Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘social media’

Computer Engineer Barbie: The Power of Social Media once again

In computer science, social media, women on April 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm

The Wall Street Post ran an article about the recent vote that led to Mattel announcing Computer Engineer Barbie.

There were several choices to vote for (architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist and surgeon)

Girls the world over overwhelmingly cast their ballot for anchorwoman Barbie—”not a surprise, as girls see Katie Couric and a lot of other female anchors,” says Stephanie Cota, senior vice president of marketing for the Barbie brand.

but then Stephanie Cota adds…

But what happened next, she says, “blew us away.”

The voting was open to anyone, and nobody could vote more than once. But by the end of the first week, a growing flood of adult votes for computer engineer Barbie trumped the popular choice. Female computer engineers who learned about the election launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks.

I was among those who cast a vote, and I know many other adults who also cast a vote, and at least one that helped the National Academy of Engineering by providing information about what would constitute appropriate accessories (thank you Crista, — and thank you NAE for asking Crista who is a very stylish in addition to accomplished Computer Scientist). I am still hoping that she gets a Robotic dog, thank you Andrea Thomaz (another accomplished and stylish Roboticist for the suggestion).

Why grown women felt so strongly about having themselves represented by a doll—especially one that feminists have always loathed—speaks volumes both about the power of the iconic Barbie doll and the current state of women who work in computer and information sciences. Their ranks have declined in the past two decades. In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

I voted because I do hope that girls will play with the doll and imagine careers in Computing. Also I want to add one to my collection of Barbies (a photographer, star trek set, and the one who gets too much email at work — I feel especially empathetic to that). And above all, because computers actually rock, (especially when you add people to them, that’s the real secret sauce).

But now I get to add another reason, Computer Engineer Barbie is another example of the power of social media.

Twitter and Earthquakes: Haiti, Chile, and now Baja California Mexico

In C@tM, computer science, empirical, HCI, research, social media on April 4, 2010 at 9:52 pm

As many of you know there’s been another large Earthquake, this time in Baja California Mexico. Original estimates were that it was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake (it has been revised to 7.2 by the USGS and I read reports of 7.4 from Twitter now). I was in Irvine when Northridge occurred, so first and foremost and as always my thoughts go out to those who went through it.

It’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn. They were between Chile and Haiti’s earthquakes, the difference in responses and so forth. Hopefully, if one thing good can come out of a large earthquake is that it teaches us what we need to respond better and more effectively to the next one.

I have a smaller question, which focuses on the role of social media, I’ve blogged about my perceptions of the social media use in response to the Chile earthquake here. I’m finding it harder, personally, to find the streams on twitter associated with this latest Earthquake. Interesting to me since it happened to be felt in a place that’s very technologically enabled, Southern California (reports of tall buildings swaying in San Diego for example).

So my questions are as follows:

  1. How do the uses of various media streams, facebook, twitter, etc… vary according to the different earthquakes? I know that my colleagues at Colorado are working to try and unify the syntax of the responses to aid in search and rescue, but I’m also curious about the volume of responses and the mediums used. Why? Because I think we can understand the cultural differences in social media uptake through these sorts of events, and I think that’s not just an important and interesting research question, but also a crucial piece of the puzzle for understanding how to respond.
  2. Are there differences in how people use them? Again, turns on cultural concerns. I know we have a strong focus on the basics. Where are my friends and family? Where can I get food and water? What is the whole situation? But, what if any completely local responses are important? I recently watched a program that focused on recovery efforts in Haiti and included discussion of the role of voodoo leaders in shaping some people’s understanding of what had happened. I know what you’re thinking, yes, it pertains to some of the research that Susan Wyche does. Yes, that’s true, but it’s also important to understanding how to frame response, who might be involved, what the parameters of culturally appropriate action and interaction are… and surely that’s got to matter.

I am sure that there are better and more questions to ask. These are mine as I watch a few twitter streams counters go up, but so slowly in comparison with Chile. Of course it was said then that Chile had really taken to twitter, and now just from my sample (I sampled hashtags I could find, but of course that includes at this point several hundred different individuals and institutions…).

And so my thoughts are mostly with the people of Mexico and California. But my thoughts are also with the people of crisis informatics and my colleagues in Colorado. They have so much to do, so many possibilities, and why do I think also a sleepless night tonight while they gather data and begin their process of tweaking the tweet once again.

Chile Earthquake

In research, social media on February 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Before I say anything else, let me begin by saying that my thoughts and hopes are with the people of Chile who now struggle to recover from their Mag 8.8 earthquake and the significant aftershocks that continue to exacerbate the situation.

UPDATE 2: Google gets involved… search to coordinate seeking.

UPDATE: Friends are safe and well — and how did I find out, via Facebook. Also, now seeing another wave of social media, pictures being collected and recomposed. It’s an ever changing complex landscape.

I have colleagues at the University of Colorado who study citizen-generated social media responses to earthquakes. They call this work crisis informatics, and in the wake of the Haiti Earthquake encouraged people to “tweak the tweet” to help provide as much information as possible in a coordinated way. One of the challenges is that citizen responses are individual in nature (focused on what they’ve learnt, who they’re searching for, where they’re located etc… but there’s a significant utility to having that information aggregated so that it’s more shareable across social networks — potentially you could connect people who don’t know each other but know something about the same person, and of course the population trends matter, where are things immediately worse… etc…). And given the time pressure to respond, well you get the point.

I’ve written before about how social media are not limited to “trite” uses. How they can in fact be a part of a story about Computing for Social Relevance. But the emergence use of Twitter around Chile also shows how complex their use is to understand, and how much more there is left to do to be able to a) tell the whole story, what is the full use of these technologies for disaster response, what works what does not work. These are not just important research questions that are currently difficult to answer, but imperative for agencies who seek to use these media in emergency and disaster response (and there are a lot of agencies that do want to use these media).

Some of the challenges. Volume. Since writing this post I set twitter on a search for Chile or #Chile. That’s generated 15000 posts in about 30 minutes. This of course does not include the CCChile thread which is also producing a traffic (although my unscientific test of leaving both searches going suggests that the Chile thread is more active). Twitter apparently is widely used in Chile (something I’ve learnt on twitter this morning since I started writing this post) so perhaps this is particularly high volume traffic, but since the people of Chile are also without communications this is likely the response, at least initially of people outside Chile, focused on people who are there.

And that makes it just a little more personal for me, as I think about two friends of mine from graduate school who told me via facebook about 14 hours ago that they were leaving Western Argentina, quite close to the quake zone, but from the maps not in a substantial shake zone as best I can tell, to head to Easter Island where a tsunami is warned.

One of the Hawaii subthreads, associated with Action News is reporting that there have been runs on petrol in Hawaii, and that the mayor of the big Island is asking people not to use the telephone for anything other than emergencies. This is the @ActionNEws510 thread to which the HawaiiRedCross twitter account is also now reporting. By contrast the main Hawaii thread, which I also started informally tracking has received about 1400 tweets in the time it took me to write this paragraph. I note this because right now they are in a preparation for potential tsunami mode, so their communications infrastructure is still up and running. Another aspect of all of this then is if you have a type of advanced warning what can you do with it? Also, what type of mis-information gets spread.

Another aspect of all of this is where do you find the information? I found a piece of useful information about Hawaii. They expect the time that the tsunami will hit to be 4:05pm Eastern Standard Time, which is 11:05 am Hawaii time (I am curious how they can be so precise) information that comes from the Pacific Tsunami Warning center so that sounds pretty reliable. But it’s not on the Hawaii thread. It’s on the broader Pacific Tsunami or Tsunami thread which in the time it took me to write this paragraph generated about 600 new tweets.

I’ll stop here. I now actually want to focus my attentions on Easter Island since I am concerned about the people who I happen to know who have gone there. I am sure they’ll be fine, but they are not online, and I just want some reassurance. But, this is an unfortunate example of not only the power of social networks, but the complexity of those networks. Here are a lot of people who are trying to be helpful, who have taken a media that might at other times be playful (and where the lack of structure might contribute significantly to the delight of the experience) and turned it into one that’s trying to disseminate information, provide assistance. And it’s very very very hard to understand what’s going on, let alone how to shape the experience so that these people can be the best that they want to be, to really get and give what they are clearly trying to do. To do this requires basic research, the type of Computing research that my colleagues at Colorado (and UC Irvine) are engaged in. Computing for practice, it really matters.

Woah, in which I ended up with a Blog

In research, social media on July 18, 2008 at 4:23 pm


For a while I’ve thought, well I ought to have a blog.  But, you know, I have a busy job, and I figured that I don’t have time for a blog.  And then, a colleague of mine whose on a grand adventure decided to add me to her blog, and in so doing I signed up for wordpress, and clicked on that link that says “make me a blog”.  And here we are.

What will I write about?  I have no clue.

Will I write? I have no clue.

But we’re here, and it’s live, and well lets see what happens.