The Transit Metropolis: ideas for the Bay Area from good transit cities around the world

Robert Cervero’s The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry includes case studies of a dozen cities around the world with different transit strategies, in search of patterns and good practices for the effective use and growth of transit. I was reading with the Bay Area in mind, looking for regions that had similar characteristics and how they solved similar problems. The book looked at a variety of metropolitan areas, including ones that were very centralized, very sprawling, and ones that were multi-centered like the Bay Area.

There were a number of practices and conclusions that seemed potentially relevant for the Bay Area.

* Coordinated governance The Bay Area is a spread out region with multiple centers. Transit governance is fragmented by geography and by mode (one agency for buses, another for trains). Germany has metropolitan regions with similar characteristics, and has developed a type of governance for this situation, illustrated in in a case study of the Munich region. They have an umbrella organization that plans regional transit development, with coordinated financing, schedules, and marketing.

The umbrella organization has two tiers. There is an executive board composed of representatives from the state, and the mayors of Munich and the other cities in the metro region. The executive board sets overall service and fare policies, and approve capital and operating budgets, allocate funding across operators, and reward individual operators for being productive and cost-effective. Thenre is also a management board composed of department heads of the rail and bus companies that deliver services. This group manages operational details and coordinates timetables and fares. Can the Bay Area draw on this model to have stronger central governance while continuing to have local operations?

* Convenience and connectivity. One of the key lessons from the book is that quality matters – transit systems grow ridership in areas with where many people own cars if the service is high quality. Convenience makes a huge difference. People are very sensitive to the amount of time they need to wait, the effort to get to transit, and the difficulty of connections. Effective transit systems deliver convenience and connectivity with a coordinated system of long-haul, express, local, and feeder routes, all ultra-coordinated to minimize transfers, reduce the pain of transfers, and reach people close to where they live or work. People get out of their cars when the system becomes convenient for them. Today in the Bay Area different modes are seen as serving different markets – if they were coordinated then overall usage would grow

* The last mile – connecting to people. Where settlement is distributed, cities have developed innovative solutions to get transit nearer to where people live. Solutions described in the book range from high-speed Bus Rapid Transit in Ottawa where the buses can fan out into neighborhoods after a high-speed central route, and various sorts of shuttle/van/carshare programs that can pick up/deliver people close to where they want to be. Digital schedules and alerts maximize convenience and minimize waiting. Employer shuttles play some of this role in the Bay Area – we could have more of this sort of last mile option. Also, open transit data is the foundation for innovation for services that help people take transit. But good data can’t substitute for convenient service./

* Marketing. Successful transit programs programs coordinate with employers, schools, sports, festivals, shopping, and other attractions to encourage transit. BART has been running radio ads, but the effectiveness is limited because BART only serves some areas, and just marketing Bart doesn’t let people know about the feeder services that get them to the train, or get them to where they’re going on a given day. Currently Bay Area transit marketing is fragmented, and customer communications seems subordinated to operations – are there more opportunities to increase use with better marketing?

* Land use vision. One of the main factors leading to successful transit growth over time is an overall land use vision for the region. Successful cities had different types of land use patterns – the key wasn’t the specific land use strategy – but having the vision and building toward it incrementally over time. This seems like a challenge in the Bay Area – can SB 375, the law that requires municipal planning to reduce carbon emissions, help guide the region toward a land use vision?

Community organizing and leadership matters Regions that built and improved their transit systems had leaders like Jaime Lerner in Curitiba and citizen advocates Hans Blumenfeld and Jane Jacobs in Toronto, who articulated a vision for their cities and worked persistently over many years to fulfill the vision in many small steps.

These examples from The Transit Metropolis show that it is possible to have effective transit in regions like the Bay Area that have multiple centers where a lot of people have cars. A book by another Berkeley professorThe Country and the City, tells the inspiring story of how citizen organizers working over decades were able to guide Bay Area development to preserve green space and keep sprawl in check. The opportunity and the challenge is to draw on the organizing practices described in the Country and the City to improve transit so people have better opportunities to Drive Less.

What social media influence isn’t

Bernardo Huberman’s much-tweeted recently published study reveals that what makes people influential on Twitter is decidedly not their follower count. Based on analysis of 22 million tweets, the study looks at what factors correlate most closely with the spread of ideas as represented by links. Some celebrities and institutions with many followers are effective at getting pickup, and others aren’t. And some with not that many followers have influence well beyond the sphere of their own immediate network connections.

This disproves one of the basic illusion of social media douchebaggery – that by increasing one’s follower count, one will somehow gain in actual fame and fortune. This illusion justified many irritating techniques to gain followers, and more irritating boastfulness about the number of followers. Savvy and humane social media participants including Tara Hunt and Deanna Zandt have been talking about the truth that follower count doesn’t equal influence for a long time, and it’s finally visible in numbers.

But the study also reveals something less appealing, which is that when you start to focus attention on influence as the spread of links, then that metric becomes easily gameable. Huberman’s paper includes a list of Twitter handles that have outsize influence compared to their follower numbers. About half of these are actual people who are somehow good at spreading ideas though they are not personally popular, and half are contests rewarding the spread of links on Twitter.

Depending on the design and participation in the contest, this could mean that the contest is actually good at spreading ideas, or it could mean that it effectively incents people to click a software button to spread a link with with minimal connection to the content. Now, even when link-sharing is sincere and not just an empty game, people often have mixed motivations. In the course of ordinary social media interaction, a person may share a link to do a small favor to the original poster, to associate themselves with a cool person or topic, seek the attention of the poster and the community reading the post – many social motivations that are tangentially related to the content they are forwarding. Contests that reward mindless clicking are at the far end of a continuum of motivations for sharing content.

What Huberman’s results mean, though, is that by focusing attention on retweets and link-sharing as a primary measure of influence, that visible metric becomes subject to gaming. You can’t simply identify influence with retweeting, since calling attention to the metric can invoke gaming that makes the metric less meaningful.

This result has a number of implications for social software design. It reinforces what science communities have long known – that citations are a powerful measure of the influence of ideas; popularity contests, not so much. It also reinforces what game designers, economists, and business managers have known for a long time – people are motivated by what is measured, and publishing measurements changes the behavior that is measured. The trend and temptation endemic to social software design, to make invisible properties of the social network more visible, is not a simple act of measurement, but changes what is being measured. Those changes or may not be for the better.

The trouble with Facebook for organizing

As the dominant online social network, Facebook is place where activists and organizers head to help their movements and ideas spread. People are already on Facebook, and can share discussions, events, actions, with their networks of friends. This is great. But there’s a pretty serious problem, it seems to me, in the use of Facebook for organizing. It’s hard to get to know people on Facebook.

In the Facebook social model, it’s not very socially acceptable to “friend” someone you don’t actually know. The Facebook model is designed for people who are already “friends”. A “friend” relationship is symmetrical – both need to acknowledge the relationship. Facebook does have a separate built-in asymmetrical type of relationship. Institutions or celebrities can create “pages” that fans can “like”. The model sets up a hard dichotomy between people, who have friends, and celebrities who have fans. It doesn’t make social sense for a celebrity or institution to “like” one of its fans. By contrast, in Twitter, it is easy and socially acceptable to follow someone without their following you back. With this affordance and social practice, it is easy to become familiar with someone’s tweets, and use lightweight social gestures including retweets and replies to over time get their attention and make their acquaintance.

On Twitter, there is no hard dichotomy between friend, aquaintance, and fan. There are celebrities on Twitter who have millions of fans, and that relationship is clearly not mutual – you are probably not friends with John Mayer or Ashton Kutscher. But on Twitter, the follow affordance is the same, allowing for nuance and gradual change. On Twitter, and in a blog or forum communities with shared discussion where people use stable handles, individuals can become familiar with others over time.

In Facebook, if you don’t know someone already, you might come across them in conversations in the discussion thread started by a friend, or the page of an institution that you “like”. But you then have no good way of finding more about them, and gradually making their acquaintance, since many public profiles are quite sparse, and stream that really gives you a picture of the person is often locked down for privacy. And (at least I find) that it is awkward to address someone you don’t know, even if you’re a conversation started by the post of a mutual friend.

Facebook does have an interesting feature and social practice that helps someone convene a conversation. When you post to Facebook, you can “tag” a set Facebook friends to notify and call them into the conversation. Oakland Local’s community manager Kwan Booth describes using this technique for jumpstarting conversations with Oakland Local. Even if those friends don’t know each other, by virtue of being invited to the conversation by a host, they have been given implicit permission and encouragement to talk to each other. When you’re tagged, it feels less awkward to directly address a fellow tag invitee whom you didn’t know before. But still, you don’t have a good way to get to know these people over time.

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For organizers, it is valuable to use Facebook to enable information and actions to spread throughout people’s existing networks of friends and family. But for organizers it is also often very important to build a greater sense of community, and cultivate the network of relationships in the community. Helping people get to know each other is important to growing a sense of shared purpose, reducing feelings of isolation and disempowerment, build on people’s social motivations to take action.

Much of traditional marketing has been focused on attracting individuals to a brand; even social media marketing seems to focus on building a relationship between an organization and its customers and constituents. Thus, coaching about how to stimulate conversations on Facebook pages about topics relating to your organization and your brand. But organizing isn’t just about the relationship of people to your organization, but about their relationships to each other.

In Facebook, where conversations remain in existing cliques and friend networks, it seems much harder to grow the network of relationships. Ethan Zuckerman talks about this issue in this CNN article – does the dynamic of Facebook’s social network, based on existing relationships, make it harder to make new connections. In The Networked Nonprofit, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine talk about the role of “network weavers” who combine traditional and online skills to connect people and organizations; in Share This, Deanna Zandt talks about using social media to deliberately get to know people with diverse cultural backgrounds. But how do you do this using a tool that makes it hard for people to get to know each other?

One way to get around Facebook’s limitations – and an important tool for any community that participates online – is to meet up in person. An organization or organizer can convene meetups and conferences. There, people can meet in person, and after meeting each others’ acquaintance, go back and “friend” each other on Facebook. It’s become quite common for in-person meetings to evolve online acquaintances into closer connections; the inperson connection and online reinforce each other. I’ve met up with Twitter acquaintances at conferences and on vacation. The BlogHer conferences brings together women bloggers, and the Netroots Nation conference developed as a meetup for the Daily Kos political blog online community.

But in more socially open networks, the in-person meetup bolsters a process of getting to know each other that also progress gradually online. With Facebook, there’s a much higher hurdle until and unless you’ve met in person. This is particularly challenging for geographically distributed communities – spread out regions like the Bay Area, or interest groups and movements that are spread out around a country or around the world.

A question for organizers and activists reading this post – do you use Facebook for building community, and if so what practices do you use for this? Have you developed practices for integrating Facebook into a broader set of tools and practices for people to meet each other, and if so how?

p.s. I’m using the term “social model” to refer to the affordances and conventions of recognizing, meeting, getting to know, and affiliating with other people. I’ve talked about this concept as it relates to social software design in posts including here and here. There may be better terms for this concept. If you know of better terms and references, please leave a comment.

What do you mean by early adopter?

Using the examples of Google Wave and FourSquare, this RWW post by Audrey Watters cautions tech companies not to get to excited by “early adopters” – the throng that flock to the newest, coolest technology. What they like may be unlike the preferences of other users, so success with early adopters may not foretell broader market success.

True, and worth a closer look. Who are early adopters of technology, and how are they different from the mainstream? There is more than one difference. Early adopters tend to be young and male. They like technology because it is new and different. They are interested in the new thing because it is cool, and move on when it stops being cool. They are willing to put up with sharp edges for something that is cool, useful, or both. They are willing to experiment with new practices.

Let’s look at FourSquare and Wave and think about how the early adopters might be different from the mainstream.

Google Wave incorporated technology innovation – it was a collaboration tool based on a synchronous chat protocol; it was a brand new and mindbending blend between the synchronous aspects of chat, the stream aspect of a threaded discussion, and the text presentation of a document. It got attention because it was new and different. and yet using it required new and different practices. It’s not unusual for new tools to require new practices; forums require moderation, wikis often use discussion to complement final-form documents, and so on. In the end, those who experimented with Wave never did establish practices that made it understandable and useful to others.

Several commenters to the RWW post observed that Wave was hard to understand. This comment points to Geoffrey Moore’s classic “crossing the chasm” methodology which focuses on building use cases and social references to help more conservative later adopters, who lack the early adopters’ experimental bent.

FourSquare, as shown by recent research is mostly appealing to young men. The initial design of the service focuses on competition (becoming the mayor of your local hangout), and this may be one of the reasons that it hasn’t yet broken out of the early demographic. FourSquare and other location based services are seeking to appeal to segments with other motivations, by providing different sorts of badges (collecting, exploring), and different sorts of rewards (for example, the practical, financial rewards created by linking to marketing loyalty programs for discounts).

The FourSquare research shows that the service hasn’t spread beyond it’s initial population of urban hipsters. By contrast, Facebook spread far beyond its early niche of college students. What makes a trend spread beyond the initial group? This comment to the RWW post talks about trend spreaders, people with a broad network of friends, are open to try new things, and tell their friends and family about their positive experiences. It seems that Facebook was popular with trend spreaders, not just trend-setters.

Then there’s the tendency of the fashionable to move on. Another risk to FourSquare is that as a social service, it’s more compelling when one’s friends are participating and much less compelling when friends don’t use it anymore. It is vulnerable to the flock rising up and flying away. Restaurants and nightclubs have thrived and declined by this dynamic forever. In the case of trends in clothes, the dynamic is all about who’s cool and what’s in style.

In the case of trends in technology, fashion is part of the story. This commentor points out that it’s actually white teenage girls are who are trendsetters. Yes for some kinds of clothes, certainly not for bicycle styles or San Francisco restaurants. But whether it’s white girls, Robert Scoble, or uber-foodies, this point about the aspect of early-adopterism that is about fashionability and social status. The fashion ends when the cool kids move on.

Trends in technology are partly fashion, linked with other attributes. Once upon a time, Motorola and Nokia phones were fashionable (remember back then?) But Apple came out with the most beautiful and usable smart phone. The iPhone is elegant, but the Androids haven’t been tied to AT&T’s poor phone service; Android market share is growing because the thing works better.

So, the cases of Wave and FourSquare illustrate different properties of early adoption.
* Wave was hard to understand; the tools and the practices around it didn’t grow fast enough to make it useful before Google pulled the plug. It not impossible that in the open source afterlife of the dead commercial product, someone may figure out uses, practices, and interfaces that make it work and catch on.
* FourSquare appeals to a psychographic attribute of the early adopter community. For location-based services to catch on, it needs to appeal to a broader set of motivations, and to reach people who are good at reaching out.
* FourSquare is vulnerable to the cool kids going elsewhere, for reasons that are partly social and partly more appealing service

So, if your product or service appeals to early adopters, there are a variety of things to consider in order to break out of that niche:
* work on use cases, usage practices, and ease of use that work people who value familiarity over experiment
* consider the psychographic – is there some way your early population is different from the broader market, and what needs to make it appealing beyond the early community
* consider social adoption patterns – is your service not only easy to share, but appealing to people who like to share
* keep improving or your early adopters will move onto something better

Just thinking about “early adopters” isn’t precise enough – think about how your product or service are working for early adopters, and what may need to be different to break out.

Networked communication – theory and practice

In the last few weeks I read three books on related topics – the theory and practice of networks for social change. Deanna Zandt’s Share This, Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s Networked Nonprofit, and Manuel Castells Communication Power. Share This and Networked Nonprofit are practical books for people engaged in nonprofit and advocacy work; Communication Power is a work of sociology by an academic personally interested in political activism and social change.

The thought behind reading the books together was that Castells would provide a bigger picture framework to put the more practical books into context. He does, but not in any definitive way, perhaps because the story is very much in progress. Share This and Networked Nonprofit are both differently excellent for people newer to the use of social media for social change; for more current and advanced advice, follow the authors online.

Share This and Networked Nonprofit are written primarily for people who are experienced at advocacy and nonprofit work, but new to social media. This focus supports the authors’ work, helping established organizations and professionals orient themselves toward new tools and new ways of working.

Share This has more personal advice for people with a background in advocacy and organizing. The book coaches readers through the personal experience of sharing stories and building relationships through social media. It helps people think about the decisions about how much to share, how to negotiate fuzzy personal and professional boundaries, to connect across social boundaries in the interest of social change, to manage attention and use critical thinking to handle the flood of social network messages, to overcome some of the common fears of using the internet and social media.

Deanna Zandt’s outlook on social media derives from older traditions of feminist consciousness raising (“the personal is political”) and personal storytelling from the Chicago school of community organizing. She sees personal connection as the foundation for social transformation: “through sharing with others, we ultimately build the trust and empathy that are the building blocks of change.” This viewpoint is a deliberate choice – people can use social media with many sorts of intentions; advocating empathy in the interest of social justice is one choice, which I like better than some other alternatives.

The Networked Nonprofit focuses less on the personal and emotional side of social media, and more on the organizational and institutional aspects. The book advocates for the use of social media to enable structural improvements in the way nonprofits work. The nonprofit sector has grown tremendously in recent years, in the number of organizations, employees, and budgets. The conventional structure of a nonprofit organization is a standalone entity which competes with others for funding, whose professional staff are isolated from donors, volunteers, and constituents. Fine and Kanter contend that this structure sets the organizations up for underachievement and sets staff up for exhaustion and burnout.

Instead of seeing themselves as standalone organizations, nonprofits should see themselves as part of a network. They could use the internet and social media tools to do a better job of engaging the support, skills, and interests of constituents, and could coordinate with complementary organizations to have a greater impact without taking on more overload. Some of the organizations that do this most effectively are ones created in the last decade with the network as part of their fabric. For example, Surfriders is a loose organization of surfers dedicated to protecting the seashore; local chapters have complete independence to create their own events and communications, with support tools from the core organization. The book is full of other case studies in which more traditional organizations are evolving to be more networked.

One of the interesting trends cited in the book was of a new generation of “network weaving” free agents who use network resources to initiate social action and advocacy, but who are not permanently affiliated with any particular nonprofit organization. This was exciting to me, since it felt like a description of how I’ve worked for years, without a name for the practice. I’ve done organizing and advocacy in tech policy, environment, open government, and other issues; I connect people and organizations, and leverage the resources and brand of organizations in a way that furthers the mission of the organizations, without taking on a permanent affiliation. It’s felt like a secret art, and it’s cool to be able to put a description and a name to the practice.

I read Communications Power by sociologist Manuel Castells at the same time, in the expectation that it would provide a broader context for the practical trends described by Zandt and Fine/Kanter. It does. I was also looking to the book to provide an analysis of the relationship between networks, politics, and social action, complementary to the culturally-focused analysis that Kazys Varnelis summarizes. It definitely does.

Castells traces the broader trends of the rise of communications networks, and their the role in the formation of identity and social connections, the dissemination of ideas, the structure of organizations, and the allocation of power. Castells’ first section provides a survey of sociological literature on the subjects (a handy bibliography for those of us interested laypeople without degrees in sociology). The second section takes a whirlwind tour of trends toward media consolidation and the rise of the internet in recent decades. For those who have followed these topics in mainstream and trade press, this is a skimmable rehash; perhaps there are sociologists and activists less familiar with the material who would find these sections more interesting. The third section draws interesting connections from neuropsychology to explain the relationship between emotion and reason in the formation of public opinion. They are not opposites; rather emotion and cognitive dissonance bring people’s attention to facts. The messengers – celebrities in mass media, or peers in social networks, play an important role in bringing people’s attention to the message.

The book picks up the pace in the second half, where Castells uses the background set up in the first half to explore a series of case studies with original analysis. Programming Networks of Mind and Power provides a case study of the Bush Administration’s political communication during the Iraq War, manipulating the mass media to build public support for invasion based on false information. Reprogramming Networks looks at four examples where networks are being used by people to organize and influence events; the rise of the environmental movement around climate change, the anti-globalization movement, “smart mob” protests in Spain that changed the outcome of an election, and the Obama presidential campaign.

Castell’s big picture sociology is more general and more complex than the practitioners’ books. Castells traces the rise of networked communication in the context of an interlocking matrix of state power, financial/commercial power, and mass media. New aspects of identity, new means of transmitting ideas, and new forms of coordination coexist and interact with existing forms. A number of the practical insights in ShareThis and NetNon are connected to larger patterns – the online expression of identity that Zandt advocates is connected to changes that Castells observes and validates with original and cited research; the evolution toward networked organizations is also connected to larger trends Castells describes.

ShareThis and “NetNon” are short and focused, while Communication Power is long and sprawling and requires substantial skimming to get through. I don’t begrudge Zandt, Fine and Kanter their tight focus on new trends. Those authors wouldn’t argue that social media alone is enough – activists and nonprofit managers need to consider a broader mix of media and methods to build a constituency in today’s world. Zandt has great coaching about personal adaptation to social media, and NetNon has a lot of insight about organizational structure and tactics, but neither book is the place to go for insight into big-picture strategy about social change in the networked era. Castells’ case study about the global advances of the environmental movement, with many networked organizations, substantial use of internet organizing, and celebrities communicating in mass media, provides interesting food for thought for nonprofits and advocates interested in joining forces for large-scale change (and its examples of organizing innovation dovetail with the mode described in Networked Notprofit). Though, at the moment, with the Obama administration’s failure to pass climate legislation in its moment of historical opportunity, there are as many questions as answers about the role and limitation of networked organizing.

Something that is missing in all of the books is a connection between network and structure that I suspect may be a key to movement success in the long term. A truly ad hoc, networked organization can have dramatic impact in the short term – flash mobs organized rapidly to overthrow governments and change election results in the Phillipines, Korea, and Spain. But can a purely ad hoc networked organization succeed at larger-scale, long-term change? Even in the age of easy networked communication, organizations are serve as an entity to handle money, and as a vehicle for storing and transmitting culture and practices to a constantly changing constituent base. The larger open source/open content projects, such as Apache and Wikipedia, have created foundations to provide an organizational base for networked peer production activities. The gap between the techniques of networked self-organization and the needs of long-term organizing is a gap I’ve observed before, in works such as Howard Rheingold’s Smart Mobs and Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody – there need to be methods to link networked action in the moment to the longer-lasting coordination it takes to make big social changes – movements to abolish slavery, to gain civil rights for African-Americans, to gain the vote for women, took persistence over many years- a flash mob wouldn’t have done the trick.

Perhaps this is a weakness of the sociological form, but Castells’ analysis of the structures and forces in situations neglects the effects of circumstances and specific agency. If the 2000 presidential election in Florida had gone slightly differently, if Gore had campaigned a little better that season, then several of the major stories in Communications Power would likely have played out very differently – the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings would have been different, the developments in the movement to combat climate change would have been different. Castells provides a rich, if familiar analysis of the Bush Administration’s success at disinformation and media manipulation during the Iraq War. But was the passivity and gullibility of the US media really baked into the structure of our society, or could leading media organizations have taken a more risky and aggressive path at reporting the truth earlier – that Iraq didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, and wasn’t linked to Al Qaeda.

The main conclusion of Castells’ book is simple and useful – to understand power, look at the communication networks, who controls them, what they communicate through the network and how. Beyond the strong main argument, Christian Fuchs of the University of Saltzburg critiques the Castells’ argument as social theory in several ways. Fuchs observes that Castell’s notion of power overemphasizes coercive power; and that Castells’ use of networking metaphors drawn from computer networks (programming, switching) may obfuscate the different properties of a social network made of sentient people; both observations I also made when reading the book. Fuchs argues that Castells’ use of “autonomy” is theoretically vague; I don’t have enough social theory background to understand that critique. Castells analyzes a number of mechanisms of persuasion used in mass media communication: framing, agenda-setting, priming, and indexing. Fuchs asks whether the same techniques would be used by insurgents doing peer organizing (based on observing the Netroots I’d say yes); in addition, I would ask about what different sorts of persuasion may come into play with peer media.

The two practical books have different limitations. Both books are written primarily for readers who are relatively new to social media; for people those who are already engaged in using online tools as a component of organizing and advocacy, these books leave one hungry for more. At Netroots Nation, I talked to a GenY friend who has been a pioneer in online political campaigns, and is now in charge of online advocacy for a progressive organization. He was somewhat baffled by the Networked Nonprofit’s emphasis on breaking down silos – still a new and needed idea for many, though it was old hat to him.

For people who are already deeply engaged in using the internet and social media for advocacy and social change, there’s a need for more advanced material: on using new media and older media together effectively, on combining the strength of the network and the structure of the organization, on the challenges of building diverse personal connections and coalitions when online networks are part of the practice; on the complex relationships between fact and emotion, messenger and message in advocacy and organizing. The authors’ ongoing work online continues to provide more in-depth resources for post-introductory networked nonprofit and advocacy. If you have other favorite sources, please let me know in comments!

All of the books are politically oriented, and I don’t think that is a bad thing. Share This is assertively progressive; Networked Nonprofit is less overtly liberal, and the anecdotes and case studies cover a broader range of the political spectrum, but the language includes assumptions and code from the left side of the political spectrum, for example the authors describe themselves as “experts in social media for social good.” Manuel Castells opens the book with stories of his youthful opposition to the Franco dictatorship, and the way he tells and frames the stories, including the Lakoffian way he uses the concept of framing, derives from a leftish perspective. These books assume ideals of social justice, environmental health, cultural tolerance; and the ideas that people can and should organize to pursue these goals.

There are other books that might be written, looking at the use of social media across the political spectrum, or from another part of the political spectrum; from the perspective of commerce and people’s identification with the stuff we buy, from the perspective of culture, identity, and creativity; from the perspectives of people’s everyday lives, gossiping and flirting and sharing jokes and showing off. Those books will be worth reading also, but these books aren’t those books. Christopher Lasch argues that a having a point of view helps people to understand and apply information. From this perspective, I see the social/political orientation as constraint and a strength, not a weakness.