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

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
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


  1. 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?)

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

  4. 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.

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