Spotlight Design Blog: What is Social Media?

As announced a few days ago, we’ll be making our exhibition debut by unveiling Spotlight at the National School Boards Association conference in Nashville in just two short weeks! This is a riveting time for Slate & Tablets, as it’s our first time presenting at a conference and we have put together what I think is quite the experience for attendees. Most demo products at education conferences are just that: demo products that emulate what it would be like to use in a school. Everyone attending the conference who downloads Spotlight is not only going to get the real product, but most importantly the real experience of what social media can do.

What is Social Media?

That’s an internet 101 question, isn’t it? Actually, no, it’s one of the most often misunderstood questions, misinterpreted answers, and terribly skewed concept on the Internet today. It only gets worse in schools as well. When we do our social media projects in computer programming, we have to tackle this important question and define just what social media should be able to do. I usually show this video from one of the guys who made Reddit, arguably the most important social media site on the internet today.

Ohanian makes an important point about the nature of social media, in that it must be genuine. It’s not a competition. Many people use their social media statistics as evidence of their influence online, and they make a lot of money doing so. Derek Thompson presents evidence that these statistics are essentially meaningless anyway, since they can’t actually be leveraged for any purpose by an individual. But notice the diction: by an individual. This is where I observe people going wrong on social media. It is impossible to make a splash online alone. Ohanian argues that when groups of genuine people get together online for the same purpose, that’s when they are able to accomplish internet sensations like every meme that’s come out of Reddit, crowdfunding campaigns, and language phenomena born on the Web. There are negative possibilities too, the worst of which is cyberbullying, but awareness about that issue has been quickly spreading and the Internet is even fighting back. Check out this story of a man who was dancing at a party in Europe but was humiliated online by a group of who-cares-who-they-ares. The web caught wind and decided that his attitude was gold, so they threw him a huge dance party in Vegas. While not everyone bullied on line gets such attention, the fact is that there is far more being done against negative outcomes of social media, ironically enough by people who are just being genuine and standing up for what they believe in.

If you had to put it in a sentence, it would probably look like this: social media is any tool that lets a group of individuals smile, laugh, and/or support shared interests. The big question is, why hasn’t it caught on at schools yet, which are perfect candidates for the community building power that these tools give?

The Platform

Social media is a non-unique computer skill in that it requires both a piece of technology and someone with the skill to utilize it. Schools don’t have the money to put someone on social media duty full time, let alone someone with the requisite skills or relevant content to post. Look at the legendary twitter account of Taco Bell, which has been the subject of emulation for the past two or three years by Pizza Hut, Dominos, and others. It takes someone with an innate understanding of the internet to stand out from the noise with humor, cheekiness, and craft. But remember our lesson from the previous section: social media is a tool for groups of individuals. Taco Bell pays someone to speak online for their corporation. Schools don’t have this luxury. This is why platforms such a Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media product has not yet caught on. They were designed for individuals with the opportunity for smaller groups to spawn from them.

With Spotlight, we’ve designed the product completely around this notion: that schools need a social media product that represents the whole school, not individual posters inside it. Every approved editor (default: all teachers in a building) posts to the same central location, which is searchable, of course. We’ve taken Ohanian’s advice that it’s not a competition, as well as several other works about the impact of social media on relationships surrounding the negatives associated with online narcissism and removed the statistics from the platform entirely. There are no retweets, likes, upvotes, downvotes, and other imaginary internet points. The goal is not to make content go viral across the internet. The goal is to provide a novel platform for a school to represent itself, along with all of its triumphs and successes. There are no complicated privacy settings, which is another huge hurdle for schools online concerned with what they share. Every school has a PIN associated with their network. You can’t get in without the PIN. Finally, as with many of life moments, there are some you remember, and some you forget. Spotlight allows users to remember their favorite moments in an unprecedented way: we have a full service print shop for various kinds of photo gifts at our disposal. We’re aiming at a whole new way to post your students’ achievements on your refrigerator at home.

We’re so excited to share more about Spotlight with you, and look for the tech specs for the product next time. Remember, we’ll be debuting at the National School Boards Association conference in Nashville in just two weeks, and we can’ wait to see you there!