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What Should Harvard Do? XB Collaboration in the Age of Social Media

Recently, I saw a “tweet” to an article reporting that Harvard professors were banding together to push their research to the Internet. Well, ok!

While it’s great to put their stuff in the “open”, this barely scratches the surface of the talent — or the output — at Harvard. What about the thousands of Harvard undergrad, graduate students, and staff who constantly write as well? Their work is invaluable as additions to the “conversation,” if not to scholarship.

I use Harvard here both specifically – I’m interested in the place because I trained and work here — but also as a marker for any community with a distinguishing niche or competency, and certainly research institutions.

What’s the problem? There exists huge untapped potential to see, use and advance research going on around the University. Today it lies behind the boundaries of Harvard’s stand-alone schools, and locked into statuses like “student” or “staff”.

That potential represents the University’s greatest assets: its brains and its reputation.

How would we specify/launch a social media capability for Harvard where any student, faculty or staff could post papers, do crowd research, share bookmarks – and collaborate across the boundaries of the schools and statuses?

I’m seeing this, initially, as focused on the professional schools — HKS, HBS, HLS, HSPH, HDS — and on the policy arenas they all touched. I’d see climate, health, national security, for example  as “verticals”, and leadership, technology, regulation, for example, as “horizontals” – though in social media and “socnet” terms I’m not sure how these hold up!

It would be great to create the effect of having cobbled together attributes of existing social media applications, like Twitter, Slideshare, YouTube, Ma.Gnolia/Delicious, Wiki, Alltop, StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook.

What’s the architecture that does that? How to stitch them together? How to put a string around the community as “Harvard” so that that credential defined the boundary?

Yes, we could add other research institutions, making it a powerhouse.

Does Friendfeed offer a solution, as per this from “socnet” strategist Chris Brogan?

It would be great to sketch this out.

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10 responses to “What Should Harvard Do? XB Collaboration in the Age of Social Media”

  1. /jacobmullins on twitter. 🙂

  2. @Matt – Re: your subdomain/blog idea – that’s a great idea actually, and in that way you could Search cross internal platform to find pieces of content within each “vertical,” be it law, medical, govt, etc. Thus grouping it all together.

    @ZachTumin – A rudimentary way to go could be, which is essentially a “private” or grouped version of Twitter, letting companies or communities leave “status updates” a la twitter, but within a defined group.

    Imagine these two put together. Subdomained blogs where people could post, on the right hand side of the portal would be a feed with all Harvard students “updates” flying by, alerting you to their doings.

    PS-Boola boola, baby, Yale 05!

  3. Re: Edward Vielmetti’s observation that an intelligent application of Google can cover much distance. Agreed, it is a good first step for an outsider to see what’s up at Harvard on a particular topic. And search should be central feature of a HarvardShare application. However, a couple of things are true. There’s a fair amount of research that is ordinarily *not* searchable — research by students and staff, for example, which may not appear on a server anywhere. As well, there’s a social media dimension that is not covered by search alone — the other social media and services. Third, there a need to stitch it all together in a UI that helps gel a community of discussants/participants around topics and can spin off further collaborations – especially with practitioners/policy makers who may not want to hunt and peck through search to find, reach and engage researchers. Our goal would be to make all this easy, working with what’s already there – as Ed suggests, search would be foundational – but only a beginning.

  4. “How would we specify/launch a social media capability for Harvard where any student, faculty or staff could post papers, do crowd research, share bookmarks – and collaborate across the boundaries of the schools and statuses?”

    To answer this question is quite simple; identify champions who can demonstrate how these “tools” can be used to benefit the great community (not just Beijing on the Charles) and encourage “grass-roots” adoption and usage. Institutionally mandated usage may squelch some potentially unique and unexpected uses of social media within academia.

    Also, bear in mind that “mobile” is the future! Mobile social media

  5. You don’t need to do anything new; it’s possible to search across all of Harvard right now just by intelligent application of Google.

    for instance, the search for

    “behavioral economics”“behavioral+economics”

    gives really good answers at the top – a few names of people, a syllabus for a course, papers and book results. Pretty much anything you’d need as an outsider to figure out where to go first to find someone.

    I do these sorts of searches all the time (replacing with because the results you get make sense in the context of an organization you already know – the names and phone numbers you find are all local. And note that constructing this institution-specific search engine is trivial with existing Google custom search tools.

  6. I agree – Harvard does need to form a lifestreaming application for students and professors. It would serve to compliment their public education program (Harvard Extension). A new education focused lifestreaming ap that takes users existing accounts (Digg, Twitter, Plurk, technorati Magnolia, etc.) and pushes to a single microblog site like Twitter would be most useful. The real fault line in Twitter is its dev framework- Ruby on Rails – because the developers did not build the system to scale well. If the system were built in a more robust framework and built specifically to scale, it could not only work just for Harvard but for other educational facilities – so now you don’t just have a useful tool- but a revenue model. This would be a very robust and connected microblog social network. The current blogs at Harvard simply suck and they lack real connectivity with one another.

  7. Matt says:

    There’s incentive for students to do this, too. I gained so much (jobs, mainly) by posting my undergrad research papers online. Since then, blogs have made so easy that refraining from it is silly. But the process is still foreign to most. I’d like to see a college give each incoming student their own subdomain ( and a WordPress blog pre-loaded with academic subject categories. Instant research archive.

  8. […] centers) Zach Tumin has been thinking about open access in the university, and wondering how to open up Harvard’s discussions even more – both to the public, and within the internal Harvard community: What’s the problem? […]

  9. Andrew Strader says:

    Branded social networks for universities would undoubtedly serve certain members of the university (e.g. undergraduates) as well as the world community, bringing benefits that currently do not exist. The key, however, will be to formulate social networking systems that serve the larger goals of the university. That will require continual discussion among university policy makers, social media experts, and of course the networking participants.

  10. I agree it would be a phenomenal resource to have all of that Harvard goodness available to the public, I can understand why it’s not and why Harvard (and other large institutions and corporations) want to keep most of that intellectual property “in house.” But if we remove the “public” side of the argument, then the question is still valid – why can’t/doesn’t Harvard break down the walls internally among its schools/ staff/ students. Are there communities, tools, social networks, etc. behind the walls that would let them tap into their potential while still filtering what goes outside?