About the Class

"A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa."
    --Mark Zuckerberg, Founder, Facebook


Course Description

Contemporary social media, advertising, and computing often feature "feeds," -- a personalized list of changing items. Increasingly these are social feeds: they are modified by your relationships with other people. This course considers social feeds. We will investigate the user experience of feeds, feed interaction design, feed business strategies, feed relevance algorithms, feed fiascoes, social feeds as data, and audience targeting via feeds: all across the contexts of commerce, news, education, and expression.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this course, you should be able to:

(*) - For this class, a technical understanding of the operation of feeds is not required, but some students may be interested in acquiring a technical understanding anyway, e.g., via the final project.

Course Credit

Class Structure

(Teacher Cat Grades Harsh.) (Image credit: memecenter.com.)

The course consists of two lectures each week. These may also include discussion and in-lecture activities. Class meetings supplement but do not duplicate the readings; readings supplement but do not duplicate the class meetings. Some of the course content is available only from class meetings and students are responsible for that material. There are no discussion sections.

Overall, the bulk of the assessment work in this course (60%) consists of three multiple-choice exams. All three are equally weighted -- there is no traditional midterm or final. There are no surprise or "pop" quizzes.

In addition, a weekly question will be posed and graded on a pass/fail basis to ensure that students are keeping up with the readings and that a combined lecture/discussion format remains viable. These weekly questions may require a short activity. If a student fails a weekly question after making an honest attempt, they may submit a revision for a second chance at a passing grade.

A final project counts as a final exam for this course: there is no other final exam. The final project must be completed in order to receive a passing grade in this course. It is presented during the final exam period.

In-person attendance is required. However, some time after each lecture, a recording of the lecture will be made available on the course Web site, along with lecture slides. These are meant for review. In the event that a lecture video is not made available (e.g., due to technical problems) you are still responsible for the content of that lecture. You are expected to attend lecture and attendance is part of your course grade. Students verify attendance in lecture by answering a short lecture question that may be posed at any time during the lecture, including the beginning. Not answering the day's lecture question counts as an absence, even if you attended part of the lecture that day.

Overall Expectations


This course contains a broad spectrum of students with different skills, from noobs to hackers and in between. In order to ensure that those less comfortable are not at a disadvantage, this course is not graded on a curve, there are opportunities to revise assignments for a better grade, and there are extra credit opportunities. The teaching staff reserves the right to award additional points to reward remarkable effort and an upward trend in your work regardless of your starting point.

Your final grade will be weighted:

Weekly Questions: 15%
Exams: 60% (3 exams at 20% each)
Final Project: 20%
Attendance and Participation: 5%

Attendance and Participation include lecture attendance and answering the lecture questions. It may also include more generally your overall quality and quantity of contribution to the course.


There are no required textbooks for this course.

Course readings will be provided to you electronically at least two weeks before the reading is expected to be read (with the exception of the readings in the first two weeks). If you would like additional information about the course material, consider these optional textbooks.

Optional textbooks:

(Image credit: The Atlantic.)

Materials Costs

Some Final Projects (and possibly weekly questions) may involve specialized software and/or small online purchases. We think about these costs as we do textbook costs. We promise that we will recommend free or inexpensive software to you whenever possible. If the final project you choose involves online purchases, we do not anticipate the overall semester total will exceed $30, and in the past it is typically $0. A project involving an online purchase will probably require the use of a credit card. If you don't have a credit card, but you have someone you trust that will buy things for you (mom? a friend?) that will also work. If these costs are prohibitively expensive and would make it impossible to participate, e-mail the primary instructor to make alternate arrangements.

Major Deadlines

Deadline dates may change as the semester progresses. See the schedule page for deadlines.

Note that final project will be due during the final exam period for this course assigned by the registrar (Wednesday, December 21, 2016; 4-6 p.m.). You must attend the final exam period.

Use of Notes on Exams

There will be three multiple-choice exams given during the lecture period. These are closed book except that you may prepare and bring to class one 8 1/2 x 11" sheet of notes (typed or handwritten) to consult during the exam. You may use this sheet and a pencil to take the exam. No other aids may be used. You must turn in the sheet of notes with your exam.

Class Policies

Legal Thingy

We record parts of our course to help students review the course material. To make this possible, by enrolling in this course as a student you authorize the University of Michigan and the SI 316/COMM 404 instructors, and anyone that the University or SI 316/COMM 404 instructors may permit, to film, videotape, audio record, and photograph you during SI 316/COMM 404 activities for subsequent broadcast or other dissemination in perpetuity through any media, which includes, without limitation, commercial and public radio, television, cable, and the Internet. And you acknowledge that you might not receive a copy of any film, videotape, audio recording, photograph, or computer file that is or may be produced. If you wish to opt-out of the lecture recording process contact the professor and you can be seated in an area of the lecture room not covered by a camera if a camera is being used. You should also be sure to avoid volunteering to participate in any recorded lecture activities (such as demos) at the front of the room if there is a camera present. As there are a variety of vehicles for course participation credit, avoiding lecture demos will not disadvantage your performance in the course.