Dean Jenny Preece
Preece is helping lead a national discussion on “technology-mediated social participation,” in which users of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, online discussion groups and other applications could align their popular, playful and discretionary use of social media with national priorities like energy sustainability, disaster response, community safety and health care.
Initial funding for the project comes from the National Science Foundation, and brings together researchers from academia, business, nonprofits and the federal government to brainstorm opportunities and obstacles associated with alternative uses of these applications.
Preece says a key challenge is matching the right technologies with the appropriate public policy to meet an expected surge of social media users who may, say, be asked to offer input on transparency in government.
An example of large-scale “crowd-sourcing” already in place is the online Encyclopedia of Life, which has sparked new debate about the use of social media as it relates to user needs. The Smithsonian Institution is coordinating the collaborative encyclopedia to document all 1.8 million living species known to science, and Preece and other iSchool faculty are working on both the technology and user interaction aspects of the project.
“We are determining how to get scientists and the general public to collaborate better to verify these sightings,” Preece says.