Monthly Archives: September 2013

“Facebook and social media actually makes you more productive”(1)

funny-facebookHmmm.  That was a very provocative statement to make to those of us always looking for an excuse to be on social media of one sort or another!  It is also probably the first time I have ever heard the words “social media” and “productive” in the same sentence.  In either case, while the author may be stretching it, it does not hurt to look at how social media can make you more productive.  The grocery store example on pages 4-5 of Socailnomics might be a little on the over exaggerated side but there have definitely been times when I have put out a request for help on Facebook and have gotten quick and great responses – especially when looking for help when something goes wrong with my house, car, computer, etc.  Referrals from friends for services are some of the best out there, especially when you know and respect the person the information is coming from.  While shopping for a prom dress for my daughter last year, she would have me take pictures of her in it.  Then she would sit there and goof around on her phone, or so I thought.  Little did I know that all her friends were on Twitter commenting on which dress she should pick.  I guess a mom’s opinion just doesn’t count anymore!  Needless to say, the responses were within a minute of posting so it really did not take any time at all for her to make her decision – a HUGE time saver for me!

I also loved the comment “We no longer search for the news – it finds us” (Qualman, 2009, p. 9).  This is how I look at Twitter these days.  I am following companies or news sources that I find interesting.  As long as I have my feed open, I will get the news as soon as it is posted.  If the post sounds interesting, I will click on the link to read the full story.  While some might find it distracting, I have learned to filter out what I really don’t want to look at, or I can tune it out altogether when I am focusing on other things.  At the same time, when I am able to glance at it, I can easily pick the stories I want to read more about and ignore the rest.  When I search through regular websites, I most definitely spend a lot more time trying to find the news I really want to read.  I will take the hand picked twitter feeds any day.

Funny-facebook-Quotes-1

If there is anything we can learn from our readings this week it is that the world has been and always will be a changing, dynamic place.  I am eternally grateful for any and all forms of technology that have come along in recent years.  If a company, or a career/technical field cannot keep up with the changes, then evolution has done its job. Survival of the fittest at its best!

(1)  Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.

Phase Five (Not Complete) What’s Next?

As I think about readings this week, I am struck by the phases.  Carliner notes, “Over the past 30 years, technology has affected technical communications in profound ways” (29).  And indeed I stopped to consider this thought and the profoundness of the past 30 years and the ways in which technology has affected us.  For a minute, I just thought about my last 30 years, and then I thought about how many of those years I have been using technology.  Then I began to think more in depth about the five phases in this development of technology for technical communication.  I ended with questions:  what makes one a technical communicator? And what phase most affected me in profound ways?  What I found to be true is this (and this will date me): I have really only been fully involved in three of the five phases. The first two were periods of my life that were not necessarily times of my life when I was 1) aware of all the world’s technologies and 2) using them in my daily life was not something I connected to my literacy skills in the sense that I was learning how to become digitally literate.

I was growing up in “The Desktop Revolution”, so Phase Two would be the time I began to become literate in the use of computers.  By no means was I a technical communicator during this time, ancomputer-storage-timelined I was not “automating publishing tasks” in any way, shape, or form.   I was simply a child and then a teenager in the 80’s and the 90’s.  So, yes, I am a child of the eighties, and I did not own a desktop computer during this phase of my life, and now reading about this aspect of that time period made me think quite a bit about the technology changes that were rapidly occurring around me.   I did, however, immediately connect to some of the technical aspects that I read.  As a matter of fact, I felt a certain sense of nostalgia when I began to read about the first PCs in the early 1980s, which used 5.25 diskettes.   I remember the diskette clearly and vividly.  I know what it looks like, I remember what they felt like, and I held them in my hands when I was in elementary school.  What I could not have told anyone until now is that those disks only held 360,000 bytes of information.  Then when I read that “by the end of the 1980s, systems had internal hard drives with up to 50MB of storage capacity,” I began to really connect to the phase of my life that I clearly remember using PCs: the 1990s.   Floppy_disk_2009_G1

From Phase Three: The GUI (Graphical User Interfaces) Revolution, I remember mostly this major development mentioned by Carliner: “…the movement of the Internet from a limited-use network by those working in the defense industry and at universities, to a ubiquitous communications network” (37).   It was this phase of my life that I was just beginning to feel the omnipresence of the Internet.  Wow!  I had never seen anything like this world of information before, and now to consider the implications of how this medium affected communication really causes me to pause for a moment and appreciate the enormity of the Internet.  I also found it quite interesting to reflect on this idea that the “rise of the browser” also created standards for sharing information.  Sharing information during this time period was not the same as it is today.  The standards for sharing information continue to evolve as we enter new phases of technological advances.  This makes me think of Netiquette rules I share with my students.  While these go bwwweyond standards for sharing information, they arose from the same concept: a set of standards needed to address working in an online environment, much to do with sharing information.  Furthermore, even the idea that some organizations did not necessarily want to download the plugins needed to run video and sound at the time intrigued me because now we function in a world where, I find, plugins are accepted as a natural part of the system.  There might be some reluctance to download them, but for the most part, anyone using a computer or technological device knows that plugins are part of the deal.

From Phase Four: Web 1.0 came the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web among other things.  I fully remember exploring the WWW, and now reading from the perspective of how it profoundly affected the world of technical communication, I am struck by how rapidly people were changing with the technology.  Email made its emergence as the primary means of interpersonal communication, and it continues to thrive in the business world and, for me, the educational arena.  But now I cannot remember exactly where I read it (maybe from last week’s readings),  it seems that more and more often other emerging methods of communication are becoming the mode for newer generations, such as texts, tweets, and live chats.   When I think about my own email communications, they have taken over much of my world, and yet, I long for good ol’ face-to-face talking.   I have a love-hate relationship with email these days.  I love communicating, but sometimes I would rather just pick up the phone or visit the person.  Another aspect of this phase that I can easily connect to is the ability to display ever-changing content and increased capability to display both audio and visual content.  When I think about how and when I first began using the Internet, I was in awe of the content available, and now thinking about how the technical aspect of it all was developed, I have a greater appreciation.  I simply learned then that a hyperlink was a clickable link, and navigation bar was at the top or side of a page.  I now know that those features were by design.  The interface was changing and becoming what it is like today while I was learning to use the Internet and explore the Web.  I could not have told you what HTML code was when I was living in this phase, but I can now.  I must select to work in HTML or not in most messages I compose and most assessments I create. Before I would not have had a clue what that meant.

Finally, Phase Five: Web 2.0 is the time of my life I most connect to my technical communication skills.  I was fresh out of college in 2001, and I had my first professional job at my current institution, but I was only part-time then.  I began working and using a computer daily at work.  As I progressed in my career, I became more and more responsible for using technology to communicate with students, staff, faculty, and others.   In my personal life, I heard about MySpace, although I did not get it at first….I thought, “What the heck is MySpace?”  And of course, I was drawn to social media as a form of communication.   Back at work, I was communicating via technweb2_0-y7zjhkology every day, and eventually I learned to use our Learning Management Content System and Learning Management System.  And at another point, I was in charge of creating a Writing Center webpage with our college web developer, so I would say I was the content provider for the web page.  Honestly, I did not know how to develop web content; I had to learn to do so.   I also became familiar with the term Web 2.0 tools much later when I began taking classes in E-Learning and Online Teaching.  This phase for me really extended from the mid-2000s into my more recent years.  Web 2.0 tools really became present in my life when I was working on my graduate classes here at UW for that program.

On a final note, from Phase Five of my life and technology for technical communication came the blog and the wiki.   I am a bit embarrassed to admit I did not know that wiki originates from a Hawaiian word for fast, but now I do.   And I always think of Wikipedia first when I hear or read wiki.  This makes me find a way to connect to Qualman here.  He notes that “Wikimoocimagepedia proves the value of collaboration on a global basis (24).  I find that I have spent many phases of my life in collaboration, and more and more, this collaboration involves massive use of technology.  For instance, I am now involved in the creation of a MOOC for my college; this is a recent project I have been asked to join.  I consider myself a novice, and I am learning more and more as I go.  I am not sure I am a proponent of the MOOC, but I am forging ahead with the project in an effort to understand the MOOC and its educational value for varying audiences and populations.  I have only just begun, but I can say that from the blog to the wiki to the MOOC, I am constantly moving into a new phase of my technical communication.  I have lived through a wiki-world in a sense that everything seems to be moving so fast.  Each time I turn around, a new phase is starting somewhere.  It just keeps moving, and somehow I keep finding myself blogging or wiki-ing away.   BTW, my wiki experience is limited.  Yet again, another phase that I must explore more fully.

http://tjm.org/2013/05/

References

Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and technical communication in the 21st century. In Rachel Spilka (Ed.)  Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. Hoboken, New Jersey- John Wiley and Sons.

Social Media…. I just don’t get it….Part 2

While I appreciated the history of technical communication and technical communicators, I just didn’t connect to the reading as much as I did with the Socialnomics reading. I was reading while watching my daughters’ swim class and just went “Huh…That’s me in one sentence.”

It was specifically the comment: “Why do I care?” and the response because you don’t understand. I just don’t get it. (I admitted this last week, see my blog post here.)  I go on Facebook and look at twitter, but I don’t post or tweet anything…Well, not nothing, but rarely anything. The New York Time posted an article in Sept 2008 about this in an article called “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy”. This was reviewed in a blog by Lightspeed Venture Partners and describes the phenomenon of posting and reading and keeping up with status updates as “Ambient Awareness”.

“People are willing to keep open running diaries as a way to stay connected because their ultimate desire it to feel accepted.” This comment from Socialnomics really hit home with me. I was not part of the “popular” crowd in high school and didn’t really relate to anyone in my short after high-school career. I believe this leads me to want to be accepted by my peers, but not really willing to put myself out there.

This whole wanting to be accepted thing has even followed me to UW-Stout. I love online learning because I can do things at my own pace and, for the most part, in my own time, but when it comes to discussions (and now blogs), I always feel like what I am trying to relate is not getting through. This relates to the professor communications as well, specifically grades. I had a professor last semester that said “If you are a Grade-obsessed student…”, I replied that I was, but really I just wanted to make sure that my work was acceptable and what was expected.

This maybe another reason that I hesitate about being more active in Social Media is a little bit about privacy. When you are constantly posting about what you are doing, who you are with, how you are feeling, you are really letting down the wall of privacy. Everyone can read that and see into you and your soul (to a point). I’m going to really date myself here….When I was in high school, we had car phones, not cell phones. the phones were mounted inside the car and if you were lucky, it was a portable phone that came in a case larger than most women’s purses. We did have the money to afford one of those, so I got a pager. When I gave the number to my Grandma, she said she would never use it. “You shouldn’t have to be that accessible to anyone.” is what she told me. it kind of sticks to me it this day, even as I know have a cell phone that fits in my pocket. She never did make it to this era of technology, but wonder what she would think about it now.

i-dont-always-go-to-the-gym-but-when-i-do-i-tell-facebook

If I embrace the concept of Ambient Awareness and make the assumption people do care and want to know what I am up to, maybe I need to start posting more updates about what I am doing and where I am going. I probably won’t post every day that I’m going to work or going home, but there are things that I think about sharing, but don’t because I feel that people just don’t care. But it turns out they probably do and I just don’t get it.

Technical Communication is a-Changin

In the Introduction of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, she poses three questions about how the field of technical communication is responding to and evolving with digital technology that the anthology sets out to answer. She sheds some light on what being a technical communicator has meant in the past, what it means today, and what it might mean in the future.

Spilka argues that traditionally technical communicators have acted more as individual contributors than as contributing members to a larger team effort but that technology has transformed the field into one which requires us to take on new and broader roles and responsibilities and work more definitively in the context of a team.

I experience this daily in the workplace, although until reading this chapter I had no idea whether this was typical. My main responsibility is to write user documentation for my company’s web based software applications, but I also perform the roles of user advocate, user experience and application design consultant, customer support representative, and editor for anything that the outside world might see. I work directly with the development team, and I contribute in ways that definitely go beyond technical writing.

One of Spilka’s main themes is that we as technical communicators need to be willing to evolve with our field as new technology emerges if we want to stay relevant. I tend to agree with her, but I have encountered somewhat the opposite problem; the users of my company’s software are mostly of an older demographic and seem somewhat resistant to receiving technical communication digitally. I would like to provide our users with interactive web documentation and instructional videos, but they seem to prefer traditional printed user manuals.

Currently, I am using Doc-to-Help, a documentation publishing software that allows the writer to author in Microsoft Word and then apply styles to create web based documentation and print documentation. I think that interactive web based documentation provides an excellent opportunity to serve the users with relevant information in a clear and easily navigable way, but I am struggling with the fact that although I may not need to evolve much to arrive where technical communication is today, many of my users are not there yet. I need to find a way to embrace the emerging technology and changes in the technical communication field while still catering to my user-base and serving them in a way that they find accessible.

In Erik Qualman’s chapter of Socialnomics “Word of Mouth goes World of Mouth,” he provides many examples of how social media and other technology is changing our daily routines from how we amuse ourselves while waiting in line at the supermarket to where we look for world news and updates on our friends’ whereabouts and activities.

I have heard many people echo the “who cares what I am doing?” sentiment about social media, but often in the same conversations, these people express the desire for information about other people that they could easily obtain via social media. I am connected to my phone and computer constantly, and I am on board with Qualman’s arguments about why social media is useful and how it helps us to fulfill the need to communicate with others and keep apprised of their updates; however, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that social media makes me more productive. I think there are likely times when social media saves me time, but I also think there are many more times when I just fritter away valuable time looking through pictures posted by people I really don’t care about simply because they popped up in my newsfeed.

I found Qualman’s JetBlue Twitter example to be a perfect illustration of a situation in which social media is more effective than traditional means of communication. Qualman and his wife were stranded in the Austin, Texas airport when their flight (and all flights for four days) were cancelled due to extreme weather. They needed to get to Boston as soon as possible and tweeted about their situation asking for help from JetBlue. Although JetBlue’s social media customer service was overwhelmed that day, another traveller was able to respond to Qualman and his wife and help them to develop an immediate and efficient course of action that got them a flight home home rather than a frustrating cycle of phone calls that may or may not have have gotten them home. This, I think, is social media at its best.

Technology changes…I guess I should too…

It is an interesting thing to read a book which upholds your job as being technologically backward. I currently work as a Health Information Specialist at a large local hospital, so I laughed a bit when I read the introduction in Spilka’a Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. I have watched as my department has struggled to move forward technologically, moving from a mostly paper-based system to a mostly electronic system. Consequently, I understand better than most what it is like to adapt to new technology on a professional and corporate level.  I have gotten to see a complete overhaul of our technology over just a couple of years. So it makes it interesting to consider how drastically technology has affected and changed technical communication over the years.

Even though I do like technology and social media, I have largely seen it as a waste of time. But, when I consider the improvement that technology has made in my job, I can start to agree more with Qualman’s position in Socialnomics that technology (specifically social media) makes us more efficient. While I believe that social media can absolutely be a great waste of time, it can also benefit us. There are certainly things that social media can streamline. For example, this summer when I needed to move, I just asked for volunteers on facebook and ten people volunteered, many of whom were not people that I would have thought that I could ask for help.  Had it been necessary for me to email people or ask personally, I would have probably had one or two people to help.

I have never experienced social media being quite as marvelously helpful as Qualman portrayed it, but perhaps that would come if I gave in and fully assimilated into the culture by getting a smart phone and actually tried to engage. Instead, I just add a fourth option to Qualman’s list of things to do in a checkout line…I carry a book everywhere and can usually rock out a chapter or two before I get to the cashier. It is a kindle now, so at least I can pretend that I am not that old fashioned. However, while I have never experienced the connectivity that Qualman demonstrates, apparently social media has been helping me in ways I never even knew.

I never knew that social media informed search engines so much. Nor have I considered how it has changed people’s search habits. It never occurred to me to look up a facebook page before going to a company’s website. But I think that is symptomatic of the same urge that has me reading in the checkout lane. I want the most information I can get at one time and generally the website will have what I need.

However, I think that Qualman is right that information finds us these days. I may not go searching for an article to read, but I will often read what pops up in my newsfeed as being recommended by a good friend. So, even if my habits are a little old-fashioned, it is funny to think that I, like the healthcare industry, am being propelled forward technologically, even if it is slightly against my will.

Changes in an evergrowing sea of information

Spilka describes the change in the role of Technical Communicators from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. They originally created complex technical manuals for trained professionals, but their role changed to creating less complex documentation for novice users who less likely to develop strong computer skills. The technical writing designation also changed to Information Developer. These developers brought about more user-centered communication as well as increased system testing and design to reduce or eliminate experience level issues. This greater focus on system usability, design, and function made it much easier for users and reduced some of the need for complex documentation. The role of Technical Communicators changed again in the 1990’s. They continued to work in groups to develop documentation for users, but they also worked at the client’s location to document the specific hardware and system needs of the client. These role changes were essential due to the changing technology and information climate, but I think the increased focus toward usability testing was very important to the development of technical communication as a career and a discipline.

There were two major changes that occurred between the technical writers of the 1970’s and the 1990’s. The first involved an increase in the use of computers involved in the technical writing process. Early writers to create their drafts, but the final content would be entered into the printing software by designated people. Writers began to use computers more and more over time in the creation of technical documentation. The second change was a shift from print media to digital published media. Previously, most technical documentation was created for a printed paper format. Over time, documentation has shifted to digital based, either in PDF form, or in an HTML based format.

Qualman’s quote contrasting traditional broadcast with the internet was very interesting to me. He is quite correct with his statement. Millions of viewers tune in every Monday and Tuesday to watch The Voice, and each viewer receives the same show at the same time. Broadcast provides a blanket experience for viewers and hopes that the majority of viewers enjoy the experience.

The internet is very different from that. Millions of individuals go on the internet to a site like Facebook, but they each have a slightly different experience, based on their friends and the content they have liked in the past. Even the ads on the side of the page are different based on their current or previous browsing history. After they leave Facebook, there are a near limitless number of other sites they can visit and explore. Often times, a person can flip through the channels and find “nothing on”, but no one can make the same claim about the internet. There is always something to read or watch, but the user has to search for it.

Search engines are great for searching far and wide for information, but sometimes it is difficult to cast a broad enough net to catch what you are looking for without bringing in a lot of things you don’t want. The evolution of language can actually make things more difficult to find, because slang terminology can result in a word meaning two very different things. It also helps to know the correct name for what you are searching for.  Is some cases, you may need both to locate what you are actually looking for. I’ve recently started considering building a small boat. There are an absurd amount of boat plans and pictures of homemade wooden boats on the internet, but finding just the right one has proven to be somewhat frustrating. I know what I want to find, I believe it is an Asian inspired small fishing boat, but I’m having trouble finding out what that type of boat would be named or where to find the plans for it. So far my results have yielded a lot of the same types, so I know that I will need to try a different approach.  I may get to the point where I take what I know and use social media to try to fill in the rest. I have a couple friends that have also done boat building research, a few that have traveled to and lived in Korea, China, and Japan, and others that just seem to know a lot of random things. If I can’t find it on my own, I may need to post my question on Facebook and poll the audience.

Qualman also mentions that Google has implemented more interactive tools to use when searching that allow users to vote up or down search results. I was unaware of this feature, but I plan to use it in the future when I am presented with a link to something that makes no sense based on my search terms. I will also use it if I finally find what I am looking for on search page 3.

A Late Adopter Explores Tissue Paper and More

Last week, while everyone else was blogging about the assigned readings, I was blogging about the previous week’s readings, and I think you could consider this metaphorical for my “late adopter” status. In any case, I’ll be incorporating some of last week’s readings to catch up.

But first, I will describe my foray into toilet paper. I had just read Chapter One in Socianomics by Erik Qualman, who suggests that people who ask “Who Cares about What You Are Doing?” usually do so because they are frustrated because they don’t understand what social media is about (3). I realized that even though I don’t want to admit it, that pretty much describes me.

So, just as I was done reading, I walked through the living room where my husband was watching a movie, and a commercial for Cottonelle came on where a woman with a Bristish accent was talking to people about their “bums” and getting them to try Cottonelle tissue. At the end, she urges the viewers to “visit us on Facebook.”  So, rather than scratch my head and puzzle over the idea that anyone would proactively visit a toilet paper FB page, I decided to do just that. If it’s true that I don’t understand the attraction of social media, then I think I better start learning if I want to someday call myself a technical communicator.

So, the first thing I noticed truly floored me―apparently 325,812 people “like” the Cottonelle FB page and what’s more mind boggling is that at that moment, 2,167 people were “talking” about it. My first reaction was that these numbers paint a less rosy picture than Qualman does when he says that social media is helping people assess their lives and use their time more productively (50-52). But I didn’t come to quarrel, I came to learn.

Other things happening on the Cottonelle FB page: coupons, tasteful jokes and some less than tasteful, conversations about “bums,” and Cherry, the British narrator, answering questions from people that seem rather fake to me (but who knows?).  There are also photos of the Cottonelle toilet paper fashion contest where women are wearing their toilet paper creations. I chose not to “like” the page, despite its attractive promise to send feeds to my FB page if I did.  My life is too full as it is.

Image

The Cottonelle Fashion Contest is, apparently, a hit.

https://www.facebook.com/cottonelle#!/photo.php?fbid=10151877292070859&set=a.10151877291690859.1073741827.199275490858&type=1&theater

Granted, this may not be the best example to sample in my quest to understand social media, so I will keep an open mind and, in fact, I’d love some suggestions from readers about fun social media places to visit.

So, I wasn’t convinced by everything Qualman offered but much of what he had to say about the importance of adopting new business models seems very persuasive.  In the “old days” (maybe around the mid-2000’s) I remember being frustrated by the number of mainstream news services that forced people to subscribe, so I’ve used alternate, free sources ever since.  Today, I did a little sampling and I see that now The New York Times, L.A. Times, Vanity Fair, and Time allow free access to their content, so a lot of people have probably recognized the new business model since Qualman’s book was published in 2009.

Many people engaged the question of online dating and companies’ efforts to become quite nimble in responding to complaints last week, so I won’t delve into that, but the one other concept I wanted to mention was Qualman’s explanation of the “multiplier effect” of social media (41).  I probably knew that intuitively, but to have it spelled out that way was enlightening.  Twenty years ago, I would explain to staff the notion that when a customer is unhappy, he/she tells 11 people, and those people tell  11 people. What a difference a couple of decades has made.

I found the history of the development of computer   technology pretty interesting in Digital Literacy (edited by Rachel Spilka) mostly because it was going on under my nose without me ever realizing it most of the time.  I don’t actually remember where or how  I first started using Windows but I think it just occurred to me as I was reading how much it changed my ease of use: “Meanwhile, Microsoft, which had worked with IBM to develop the original operating system for the PC and, by version 3.1 of Windows, what was once a minor add-on (to make DOS appear like a GUI) became a widely used GUI product” (36).  I have some vague memories of typing in DOS commands prior to that, so Windows was a whole new (and easier) ball game for me.

I became much more aware of technology changes around the late 90’s, and that was because I was doing some public relations writing and working more closely with graphic designers.  Most recently our university created a new website and adopted a content management system (Drupal), so I will be able to get some experience using it and publishing info for our website.  I got a greater sense of urgency about leaving my Internet footprint after reading Jack Molisani’s  “Is Social Networking for You?” because he suggests that people with no Internet footprint will certainly not be taken seriously as a technical communicator candidate (12-13).  At the moment, the main thing you will get if you google “Evelyn Martens” is a bunch of photos and articles about a famous Canadian murder trial of Evelyn Martens (not me).

I found the other two articles from last week’s reading enlightening as well.  I had no idea there was so much history or so many SNS around the world until I read ”Social Network Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” by boyd and Ellison. I couldn’t believe the number of niche communities that I’d never heard of, such as Ryze, Tribe.net, Cyworld, Hi5, BlackPlanet, Six Degrees, just to name a few.  Of course, I was particularly surprised that there are SNS for dogs and cats, “although their owners must manage their profiles” (214).  I’m glad they cleared that up.  Probably the most interesting example to me was the case of Friendster because of the role the “fans”/”friends” played in both the rise and fall of the company.

It would be novel for me to start a a paragraph with something other than “I never knew,” but I’m afraid that’s still the case with “Always On” by Naomi Baron.  I never knew there was so much material for psychologists and sociologists in studying IM “away” behavior or “presentation of self,” though it certainly makes sense upon reflection.  What probably struck me most in this reading was the sheer logistical undertaking of collecting and logging millions of messages to study social networking behavior.  I also noticed that at the time of the writing of the article, only college students had access, so I’m thinking the numbers may have increased dramatically since then.

So, in conclusion, my take away from this and last week’s readings is that I am going to start checking my FB page at least once a day and try to monitor how much time I’m spending and what I’m doing while there in my own mini-study of my behavior. This will probably not feel very authentic because I’m starting off with the notion that  “I’m using FB to see how I’m using FB,” but I’m thinking I may enjoy it more by looking at FB as part of my homework.

References

Baron, N. (2008). Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Boyd, d. and Ellison, N. (2008), Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of

            Computer-Mediated Communication 13, pp. 210-230.

Carliner, S. (2010). “Computers and technical communication in the 21st century.” In Rachel Spilka (Ed.)

Digital Literacy for Technical Communication. New York: Routledge.

Molisani, J. “Is social networking for you?” Intercom. Society of Technical Communicators.  Retrieved

from www.STC.com.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons.

The evolution of the web and user experience

It’s interesting to read about the evolution of computers and the web that was in the Digital Literacy for Technical Communication reading.  I think we forget with the modern technologies we have and how fast paced our lives have become that we used to have bulky desktop computers that allowed us to check email via dial up, and had to read a printed instruction manual instead of Googling something and finding a YouTube video on it.  An example of this is when I was trying to figure out how to change the air filter in my car.  I took my laptop out to my car and followed along to a YouTube video of someone doing it.  It’s hard to believe the Internet wasn’t always a thing and wasn’t super fast, just a few years ago.  Now it seems like we rely on the web for everything.

Image

http://www.superstock.com/stock-photos-images/1848-244223

This is why user experience is so big today.  Companies spend a lot of money and are constantly working on their website to make it inviting and customer friendly.  If people can’t find anything on your site or don’t find it appealing, they’ll go to another site they do find easier to use.  The web competition is huge.  I think this is why we’ve seen an evolution of graphics and images on the web.  For example, when people are shopping on the web they want to be able to see a zoomed in image of the item they’re looking to buy so they can see the quality, color, material, etc.  Take the image below for example, who really wants to spend time on this site to do anything?

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http://www.noclipmode.com/2011/02/18/why-do-all-restaurant-websites-suck-so-much/

I had to laugh when I read in the section in the Qualman reading on who cares what I’m doing?  I think that often when something happens in my life.  I think who cares, why do they want to know?  But social media is a way to keep in touch.  So while people might not care if I went to Starbucks today, they care that you had a nice dinner with your family to celebrate something.  I also liked the point of using social media to kill time.  I find anytime I have to wait somewhere I use my phone to pass the time.  I noticed even while waiting for a table at a restaurant, parents will have their kids watching TV on a tablet to keep them busy.

We’ve become such a digital world.  I’ve seen that in my time as a technical writer.  We had to transition from sending printed documentation to building an online knowledge base.  People expect to be able to use the Internet to find what they want, whenever they want it.

How does it feel to be a Jack of all trades?

Evolution. Paradigm shift. Keeping up. Catching up. Transformation.

These are the key themes that jumped out at me from this week’s readings. What do they all mean for us as technical communication professionals? They mean that we are adaptable. Or, we try to be, anyway! I know many of us have expressed that we feel we are “sufficient” with newer technologies, like social media, but not experts. I know I definitely have felt like I can barely keep up. Every day there’s a new app or new website to check out, and a billion new Facebook posts and Tweets to read. After the readings this week, though, I am starting to feel a little better because I think our profession has gone through a huge change, especially in the last decade or so. And, as a result, it is one of the most diverse, multi-disciplined professions out there.  Before I explain further what I mean, let me tell a little story to help set the stage…

When I was a senior in high school, I was all set to graduate mid-year. I had all of my required credits and I was ready to get out of the small town I had called home for 18 years and move onto bigger and better things. My high school guidance counselor convinced me to enroll in a couple of classes at the local two-year college so that I would technically still be in high school but would be able to get away a few afternoons a week by going to classes at the college. I ended up taking a Visual Basic programming class. Very challenging, but also very rewarding. In fact, after I graduated high school, I fully intended to go into something technology-related. Upon enrolling at UW-La Crosse, I was a computer science major. Well, that lasted all of two minutes when I realized how much calculus and math I would have to take. Yuck.

So, I ended up majoring in communication studies as I felt like I was “good with people” and had decent writing and speaking skills. At the time, I thought it was at the opposite end of the spectrum from computer science. What I didn’t realize, until just recently, is that a communications degree actually calls upon multiple disciplines, including technology, so it was the best of both worlds. And this continues to be the case many years later, more than ever. Like we read in Chapter 1 from Spilka (2010), traditional job titles of “writers” or “editors” have evolved into “software engineers” because the advent of technology required that the disciplines meld together (p. 24, Table 1.1).

This blending of disciplines – communications, writing, editing, designing, technology, and content management – has meant that we have to be a Jack of all trades. We’ve had to take on more responsibilities, learn new methodologies and technologies, consider new audiences and even reinvent our craft at times. Here are the principal areas where I think we’ve had to adapt and grow:

  • We’ve had to become better communicators and relationship managers.
    • Due to fewer face-to-face interactions, we have had to learn different ways to communicate and forge relationships. For example, my clients are scattered throughout the entire country. I do not make in-person visits, so all of my interactions are via phone, email or webinars. Despite this, I have developed some incredible, loyal relationships because I’ve learned how to use these different communication mediums to my advantage.
    • The next generation relies more heavily on technology, many forms of which we are not as familiar with. This forces us to go outside our comfort zone in order to learn ways to reach this different type of audience.
  • We’ve had to expand our toolboxes.
    • First, we’ve had to learn new devices and various options AMONG those devices – computers (PC vs. Mac) and then laptops; cell phones and then smartphones (Droid vs. Apple); there have also been pagers, tablets, digital cameras, MP3 players, and other electronic devices.
    • Second, there are so many different types of software and programs we’ve had to learn – PowerPoint, Publisher, Flash, WordPress, PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, etc.
    • Third, there’s the Internet and all of the online capabilities – search engines, social media, social networking, discussion boards, blogs, wikis.
    • Last, there are so many different options available for crafting our technical communications. I’m referring to fonts, graphics & images, design layouts, software options, videos, color schemes, hyperlinks, content & language. Because of this…
  • We’ve had to become better writers/designers/communicators.
    • In addition to understanding all of the tools available to us for creating our work, we have to be aware of all the new routes available for delivering our messages. We have to be aware of them and know which ones to use, and when to use them. There are traditional forms like print documents, but now there’s also texting, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube and blogs. As described by Baron (2008), do we use asynchronous or synchronous routes of communication? (p. 14). Meaning, do we need them to see the information immediately, in real time, or can it wait until they open the message? Also, are we communicating one-on-one, or do we need to send a message to a large audience.
  • Finally, we’ve had to become better information gatherers.
    • With so many resources available – blogs, wikis, traditional websites and news sources – we have to be selective and know how to recognize credible sources.

There was a question raised at a 2007 technical writing conference: “What if technical communication were to merge into other disciplines and lose its identity as a field?” (Spilka, 2010, p. 5).

I think, we, as technical communicators, only make ourselves more valuable by being multi-disciplined. Being well-versed and knowledgeable in many areas – having a broad digital literacy – gives us more opportunities to work in different fields. Being too specialized makes you obsolete!

toolbox and toolsPhoto source: Rott, L. (2013). Toolbox image created in SnagIt.

My father, technical communication, hospitals, and my grandfather – What do they have in common?

As someone who is not currently working in the field of technical communication, I enjoyed the introduction of 21st Century Theory and Practice and the chapter by Saul Carliner.  I enjoyed reading about the changes of the field that I aspire to join in the near future.

The field of technical communication has evolved so much during the past 25 years, because technical communication is such a computer-driven field.  As I read through Chapter 1, I made a mental comparison of my father’s career path.  The chapter reminded me of my father’s job, which I wrote about in my technology literacy narrative during the first week of class.  A major influence on my technological upbringing, he started his job in 1986 with the job title of Data Processing Manager in one person department at a small school district in south central Kansas.  Now in 2013, his job title is Director of Information Technology and he manages over 15 full-time employees who report to him on a daily basis.  The reason his job changed, like technical communication, is because it had no choice.  You can’t keep going to middle school if you have been promoted to 9th grade.  The same is true for technology.  You can’t keep using an outdated system when everyone else moves to the more advanced system.  The only way technical communication could survive was to embrace every change it ever faced.

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GHX company logo from http://www.originbranding.com

To connect the chapter with the introduction of the book, the opening page states only some 2% of hospitals have made the transition to digital (p. 1).  I think it is unfair and unrealistic to think that gigantic operations, such as hospitals, can suddenly make the leap from paper to paperless in a matter of years.  They were never expected to become digital until recently, unlike technical communication, so they did not take the technology tip and transition gradually.  Hospitals have been doing business just like normal.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think hospitals becoming paperless will be benefit the hospitals, insurance companies, and patients, I just don’t see it happening in the immediate future.  According to Forbes in January 2013, only 1.8% of hospitals have an electronic record system in place.  Many hospitals, according the article, are not ready and are asking for more time, despite the amount of money they have received to assist in their transition from paper to paperless.  I worked at a very large hospital in the accounting department part-time while I was in college.  The reason I got the job, in fact, was to help transition their invoice system to a streamlined digital process.  The hospital was trying to use a new system, called GHX, and there were so many hiccups with the system that they extended my employment by an additional year.

I compare it to teaching my 80-year old grandfather to set up an email account and get a cellphone.  It took YEARS for my family to convince him to set up an email account and use a cellphone.  After he finally did, it took quite a while for him to be able to use his new technology correctly.  Asking people to change from one habit to another, especially when they have been doing things the same for a long time, is unrealistic and requires a great deal of time.

To conclude, I am not surprised that technical communication has made so many leaps in the digital age.  Such changes and adjustments are necessary for the continuation of the field.  I hope to learn more about the programs and software I will be using when I start working in a technical communication field, but who knows if they will even be the same by that time!

Social Media=Today’s Relationship Cultivator

Social media has changed the world of relationships, both in personal and business relationships.  I was struck by two very important concepts: the sphere of influence (something I seem to be hearing about often lately) and the analogy of courtship and dating. The moment I read these ideas in Socialnomics Chapters Two and Three: Social Media=Preventative Behavior and Social Media=Braggadocian Behavior, I stopped and thought about the impact of social media, and I was indeed struck by thoughts about the scope of influence and impact of social media in our times…just like I am struck by the fact that spell check does not even recognize the words “socialnomics” and “braggadocian” as part of today’s word base.  Social media has changed the world of relationships and, furthermore, the world of language.sphere-of-influence

Before I delve deeper into the dating and courtship analogy, it would be beneficial to also bring to attention some key points of Chapter Two; how does social media cause preventative behavior and why is that so relevant to this idea of cultivating relationships or perhaps preserving our own relationships in some way?

I was immediately interested in this idea of “the sphere of influence,” and as noted, “The difference with social media is the speed and ease in which this [responding to customer unhappiness] occurs as well as the sphere of influence.”  Qualman introduces us to this concept in relation to how businesses will adapt their behaviors in response to customer dissatisfaction and frustration.  Now companies assign employees to find and handle customer complaints via social media. In essence, they seek and find the problem to avoid losing a customer, or better yet, to prevent that customer from posting a video or status that could potentially go “viral” and affect future customer base growth.

I was especially intrigued when I read the section about Comcast, a nemesis of mine.  I have had plenty a battle with Comcast, and had I known that I should simply post a rant on Facebook or post a YouTube video to get someone to contact me instead of waiting endless hours on the phone and getting frustrated, I might have done so, but it never occurred to me to complain via social networking.  If I knew that the company might reach to me to repair a broken relationship because I might spread bad press to others in my sphere of influence (or followers,) I might have tried it just to see if it worked.  I found that Comcast cares (see ComcastCares article). I am still in disbelief that a Comcast member would seek me out when I have a problem.  I am not sure I believe this yet. I am left wondering if it would still happen today or if Comcast has grown too big to care since Socialnomics was published in 2009.  Should I try it the next time I want to “break up” with Comcast and see if my date comes calling?

Back to the sphere. Social media is much about followers, and the more followers one has, the more influence one might have on those followers.  I can see how companies must be in tune with their customers’ use of social media.  Company behavior definitely changes in light of this new method of sharing positive or negative feedback.

Those same followers and members of our social media sites can also “see” and read our every move.  Social media does force preventative behaviors beyond just companies altering how they treat their customers…as described in Chapter Two, students, teachers, parents, and more must be aware of what is placed “out there” for the world to view. Social networks are “powerful enough to cause an adjustment in personal and corporate behavior on a macro level.”  Our relationships have certainly changed in this way. What do we want to share?  What ghosts do we want flying out of our closets? We must know and realize what could come back to haunt us now that social media has taken over.

Next, I was immediately drawn into Chapter Three’s “Are You on Facebook?” Is the New “Can I Get Your Phone Number?” section.  Wow! Talk about the evolution of dance!  How about the evolution of dating?  And taking this courtship idea into the world of business makes sense, too.

I was entertained by the idea that we can become somewhat creepy if we present to people that we already  “know” them on a first date because we have already “Facebooked” him or her.  Qualman notes that the first date could actually feel more like a fourth date now that we do not have to “court” each other because Facebook offers that preliminary information we want before we even get to the dating part.   This is not how I grew up dating.  I did not Google anyone or Facebook anyone or Tweet anyone while I was dating.  It is weird to me to think that might be the norm now for courtship….I guess I am a true face-to-face romantic at heart…but if I could have Googled some of my former dates, I probably would have avoided one or two of them totally.

I really enjoyed this analogy in terms of dating and businesses.  Many businesses try to suck customers into their homepage via social media.  They become the creepy dates.  Qualman writes, “It’s analogous to meeting a pretty girl in a bar and asking if she would like a drink. When she responds, ‘yes,’ rather than ordering her drink from the bartender, you grab her and rush her into your car and drive back to your place; because after all, you have beer in your fridge. This is not a sound courtship strategy….”  Now that would be creepy… “Hi, may I buy you a drink?  Okay, come get in my car and come to my house.”    Thanks, but no thanks!  I am not really into jumping into cars with strangers.

I really see that both personal and business relationships have been so very affected by social media, and part of me longs for simpler days with less technology involved in our relationships, but these two chapters really had me thinking about all of this…and I am just so not socially connected compared to younger generations growing up in a world with constant status updates and posts and videos and tweets and all of it.  I can only handle so much information streaming into my life from friends and family.  I am married, so I get actual updates in person from my husband…no real courtship going on there anymore (just good ol’ husband and wife conversation).

There was so much in these two chapters that I am taking with me.  Two more key points that really grabbed my attention from Chapter Three included Assess Your Life Every Minute and The Next Generation Can’t Speak.  Social media makes me feel like I must assess my life every minute (and the reading here supported this feeling), but I am so involved in working, schoolwork, and taking care of my family that I cannot keep up with my own social media. I don’t. I am lucky if I check Facebook more than twice a week; it becomes a weekend activity most of the time. Now with my Smartphone, I can do it more easily, but, honestly, I do not want to read constant status updates that feel superfluous to me at times, never mind trying to post the tasks and routine activities of my days and nights.  Why post this: “I am so tired I could just fall over right now”?   Do my family and friends need to know this?  Will I even remember the context of that post long days from now?  Probably not.  But most of my friends and some family members post these updates multiple times a day.  I find much of the “all about me, me, me” braggadocian behavior present in the status updates of my younger cousins (all young adults in college at this time.) I love them just the same; they have less complicated lives than I do, so I even envy their ability to find importance in posting the fact they are going to get a coffee from Starbucks (I end up thinking: wouldn’t that be nice right now?

I did, however, think about how social media allows me to go back and review life’s minutes (I LOVE this idea.) When I do post, they are definitely the moments I want to capture.  I love the idea of somehow scrapbooking my year in status updates…I am sure there is an app for that somewhere.

Finally, it is difficult for me to spend much time writing about how the next generation cannot speak because I am teaching them daily.  I see it in every form of communication I have with them, and my instinct is to try to help communication then and now meet in the middle somehow.  The entire section from the book had me thinking about how to address their needs in every communication arena from chat to email to personal face-to-face interactions.  And I could not believe that public speaking is feared more than death these days….Whoa!  A fear greater than death…that is a giant fear, and I can actually sympathize because I was secretly feeling better about myself when I read that fact.  Put me in an auditorium or room of more than 30 students (whom I can control) and I am “outta” there.

And so, I know two very important things right now:  no one is viewing my social media sites in an effort to date me (just not happening).  Furthermore, now that I know some businesses might treat people like dates that they wish to continue seeing and courting, I am going to think about how this impacts daily living and business relationships of all sorts.   As my grandmother would say if she were here, “Interesting, very interesting.”

P.S. – My grandmother never Facebooked anyone in her entire life, and part of me wishes I had her life in status updates, so I could keep them forever as an example of real “courtship”.   She and my grandfather would have had the best status updates…I can “hear” them now!

Gram and Pop Vintage

References:

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

My own social network footprint

I have been using Social Media “forever”, or so it seems, so my curiosity got the better of me.  How long have I actually been using different forms of Social Media?

Baron, N. (2008) goes in depth into AOL and it’s instant messaging service, AIM, this is one area I skipped over entirely.  I am not really sure why except I think the  comment from Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007) “While people were already flocking to the Internet, most did not have extended networks of friends who were online” (p. 214) fits me to a tee.  I was definitely one of the earlier adopters of anything Internet related among my group of friends.  Many of them found chatting to be more intrusive than productive.  My kids were also still pretty young when AIM and other IM services first came out so I did not have much of it going on in my household at all.

I do remember signing up for My Space as one of my first attempts at entering social media, so, down in my archives of password and user names I dug up my My Space account info to see if it was still active.  Sure enough, it is. But since My Space has changed and transformed so much since I last visited it, any history of things I have done on there is long gone (although, I am pretty sure I did absolutely nothing on it anyway).

www.facebook.com

Facebook, which I joined on October 22, 2007, is the one I participate in the most and have the largest circle of friends also participating.  I definitely go through phases of more or less activity but I absolutely love keeping up with old friends.  I also am “friends” with my kids and while I don’t comment on their pages (or I will get the “don’t be creepy” lecture), I have pulled off and saved so many images I never would have seen without Facebook.  I also like to see what they are doing every now and then.  Interestingly, all three of them use it far less than I do.  This is also about the only site I do any sort of active chatting on, again, primarily because I have the largest circle of friends on this site.

www.twitter.comTwitter has been a friend and a nemesis for me!  I posted my first tweet in March of 2009 but I probably hawked the site for at least a year before I understood it well enough to participate.  At that time I was in real estate and was trying to find a way to make connections with people I wouldn’t normally connect with. For this reason, I would have to disagree with Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007):  “While networking is possible on these sites, it is not the primary practice on many of them, nor is it what differentiates them from other forms of computer-mediated communication (CMC)” (p. 211).  Twitter is one of the Social Media sties that I think is used for actually networking quite a bit (LinkedIn would be the most active networking site). With it’s more “open” concept of followers instead of friends, you can interact with anyone you want to , not just those that allow you to.  Where I struggle with Twitter is you really need to be a prolific poster and SME if you want to actually meet and engage with new people.  It was too much of a time suck to make it work for me!  I still use Twitter as a sort of real-time news site.  My daughter uses Twitter more than Facebook and I love that I can snoop without her even knowing!

Linkedin_Shiny_Icon.svg_Finally, I am also on LinkedIn (ok – I really need to change that profile picture – it is a little outdated!).  Until recently, I really did not go on LinkedIn very much but I am currently networking and doing research for a new career so I am on it almost every night.  I do not use this as a social medial platform but rather strictly as a job hunt and networking site.  I also have found the “Interests” and “Channels” options which allow you to read posts from other experts.  I find this extremely useful in my job hunt.

 

 

While I thought some of the readings were a little outdated, I do think there was some valuable information to be had about habits of those who use social media.  At the very least it gives a great historical background to some of the beginnings of social media.  Probably my favorite part was reading about Bill Tilly and how this 83 yr old not only uses social media, but uses it to improve his way of life by looking back on his posts and changing his habits.  I think we can all use a little but of Bill Tilly in us! (Qualman, 2009, p. 51)

References:
Baron, N. (2008).  Always On, Language in an Online and Mobile World. New York, Oxford University.

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), article 11.

Qualman, E. (2009). Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business. Hoboken, N.J., John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

 

Social Media: It’s all in how you use it

I have to start out by saying that reading the Boyd article was strange to me because I witnessed some of the evolution of social networking sites. I guess it seemed odd to me reading the history of something that I participated in, and that still seems fairly recent to me.

I joined Facebook when it was first opened to @UWEC.edu email accounts, and I have been at least a semi active user since I joined. I also joined sites like MySpace and Live Journal, but I didn’t stay with them for very long. I definitely agree with Boyd’s classification of social network sites vs. social networking sites. Many of the successful sites are intended to maintain friendship networks that someone already has rather than expand an existing friend network. That option is still available through comments to posts, but it isn’t a main focus of the site.

Qualman brought up several points, but my experience with Facebook indicates those observations apply to some users, but sadly not all. He mentions that social media has led to a sort of preventative behavior because people recognize that their opinions and actions can have consequences when they are made public. Despite this preventative behavior factor, BuzzFeed still has lots of options when it compiles lists of racist or sexist remarks made on Twitter. A few examples of this are when Marc Anthony sang God Bless America at an MLB game, or when Miss New York was Crowned Miss America. Baron mentions that social network sites have an impact on people’s presentation of self, that individuals tailor their information and interests to display a certain appearance. I think a lot of people engage in this, but there are clearly many that are either proud of what they are, or the concept has not occurred to them.

I believe that braggadocian behavior could be a factor for some, such as posting numerous pictures of their perfect family or full albums of their trip to Europe, but I also see a lot of very mundane posts from friends about what they are watching on TV, making for dinner, drinking, bars they are headed out to, or just a general lack of motivation to do anything. He mentions a reduction in reality TV watching, and an increase in people going out and living their lives. While there may be some compelling evidence of this, I think a lot of people are still watching reality TV. With all the Twitter trending references they squeeze into shows, I would bet that a significant segment of their audience is watching the show while surfing Facebook or Twitter on their phone or computer. Those people are clearly not “going out and living their lives”.

He also provides examples of an elderly gentleman and a mother using their postings to a social network site to review their recent posts and take stock of their life. After reviewing those posts, they used it as motivation to make changes to their life. I certainly don’t think Qualman is wrong, but I think the concepts of self-censorship in social media and using social media to take stock of their life and get out and live it are lost on many people. Perhaps that is just my group of friends…

Social media’s impact on companies is very interesting to me. I definitely think that companies should use social media to put an ear to the ground and enhance customer experience. Rather than wasting time trying to hide bad experiences, they are going above and beyond to resolve those bad experiences in a public spotlight. This is a much more effective strategy because it is also good PR for them. The impact of a bad experience shared on Twitter or Facebook is much greater because of all the friends and friends-of-friends that could potentially see it.

I witnessed an interesting instance of this about a few months ago. An individual had launched a Kickstarter campaign over a year ago to release a game called The Doom that Came to Atlantic City. The campaign was a success, and everything seemed to be going fine, although with limited communication, until the bottom just fell out. The campaign creator emailed all backers and said that the game was dead in the water, and that he was working on providing backers with refunds. Unfortunately, that would take some time since he had already spent a portion of the funds on undisclosed things.

Within a week or two of that announcement, a company called Cryptozoic (which had no affiliation with the game at all) contacts the original creators of the game. They later issue an announcement that they will work with the creators of the game and release it to the backers at no additional cost. This wasn’t their problem to fix, and they could’ve easily done nothing. However, choosing to get involved how and when they did provided a massive amount of good will toward their company, and prompted many individuals to look at and then purchase some of their other products. They went from a company that many board game fans had not heard of, to a company that suddenly had a lot of buzz and positive attention.

I must be missing something, I just don’t get it.

I have not really seen Social Media work for me or affect the way I work. My company has three Facebook pages and at least two twitter accounts, but they are not being used in anyway to assist in customer relationships. Our Marketing Department is in charge of these and they do not post very often and when they do, they post about tradeshows or regulatory changes. They don’t seem to post about new changes to the applications or asking questions of our customer and/or followers. This may be because as much as we work with individuals, we work with companies and I’m guessing most of these companies do not have Facebook or Twitter because of the age of the people they treat.

One of the key points of Socialnomics is that “Consumers want to take ownership of your brand and brag about your product; let them!”. I don’t really feel like we are really using that connection that we could have. We do have an online presence for our customers, but it entirely encompassed within our application. there is no real sounding board for our customers to get  together and discuss their experiences, good or bad, about us. We are not providing our customer away to brag about the good service they receive or for them to discuss the bad services and allow us a way to correct those services.

I am far from what one would call ‘Social Network Savvy’. Yes, I have a facebook page, twitter and instagram accounts, and use pinterest, but I just don’t get it. Even as I sit here typing this blog, i just don’t get what I am doing. I don’t understand what I’m doing or why I’m doing it (other than its required for the class). I did all the readings, I reflected on them and just have a hard time finding something to relate to within these readings. Hopefully next week it will get easier or there will be something that I feel something about that will start the words flowing.

I guess I’m just new to all of this blogging and really this assignment is really no different than any other class and i just have to get myself out of this “Blogging is so different” mindset and just think of it as writing a discussion post and work harder at understanding what I should be getting out of the weekly readings. I never though at age 33 I wouldn’t be embracing a new technology or a new way of doing things. I need to embrace blogging, and look more at what Social Network Site and Social Networking can do for me. Maybe its time to update my LinkedIn page?

Customer Service via Social Media: on Tow Trucks and Ravioli

Social Media has been an important part of my reality since high school. My social media experience began with Myspace and soon gave way to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Currently, I do not use Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest, but many of my friends do, so I may consider giving them a try in the near future.

Boyd and Ellison’s article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” makes an interesting distinction between the terms “Social Network Site,” which they explain as a site that makes use of an existing social network, and “Social Networking Site,” which they explain as a site used with the goal of growing a social network and initiating new relationships.

As soon as the authors made this distinction, I wondered how they would categorize LinkedIn. I was rather surprised when they categorized LinkedIn an example of a Social Network Site. I think LinkedIn might actually be a little of both; while many professionals do use their existing social networks to find people to connect with, the ultimate goal is often to gain a new contact and initiate a new relationship (which seems to me to fit more into Boyd and Ellison’s definition of a Social Networking Site).

Boyd and Ellison’s article provided me with some helpful history of social media, illuminating for me the evolution of social media before I jumped on board. This new background helped set the stage for Erik Qualman’s chapter in Socialnomics, “Social Media = Preventive Behavior.” While reading the section on companies using social media to provide customer service, I was thinking that I don’t often use social media to complain about a poor service experience, but then I recalled a funny (at least in hindsight) story from my sophomore year of college…

Following a multi-day blizzard at UMass Amherst, my car was parked in one of the student lots. No matter how much my friends and I shoveled, my car was simply stuck. We could not get it out of my spot, and the tires just spun. When, days later, we got sick of shoveling and waiting for the snow and ice to melt, we called AAA. The tow truck driver they sent was rude, condescending, and sexist. He essentially told me that I was just incapable of getting my car unstuck because I was a woman.

He got in the driver’s seat and placed his foot heavily on the gas pedal. Ultimately, he too failed to get it unstuck, and he had to hook it up to the tow truck and tow my car out of the icy spot. I was less than pleased with the customer service this man and his company provided. Apparently, at the time, I felt that the best way to express my frustration was in an angry Haiku poem containing some choice quotes from this tow truck driver which I posted on Facebook. I mentioned the company, although at the time they did not have a Facebook presence. Interestingly enough, 3 years later, they now have a Facebook page. While my post did not reach the company at that time, it did generate some supportive comments from the UMass community about how unacceptable his behavior was that at least made me feel better.

Thinking back to my social media interactions with organizations, I also remember a more pleasant customer service experience. Every Tuesday at lunchtime during college, the dining hall closest to my dorm served the most delicious toasted ravioli. My friends and I made it a point to get there early enough to ensure that we all got some. One day, the delicious toasted ravioli disappeared! Deciding it was a fluke, my friends and I returned the next Tuesday to find the toasted ravioli had been replaced with vegetable spring rolls.

As we sat at our table in disappointed disbelief, I posted on UMass Dining’s Facebook page asking what had happened to our favorite ravioli. They quickly responded that they were trying something healthier. I thought our favorite lunch was gone forever, but enough people commented on my post expressing thorough disappointment that UMass Dining decided to bring the toasted ravioli for good. This seems to me to be exactly what Qualman was talking about in good companies using negative social media feedback to solve problems and work toward customer satisfaction.

Privacy and Publicity: The two sides of social media

In my interactions with social media, I have developed exactly one hard and fast rule. I never post anything online that I would be embarrassed by anyone seeing, from my mom to a complete stranger. For me, this isn’t a hard resolution to follow. My neurotic aversion to alcohol has helped tremendously in that endeavor, saving me from the inevitable incriminating Facebook pictures that have haunted so many people who posted them in the naiveté of the early years. But in my case, my choices on Facebook reflect the choices that I make in real life.

Socialnomics by Eric Qualman claims that for many, the reverse is true. That social media actually prevents bad behavior. In some ways, I agree that people are more aware of the damaging possibilities of instant internet access. However, I would propose that social media has adapted in order to reduce the need for users to adapt their lives in this way.

Always On by Naomi S. Baron details the lack of concern that Facebook users had in 2005-2006 for their privacy. I do believe that in the ensuing years, Facebook users have become far savvier about protecting their information. For example, currently users can block anyone from seeing their posts, even if they are friends. Thus a parent who is simply Facebook friends with their teenaged child may not actually be seeing a true representation of their child’s online activities and consequently that child may feel freer to engage in less pleasing behavior with at least perceived immunity.

Therefore some of the social control of Facebook is diminished, although it certainly is not removed entirely, as it does not hide content that others post or control other sites. I think that while people may now think twice about posting that compromising photo online, the knowledge of the consequences of being in that compromising position may not reach beyond the choice of whether or not to post the photo.

While I would argue that social media doesn’t prevent behavior as much on a personal level as Qualman claims, I do think that social media absolutely prevents and corrects poor behavior at a corporate level. While privacy benefits individuals, having a very public presence benefits corporations.

As Qualman points out, companies that use social media to solve customer problems end up improving their brand and their reputation right in front of an army of people who may not have otherwise known about that company’s effective customer service until they saw a problem solved quickly via Twitter.

I never knew that companies were using social media in this way, but it makes so much more sense to market yourself by publicly exhibiting good customer service in front of people rather than using the rhetoric of traditional marketing to try to convince people of a company’s good customer service. Corporations that don’t address the concerns of their customers in this way are missing out on a great opportunity to not only address problems, but to boost their brand overall.

Social media can so easily improve or damage a reputation, whether on an individual or corporate level, and we have to make choices knowing that because it can affect our futures.

You’re not a real person unless you use social media

As a 24 year-old, I was in middle school and high school when social media became popular.  I was probably one of the first to use MySpace and Facebook.  However, now it seems like everyone uses some sort of social media anymore.  I hear (or read) comments such as these on a regular basis:

“Did you see latest my Facebook status?”

“What’s your Twitter name?  I want to tag you in a post!”

“Look at how many ‘likes’ I got on my Instagram photo!”

So my question is: can you be a real person in 2013 without using social media?  After consuming this week’s readings and finding an article about social media statistics, I am leaning towards no.  Below are some behavioral changes resulting from social media:

  • Keeping up with long distance family and friends has transformed from impossible to very possible.  When my boyfriend was on deployment with the U.S. Navy, we kept in touch through email and other social networking sites.  Now, I use Skype, Facebook, and [recently] Instagram to keep up with my very best friend who moved to South Korea in June.  She posts pictures of her sightseeing trips and travels; I “like” them and make comments regularly on Facebook and Instagram.  We try to communicate on Skype at least once every two weeks to keep each other up-to-date with our jobs and lives after college.  I am so grateful to have social media to stay in touch with such a dear friend.
  • Email is on its way out.  According to Chapter 2 in Qualman’s Socialnomics, “People are updating their status […] and it is much easier to read this and stay connected than to send a series of emails” (p. 46).  I agree with this completely.  In my personal experience, my friends and I used email before social media became popular.  Now, I think of email similar to how I think of snail mail.  Social media messaging functions and text messaging on cell phones is easy to manage and “acts like a real conversation among friends” (p. 46).  Besides, we are all checking our social media sites anyway.
  • As mention in the reading, “Would you like to go on a date?” is now “Do you have a Facebook page?”  As a “younger” woman, I am very aware of this practice.  Admittedly, I have engaged in this behavior.  I was in college between 2008 and 2012.  When I went to social gatherings, I would strike up conversations with guys who eventually asked for my social media contact information.  For example, after meeting someone at a Christmas party, he found me on Facebook through our mutual friend’s Facebook.  We communicated through the messaging function that way several weeks before we actually went on a date.

Social media has entered every realm of our lives and we can no longer hide from it.  Future employers use it to find incriminating information.  Current employers use it as grounds for firing their employees.  Long lost friends use it to reunite with their high school pals.  Companies use it to target prospective customers.  Now, it is impossible to be a person unless you use social media.  (Although I do not actually think people who do not use social media are not real people, the point I attempt to make is that nearly everyone uses some type of social media and it is changing our social patterns.)

References

Qualman, E.  (2009).  Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Usage and customer service in social media

I enjoyed the readings this week that covered descriptions and research around social media, as well as answered questions like “why use social media?”.  Being a social media user for a few years, I can relate to a lot of the information these readings covered.

The reading from Always On provided a lot of information on studies conducted in 2006 about Facebook.  I remember using Facebook in 2006, this was my senior year in college.  After meeting someone at a party you’d become friends on Facebook.  I also had to laugh when the article mentioned roommates that sit in the same room IMing each other, as my roommate and I did that in our college dorm room.  The reading also provides usage stats and how Facebook profiles are used to gain more information about people.  I wonder how much these stats have changed in the world we live in today.  When I first joined Facebook, I remember friends of mine that didn’t go to college couldn’t sign up for Facebook.  They were upset because they felt like they were missing “the next big thing”.  Now that anyone can create a Facebook profile and so many features have been added, like an advanced chat, I would think people spend more time on Facebook and would say it’s a comprehensive solution to getting to know people and keeping in touch with them.

Image

http://www.gagdonkey.com/cartoons/facebook-is-like-a-fridge/

I enjoyed the part of the Qualman reading about how business use social media to address customer complaints.  I’ve seen a number of friends, and I’ve done it a few times as well, complain openly on social media about poor service provided by a company.  When a company reacts and reaches out to their customer for the poor experience they are talking about, it shows the company cares.  When companies don’t react, the customer feels not only is the company wrong for what they’re complaining about, but also that the company doesn’t care enough to address their clearly upset customer.  Potential customers see this as well and create an opinion of the company.  Customer service has evolved.  It’s not just someone sitting at a support desk to take customer complaint calls or a manager speaking to a customer at the store, good customer service addresses customer complaints in whatever channel they’re received.  If the company provides good customer service on Facebook (like the Zappos.com example below) people see that and take notice.  The company has a positive perception and people will be more likely to order from the company in the future.

Image

http://www.shopify.com/blog/6992318-4-examples-of-excellent-customer-service-on-facebook#axzz2fe2LDiVh

I know how my own usage of social media has changed throughout the years, but I’d love to hear how your experiences have changed.  Do you use social media more or less than when you first signed up?  Do you use social media as a vehicle for reaching a company you’ve received poor service from?

Social networking: The missing link?

I grew up somewhere between two eras, part Gen X, part Gen Y. I was introduced to computers at a fairly young age but they weren’t commonplace until my teens. Once they were a part of everyday life, I embraced technology and have enjoyed being a part of several key technology-related projects throughout my college years and into my professional life.

One area where I’m lacking in tech-know-how is social networking and social media. Sure, I peruse Facebook everyday on my Galaxy 3 and I have a LinkedIn profile that I try to update often. I watch YouTube videos and even try tweeting from time-to-time (@lrott99). I feel like I haven’t truly tapped into the power that these sites hold, though. My struggle has mainly been finding the time, but a lot of it has to do with lack of understanding on how these sites can be more than just fun time-wasters.

This is exactly what Qualman talks about in our text. He says that “wasting time on Facebook and social media actually makes you more productive” (p. 4). From a business perspective, I have started to understand this much better over the past year and this class is helping me think about it even further. It goes beyond just posting news links and updates to a corporate Facebook page or Twitter feed to keep your buyers up-to-date. It can be truly proactive. The story in the Molisani article this week about Comcast’s Frank Eliason is a perfect example. This guy took the initiative by reaching out to customers that were complaining about Comcast on Twitter and offered his assistance. Now, that’s customer service!

Unfortunately, I think the company I work for is not anywhere near this sort of level. Not because we lack the knowledge of how to monitor social networking sites, but for the following reasons:

• Our company is still relatively small. Fewer customers means lower probability of negative experiences to be shared on the web.

• A large portion of our customers are not Internet savvy. I would estimate that less than 10% have LinkedIn accounts and only a handful probably use Twitter. A large number of them still don’t even have their own company websites. A few don’t even use email so when I need to contact them, it’s always has to be via telephone which slows down the communication process because I usually just get voicemail.

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Photo source: http://www.visualphotos.com/photo/2×3062668/telephone_covered_in_cobweb_IS758-049.jpg

If my clients are even further behind than I am, how can I make social networking and media work for me? I know it could be a useful tool, but figuring out how is still in the works.

Surviving Participatory Culture Shock

“By the time that Brittany arrived at high school in 2001, she was thoroughly aware that she was a citizen of a nation dependent on computers and a world moving rapidly, if unevenly, toward technological connection”(658).

This quote from “Becoming Literate in the Information Age: Cultural Ecologies and the Literacies of Technology,” by Gail Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe seemed to sort of crash down on my head as I was reading it.  Nothing, not even my own technology literacy narrative that I wrote earlier in the week, has ever afforded Brittany’s kind of clarity for me.  At 16, she seems so much more literate than me in any number of ways: in her awareness of her own learning preferences, her engagement with technology for self-directed learning, and her ability to see how future learning will occur for her and others.

Of course, it’s not that I haven’t been aware of the fact that the world has been moving towards “technological connection,” but up until just recently, I’ve only experienced it incrementally.  You go from typewriters to DOS systems to Internet and Windows, and then email comes along and insinuates itself indelibly into your life, and before you know it, you find yourself the mother of three children who wear telephones and earplugs as fashion appendages.  But this creeping, how-did-I-lose-10-years? (20 years?) sensation keeps winding up back on my psychological doorstep a lot lately.

Reading some other technological narratives has helped a bit.  For instance, reading in Hawisher and Selfe about Dean Woodbeck’s story regarding Fortran and the 80 stack cards (p.648) helps me realize that everyone in my cohort sort of has had to cope with the same revolution.  In fact, I read Woodbeck’s story to my husband who was a supply officer in the Navy for 20 years and he began to tell me more such stories like having to have those cards retyped over and over.  He claims that his current cell phone has more brainpower than the large mainframe computers which he worked with daily and loved so much, once upon a time.

punchcard

Old Punch Computer Card, forums.pelicanparts.com

But, I’ve decided not to bemoan with a backwards glance but rather look forward towards “affinity spaces,” such as described by Jenkins et.al in “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education in the 21st Century.”  This was very enlightening to me because I had, in fact, read material in the past about the digital divide, which mostly cast the question of access in terms of access to computers.

In many ways, the gap in access to the participatory culture is more concerning than the matter of computers themselves, and the rather static response of schools is worrisome as well, though I don’t think I had ever thought of it as the crisis it will soon be, according to this report. Teachers, probably many just like me, “Raised and educated in a culture that valued, and continues to value, alphabetic and print literacies, many of these teachers remain unsure of how to value new media literacies, unsure how to practice these new literacies themselves, and unprepared to integrate them at the curricular and intellectual levels appropriate for these particular young people” (p.671).  I wonder how much formal re-training would be necessary to help teachers prepare curricula in line with the tenets of participatory culture or how much of this training will just occur informally for those “alphabetic and print” teachers who may want to evolve?

I could see myself, for example, learning how to engage students through some of the games and strategies suggested under the “What Might Be Done” headings, but I feel like most of the students I would work with would feel towards me the way Brittany feels towards her teachers, that she has mostly outpaced them.  Take just one concept – transmedia navigation –who would be teaching whom?  I am certainly capable of following “the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities,” but I don’t think I could learn to do so nearly as quickly as a seventh grader sitting next to me, so what would my role be?  I guess I will just mull that over for a while before I talk myself into complete obsolescence.

On the other hand, on a more optimistic note, I saw myself in “Four Generations of Editors,” by Heidi Glick and strangely, I was one of those people who have adapted pretty readily to changing expectations about shorter deadlines, electronic formats, and updated methods of proofreading and revising.  So, there may be hope for me yet.

My blogging experience, or my preference for Learning Blogs

I’ve been involved in some form of social media since I was in high school. Like many high school students at the time, I used MSN, AIM, and Yahoo messengers to communicate with friends. None of us had cellphones at the time, so that was really the best we could do without tying up the landline calling each other.
 
In around 2003, I joined a forum for miniature war gaming, where I became a regular contributor. It was not a blog, but it did serve as an opportunity to connect with like-minded people and to share ideas. Blogs were introduced on that site later on, but I never signed up for one. I preferred the forum format, where everyone could contribute if they wanted, but the degree of your involvement was up to you. Someone else would always be there to post something, so there was always new content to read and comment on. Many of my friends encouraged me to join MySpace or Live Journal, but I never had any interest in either of them. I think I still have a Live Journal page out there, but I wouldn’t even know how to find it anymore.
 
I joined Facebook when it was only available to college students. I remember the excitement that UW Eau Claire was being added to Facebook, and everyone with a campus email was registering. I had never even heard of Facebook at the time, so I didn’t really understand what it was for or why/if I would even use it. I reluctantly joined, but then barely used the site for a couple years. I almost never posted status updates. For me, it was primarily used it to keep in touch with other people and as an easy way to have updated contact information for my friends. I still use it that way for the most part.
 
The article, Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog by Joshua Mann, reaffirmed part of why I have never started a blog. I don’t currently have any new insights or epiphanies to share with the world on a particular subject, and I haven’t done the necessary research in any particular area to share even lesser known information. I can certainly see merit for it, but using the medium for this purpose doesn’t currently serve any need of mine. At this stage in my life and educational journey, I am very far from being an academic scholar.
 
Alex Reid provides a much less intimidating framework for the purpose of a blog in his article Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web. His article does highlight an issue I have with creating a personal blog. I currently don’t have a purpose for one. I certainly have interests, but I’ve always lacked a cohesive reason to create a platform to share that information.
 
I have enjoyed other people’s blogs, and have occasionally read a company’s blog for product updates, but I feel like that is only peripherally related. In that case, I am the audience, and I serve as an indicator of whether their blogging is successful or not. I never comment, mostly because I am not registered on their blogging site. I go there to visit and read, not to comment on their article. I don’t dislike blogs, but I feel like they can be a little impersonal at times.
 
This will be the third graduate school course that I blogged for, and I have enjoyed the experience. In this case, we’re peers working our way through the information, which allows us to share our thoughts and help each other make sense of the concepts. In a way, I feel like this is more like my past forum experiences rather than a traditional blogging experience. I look forward to blogging with all of you and learning from you.

slideshares on blogs

Here’s some food for thought regarding the many uses of blogs. In fact, I’ll probably link to these popular slideshare presentations the next time I assign the blog literacy “test post” because I think they cover a lot of ground.

and

I do wonder why the “11 advantages” presentation took 65 slides and the “25 styles” one took 28 slides, but the thing with slideshare is remembering that these slides were created for actual presentations and their authors chose to share them here after the fact. So maybe the 65 slides were used as background while the presenter was extemporaneously speaking to the audience about the topic at hand?

Either way, enjoy and let me know what you think!

The “Art” of blogging?

http://talk-radio.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/blog1.jpgBlogging has always been intriguing to me but, at the same time, has never been something I really felt comfortable doing.  First and foremost, I never felt like I had anything interesting to write about. I have a very normal (sometimes very boring!) life with kids who rarely give us trouble and aren’t at that super cute stage where they are making major milestones on a regular basis.  Those milestones takes much longer to appear now and blogging once a year didn’t make much sense. After all, isn’t that what the obnoxious braggy holiday cards are for?  When I was working as a Realtor, I tried blogging as a “Subject Matter Expert”.  Well, I learned pretty quickly that even after 10 years in the business, you will never feel completely like an expert so why in the world would anyone ever want to read what I had to say? And then, of course, is that obnoxious fear factor side to blogging.  What if someone makes a comment on what I post and it ends up being a nasty comment?  Real Estate brings enough toughness into the world, I didn’t need to introduce another source for potential nastiness!

So imagine my surprise when last semester I had Engl-700 Rhetorical Theory with Dr, Pignetti and found out we would be blogging on a weekly basis.  I definitely had mixed emotions at first.  A little bit of nervousness and also excitement.  Sometimes we (well, I do for sure) have to be forced out of our comfort zone to do something that we found intriguing but never tried.  Those first couple of posts were pretty torturous!  To think that this blog wasn’t just the safety of the class members on the D2L discussion boards, it was a blog that anyone can find and comment on (that fear factor was screaming loud and clear!).  And . . . that is exactly what happened to another classmates blog post.  After the initial shock of the comment from the “outsider”, and several comments back and forth asking the commenter to have some blogging manners, my worst blogging fear had come and gone.  To my surprise, the world didn’t end.  And the blogging continued.

I still envy those who can just write about simple everyday things and make it sound so elegant and effortless.  Blogging isn’t as much of a challenge for me as it was in the beginning but I don’t think I will ever master the “Art” of casual written conversation in the public sphere where posts from years before can come back and haunt you.  I think I will leave that to my annual Christmas card letter.

Tried Blogging, but it never stuck…maybe now is time to try again.

Blogging is something I have a little bit of experience with. I started my own blog at the beginning of 2011 that was intended to chronicle my weight-loss journey. Each Monday and Thursday I had intended to post my progress along with my actual weight and BMI. After about what looks like two months I stopped posting. I only had one follower, my friend Jami, and I was talking to her on a consistent basis anyway. I may have to think about starting this up again, but its a bit depressing that I weigh more now than when I stopped blogging.

The only other experience I have with blogs is reading them. I don’t really have any blogs that I read on a consistent basis, but often times look at them for various things. I’ve looked up Gluten Free recipies, my step-mom has a gluten intolerance, and other recipes that I usually end up “pinning” to my Pinterest Page and then never actually using.

I’m not sure what would make me be a consistent, returning reader to a blog posting. With what I am doing now it is harder to make the time to do any pleasure reading. I am married, with one child in 3rd Grade, my husband is a part of the MN Air National Guard, working full-time up there and I have decided to return to school and get my Master’s Degree, all while working full-time.  A concern of mine is that writing these blog posts each week and the corresponding responses will take too much time. I say this now, because the 2nd class I am taking this semester has still not posted the syllabus, so I have no idea on the requirements for that class. This semester is starting off as a very stressful start to my Master’s Degree.

The only other experience I have that even resembles blogging is my past experience in the online learning at Lake Superior College and UW-Stout. Traditionally, my classes have required one discussion post and then post two responses to other classmates discussion postings. this is very similar to the requirements for this class.

As part of the learning for this class I hope that I can learn a lot about this emerging media and apply it to my current job and towards my newly refreshed weight-loss blog. I will need to concentrate on writing for the internet and make my posts interesting and make people want to come back and read more about my journey.

Whispering into the world: blogging for my own amusement

Long ago, in the times when Facebook was only available to college students, I began my journey with social media. In addition to Facebook, I had a blog of my very own, originally a Xanga because that was the cool blog to have in my circle of friends and acquaintances. I wrote silly stories, funny anecdotes and terrible poetry for the general consumption of the ten people who knew that I wrote it.

I loved it. I loved having that tiny voice in a big loud world. At least at first, I followed the then unknown advice of Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” to write for yourself. Writing for myself was the only thing I did right, I think. Contrary to Cooper’s advice, I did not bother to try to get people to read what I wrote, but in fact I actively chose not to market my blog. I also really didn’t think too intensely about my audience, which I now find rather appalling after taking so many technical communication classes.

When I look back at what I wrote, I see the bad writing and the grammatical errors, but I think that I can also see how blogging shaped my voice in a way that academic writing couldn’t. The article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” by Alex Reid points out how a writer’s voice can be sublimated to success in the context of academia and I can see clearly how blogging built my voice as I was allowed to be myself (or whoever I chose to be) rather than having to be whoever I needed to be in order to succeed with each teacher.

After awhile, blogging started being increasingly about getting likes and comments from my largely non-existent audience and the whole process became wearying as my capacity for being consistently amusing diminished. So I ceased to blog.

In the subsequent years, my experience with blogs has been contained to reading them. I have read only a few blogs consistently. In fact, I can think of only two that I have spent any real time reading, Hyperbole and a Half (a hilarious blog which is basically like electronic picture books for adults) and Beneath the Crust (an interesting blog about faith and life written by a clinical neuro-psychologist that I know). I will read an article occasionally when they are recommended or shared by others, but I don’t follow many closely anymore.

Although I have had some experience with blogging and have taken many courses that required weekly posts, English 745 will be my first experience actually blogging within an academic context. It should be interesting.

Ryter Incoming: Watch out Blogosphere!

I suppose I am rather like a returning visitor to the writing side of the Blogosphere. My first visit was in my junior year of college when I blogged intermittently for a writing class; I have not been back since. Throughout college, I was very involved with the UMass Amherst campus environmental sustainability initiative, and I used this blog as a forum to discuss current projects, initiatives, and progress made on sustainability issues affecting the campus community. This blog was also an outlet for me to bring up concerns and express frustration with some ongoing sustainability efforts; for example, that year, the campus made a significant financial investment in compostable cups, plates, straws, and napkins but did not make compost bins available to the community, thereby “shooting themselves in the foot,” so to speak. While my blog post did not result in the immediate appearance of compost bins, it did start a dialogue on the topic, at least among my readers.

Although writing intermittent blog posts in one undergraduate class is about the extent of my blogging experience, I have more experience following other people’s blogs. I follow technical writing blogs for my job- to keep me up to date on current trends in the field and help me learn best practices. I also follow a blog started by a few of my college friends to publicize feminist perspectives and women’s issues. My favorite blog to follow, though, is my friend Claire’s travel blog. She lived in Paris, France for a year, traveled all over Europe, has visited Cuba and Peru, and is currently working in Japan. Claire blogs about the experience of being an American abroad. She is a student of foreign cultures, and she poses a lot of questions about her identity as an American, and what that means, that challenge me to ask the same questions of myself. Through reading Claire’s blog, I almost feel as though I am experiencing what she is experiencing in her travels, which is hopefully a compliment to a travel blogger. Feel free to check out Claire’s blog for yourself: http://www.internationaleclaire.com/.

Generally, I enjoy reading other people’s blog posts more than I enjoy writing my own- probably because blogging does not come easy for me. Andrea Doucet’s article, “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging: Once a Tortoise, Never a Hare,” really resonated with me as I identify with her in that it is also difficult for me to step away from the comfort of the formal, impersonal, analytical, and thoroughly researched and reviewed writing in which I was trained in favor of a first person, less formal writing style in which I am allowed (even encouraged) to write about my thoughts and opinions- imagine that!

I hope that as I blog more frequently, it will begin to feel more natural to me. I found many of the tips offered in Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” very insightful (especially keeping it short, writing for myself, and valuing existing readers), and I will definitely revisit these tips and incorporate them throughout the semester. Embedded in Tip 4, “Build your email list,” is the suggestion to experiment with different language in a call to action. The example cited is “subscribe by email” versus “get jobs by email.” As someone who always chooses words carefully, with painstaking attention to exactly what they mean, I find the replacement phrase rather misleading; subscribing to an email list of job postings does not mean the same thing as “getting jobs.” While I understand why that phrasing would generate more email subscriptions, I don’t think I would feel comfortable using it in my own blog.

I think the example I mentioned above offers a lesson relevant to blog reading: there is a huge amount of information and advice out there, and not all of it is applicable to or right for everyone. While we should absolutely read blogs, we should also remember to think critically about them. Blogs offer an opportunity for authors to freely put any thoughts and opinions out there for the world to read, but they are not necessarily factually correct, unbiased, or an authoritative source of information on a topic.

Happy blogging everyone!

Blogging: My Newest Frontier

Originally, I thought I would start this post off by confessing that I have absolutely no experience with blogs, but that turns out to not be entirely true.  While it is accurate that this is my first post—yeah!—it turns out I’ve been reading blogs and not even realizing it. In reading “Searching for Writing on the Web,” Alex Reid lists the top 25 blogs and I am very familiar with 3 of them—The Daily Beast, Think Progress, and the Huffington Post.  Now that article is dated 2011, and 2 years is like a millennium in Internet time, so I don’t know if they’re still in the top 25, but it was comforting to realize I already knew something about blogs.

But not much.  For example, a former student of mine recently got hired to write a twice-weekly blog about holistic dentistry, and I didn’t quite understand why since, as far as I knew, she knew nothing about dentistry, holistic or otherwise. From her description, she is mostly serving as a “tipster,” about how to engage in holistic care of teeth and alternatives to traditional dentistry.  She doesn’t have to be a content matter expert, but rather just do some basic research and engage the material in a lively and readable way.  So, I’m still struggling  a bit to understand this medium and it’s multifaceted purpose, but I am looking forward to the education.

In my case, my mind tends to want to skip the theoretical and go straight to the practical application, often to my detriment, so I think I’ll need to proceed slowly in thinking about what use I might make of my newfound knowledge after class ends. In Langwitches blog post “What does it Mean to Be Literate?” the author cautions teachers to engage in some basic blogging education including “pre-reading and pre-writing”  skills such as understanding how blog platforms work before attempting a blog in the classroom.  I’m definitely still at the pre-writing and reading stage.

When I do feel more comfortable with this medium, one use I’d like to make of it regards my role as the chair of our campus’s “Common Read Program.”  One of my tasks is to get the students, faculty, and staff engaged in a larger dialogue than simply in individual classrooms or book groups.  Last year, our Writing Center held an essay contest and the prompt was tied to the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.  It was reasonably successful for a first-time effort, but I didn’t think the submissions really reflected the level of critical thinking we should be seeing from college students.

I’m wondering if a pre-writing blog might help students reflect on and clarify their thinking before they put pen to paper (keyboard to MS Word) for the essay contest?  “Learning with Weblogs: Enhancing Cognitive and Social Knowledge Construction,” suggests that “weblog technology fits with the constructivism learning theory, and argues that a weblog is a useful online tool for students to reflect and publish their thoughts and understanding.”  I can see some logistical problems already, however, such as the fact that we have about 1,650 students in our freshmen class alone, so I don’t know how exactly this would work.  I’ll be interested in learning more from my classmates and our readings as I formulate my goals and understand more about the medium.

By the way, our Campus Read book this year is Scoreboard, Baby by Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry.  It’s a very engaging read, and I highly recommend it.  I’m using this as an excuse to see if I can master the skills of downloading a graphic.

Scoreboard baby cover

As I wrap up my first-ever blog post and I read what I’ve written, I’m trying to discern if it reflects anything I’ve read in “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners,” and I’m not entirely sure.  It seems clear that I’m writing for myself first, which is tip #2, so I suppose I’ve at least accomplished that. Another tip I read was “Get Ideas from Your Audience,” so I read my other classmates posts first and one thing I noticed is that, as a reader, I like bullet points such as those I read in “Testing, testing… What I’ve Learned from Blogging,” by sr hebert, so let me close with these points:

  • I’m very much looking forward to learning from my classmates
  • I feel a little more confident already
  • This course has already forced me to expand beyond my comfort zone because now I have both Skyped and blogged!

Best to you all!

Blogging Basics…where it began….

BloggingBasics2

It has been a while since I have used WordPress, but I was introduced to it and other blogging sites back somewhere between 2006 and 2008.  A close friend and colleague of mine offered a several session course (mini-workshops, if you will) called Blogging Basics through our Lifelong Learning Institute (generally aimed at our senior crowd in the local community). She asked if I would be interested, and I said, “What the heck? Why not?”  She was really excited to share her blogs and experience, and I shared in her enthusiasm.  She was already blogging about jewelry-making, crafting, and beading at the time; plus, she was new as a faculty member, and she was all about getting others to see the value of blogs in the educational arena….blogs and blogging were quickly becoming popular around campus during this time.  I did not understand what blogging was at all until I took the course with her and some other very friendly senior citizens–I remember them pretty vividly since they all had varying technological skills, and I learned much just from listening and watching them in the whole process of learning how to blog.

In the course, I learned primarily how to use WordPress and Eblogger, and it was truly the basics, but I found, as a lover of reading and writing (especially journaling), I was immediately attracted to blogs and what they had to offer.   For some reason, at the time, Eblogger attracted me more than WordPress, and it became my go-to blogging site for future use.   As a result of completing the course, I went into the next semester with ideas about how to use weblogs in the classroom to supplement my developmental writing courses.   I had also begun my master’s degree during this time, and blogging became the basis of several different course projects, research, and, finally, part of a practicum course.   I stuck mostly to using blogs in the classroom with students versus blogging in my personal life.  I was drawn to their use for learning.

I remember doing much research at the time about blogs and feeling like quite a novice when I started and just moved forward with using one in the classroom with my developmental writers… I needed something to liven my classroom, and the blog seemed like a perfect medium for my students at the time.

As I began to read through the blog literacy readings, I was immediately attracted to Learning With Weblogs, and I continue to see the value of using blogs in the learning process.   I was caught by this: “More than traditional learning logs, weblogs offer students the opportunity and encouragement to actively participate in the continuous learning process of social knowledge construction in a number of ways.”   For me, it was this idea that really made me love the blog and its purpose for my students….social knowledge construction was definitely the goal.

One of the specific ways mentioned included that blogs provide “Sustainable knowledge stock: Student weblog posts are not only shared but also stored as the community’s knowledge asset for all participants to revisit and reuse.”  Again, I love the description here in relation to forming a community via the blog and allowing those members to revisit and reuse the knowledge base.  It was those things that drew me to the blog in the first place…the social nature of them and the way authors could store knowledge, share it, and offer threaded comments continuously.

I maintained the class blog for at  least one academic year before my life went into a whirlwind of having babies, going on maternity leave, finishing my master’s, and changing disciplines.   When I shifted into teaching developmental reading, the curriculum was so packed I left out the blogging.  I have used blogs more recently in the classes I have been taking….almost every class I just completed here at UW for the E-Learning Certificate had us using a blog for a project-based portfolio or for reflection purposes.  I will be truthful and reveal that I do not do much blog reading on my own these days because I spend so much time on the computer for work, and now with the two little ones, time is always the problem.   When I find myself looking at blogs, I get immediately sucked into them, and I love exploring all blogs….tech ones, writing ones, authors and musicians, and more. Some colleagues along the way have been naysayers about using blogs for educational purposes, and I have heard varying opinions, especially from “old school” English teachers at times who refuse to believe blogs can offer much to the writing world, but I am a fan.

I am excited to begin a new journey here with blogging, and I know this experience will fire up my love of wanting to use them in the classroom.   I look forward to our experience together.

References

Du, H.S., & Wagner, C. (2007). Learning with weblogs: enhancing cognitive and social knowledge construction. 50(1), 4.

My experience and thoughts on blogging

I took Rhetorical Theory in the Spring 2013 semester.  At that time I never thought of myself as someone who has blogged.  I realized writing my introduction blog post for that class, I had blogged before using sites like LiveJournal.  Also, in a previous job, I helped write and edit content for the company blog.  The Rhetorical Theory course, similar to this one, used a blog as a class tool.  By no means would I say I’m a blogging expert, but I’m not new to the blog scene either.

I think the article 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners has some good insight to those looking to start blogging, or even those that do blog and are interested in taking their blog further.  I think the tip that says “write for yourself” makes a great point.  We’re in a society where everyone is crunched for time.  If you’re going to take time to blog, do it for you.  I have had friends that started blogs to try to make money from it, realized it takes time to build a blog that can produce revenue, and then quit.  It wasn’t something they really wanted to spend their time on, they just wanted a quick buck.  As the article also states, give it time and be willing to fail.  The odds are a blog won’t go viral in an evening.

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http://qualityhostingnow.com/how-to-get-started-making-money-by-blogging/

If you’re blogging because you want to, another good point the article makes is to keep your audience in mind.  A friend of mine has a blog that she doesn’t update that often, but when she does the content is true to the blog description.  It’s clear she writes for herself, thinks of her audience, but just doesn’t have the time to really commit to blogging.  I like that the blog is focused on cooking and it doesn’t focus just on her words, it also provides pictures and recipes.  Check it out, if you’re interested  http://www.girlversuskitchen.com.

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http://www.girlversuskitchen.com

I look forward to seeing all of your introduction posts and reading your thoughts as we go through the semester.

Testing, testing… What I’ve Learned from Blogging

Greetings, fellow bloggers.

ENGL-745 will be the third course I’ve taken requiring me to create regular blog posts.  As a result, I believe that I can share what I have learned in my experiences as a blogger  with confidence.  Feel free to read, reflect, and evaluate.

  • Blogging really put me “out there” in terms of who can see and read my posts.  On multiple occasions, I have had digital strangers bash on my ideas when I am simply trying to fulfill a post requirement for a course!  On the flip side, I have had friends call or text me to say “Hey! I was googling and found the blog you write for graduate school!”  Yes, this has happened to me!
  • Blogging can be very insightful and challenging.  Becoming a blogger is “taking control of your own learning, finding your own voice, and expressing your own opinions” (Walker, 2005, p. 2).  Although blogging is not considered academic writing, I have discovered that I learn more practical things from blog posts – I think it is important to have a mix of academic and practical.
  • Blogging requires me to engage in the rhetorical process much more than I had anticipated.  When I write my posts, I tend to take into consideration my fellow classmates and my professor (audience), decide the overall message I want to convey (purpose), and how the heck I am going to translate my ideas into to a fun blog post with a cool title (context).
  • Blogging is actually really difficult.   When I started blogging, I found it incredibly challenging to break away from formal writing and use “blog style.”  (When in doubt, use bullet points.)  I had to reassure myself multiple times that it was acceptable to use first person and less-than-academic language in my posts.
  • Blogging can create a sense of community.  I hope in this class, since we all belong to the same blog, we can grow and learn together.  We may not all always read the same texts or understand them in the same way, but I hope that over the course of the semester, we can put our digital heads together and create some insightful conversations!

I hope everyone is looking forward to getting started as much as I am!  Good luck fellow bloggers, and may the students of ENGL-745 Fall 2013 have the greatest blog posts yet!

References

Walker, J. (2005). Weblogs: Learning in public. On the horizon, 13(2), 112-118.

Blog Evolution

The first blog I ever read was written by an old high school classmate of mine. She linked to it from her Facebook page and I thought, oh, Andrea’s writing a blog! That’s great! This might be something I want to do one day, so let’s see how hers looks.

Essentially, she wrote about her life as a stay-at-home mom. She shared stories a few times a month that talked about the frustrations and joys of raising a family. This may sound harsh, but I don’t think I even finished reading the first paragraph of the most recent post. Although I like this person very much, I really was not interested in reading about her trip to the grocery store with the kids or her husband’s issues with his boss. And it wasn’t that I didn’t care what she was up to, but to come back to a site repeatedly just to read about one person’s life does not appeal to me. I can get all that information in one place, for many people, on Facebook, and in much fewer words. Based on this first experience, I believed blogs were just cyber diaries and decided it wasn’t something I wanted to spend time on, including writing my own. No one cares (except maybe my mom or husband) what I think or do each day. Sorry, Andrea! Keep on blogging, but I’ll pass for now.

My blog picSource: Rott, L. (2013).  Blah blah blah blog image created in MS Word.

I began to appreciate blogs when I started reading one written by a local physician who is partial owner of the allergy company that I work for. His blogs were not only informative and scientific, but interesting, humorous and easy to read. They detailed different patient cases and clinical experiences he’s had over the past 30+ years of practicing medicine. The site is a bit of a ranting site, but I still find it enjoyable to read. I invite you to take a peek if you have a moment: www.renaissanceallergist.com. So, why did I decide this blog was worth reading? It’s relevant to my life and I get something out it: information that helps me with my work.

Another blog that I began reading was www.allergymoms.com. Written by a woman with kids that have bad food allergies, it’s more than just a daily diary of her life and dealing with her kids’ diseases. She interviews experts in the field on the latest and greatest allergy treatments, posts links to recent news in the allergy world as well as links to other websites and resources on managing allergies, shares recipes, products, etc. Like the doctor’s blog, this blog relevant to what I do for a living, but it’s also educational and helpful to others.

I also read blogs from time to time on http://www.huffingtonpost.com.

That pretty much summarizes my experience with reading blogs, but I can now add to my resume that I have experience WRITING a blog, courtesy of last semester with Dr. Pignetti. Like with the current class, we were required in ENGL 720 to blog each week to share our perspectives on the readings. I found the communal blog to be extremely beneficial as it encouraged conversation and provided a unique situation to learn from fellow classmates. This is similar to what Du and Wagner (2007) discuss in this week’s reading. They talked about blogs as “online learning logs” (p. 2.). Blogging, or even just posting regularly to D2L like with some of my other classes, is a form of collaborative constructivism, also described by Du and Wagner. With collaborative constructivism, “learning emerges through shared understandings of more than one learner and the construction of understanding builds upon interaction with others” (p. 6).

My husband also had the opportunity to blog for an English class he had two years ago. Although the purpose was primarily to improve writing skills through the use of a modern medium (to make it more fun and relevant), he found there was a good deal of communal learning taking place. Everyone would provide constructive feedback on grammar, spelling and writing structure which was great because it was a writing-focused class.

From cyber diaries to communal learning…quite the paradigm shift! I am glad to embrace it, however, and I look forward to expanding my views even further this semester.