Archive for the ‘Social Informatics’ Category

My final analysis of Venturepax

What features would you change/add/delete in this tool?

I believe that the main struggle for Venturepax will be to clearly define the action steps for a new visitor and returning visitor to the site. Social Networks, which Venturepax is one, must be so ubiquitous that questions about how and why to use the network must not even be in the head of users. Users should immediately know what they are supposed to do when they show up on the site. For Venturepax, this struggle is based around the fact that users first experience the outdoors and are then asked to report about it or “punch in” at a later time. While a mobile application is in development that will address this disconnect, it is hard for users to understand the idea of “punching in” when they are not, in fact, at the location when the “punch in.”

Also, I envision a more standardized database of locations. For example, the difference between a “Destination” and a “Venture” is relatively straightforward once it is explained, but to expect a user to identify that a Destination is Hub, but a Venture is an actual activity, may be stepping a bit ahead. For example, the “Ohio River” can act as a “Destination”, but “Split Rock Climbing” in Petersburg, Kentucky is a “Venture.” Interestingly enough, Split Rock could also be considered a “Destination.”

Will you persist in using this tool after this project is completed?

Less than a week into this course I signed a contract to work as an outside consultant for Venturepax as a Community Manager. After having developed a very close relationship with the Founder and CEO I began closely analyzing the site and offered regular feedback about how to engage the users of Venturepax to create a stronger community and build brand equity. As a result I was offered an opportunity to play a strategic role in building Venturepax through a round of seed funding. Therefore, I will be a  very active user of Venturepax moving forward. Additionally, I can’t think of an organization with a better social mission than Venturepax. Inspiring people to get outside and share their experiences is at the heart of what I love, so I am excited about the future for this burgeoning brand.


How have your perceptions about the tool remained the same or changed since you first adopted this tool?

As I’ve worked within Venturepax, I’ve come to recognize many confusing problems, Most importantly, is that many users believe Venturepax can only be used as a mobile application where they check in based on their GPS coordinates. Despite the fact that a Mobile Application is in development poised for release in mid-summer, Venturepax lets users check-in on the website. Communicating this is very difficult as Venturepax’s target users are already accustomed to “checking-in” on foursquare, facebook, yelp, and others.
How would you describe/introduce the tool to a colleague in your given discipline?

As I’ve been actively engaging the users of Venturepax via Facebook and E-mail newsletters, my pitch for Venturepax has been narrowed greatly from what it was when I first started using Venturepax almost 7 months ago. Originally, I had explained Venturepax as a social network that allowed users to create a profile, create Destinations and Ventures (explaining the difference between each) and share stories, tips and warnings about those Destinations and Ventures. I would then explain that users could earn points and rewards for posting pictures and videos and stories and punching in, etc. Now, I simply state that Venturepax is an online community that lets people who are active in the outdoors share information with folks who may be looking for things to do outside in their physical communities. The hope is that people will understand the vision for Venturepax and be able to understand the details once they visit the site.

Where does this tool fit in your study of social informatics?

Venturepax is an online community that enables the sharing of information, and creates a specific call to action for visitors to the site. In alignment with many social movements today, Venturepax encourages people to get outside, engage in activity, and generate interest by sharing their experiences with others who are part of the community. In effect it beings people together in a common bond, uniting them in support of a social movement. Like an effective grassroots political campaign, Venturepax will enlist an army of passionate followers who will speak publicly, whether FtF or online, of the values it supports!

Venturepax proves that virtual communities can be created  and proves that these online communities can effect social change and align with a specific message.

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Venturepax

Q: What is the tool?

A: Venturepax.com is a very new Social Network that was founded in Cincinnati, OH which aims to provide an valuable resource for two audiences. Outdoor Actives (folks who regularly spend time in the outdoors), and Outdoors Experiencers (those who might otherwise be referred to as “Weekend Warriors”).

Q: What is its function?

A: By creating a network of people in a locality that enjoy the outdoors, Venturepax has been able to create an exceptional “map” of things to do outside. Outdoor Actives were already participating in activities outside and thus had knowledge to share. Venturepax has enabled them to share this knowledge. Outdoor Experiencers were always looking for things to do and now they have an exceptional resource upon which to rely.

Q: Does this tool require membership?

A: You can currently consume the information on the site and within the database without being a member, but in order to share information, you must sign-up.

Q: What is the cost for the tool?

A: Being a member of Venturepax is free!

Q: What are the features of this tool? (If too numerous, mention key features)

A: Venturepax includes a very wide array of tools, but the purpose of the site is to enable people to easily find and share information about outdoor locations (Destinations) and things to do at those locations (Ventures) and earn points for participation. That being said, there are search features, map features, photography sharing elements, videosharing elements and comment sections to include stories, warnings or tips.

Q: How does one use this tool?

A: In order to fully utilize the tools mentioned above, you have to sign-up at Venturepax.com. The User experience is pretty intuitive so the learning process is fairly easy. For a bit more detail about how to get started you can visit http://venturepax.com/blog/starting-with-venturepax/

Q: How does one optimize use of this tool?

A: Getting performance out of this tool can mean different things for different users. For me, adding photos, videos and pointers that help people access the fun activities in which I regularly participate outdoors, thus earning points, is optimizing. For consumers, being able to log-on and find a great place to walk the dog on a beautiful afternoon would be plenty.

Q:What are the benefits (pros) and drawbacks (cons) of this tool?

A: Being so new, Venturepax has yet to establish a large user base and the content on the site has been added by a small but faithful group of outdoor enthusiasts. Therefore, the content on the site is currently very centrally located around the areas in which this regular group actively engages in outdoor activities. Additionally, the comments may come across as a bit biased in favor of the “awesomeness” of the destinations and ventures. On the positive side, Venturepax was founded at a time when governments across the country are cutting parks and recreation budgets and Venturepax has stepped in to relieve the tourism boards for counties across the region to provide marketing material and promotion for these destinations, for FREE. Also, the obesity epidemic, fueled by rampant inactivity has generated quite the buzz, and Venturepax helps people get outside and enjoy exercise. Playing, whether you realize it, is the best exercise there is!

Q: Is it easy to use?

A: Many improvement have been made to enhance the user experience, but the development of the site is in no way finalized. The leadership team is in the process of determining what content is necessary for both user groups, Actives and Experiencers, to get what they want from the tool.

Q: What is your initial impression?

A: As a very active outdoor enthusiast with a broad interest in running, trail running, kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing and more, Venturepax has provided an excellent outlet for the many photos and videos I have of outdoor activities and provides a way for me to share, with a targeted audience, my passion for the outdoors. The first time I stumbled across Venturepax I was hooked.

Q: What is your impression after using the tool over a few days?

A: Despite having used the tool for a while I vividly remember my initial frustration with the site. However, many development updates have been made and the current user-interface is much cleaner and intuitive. Per a recent conversation with the Founder and CEO of Venturepax, Danny Stull, I know that some VERY COOL changes are on the way!

Don’t take my opinion of Venturepax for granted, though, check them out!

http://venturepax.com

http://twitter.com/venturepax

http://facebook.com/venturepax

Societal ADD?

According to Rob Kling, who is often cited as the “father of Social Informatics,” the study revolves around the various implications that new technologies have on individuals, organizations and society as a whole. While more eloquent definitions have certainly been developed over the course of the 20+ years since the study was defined, the basic fact is that technological advancements, regardless of their perceived direct impact, have an unperceived, often unintended, indirect impact.

Nick Bilton, in his book I Live in the Future & Here’s How it Works talks in the first few pages about the impact that technology has had on traditional media, and on consumption of information in general. He even went so far as to develop a menu of information serving sizes for what he has coined “consumnivores” who are “collectively rummaging, consuming, distributing and regurgitating content in byte-size, snack, size and full-meal packages.”

These information consumers of today are the target audience for content developers and being able to articulate a message in the form of a story in which they’ll be interested is critical. Bilton states that, “if we don’t, there are plenty of options available for them to consume – or, more likely, they will create their next meal without us.”

I took particular interest in the assertion that information must be delivered in the form of a story. One example of corporate entities using technology to tell stories about their products or services is seen in web video. Epipheo Studios, a company that I watch closely, has taken note of the message that Bilton has told and developed a new form of story telling called the “Epipheo”. You can watch a recent example here if you’d like.

Part of the message that seems to be at the root of Social Informatics is that we, as a society, are always trying to develop technologies that make life easier. After all, that’s what technology is for right? First we had e-mail and the company memo sharing applications like Lotus Notes, which made communication easier. Then we had internet access to library content and scholarly resources, which made learning and sharing information easier. Today we have so many tools that there are actually tools to help us manage our tools. In the Social Media realm, for example, we haveTweetDeckHootsuite and Ping.fm among others, just to help us keep our various social networks in line. How do we know when we have too many tools?

Additionally, a societal trend is I see is the constant connection we all have to our various roles. While at home I receive a constant barrage of e-mails from work, while at work I am constantly reminded of what’s happening in my social network, and the interconnectedness doesn’t stop with home and work. Our attention is constantly being sought by the ever increasing marketing innovations via text, email, commercial, billboard, radio, and the list goes on. At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, it seems as though our constant addition of new technology has only put us right in the middle of a path toward societal ADD. With advances in current technologies guaranteed to come, how will we find time to escape the finely tuned stories from which we can’t seem to turn away?

Social Informatics: What is it?

When I was perusing the “schedule of classes” for the summer courses offered at NKU I ran across a communications course that was focused on “Social Informatics.” I had no idea what Social Informatics was, and I am still trying to fully comprehend in my own mind what this course is really going to cover, but I am excited about the layout of the course and some of the readings we’ve already been assigned. These works can be found below:

  1. Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym
  2. Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works: Why Your World, Work, and Brain Are Being Creatively Disrupted, Nick Biltin
  3. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (1st Edition), Sherry Turkle
Additionally, we’ve been promised other supplemental reading materials such as this article from 1999, authored by Rob Kling, which examines the definition of Social Informatics. Kling defines the study like this; “Social informatics research pertains to information technology use and social change in any sort of social setting.”
Informational technology advancements, just over the course of the past couple of years have been tremendous as anyone with a heartbeat knows, but what do these advancements really mean for our development as a society, both in professional organizations, and in social communities?   I’m not sure, yet, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the implications of rapid technological improvements in our lives.   From some of the readings I’m getting an ominous  i-Robot sort of feeling! With that being said, I’ll sign-off with this: