National Initiative for Social Participation

May 6th, 2009

iParticipate is a Facebook group for people “interested in discussions oriented around stimulating a significant increase in research support for technology-mediated social participation, especially as related to national priorities.” Some of the ideas underlying the group and its vision were outlined in a recent letter in Science by by Ben Schneiderman on A National Initiative for Social Participation and in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that is, unfortunately, only available to subscribers. ACM TechNews, which apparently does have a subscription, summarizes it for the rest of us.

“More than a dozen researchers met recently at the University of Maryland to draft a white paper that calls for the creation of a National Initiative for Social Participation. The researchers say that social networks could be used to track disease outbreaks, revolutionize neighborhood-watch programs, encourage energy conservation, and other civic- and community-oriented objectives. The effort is led by University of Maryland professor Ben Shneiderman, who plans to propose his project at several conference sessions this summer. Shneiderman is using social media to organize the effort through a Facebook group called iParticipate. “I see this as an agency like NASA is for space, or like the NIH is for health,” he says. Part of his objective is to encourage computer science teachers to incorporate social networking technologies into their curricula. However, critics warn that social networks are easily manipulated and prone to errors and vandalism, which could have a negative impact on a social health information network or crime monitoring effort. Shneiderman argues that the challenges of creating useful and reliable social networks is why more research is needed. “Coping with legitimate dangers such as privacy violations, misguided rumors, malicious vandalism, and infrastructure destruction or overload all demand careful planning and testing of potential software,” Shneiderman wrote in a letter to Science.”

I think it’s a great idea with the potential to help in many areas.

UPDATE 5/7: A copy of the Chronicle article is available here.