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Mar 12, 2009

The Great Wall of Thanks

In my last blog, I was wondering about how exposure to different information affects how we view and evaluate each other. The resolution was this: "Note for self: create more opportunities and spaces for faculty to talk about their work to each other." And of course, this does not affect faculty only. We also have five full time staff people, five work-studies, and several GA's working with us. And although staff members work in close proximity to each other, they do not necessarily know everything about each other's work. The challenge is to improve the horizontal sharing of information for all of us. It will help to be aware of the things that are going on in our School, and also to appreciate better each other's work.

The problem is with information competition. The information space is overloaded already. I am very conscious of this, hence the weekly updates: I try to filter information, and only include something important, and do it only once a week. Otherwise, people will not read my e-mails. Even the weekly updates are probably read by no more than three quarters of our School (although I try to enforce it gently, by making fun of people who missed an important bit of news included in an Update). By the way, they all are archived in W:\STE Documents\Weekly updates (the link will only work for PC's); there are now 79 updates.

But back to the main point: Too much information is just as bad as too little information. If I start including in the updates long lists of things that I know people have been working on, no one will read them. Moreover, it creates a lot of work for me, which I am not anxious to take on.

The solution I want to try uses the strengths of the internet-enhanced social network technologies. has been a remarkable new tool, and receives a lot of attention, as well as much scorn. US Senators twitter from the chambers; kids twitter in class. Eyewitnesses of the Mumbai attacks broke the news through Twitter. Just check out the latest news about Twitter to gauge the scope of the phenomenon. Basically, Twitter is a mini-blog that allows people upload short blurbs of 140 characters – from their computers or cell phones. Others can follow the twitter as often as they like. I tried to create one for myself – and it is a waste of time, because my days are not so interesting, and no one wants to follow my adventures anyway. My attempts to convince my kids to twitter failed. Svetlana and I would like to follow their pursuits closely, but they won't bother to update. So, I am probably going to close my account.

However, this technology maybe just right for what I am trying to achieve with horizontal information sharing. Therefore, I created another Twitter account which we will share. Anyone associated with us can use the same login "uncste" and the same password "steunc" (Sorry, they cannot be identical to each other). The account is called The Great Wall of Thanks. When you know about something special done by one of us, just open that bookmark, and type a very short blurb. It won't let you go over 140 characters. Moreover you can subscribe to an RSS feed, which is basically a subscription service that will provide all this information to your Outlook or Entourage, or just t the browser without any effort. You can ignore it, or read it, or skim it. This augments or replaces informal conversations more typical of earlier, simpler times, when you ate lunch with your colleagues, or went out for a drink with them. Many people don't have the time or opportunity for these kinds of things anymore. Those who live farther away from campus are at a special disadvantage: it does seem silly to drive here for an hour just to catch up on gossip, or tell people about what you did last week. However, we can still keep up with each other through other means.

Of course, no one has any idea if this is going to work. Not many people have much patience for another on-line gadget. But Twitter is so simple to use, and I think we clearly have the need to be updated: I just hope people will give it a try. Check it out: I put a few notes there already for everyone to see. Sorry if I forgot anyone; it just what occurred to me today in the afternoon.

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