Truth and conferences

March 11, 2012

Craig Newmark (with an assist from the Colbert-head-on-a-stick puppet) shares his feelings about what he'd like to tell people who use the Internet to spread nefarious lies and misinformation.

It’s been a busy week. I spent two days of it attending the Truthiness and Digital Media symposium co-hosted by the Berkman Center and the MIT Center for Civic Media. As evidenced by the heart-warming picture above, the event featured an all-star crowd of folks engaged in media policy, research, and advocacy. Day 1 was a pretty straight-ahead conference format in a large classroom at Harvard Law School, followed on day 2 by a Hackathon at the MIT Media Lab. To learn more about the event, check out the event website, read the twitter hashtag archive, and follow the blog posts (which, I believe, will continue to be published over the next week or so).

In the course of the festivities, I re-learned an important, personal truth about conferences: I like them more when they involve a concrete task or goal. In this sense, I found the hackathon day much more satisfying than the straight-ahead conference day. It was great to break into a small team with a bunch of smart people and work on achieving something together – in the case of the group I worked with, we wanted to design an experiment to test the effects of digital (mis)information campaigns on advocacy organizations’ abilities to mobilize their membership. I don’t think we’ll ever pursue the project we designed, but it was a fantastic opportunity to tackle a problem I actually want to study and to learn from the experiences and questions of my group-mates (one of whom already had a lot of experience with this kind of research design).

The moral of the story for me is that I want to use more hackathons, sprints, and the like in the context of my future research. It is also an excellent reminder that I want to do some reading about programmers’ workflow strategies more generally. I already use a few programmer tools and tactics in my research workflow (emacs, org-mode, git, gobby, R), but the workflow itself remains a kludge of terrible habits, half-fixes, and half-baked suppositions about the conditions that optimize my putative productivity.

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