Eds. Note: so here at Broseph Stalin HQ, I’ve resolved that we’ll be doing long-form, edited (wow!) pieces once a week on Mondays (with a few other things sporadically sprinked in). However, every Friday — we’ll be doing a smaller feature from here on in entitled “Meat and Brotatoes” — briefly talking about some projects/research updates/follow-ups events going on. It will also feature crudely ‘shopped images, because they make me giggle like a little boy.
So I’ve been finding myself meeting a bunch of people over the past few months who have all been complaining about the same thing — that our understanding of web culture, communities online, “social media,” or whatever you want to call it — pretty much sucks.
It’s a shame. Our common working knowledge about the space is thin and mostly subjective/qualitative (do-it-yourself-experiment: try to name 25 interesting microblogging sites and their unique features. if you can’t: I can’t either, if you can: I owe you a beer. Works for other social web tech developments over the past few years).
Plus, our tools for analyzing the space are pretty weak scientifically speaking (though undoubtedly sometimes very pretty). And worst of all, what good tools we do have are pretty esoteric to the nontechnical — which raises the barriers for people to research this sort of stuff on their own.
What we need is a quantitative, rigorous, experimental study of not only memes, but the structure of community and culture online. So, with some people in the Boston area, we’ve started the process of pulling ourselves from a world of superstition and alchemy (thanks for the metaphor, Mike K) to an organized scientific study of something like a chemistry.
This has taken the form of a quiet, private group of people meeting weekly in the Cambridge MA area — drinking a few beers, throwing around ideas, watching out for opportunities, doing research, and building applications from that knowledge. We’ll be releasing the products of this work publicly as they are finished and working with various institutions, companies, and etc to put this together. We’ve also got an e-mail list for people from Boston and afar. If you’re interested in being part of this and collaborating, drop me a line at tim AT timhwang DOT org with the kinds of projects and cool skillz that you’d want to bring to bear and we’ll get you all set up.