Possible Case Study: KoolProjects


Screenshot: http://www.koolprojects.com/projects.

While frequenting a coffee shop called Wick’s, I sometimes run into Michelle Mollineaux, CEO and Co-Founder of KoolProjects. A fledgling social media platform, KoolProjects allows users to showcase projects in progress—whether that’s antique car repair or a painting or historical building preservation—through images and text. I e-mailed Michelle the following questions, and she sent me this response:

CH: Can you describe how you approached designing KoolProjects?

MM: Customer driven design – we wanted to make sure that we were capturing the core workflows of our users and then incrementally building/adding/changing as we grew the product.  We didn’t want to spend a ton of money building out a huge application only to find out that we had captured the wrong workflows or worse, in the time it took us to get to market – the features we built were no longer relevant. So we spent a lot of time talking to our potential market, understanding how they approached their products, what were important to them, and how they wanted to do things and then we captured that as part of our website workflows. Obviously, it’s a work in progress and as we gain more users, we learn and build/adapt the product to ensure that we adapt with our customers.

CH: What are you hoping that KoolProjects will offer people that they cannot get elsewhere? What makes it stand out?

MM: With KoolProjects – the focus is on the project and how to showcase the project. Unlike other sites that allow you to upload pictures of a project as part of your personal activities or profiles – with KoolProjects – it’s about the project and not about the person behind the project. By focusing on the project, we allow people to build communities of interest around common topics that are driven around common subjects/hobbies. It doesn’t matter if you know the owner of the 1969 Mustang restoration project because you the common interest is around the 1969 Mustang and not the owner of it. Obviously, we know that having these common interest leads to building more social networks and strong social bonds but that is a secondary effect of KP. The primary effect is building a community around a common interest first and then from there building a social network/relationship

CH: What was the biggest challenge you had when you were designing or planning the platform, and how did you overcome that?

MM: The biggest challenge was understanding the various project owners workflows and how to create a common approach to their workflow from a design and development perspective. Everyone’s project is unique and they approach from a unique perspective – once we mapped out the workflows of the various target customers we were going after, we were able to identify the common workflows/behaviours and move beyond the project/subject specific terminology.  After we mapped out the flows, we ran it by the various target users to see if they could complete the various tasks specific to their project and from there we approached it iteratively to make sure we were fine tuning as much as we could given our available time and resources

CH: What do you have in mind for KoolProjects in the next few months?

MM: Obviously the number one thing is to expose more people to KoolProjects and get them to show case their projects on the site. Beyond that, we want to continue to evolve the product by moving into the mobile space using the same methodology we did with the website to ensure that we were capturing the core customer workflows that they would do on a mobile device, understanding that the mobile and desktop and tablet experience will be different and optimizing for each device.

I was interested in two things in particular: the focus on studying workflows and the focus on project rather than person. A lot of the social media we’ve discussed in this class has been built around a certain social identity (Facebook and LinkedIn making this especially central to their platform); Michelle emphasized that KoolProjects is not headed in this direction. We met in person on 20 February so that I could ask some follow-up questions on these topics.

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Identity as Collection; Collection as Identity

Photo of bookshelf in family home

A photo I took of a bookshelf in the home where I grew up.

About a month ago we discussed Participation and Identity in this course; you might remember that Kathryn and I spoke a lot about Jorge Luis Borges, while Megan Brown and I spoke about Tumblr a bit. The gist of the conversation was that, for a person who collects a number of things, that collection might become an identity for that person: I’m thinking of a reblog tumblr, where a person makes no “original” content but still conveys a sense of themselves through the things they chose to add to their collection. For instance, I am one of those people who reblog photographs of snails. Also, mycology tumblrs are a bigger thing than you might expect. If you prefer something more high-culture, I’ll add the Borges quote again:

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that that patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.

I haven’t been able to put together any concrete thoughts on this, so I’m not going to give this a full-post treatment, but since then I’ve been toying with the observation that GLAMs (galleries, libraries, archives, museums, and other such glamourous institutions) also have collections. You could also consider the GLAM’s collection a key component of its identity. I’m wondering if there’s any way to tie these two things together: the identity-as-collection of social media and the identity-as-collection of GLAMs. Can the practices of one be used to promote the practices of the other? The Horniman’s tumblr might be a place to look: could a library start a similar project (a book-by-book examination of the library?), linked in with the catalogue/OPAC in some way?

A related concept: making a portrait of someone by taking a photograph of books selected from their bookshelves was one of the Art Assignment’s art assignments.

Twitterary Theory: Meaning, Context, and Responsibility

Tweeting in Context

Gustavo Gomes, CC BY 2.0: https://flic.kr/p/57P7Ms

A few days ago Fiona wrote two posts about Twitter, tweets, and Twitter essays: in the first, she discusses Jeet Heer, who numbers tweets to structure them together into an essay; in the second, she talks about how a person ought to read tweets. In particular, Steven Salaita had an offer for a tenure position withdrawn over a tweet which seemed, on its own, to be incendiary:

Zionists: transforming “anti-semitism” from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.

Salaita claims that, in the context of his overall Twitter career, this tweet isn’t as bad as it looks; it means something different when it is part of a whole. Fiona therefore asks the following question:

How far forward or back in someone’s tweet corpus must we look to be satisfied we have enough context? What are our responsibilities as readers? What are the boundaries of a twitter storm? What is the flock that holds our unmarked sheep?

I want to approach this question—approach, not answer—but first we need to get into some literary theory.

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Comments as a New Agora?

Here’s an idea: on social media, librarians could provide opportunities for conversations rather than take part in them.

The Problem with YouTube Comments 

YouTube video screenshot

Screenshot of a Khan Academy YouTube video comments section.

As I mentioned in my CV, I am studying YouTube comments as a research assistant to Eric Meyers. One thing I’ve learned is that YouTube’s comments space does not have many affordances: it lacks easy navigation, it has fewer sorting options, and so on. For this reason, it can be difficult to have a conversation in the YouTube comments. This is something Eric found in his research before I came aboard: there isn’t much discussion in the comments, and what discussion there is tends to be an entrenched argument between two participants. There aren’t many rich conversations.
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Brief Conversations and Social Media

or, On Brevity

I want to register a hesitation I have about social media or certain kinds of social media. In one of the book promotion videos we watched for this class, Jose van Dijck shows some of Facebook’s promotional material, in which Jostein Solheim, CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, says Facebook has allowed him to “engage in a large-scale conversation” with customers. In the discussion threads I expressed some skepticism about this. I wasn’t just skeptical about the idea that a corporation would engage in dialogue, however; I was also skeptical that Facebook could host a conversation, let alone a large-scale one. Indeed, I am skeptical that a large-scale conversation can exist.

I tend to think of conversations as an exchange of ideas; this might include mutual exploration of a topic, or persuasion attempts, or debate. No matter what, though, conversation (as I understand the term) involves getting someone else to understand how I am thinking about an issue. In order to do this, I need to “show my work,” in the terms of high school math class. The more information I give you about how I think—my values, my intellectual style, my assumptions—the more likely you are to understand why I think what I think. So this puts certain constraints on conversations: short conversations and conversations in which participants do not get to really know each other (in an intellectual way) are less likely to be successful.

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My Social Media C.V.

Welcome to Learning to Read the Internet. This is the first post in a course blog. If you want to know more about me and what to expect of this blog, check out the About page; for the time being, it might help you to know that I have a BA and an MA in English Literature, and that on this blog I intend to think about how I can read social media: what does Facebook mean? Can users make it mean something different depending on how they use it? What is the relationship between user and program? If my past behaviour is any indication, expect a lot of theoretical questions.

But for the moment, I’m going to offer a different kind of C.V.: my past use of social media.

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