links to others, and establishing those links generates a lot of other conversation. More importantly, when we finally turned to our discussion of Facebook, it made far more sense to approach it as a network phenomenon, and as such, we could deal with the strength of ties (what warrants a thick line? a thin line?), centrality (who was easiest to connect to?), dynamic relations, and structural holes as concepts applicable to a broad assortment of domains and beyond the most facile uses.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at November 3, 2006 11:45 PM to Networks

Oooh, I'm *so* swiping this for the Internet Tools & Issues class! (Subtitled "Life on the Network," dontcha know.) I had planned on a Facebook/MySpace week, but hadn't figured out how to work in a mapping exercise for a web-based course.

(You don't mind, do you?)

Posted by: Krista at November 4, 2006 11:08 AM

No, I don't mind at all. I'd like to hear how it goes since this is the first and only time I've tried it.

Posted by: Derek at November 4, 2006 11:14 AM

This is the sort of thing I want to do with Wayfaring ( a project that keeps getting usurped by time-eating, computer glitching monsters.) It's the idea of networking and beginning to talk about networking in a classroom (academic) setting that I want to convey beneath the fun and interest of the activity. When the semester is over please write about how it all turned out, okay?

Posted by: joanna at November 4, 2006 1:05 PM

Sure, Joanna, I can try to say more about it come late December (after qualifying exams!).

Posted by: Derek at November 4, 2006 4:42 PM

I've been using Gliffy for a while and really like it. There's a competitor out there called Cumulate Draw. It doesn't have the features as Gliffy but doesn't need Flash. I've just written a review at my blog. My blog is to uninstall ALL applications from my desktop and replace it with online tools. Check the review out at:

Posted by: Jonas at November 5, 2006 3:21 PM

Cumulate Draw looks like a solid alternative to Gliffy. Still, I appreciate Gliffy's collaboration feature. Interesting project, too, in shifting from desktop apps to web-based.

Posted by: Derek at November 6, 2006 9:17 AM