Saturday, February 5, 2011

Putting Social Media to work on World Streets (Part II)

World Streets Social Media/Networking Game Plan in Brief (Working notes)
Target: Let's see if and how we can best select and apply a batch of hopefully synergistic available social media tools to extend readership, content and support for World Streets in 2011.

Our approach/Exec. Summary: Do it as well as we can/Inspect feedback/Adjust as we go along/Invite creative articles from colleagues working directly with these tools/Share all this with our readers.

We do not at this point know enough about how all these things work to develop anything like a structured game plan -- but we are ready to play around a bit to determine how we might put to work one or some combination of these networking tools to support the following rough causal chain:


1. Extend outreach – Bring many more people to World Streets, giving them enough concise information and leads so that they do not have the impression of wasting their time
2. Create working networks – Having a structure in which not only we but also others who share our values and goals can make use of the networks
3. Communicate to develop a common understanding – Use some or all of these tools, including at the core the World Streets collaborative blog site, in order to move step by step to a better, more broadly shared understanding of what can and what needs to be done to advance the sustainable transport agenda in cities and communities around the world.
4. Use this enhanced base to institute and support actions to make changes
5. Achieve results and use the networks to make them widely known

When we say "social media" in our context, we are referring specifically to
• Facebook -
• Twitter -!/worldstreets
• LinkedIn -
• Picasa -
• YahooGroups -
• And World Streets itself at

Of these the first four as we understand them are pure social media, whereas the YahooGroups site is maybe more ambiguous, as is of course the main World Streets blog site itself. Nonetheless this is the list we are looking at and trying to work with today.

All that said, at this point we still are left with the immediate dilemma of not having a clear view of how to handle all of this efficiently. Efficiently in at least two senses: that is, not only for us as organizers, but also time-efficient for our information-saturated readers, correspondents and associates (including the appallingly phrased Facebook "friends").


In all this we do not want to abuse and then lose the precious attention of our readers. On the other hand, it is also well known that system redundancy is critical for robustness under conditions of duress, so we need to be giving attention to that as well.

Facebook Groups to Support New Mobility Focus Programs

The only other wrinkle in our social media self-education process that we have engaged which I might draw to your attention is that we are also trying to test the usefulness of setting up additional Facebook Groups for specific focus and policy areas, which at present we are handling as follows:

-          India Streets

-          Carsharing

-          City cycling -

-          Gender, Transport and Equity -

-          Carfree Café -

-          Value Capture/Tax reform -

-          Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice -

That's a lot and yes it may be overkill. But we need to bear in mind that the road to sustainable transport and sustainable cities is long, complex and requires action on many sides. In the meantime we shall continue to see if we can make good use of these group communications tools, and if we do they will probably change shape as we learn and adjust. And if they yield anything, we'll probably keep them around for a while just to see if at some point they find a way to light their own fires.

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Malcolm Gladwell on " Why the revolution will not be tweeted."

At the back of our minds in all this process we have in mind a pretty interesting article by the usually excellent Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker of 10 October on " Why the revolution will not be tweeted." Which you can read at

Now while this article is getting rough treatment in the last weeks from critics in the wake of the events in Tunisia and Egypt, it is in my view worth a careful read if these social media issues interest you. Here are several excerpted paragraphs to give you a feel for his approach:
The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.
. . .
In other words, Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.

Hmm. I think that we need not rush make up our minds that Tunisia/Egypt makes a fraud out of Malcolm. His thesis is more complex and layered than that as you will see when you read his piece.

In our context here in World Streets as we start to play with and think about these new tools, we see a lot of indications that these social media links are indeed for the most part "weak ties" -- but that is not a problem once we figure it out and take it into our work frame. The fact that these are weak links is not so much the problem, as it is the problematique.

So for better or worse that's what we are up to on the social media side of things – other than to mention that we shall be publishing some articles on World Streets by people who know a lot more than we do about these media and transport, so we invite you to stay tuned.

# # #

Are you looking at the right things? Check this out.

(Moral: We thought we would look for it.]

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