Thoughts on Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholar Working Group

by Kate Brodock on 27 May 2009

Posted in: From the Field

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Last Wednesday, I attended the Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholar Working Group at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.  The group is a combined effort between Berkman, MIT’s Comparative Media Studies Program and Yale Law School’s Information Society Program to showcase and create conversation around the research they’re doing through the peer review method.

Wednesday’s session included three pieces of research:

Aaron Shaw: Polanyi’s Penguin? Commons-Based Industry in the Neoliberal Knowledge Economy
Colleen Kaman: The World in the Network
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen: Mundane Tools and Mobilizational Practices in Two U.S. Congressional Campaigns

I found Rasmus’s talk most interesting.  A few take-aways:

  • “Mundane” tools are much more effective in Congressional level campaigns than “emerging” tools (Mundane being things like email – tools that are now widely used and tools that people are highly comfortable with at this point.  Emerging tools are, for the most part, new media platforms).
  • Why? Volunteers already use email, they don’t need to be trained.  Political motivation is skewed by age.  Volunteers are not usually early-adopters.  Most interesting is the fact that the campaign managers decided to put less emphasis on new gadgets, but thought that meeting volunteers halfway would be most effective.
  • The tools that are considered “emerging” now will be “mundane” in a few years.

I would venture a guess that the majority of these findings stem from demographics.  There are probably some very interesting specific pieces of information gathered in this research, but largely, that portion of it was not surprising.

However, I did find it comforting (and intelligent) that the campaign managers chose to forgo the “Build it and they will come” mentality, and opted for a set of tools that the knew would be easily adaptable, manageable and accessible for everyone.

While I definitely believe in the opportunities in the social media space, I also strongly believe in not reinventing the wheel, and really understanding what the best program is going to be for your target audience.  Don’t just do something because the guy down the street is doing it.  Only do it if it’ll work for you.

For the full description of their research, visit the event page.

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