Law Faculty 2.0

Social Software or Web 2.0 are buzz phrases much overused and ill-defined these days, but I ran across an explanation by Gene Smith that helps to evaluate social software/web 2.0 websites.

Here are Gene’s definitions…

  • Identity – a way of uniquely identifying people in the system
  • Presence – a way of knowing who is online, available or otherwise nearby
  • Relationships – a way of describing how two users in the system are related (e.g. in Flickr, people can be contacts, friends of family)
  • Conversations – a way of talking to other people through the system
  • Groups – a way of forming communities of interest
  • Reputation – a way of knowing the status of other people in the system (who’s a good citizen? who can be trusted?)
  • Sharing – a way of sharing things that are meaningful to participants (like photos or videos)

Gene created the honeycomb that is displayed at the top this post. I want to use this to explore this in relation to websites and services used by law faculty and projects that CALI is working on right now.

First, let’s look at SSRN.

  • Identity – the authors are known,
  • Presence – there is no way to know who downloads your papers or who is currently online at any time,
  • Relationships – no way to establish relationships between papers or individuals,
  • Reputations – the download counts are an oft-discussed proxy for reputation,
  • Groups – there is a sense of groups by the institutions that establish collections of papers, but this is not controllable or customizable by visitors to the website,
  • Conversations – conversations about the papers are held elsewhere (i.e. blogs, watercoolers, etc.)
  • Sharing – SSRN is all about sharing your scholarly papers.

Now let’s look at Blogs and by this I mean blogs where law professors hang out like the Law Professor’s Blog Network, Volokh Conspiracy, PrawfsBlog, etc.

  • Identity – the authors are known,
  • Presence – no way to know who is online in real time, though sometimes the comment stream can seem almost real time,
  • Relationships – no way to capture the relationships made,
  • Reputation – this is hard to measure. Some law faculty certainly have changed their reputation in the community via their blogs, but there is generally no software metric for this except perhaps visitor or hit counts, but this is true for any website, so I come down on blogs having no reputation support built-in,
  • Groups – All of the blogs mentioned above are "group blogs", but there is no way for visitors to join the group,
  • Conversations – blogs are all about conversations,
  • Sharing – the sharing is in the conversation and not in file sharing really.

Now let’s look at Classcaster which is a blog network where law faculty mostly post their course podcasts (though it can be used for any legal educationl purpose – and is).

  • Identity – The podcasters are known,
  • Presence – no presence,
  • Relationships – no relationship management,
  • Reputation – no reputation metrics,
  • Groups – no groups except the course for which the podcasts are made,
  • Conversation – Classcaster hosts blogs so conversation is possible, but this has only been lightly used. The conversations about the course take place elsewhere,
  • Sharing – the podcasts are shared (sometimes with anyone on the web).

Finally, let’s look at TWEN which is the The West Education Network and a service offered by Thomson/West for law faculty to create course websites.

  • Identity – everyone is known,
  • Presence – I don’t believe that TWEN has the feature of displaying currently logged in users – I could be wrong,
  • Relationships – no way to capture relationships,
  • Reputation – no reputation system that I know of,
  • Groups – instructors create groups that are their courses, but there is no way for users to create ad-hoc groups,
  • Conversations – TWEN has extensive capabilities for conversation – threaded discussions, comments, etc.
  • Sharing – TWEN sites allow faculty to share files, links, documents with their students. I am not sure that students can share things with each other though, so perhaps this should be light green.

This interesting. It’s important to note that not every social website needs to hit every point in the honeycomb to be useful or successful, it’s just a way to understand what social software/web 2.0 means.

It does make me think about what it would take to add features or services to make blogs more reputation-aware or for SSRN to capture the conversations about scholarship.

CALI is working on a series of projects that address almost all of these ideas – but not in a single website – rather, a constellation of websites. Here’s the honeycomb with the names of the CALI projects filled in…

  • Identity – with over 100,000 law students and law faculty registered at the CALI website, this is where our identity system is centered,
  • Presence – so far, nothing we are planning has presence built-in, but we may consider adding this in the future,
  • Relationships – In eLangdell, users will form "relationships" by virtue of their adoption of materials as course materials. There is a natural relationship between casebook authors and the faculty who adopt the casebook. This is true at every level of adoption of a teaching resource. It is less clear whether any of our projects make these relationships more explicit.
  • Reputation – ScholarshipPulse, The Legal Education Commons andeLangdell have reputation elements designed into them. InScholarshipPulse, the idea is to allow visitors to filter commentsbased on the status of the person who made the comment. In the LegalEducation Commons, users will rate materials by their suitability totask (and perhaps other metrics) so that these "signals" can be seen byothers.
  • Groups – CALIGroups is intended to explicitly support "communites of practice" of law faculty.
  • Conversations – ScholarshipPulse is all about conversations about scholarship. The Legal Education Commons and eLangdell will support conversations about teaching materials. CALIGroups will support conversations within a community.
  • Sharing – Legal Education Commons is all about sharing. eLangdell will support sharing between law faculty using each others’ teaching materials. CALISpaces is for students to share materials with their instructors and classemates and CALIGroups will support sharing within a community of teachers.

This little exercise illustrates the extent of the projects we are working on and how they map to the social software/web 2.0 space. They also give me insight into how they fit together and hopefully will make it easier for me to explain these projects to others as they come online.

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