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Ecology By Ashly Stewart Michael Schoenfelder Kim Karalekas

Social Media A variety of websites and applications have transformed the Internet into a medium for social interaction. By putting international publishing power in the hands of every Internet citizen, social media facilitates massive conversation and collaboration.

Problem Social media squanders its potential by burying thoughtful conversation under trite content. As a result, critics demonize it as “alienating” or “pointless.” Both complaints originate from the same problem: social media networks revolve around the individual. Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?” Twitter prompts, “What are you doing?” Should we be surprised that people produce a stream of self-absorbed updates?

We call it Ecology.

What if social media asked, “How can developing economies avoid exploitation?” or prompted, “Explain the biggest obstacle to world peace?” What if social media asked us to solve real problems or to celebrate what we invest our time in? What if our collective thought was unleashed upon on the world? We call it Ecology - a new model of organization. It’s a collaborative platform that helps to strategically and creatively solve problems, develop meaningful research and build communities. Ecology transforms the current concept of social media from a one-way model of personal projection and shallow conversation into a two-way platform of idea generation and worthwhile conversation. Ecology has two main components – a field guide and an online network structured by real actions and conversations.

Field Guide

The field guide is a map for conversation. It’s a seed – a prompt, exercise or activity - that starts the thought process for an individual who then communicates his or her ideas to the rest of the community. Conversation starters inspire individuals to think about a given topic. Field guides are distributed to a select community - a group of individuals who have been chosen to participate. The field guide contains a series of seeds that the community then grows by creating responses and content. Each forest has a series of individual seeds based on one common theme. For example, the seeds for one forest might be delivered in a digital presentation, while another in a physical format. Regardless, all seeds for each respective forest are delivered in the same form.

The Structure

The Select Community The select community comprises the people who are selected to initially grow the seed (respond to the prompt, complete the exercise or participate in the activity). They are selected based on their investment in the issue. For example, they have children in the school that has funds to distribute, or they are artists that can conceptualize a new style of painting and want others to help grow the idea. Once community members have uploaded their responses, the root system is established and the tree begins to grow.

Seeds: One seed represents one field guide prompt and each seed is responded to by the select community members.

Trees: One tree represents a seed and all the conversation. No matter how large the conversation tree might grow, any root, branch or leaf originates from the seed.


A root represents a selected community member’s response to the seed.

Branches: A branch represents a response to a root. The response can be submitted as text, visual, audio or video. Depending on the overall object of the forest and field guide design, branch conversations might be exclusive to the select community or open for public engagement.

Leaves: Leaves depict a simple “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” response through shades of green and brown - green representing positive responses and brown representing negative responses. Everyone, whether or not he or she is a select community member, can provide his or her opinion by commenting on uploaded content.


A forest is a collection of trees. Once you understand how an individual tree expresses information, you can evaluate your community’s content through its shape, size, color and density.

To get a better idea of how a forest can aid understanding of a community, issue or identity, let’s look at different scenarios.



The issue model can be used to problem solve through collaboration and out-of-the-box thinking. This model is used when a group needs to come to a solution. A variety of organizations can benefit from this, such as, non-profit groups, businesses, or teams. For example: The Oregon Board of Education needs to make a decision. The issue model allows the board to take a democratic approach to solving the problem by inviting those potentially affected by the solution to participate in the conversation.Participants may include; a student, a teacher, a crossing guard, a school board member, a tax payer, an instructional assistant and a daycare provider. Prompts: 1. Brainstorm ten ways to creatively measure student success without the means of testing. 2. If students could take more field trips, name ten locations that would be most interesting and educational for students. 3. Look around your school and write down five ways schools could save money without making sacrifices.

Interest The interest model creates an opportunity for multiple brands to partner around an idea and create community. Communities benefit from brand partnerships as the partnerships provide an opportunity for the communities to come together in a collaborative network. For example: Moleskin produces blank journals and Staedtler produces writing tools that are used across creative industries. These brands could form a campaign centered on visual journaling. In this example, a journal would act as a field guide and could be distributed to a variety of artists, such as; videoographers, cartoonists, painters, sculptors, architects, etc. Prompts: 1. Explore the contrast between the simplicity and complexity of a small object. 2. Create a grid on a page and fill each box with whatever you choose. 3. Illustrate/write your earliest memory and compare with those who are in the memory. Explore this story on the page.

Identity The identity model starts a conversation with consumers about a product or brand. By including consumers, companies learn more about what their product or service means to its advocates. This model updates qualitative research and focus group methods, by providing a mutually beneficial situation where consumers and companies cooperate to build better products and brands. For example: Kid Robot is a toy company that produces lines of boutique toys and apparel, and has a dedicated following of creative adults. Kid Robot could use the identity model to research and develop new products for this creative community by distributing products and providing opportunities for interaction. Prompts: 1. Take pictures of several different toys and create a mash-up to form a new Kid Robot character. 2. Tell a digital story using Kid Robot. 3. If your Kid Robot had an arch-nemesis, who or what would it be? Draw a picture of the nemesis.

The Ecology structure could exist as an organizational aggregator or an entirely new medium.

New Interface An entirely new Ecology interface would be similar to current social media such as Twitter or Facebook, but would generate user content in a more meaningful way by creating entirely new content. The new interface would begin with small organizations or non-profits around the issue model. By beginning with these groups, we are inviting people who are already highly passionate about the subject to explore further and diversify their audience. This would promote organic, tight-knit communities. As this model grows it sparks new conversation and content, others would begin to understand the structure and would be invited to organize their own communities. The next step is to invest in the identity model where we would introduce small collaborative brands wanting to provide an experience for their audience. As these communities grow, they grow the entire interface and eventually, Ecology becomes an established network. Later, large brands and businesses would be able to strategically structure themselves into the Ecology network, tailoring their brand towards a personal, yet collaborative community experience.

Aggregator Interface Thinking of Ecology as an aggregator, it would gather similar content from popular social media networks such as, Flickr, Vimeo and Facebook and would create a new organization around similar categories. Once people see connections between content, meaning and explorative prompts would be inserted to grow the content in a conversational manner. By combining several other networks it would first function as somewhat of a host. Once users begin to participate more, the platform could eventually grow into its own interface.



Ecology isn’t finished. By giving online dialog a structure, we have opened up possibilities beyond the scope of this book. In actual ecology there is a lifecycle of growth and decay. We could incorporate this same concept into our online Ecology by allowing content to disappear if not generating enough response to sustain the conversation. The last thing people need is another way update profiles. Ecology is unlike any social media that has come before; Ecology is an idea network.


We call it Ecology. Ecology transforms the current concept of social media from a one-way model of personal projection and shallow conversa...