Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Rheingold Application

linked in

 The LinkedIn article by Maggiani and Marshall outlines a few ways to use the site to your benefit.  With over 300,000,000 profiles, it makes sense to utilize it for expanding your network or looking for new employment opportunities.  Although LinkedIn was associated with white collar users in its infancy, it is now being used by people from all economic and social classes.  A class on how to effectively use LinkedIn is even taught in Minnesota Workforce Centers around the state.  After thinking about the readings this semester, it struck me that LinkedIn may be a perfect place to put my new found Rheingold knowledge to use.

An article by Cheryl Connors in Forbes outlines a few interesting statistics LinkedIn has experienced in the last year:

1-41% of people now report 500+ connections, up from 30%in 2013

2-58% of people spend more than two hours a week on the site, up 10% from 2013

3-16% of people are in the maximum number or groups allowed (50)

4-Company page usage jumped from 24% to 57%

Full article:

Having just finished Rhenigold, I questioned how to use the knowledge that he presented.  Before I set out to topple a dictatorship, perhaps I should start with LinkedIn.  Although I have a LinkedIn profile, I only view it once every two weeks, don’t post updates, and am generally a lurker when my Facebook News Feed is stagnant.  When reading this article, there are definitely parallels from what Maggiani and Marshall have discussed and the concepts that Rheingold discussed.

Maggiani and Marshall: Connect with all STC colleagues and people you work with

Rheingold: Building a network

MM: Utilize 1st connections to connect with their 2nd and 3rd connections

R: Utilizing bridges to connect to other networks

MM: Updating your status often

R: Putting in the effort

MM: Ed helped steer connections away from a problem company

R: Adding value

Reading through the blogs, it seems most people would like to utilize the knowledge we have learned from Rheingold and some of us have even posed the question of where to start.  More than half the people I know would classify themselves as unemployed or underemployed.  Given that, it would seem that utilizing Rheingold’s concepts, while using LinkedIn, would be time well spent to experience some real world benefits.  It seems like a better place to start than over-throwing a government.

Endless Options

While reading Chris Anderson’s “The Long Trail”, I found that I could relate to mostly everything he was saying. It is true that my friends and I followed popular trends, but starting a few years ago, websites like Pandora began leading me to more obscure things I would have never discovered on my own. About 5-6 years ago I simply downloaded MP3 files both legally and illegally. It was a bit difficult to discover new artists, because I’d search for specific songs and people. I did the same with movies, I downloaded hundreds of torrent files (which ultimately ruined my computer), but they were all similar popular movies.

Ever since streaming music and movies became popular, I haven’t purchased a CD or downloaded a music file. I’ve even seen on the news that sales in CDs and music files have significantly decreased. I read a New York Post article that mentioned:

Total sales, including physical CDs and albums, digital downloads and streaming, slipped 3.3 percent year-over-year through June 30, to 227.1 million units, according to Nielsen/Billboard stats released Wednesday. The decline is smaller than the 4.6 percent fall music labels tallied in the first half of 2013. A 42 percent increase in on-demand audio and video streams helped to stem the slippage.

Apple has even caught onto the new trend by launching iTunes Radio and acquiring Dr. Dre’s Beats Music & Beats Electronics. An apple press release mentioned:

Beats Electronics has brought the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio back to the listening experience and has introduced an entirely new generation to premium sound entertainment. Beats Music was developed by a team of people who have each spent their entire career in music and provides music fans with an incredible curated listening experience.

“Music is such an important part of Apple’s DNA and always will be,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “The addition of Beats will make our music lineup even better, from free streaming with iTunes Radio to a world-class subscription service in Beats, and of course buying music from the iTunes Store as customers have loved to do for years.”

I see where Anderson was going when he said, “If the 20th-Century entertainment industry was about trends, the 21st will be equally about misses”. What other areas do you see this change affecting?


Atkinson, C. (2014, July 2). CD Sales Decline as Music Streaming Takes Off. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from

Neumayr, T., & Joyce, S. (2014, May 28). Apple – Press Info – Apple to Acquire Beats Music & Beats Electronics. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from


Rheingold discusses three terms in great detail in chapter 4, “Social-Digital Know How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence”: coordination, cooperation, and collaboration. To understand the differences between these components, Rheingold provides a great analogy, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (p. 153).

However, Rheingold provides a lot of rules and best practices (almost too many to categorize and remember) to understand the social digital know-how, including:

  • Four understandings needed to effectively deliver Web collaboration skills (p.149).
  • Eight design principles that successful groups use to organize and govern behavior (p.152).
  • Four descriptions of the related components of collaboration (p. 153-154).
  • Seven rules on what cooperation theory teaches us (p.155).
  • Five different ways that we can learn from collaboration theory (p. 155).
  • Three things needed in a model of how collaboration superpowers work (p.157).
  • Four collective intelligence tips (p.162).
  • Four “netiquette” norms (p.163-165).
  • Ten ways be a good virtual community organizer (p.165).
  • Six critical success factors for crowdsourcing/crowdfunding projects (p. 172-173). These factors are: vision and strategy, human capital, infrastructure, linkages and trust, external environments, and motive alignment of the crowd. 
  • Three factors for social production to work (p. 175).
  • Eight general principles that capture the essence of the open source process (p.176).
  • Five things needed to understand Wikipedia (p. 185).
  • Four steps on how to contribute to Wikipedia (p. 185-186).
  • Thirteen words of advice about wiki collaboration in general (p.186-187).

I don’t know where to begin or what to write for this week’s blog – I am overwhelmed. I’m interested in gamification and what it can do, but my manager is more interested in augmented reality. While I enjoy using Wikipedia, I have never contributed or edited a topic. And I have never played World of Warcraft. In flipping through the pages in the chapter again, crowdfunding grabs my attention.

Rheingold provides 5 examples of crowdfunding; each is described below. “allows journalists to pitch stories they would like to pursue and enables individuals to pledge financial support; pledges are held in escrow until the journalist’s goal is reached” (p.172). However, they are no longer accepting new pitches or donations. They claim to be reassessing their business model and that the evaluation will be completed by June 1, 2014, but they provide no additional information on the results of their evaluation.







 “permits anyone to define a project in need of funding, set the rewards […] for different funding levels, and establish a monetary and time goal” (p.172). From here, you can search for projects according these categories: art, comics, crafts, dance, design, fashion, film & video, food, games, journalism, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater. I’m drawn to the journalism project, and am excited that it is a project in my great state of Texas. The Rio Grande Rift – Print Issue #1 “matches microbusinesses in the developing world with microlenders” for as little as $25 (p.172). There are four steps in this process: choose a borrower; make a loan; get repaid; repeat. I search for Austin, but there are no requests. There are 59 requests in the United States. The other country that jumped out at me is the Phillippines with 1,296 requests. “enables lenders to microfinance projects by women in sub-Saharan Africa” (p. 172). This is a dead link. I was able to find it on, but even the link the link listed under URL does not work. “allows classroom teachers to post requests” (p.172). From here you can search from the following things that teachers need for students: art, books, math, science, field trips, match offers, project of the day, and projects near me. I’m curious to see what the schools located in Austin need (if any are listed), and am surprised to see that my younger son’s elementary school has two requests listed–one from his former kindergarten teacher. I had no idea this site existed and plan on making a donation.

I’m happy that looked up the examples that Rheingold provided in the chapter as I was able to find some crowdfunding opportunities in my city. I challenge you to also visit these sites and see what opportunities are available in your geographic location.


What’s The End Goal?

After reading through Rheingold’s book Net Smart, I have been many things.  I have been confused, I have been enlightened, I have had my ‘aha’ moments and I have even been inspired.  Closing in on the end of Chapter five, a disturbing question crept into my mind.  What is the goal?  Perhaps a question more to the point is-what should my goal be?

Rheingold has covered getting online, navigating information, how to participate and contribute online, creating social capital, gaining attention, and the inner workings of social networks.  What am I supposed to do with this?  Rheingold writes books and contributes to the online community for monetary compensation.  He may be helping the greater good by sharing (adding value), but in the end, he does it because it allows him to make a living.  Should I be blogging and tweeting in order to drive traffic to my blog in order to make a living?  In order to keep the scope of this blog focused, I will use an example situation.

I have a passion for land stewardship e.g. cultivating crops, timber stand improvement, wildlife habitat improvement, soil health, and native flora and fauna enrichment.  If I decide to blog about this topic, I will definitely be in the long tail…I have a feeling more towards the tip.  I understand the principles of developing relationships inside this community and creating social capital.  Am I doing something wrong by stopping there?  Would being a bridge within that community be enough?  Should I still be linked to and follow people in the tech world, politics, and the business world?  Would only investing in my passion erode my online health?

I could go on with a hundred questions along those lines.  The obvious answer would be “whatever makes you happy”, but I don’t think that is it.  Can the concepts laid out in the book be a guide to an overall more enriched life?  Is that the goal?  In the end, I understand the ideas presented in the book, but I am questioning the application.

Did this book change your idea of online navigation and interaction? Will it change the way you participate within online groups?  Most important, what will you do with the information that Rheingold has discussed?

Managing information overload

Trust me, there are plenty of days in which I use my access to the Internet very “stupidly.”

I watch funny cat videos, take a look at the most recent viral videos, read nonsense celebrity gossip, and “browser shop” for things I definitely can’t afford.  In reality, I really ought to check out my RSS feeds in Feedly and do some research on the ecommerce industry or read digital marketing tips for work.  I really ought to be reading the news to see what’s going on in the world.  I really should be using the Internet smarter, but some days I just don’t want to.

I think part of this may be due to the fact that I often feel overwhelmed at the amount of quality and interesting information that is available on the Internet.  I want to know everything and the fact that there are so many different ways for me to access “everything” at once is overwhelming to me.  I feel like I can’t keep up with all the information and so instead I take a few minutes or hours to ignore the world’s most powerful knowledge tool in exchange for entertainment and killing brain cells.

Rheingold’s book, Net Smart, is making me rethink my approach to the Internet.  I need to be more focused on what I am doing because I often get sucked into the depths of YouTube while I have an important deadline looming in the near future.  I am interested in many things and I can often get caught in a web of interesting and useful information just as quickly as I can get caught up in a windfall of Internet stupidity.  Rheingold offers some excellent pointers for effectively managing this endless amount of information.  Chapter 6 of his book, “How (Using) the Web (Mindfully) Can Make you Smarter,” brings all of his information management and “crap detection” tips and tricks together and explains how his methods can help you widen your own personal knowledge base.

Rheingold’s book has helped me to stop being so overhwlemed about how I approach the amount of information on the Internet and has taught me different ways I can manage and even filter the amount of information that I see every day.  By doing this I can use the Internet smarter and more effectively instead of being tempted by the cyber black holes of funny cat videos.

I’ve read the book; now what?

What a roller coaster Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart book has been: he tugged me down into startling awareness how addicted I am to digital communication and observation and connection, threw open the curtains to my vulnerability to surveillance (targeted ads, cookies, etc.), highlighted ways people are misinformed with all the crap online, and generally forced me to look at technology for once. As a non-essential part to life. Once I was fully frazzled, I read chapter 6.

What is the purpose of the book, just to help me realize I shouldn’t put my phone in a zipped plastic bag and bring it in the shower with me just in case someone texts me? No. As Rheingold says, “There is no influence without knowledge and effort” (p. 253). We as a class have read about his five (timely) essential literacies and the strengths and weaknesses of social media and networks and doing good and doing bad. That’s the knowledge part. So, if we want to influence, to be a catalyst for change, what effort are we willing to make?

Managing Collective Knowledge

When reading through Howard Rheingold’s (2014) “Social-Digital Know How” in his book, “Net Smart”, I was struck by the correlation between the management of collective intelligence and the author’s previous examination of attention.

First, the author outlines various positive outcomes from collaboration superpower, the “…desire from early childhood to cooperate, to coordinate activity, and to strengthen group bonds…” (Rheingold, 2014, p.156). This innate desire has, with an infused element of gaming, produced collaborative efforts from Olympic games to political inquiry. While collaborate effort has long been instilled in human nature, it is never long-lived unless efforts are rewarded or reciprocated. This is why I

Source: VirtualSpeechCoach

Collective knowledge management will require an in-depth focus on audience wants. Source: VirtualSpeechCoach

appreciated the author’s point that skill are needed to “…participate in and instigate collective intelligence activity…” require an ability to “…create a synergy between personal knowledge management and collective knowledge management” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 160). Specifically, the author states that individuals must be able to “…connect to people and find information sources, then filter, select, and categorize information for your own purposes” (p. 160).

In light of last week’s reading, specifically the overview of an increasing demand for attention from content available online, I found this statement intriguing. As attention span diminishes and content availability increases, this vital (yet somewhat overlooked skill) will determine who succeeds in audience attention. It will also force focused messaging, meaning that some companies/organizations will need to forgo the latest platform if it isn’t inhabited by their core audience.

What do you think? Will a discipline and skill in whittling down information to serve both individual collective purposes force a forgoing of some audiences? Why or why not?

My social network analysis

The structure and nature of networks is a fascinating topic indeed, and the quantitative nature of digital data makes analysis of online human networks not only relatively easy, but pretty insightful. I took Howard Rheingold’s cue in Net Smart to search for “visualize Facebook social network” (pg 203) and applied it my personal Facebook friends. What I learned revealed some statistics I hadn’t considered before, but more interesting, intriguing insights into how friends with certain social network strengths make up my top connections.

After a Google search for the phrase above and a look around at the results, I chose Wolfram Alpha’s Personal Analytics for Facebook. I had to register an account through my Facebook page, but I haven’t noticed any unwelcome posts, and the analysis was totally free and quite thorough. I recommend trying it out for yourself! Wolfram Alpha looks at post, like, comment statistics for statuses, photos and links, word frequency analysis on status posts and a lot of personal data in addition to the network analysis, the topic of this post.

Mutual Group ClustersMutual Group Clusters

The first complex network analysis was groupings of friends according to “mutual group clusters”, which, not surprisingly, seemed to group friends into collective experiences like family, work, and school.

The largest group (medium blue cluster on the right) seemed to consist my closest friends and friends of those friends, mostly people I considered in my “real life” social peer network. I invite these people to parties, go to theirs, we visit the same bars, know the same people.

The next largest group, (darkest blue on left) consisted entirely of people I went to high school with. This is a great example of a network that, to me, is strictly online and almost painfully superficial. I have exactly two high school friends I still socialize with on a regular basis, so most of this group is people I haven’t seen face-to-face for almost 15 years. For many, it is unlikely that I even interacted with them much during high school!

The next group (slightly darker blue in the middle-right) is family, including some of my parent’s closest friends. Smaller groups include coworkers I had at a newspaper group (blue-green), my husband’s family (medium green), and schoolmates from my undergrad studies (green-yellow).

To me, the most interesting set of friends were the outliers (at the bottom in orange and red), who each were assigned their own “group”. These friends had no connections to my larger network except through me, we provide for each other unique connections to otherwise unconnected networks.

color coded friend networkNetworked Roles

The second and most insightful network analysis assigned social roles to certain friends. These roles described highly connected friends in terms of their relationship to me and my network as well as their connections to other networks. This analysis gave me an important insight into which of my Facebook friends have influence and access inside or outside of my network.

Wolfram Alpha defined five different social network roles and assigned “top” friends to each who exemplified the defined role.

The first role is “social insider”, represented on the graph in purple. According to WA, “a social insider is a friend who share a large number of friends with you. Social insiders typically appear in the center area of your friend network.” My “top social insiders” include my husband, brother, mom, and oldest friends and would be important people for influencing my established network.

The next role, “social outsider”, is represented in gray. Like the outliers in the group cluster graph, “a social outsider is a friend who share at most one friend with you.” (WA) These friends could offer access to entirely new, foreign networks. My neighbor is a good example of one of my social outliers.

In green are my “social connectors”. This is a friend “who connects together groups of your friends that are otherwise disconnected.” This is one of the most important roles, acting as a hub to connect disparate social groups and affecting influence on several groups within a network. This role includes close friends and family, similar to my social insiders.

Next, in orange, are “social neighbors”, those friends “with a small number of out-of-network friends (friends of theirs that you don’t know).” These people are more integrated into my shared network than they are integrated into other networks, so they have a strong vested interest in the same networks and friends. This includes many of my older family members who haven’t established extended Facebook networks.

The last role is that of “social gateway”, “someone with a large number of out-of-network friends.” My top social gateways are my connection with very large number of friends. I don’t consider myself close to most of them as personal friends, but their potential to reach others can’t be underestimated. My top social gateways include my very outgoing younger cousin, a popular friend of my mom’s, and a classmate from undergrad who is in a band.

This analysis has been so insightful and while it felt superficial and egocentric at first (sometimes what Facebook feels like in general), it caused me to think about outwardly about the varied people in my virtual network, their inherent value and humanity as individuals with unique networks. It is a useful tool for those who want to reach local and new networks effectively as well.

Autocorrect Humanity (Turkle-esque)

I’ve got my Intro to Professional Communication students blogging this semester as well, with the main difference from your assignment being that they are to create their own individual blog spaces and post twice a week. The posts aren’t readings-based, but instead should:

  • focus on the issues and trends in communication/journalism/technology that you find most interesting, and
  • cultivate your voice and draws your classmates’ attention to images or articles you’ve found online

See my recent blog post about this project, which includes all the info I presented at The Teaching Professor Technology conference a couple weeks ago. I won’t say more about the work it takes on my end to evaluate 44 separate spaces, but as I do their midterm blog evals I have to say I’ve been impressed!

A few students this semester have shared this video (now at 7.8 million views!), and had I seen it before putting together the midterm exam, I would have included it on the list of supplemental resources. Give it a watch and let me know what you think:


Its Starting to Come Together

After reading the third chapter “Participation Power” in Rheingold’s book, I couldn’t help but post on a thought sequence I experienced during the reading.  Rheingold gave several different ways the use of emerging media has influenced society, but one sentence in particular resonated with me.  “The difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it-and how you grasp it.” (p 141)  A knife can be used to cut up food and allow a cook to recombine them in a way that creates a wonderful meal.  That same knife in the hands of a trained warrior can be deadly.  Emerging media is a knife and in the hands of a trained user, it can be deadly.

Consider the example on page 111 where he talks about the youth using their Facebook organizing to overthrow the dictatorship in two weeks.  How many hundreds of millions of dollars have governments, including our own, spent trying to change regimes in the past?  How much time has been spent and how many lives have been lost to those endeavors?  Using Emerging media, the citizens toppled a government in two weeks.  Think about it, more powerful (effective) than the U.S. government.

Speaking of the U.S. government, the tidbit on page 125 that explained how bloggers could have possibly changed the 2004 election.  Both political parties were represented as liberal bloggers forced the cancellation of a documentary in favor of the republicans and conservative bloggers debunked information about Bush that led to Dan Rather being fired.  Dan Rather had been on CBS longer than I had been alive at the time of his departure.

The readings on digital literacy, social networking, blogging, and technical writing are all very informative individually, but collectively, they are a recipe for something bigger and more profound.  They are an instructional journey that could enable anyone with an internet connection to help change the world.  It may seem overdramatic, I too thought of emerging media as people “liking” posts on Facebook and “following” Ashton Kutcher on what zany nightclub he was at.  That is how I looked at emerging media.  I don’t know if it was an issue of how I grasped it, but perhaps that I failed to grasp it at all.

Rheingold described how to start organizing your lists to follow the right people, contribute useful content, and how to get in the groove, but I feel so behind.  There is no shame in being a cook and continuing to check statuses on Facebook and lurk for information in my favorite online forums.  However, I want to take my knife from the kitchen and teach myself how to be an emerging media warrior.

Crap Detection 101: Vaccines and Autism

While reading chapter 2, “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide If It’s True,” of Net Smart, I was waiting with bated breath for Rheingold to bring up the controversial subject that has caused great debate, disagreements, and “unfriending” in my social media circle in recent years: vaccines and autism in children. But, he didn’t.

As a parent, do I have concerns that autism might be linked to the vaccines my children receive? Absolutely. Do I vaccinate my children? Absolutely. Do I worry that I might be making the wrong choice after each vaccine? Absolutely. (To date, my sons–fifteen and eight–do not have autism).

So, what are we as parents to do? Rheingold recommends to “chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter.” To chase the story, the first thing to do is to search for information online. But what words do I search for and which link(s) do I click? Rheingold also states that “when you get the results from a Web search engine and click on a link, you can’t be sure that what you get is accurate or inaccurate information, misinformation, or totally bogus.”

I Googled “vaccines and autism” and then clicked the “Images” link. From here, the search results were already conveniently categorized for me by “chart”, “don’t cause”, and “for children”. The results also showed screaming babies and needles—scary stuff for any parent. Mixed in with these images, were other cartoons and infographics that were pro-vaccine, one even had support from Bill Gates.


How can I tell if any of it is real? Which side of this controversial debate do I take? Rheingold suggests to “think skeptically, look for an author, and then see what others say about the author.”

But how is this possible when even doctors, nurses, and government agencies—all have credentials and are highly regarded as experts—can’t even agree?

Rheingold also states that “digital media and information abundance may complicate people’s confidence in and knowledge of who is in authority” and that the “social aspects of critical evaluation can be powerfully useful, but they also can be misleading.”

Just because a link displays at the top of a search engine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best source of information. Nor does seeing disturbing photos of needles sticking into babies convince me that vaccines are harmful.

To complicate things even further, Rheingold states that when searching online, we “write the answer you want to get when formulating your search query.” So if I enter “vaccines cause autism”, I will probably get rhetoric on how vaccines are bad; and if I enter “vaccines do not cause autism”, I will get information on how the two are not related. This is also referred to as the “echo chamber effect.” We are all guilty of focusing our attention to only things that align or reinforce our own beliefs or behaviors. Is this why AutismOne has 14,000 Twitter followers?

Or why there are now children’s books that urge children to get vaccinated against Measles? Would a parent who refuses to give their child vaccines allow that child to read a bedtime story on the importance of being vaccinated? Probably not.

With this abundance (overload) of information, this is where my “well-tuned internal crap detector comes in handy.” However, he then cautions that “people who bet their health on online medical information […] the stakes in this detective game are high.” To get my answer on vaccines and autism, I could triangulate–check an author’s name, enter the URL of a site into a productivity index or hoax site, and type “criticism” or “background” in a search–to get at least three things that indicate whether an online link is credible.

Yet, this is not enough as Rheingold claims “well-intentioned yet dangerously misinformed people, quacks who sincerely believe that their ineffective cures will save the world […] abound online. It’s not just that uninformed consumers of bad medical information can harm themselves; people who link and forward without checking closely are part of the problem. When it comes to medical information […] believing or forwarding bad info can be unhealthy or fatal.”

If you believe some of the stories online, there are large portions of elementary schools with unvaccinated children in California. Other stories cite celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a dangerous advocate of anti-vaccines. There are blogs written by people who grew up without vaccines but are now reformed and many social media pages and groups that are anti-vaccine that it becomes difficult to figure out which information is useful or accurate. Did you know that World Anti-Vaccination Day is November 11? Neither did I.

I’m not sure when the controversial debate that autism might be linked to the vaccines children receive will be settled. Will it take a scientific breakthrough? Will it be when previously eradicated diseases reemerge? At this time, it seems that the only thing to do is to keep asking questions and to think like a detective to try to determine the credibility of online information so that you can make the best choice for your family. James Madison summarized it best when he put it, “knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

You don’t need an app to detect bullsh*t

“We are immune to advertising.  Just forget it.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

There it is.  The secret of the modern day consumer.  We know this is all a game that is geared to make us buy stuff and guess what?  We’re not buying it anymore.  But, we are still buying.

Recently, I’ve been looking into purchasing a Chromebook for myself, but it definitely wasn’t because of some incredible advertisement I saw.  Nope.  My coworker bought one, showed it to me, and now I’m a bit interested in getting one for myself. So, naturally, my next step is to hop on the Internet and start doing some research on the different models, pros and cons, specs, etc.

As I’m researching and poking around on different websites, I decide I want to post on Facebook about how I am searching for a good Chromebook and am open to suggestions from my network of friends.  As I start typing my post, I notice an ad in the corner for the new Toshiba Chromebook.  Coincidence?  Definitely not.

I am immune to advertising and, in fact, it turns me off to a product more than it grabs my attention.  I’ve actually stopped looking to buy a Chromebook now because my experience on Facebook made me feel so invaded, almost violated.  I was actively searching for a Chromebook, I didn’t need some sneaky, “stalkerish” advertisement algorithm reminding me of what I was interested in buying.

There are many points in the Cluetrain Manifesto that make me want to raise my smartphone in defiance to big, faceless and emotionless corporations that don’t care about their customers. I don’t view corporations as “godlike” figures.  In fact, I feel a little bit sorry for them that they are trying to convince me that seeing advertisements for an item my browser history is loaded with is pure coincidence.

“However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

Precisely.  Let’s cut out the bullsh*t.  Stop trying to sell “my demographic” a product.  In fact, stop trying to sell me a product altogether.  If I want it, I’ll look for it.  That’s what the Internet is for.

The Attention Span of our Children’s Generation


While reading Chapter 1 of Rheingold’s book, I was drawn in by the concept of being mindful of our mental habits. I thought the experiment he did with the laptop usage of his students was brilliant, as it it forced them to “start paying attention to the way they pay attention (pg.36)”. Having a family full of young children, I began trying to apply this concept to my nieces and nephews as they are a very unique generation that doesn’t  know life without mobile devices and using them to engage in the constantly updating digital media obsession. I grew up in the 90’s and throughout the majority of my life, mobile devices and all of the current forms of social and digital media did not exist. My obsession/addiction to constant digital and social media began in 2007 with Facebook, and spiraled out of control in 2012 when I got my first smartphone. However, this is not true for my nieces and nephews of 10 and 12 years old.

My siblings use their mobile devices to pacify their children, which by default led to the children mastering the devices. By the ages of 7, they had Facebook and Instagram profiles and found joy in updating selfies and getting likes from their followers (who were always immediate family members). When Rheingold mentioned using digital media as a means of control by choosing when to drown out undesirable stimuli, all I could imagine were my nieces and nephews on their smartphones at the dinner table, during church services, and in the classroom. I began to wonder since they started using digital media at such a young age, how would their abilities to multitask develop?

Rheingold mentioned the concept of “successful multitasking (pg. 37)”, being able to accomplish goals without degraded performance. I thought of my eldest nephew, he is 12 years old and an obsessive gamer. He plays his Xbox all day at home, and he plays games on his smartphone all day until he can get home. He is an average C student, and has a small group of friends who are all gamers just like he is. In contrast, my 10 year old niece is OBSESSED with Instagram, she’s on it more than I am and that’s insane in my opinion. However, she’s a straight A student, an incredible pianist, and has a large group of very diverse friends. Perhaps as Rheingold mentioned, she was either “attentionally endowed” or perhaps she has greater mental control.

I wonder how these children will continue to develop mentally and socially, and if digital media is actually harming them in any way. I googled the topic and found a few articles of questionable credibility, however they were very interesting. The site had a an article titled How digital technology and TV can inhibit children socially. The article mentioned:

Researchers discovered that depriving 11 and 12-year-olds for just five days of all digital media – including television – left them better able to read others’ emotions.
Prof Patricia Greenfield, the senior study author and professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, said: “Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs.“Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues, losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people, is one of the costs.”

I wen on to discover an article on titled “Kids, Tech and Those Shrinking Attention Spans”, this article mentioned:

We hear it all the time — increased exposure to technology is rewiring our kids’ brains, making it tougher to reach and teach them. A Pew Internet survey of nearly 2,500 teachers finds that 87% believe new technologies are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans” and 64% say today’s digital technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

These statistics are a bit troubling to me, and I would love to develop a way to make young children mindful of their time on mobile devices, computers and watching television shows. If parents monitor their children’s time on smartphones and gaming will it make them prioritize their tasks while on theses devices, or will it only make them more excited or anxious for their next opportunity to use them? My problem is finding a way to perhaps get my nieces and nephews see using these devices as privileged form of entertainment rather than a way of life. This would be incredibly difficult because it has been life as far back as they can remember, and it is life for everyone they know.

Less chatter, more meaning for companies through networking

As a big fan of manifestos and other calls for change, The Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 Theses really spoke to me this week. There were several themes therein that I found especially appealing.

The first of these themes is that companies need to ease up in the Department of Propaganda and Information Control:

  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  • Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  • Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.
  • When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  • In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  • We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

I remember learning about all the different methods of advertising in elementary or middle school, and I’m pretty sure it was in the context of D.A.R.E. I suppose they taught about advertising to strengthen my resolve against all the illegal drug pushers I would inevitably encounter who used tactics like “join the cool people, buy THIS!”, “you’ll totally get laid if you have THIS”, “you are clearly lacking and need THIS to compensate”. While I never met any drug dealers with such a corporate, consumerist sales approach, that little tidbit of education is knowledge I’ve applied to the advertising I’ve encountered ever since, and I’m proud to consider myself more or less impervious to traditional advertising.

What works on me? Facts. Tell me the facts, I’ll look into it and get back to you. A little personality that isn’t irritating helps too. Hold the b.s., meaningless claims, and parsing of phrase, please. This is the kind of advertising I choose to design in my graphics work (whenever possible) and this kind of relationship between company and consumer lends itself well to a networked market, I believe. Dispensing with the fluff and distraction shows a respect for the market as thoughtful, intelligent people.

Another theme I really enjoyed was the idea that real, live, human employees are valuable for more than propagating the company “image”, shutting up, crunching numbers and generally being treated like a thoughtless machine:

  • What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.
  • When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  • When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.

In reality, it is “The Company” that is the thoughtless, inhuman machine that exists as no more than an idea, a construct, and figment of the imagination. It is nothing if not for the people that make it up, and I truly believe connections with those humans are what the future of marketing and customer service will evolve into as consumers demand access to relatable people for information and help.

The last theme I really appreciated was the idea that social media, crowdsourcing, and networking offers companies an absolute wealth of information to improve and create products and services. Involvement in society, culture, and community are what’s expected of modern companies:

  • Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  • If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market
  • Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  • We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay for. Got a minute?

The last point has always been a disconnect between consumers and business I’ve found ironic. I can think of any number of products or services I might use, if only someone would offer them! Now that the capability exists for direct communication between company and consumer, I hope companies will take advantage of access to consumers to help guide their decisions.

I noticed that the 95 Theses was written in 1999. Fifteen years later, there are companies who have embraced these ideas, but so many more who are stuck in old ways of advertising, controlling information and employees, choosing to dictate how things are instead of listening to how things should be.

The vicious cycle of supply and demand

Perhaps most intriguing among Howard Rheingold’s (2014) first chapter on attention was positioning of intellect versus knowledge. Specifically in relation to the scattered, snippet forms of content available through search engines, the author states that “Sometimes you want an answer…and sometimes you want knowledge…” (p.52). Perhaps the overwhelming availability of information has instilled an expectation that answers matter more than process, thus continuing a cycle of shallow inquiry.

The idea of “…shallow inquiry—the uninformed way in which many people use search engines to find answers” (Rheingold, 2014, p.53), is perpetuated by the innate human habit of multitasking. Technology has, I would suggest, merely augmented

The cycle: As more content is available, more content is demanded. Source:

an age-old human trait. History repeats itself, and if the continual lose of our “…capacity as a society for deep, sustained focus…” is leading cultures “…toward[s] a new dark age” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 56), then would it not be advantageous to observe history to predict what will happen next? Sherry Turkle’s (2012) overarching premise in “Alone Together”, is that human expect more from technology and less from each other. However, in light of Rheingold’s (2014) assertion that technology has “…encouraged the development of a culture of simultaneity…” (p. 56), I would ask what role human expectation has plays in the process of shallow inquiry. Is it that more content is expected at a faster pace, and heightened access to more information demands faster results. In a very basic sense, it is the idea of supply and demand. More information is supplied, and the natural tendency is to demand more in order to increase supplied content.

What do you think? Is the cycle of scanning information versus wrestling with knowledge a cyclical problem? Is it a problem?

Hi my name is Carolyn, and I’m a technoholic.

(Alternate title: Even luddites can be addicted to technology)

I always thought that I wasn’t part of the tech movement; as a luddite, I thought I had a balanced perspective on technology and its benefits and drawbacks. Similar to the comic, I do bank in person, buy stamps at a post office, and pay bills at the county building.

Luddites can be technoholics too.  Source:

Luddites can be technoholics too.

And then I read Turkle’s (2011) Alone Together and Howard Rheingold’s (2012) Net Smart. I too am addicted to technology! I am tethered to my smart phone, and when I forget it somewhere, I get withdrawals. Frankly, for the past four or five days, I’ve looked at my smart phone with longing and fear; I love its convenience and am terrified I allowed my intelligence to depend on the cloud (Googling stats, depending on stored phone numbers instead of memorizing them, etc.). Rheingold refers to Baron, who wants us to be critical about any communication that “can be turned on and off at will” (p. 55). While it may not be as convenient or efficient to speak to someone in real time and face-to-face (how to say bye and cleanly break from the other’s company), it’s still something we should do. And the more we practice, the easier it will become, to talk to someone without shielding ourselves with technology.

Technology Addiction


  • Lost “capacity for sustained, focused attention” (Rheingold, p. 52)
  • Anxiety (to stay current with everything online) (Turkle, Alone Together, p. 241+)
  • Disillusion that multitasking is productive, so less productivity (Rheingold, p. 37)
  • Constant or near-constant distractions from every part of life (Rheingold, p. 44)
    • Note: See also p. 44 for a effects of distractions

One must first be aware of the addiction. And want to change.

  • Identify areas of life to declare as technology-free times
  • “Intention is the fuel for attention” (Stone, qtd. by Rheingold, p. 58)
  • Increase social times with physical interactions (not always virtual)

The challenge of separating content from presentation in a CMS

William Hart-Davidson defines a content management system (CMS) as a “set of practices for handling information, including how it is created, stored, retrieved, formatted, and styled for delivery” (pg. 130). Basically, a CMS sits on top of your content and assists with the following functions:

  • Topic management: searchable, reusable content
  • Single-source publishing
  • Translation/localization workflow
  • Collaborative development and version control
  • Central output format management

Furthermore, Davidson claims that a best practice of content management includes the

“Need to separate content from presentation (pg. 130).”

But just how difficult is it to separate information from presentation and design?

In my experience, it is very difficult. While it is relatively easy to use the same chunks of content (e.g., single XML files) in multiple output formats, it is not easy to customize the design, format, and style of an information product. Let me explain.

We are currently implementing SDL LiveContent as our CMS. It is very expensive, and due to budget restrictions, my manager went with the basic, out-of-box implementation. In addition, we are required to provide two types of output—PDF and HTML—for every major software release. To create PDF output, we must develop stylesheets to transform our XML to XSL-FO. XSL defines the presentation of XML objects and properties that specify the page format, page size, font size, and paragraph/table/heading/list styles. However, since we went with the basic SDL LiveContent implementation, the difficult, time-consuming task of developing stylesheets for XML to XSL-FO transformation must be done by ourselves. (SDL LiveContent offers services to create the stylesheets, but it is very expensive.)

If we don’t develop stylesheets, we will have little control over the presentation (also referred as “signposting” in chapter 2) of our content. This is unacceptable to my manager, as she expects all of our content to continue to have our professional, company-branded formatting.

If this wasn’t complicated enough, SDL LiveContent recommends a different professional formatting solution from the one that we currently use (and have already spent a lot of time customizing that stylesheet). We all agree that we do not need to have two or three publishing tools to generate a PDF or HTML. We also don’t want to have a complicated, manual workflow process that takes the content from our CMS, generates output (PDF and/or HTML), and then stores it back in the CMS. We don’t have someone on our team who can write scripts to do that and there isn’t a bridge to connect the CMS with our current publishing tool.

Ideally, we want to have our content stored in one repository, and from there, we want to be able to generate output on an ad hoc, as needed basis. We want to click a button—have all the magic happen—and then view the PDF that has a beautiful, professional layout. How we get there is my responsibility over the next few months, but I’m convinced that we will have to ditch our current publishing tool and will have to develop brand new stylesheets.

Do you believe in magic?

Content managers face the twin pressures of simultaneously reducing the total investment a company must make to produce content and increasing the quality, quantity, and sustainable value of that content. – William Hart Davidson

There it is, black and white, plain as day; the centerpiece of the modern business structure.  We must create more with less while making our creations higher quality than those before them.  Logically, it makes no sense.  How can you create more things with less materials and resources?

Magic, of course.

Thankfully technical communicators are not only trained in various technical disciplines, but the Arcane Arts as well.  Some of their specialties include time travel (yes, travel, not management) and The Impossible.

From the beginning, Hart-Davidson’s article struck a chord within me.  Primarily, I liked that he got right down to the heart of the matter: the expectation to do more with less.

It boggles my mind that companies truly believe that this model works and that their employees are getting their degrees in magic on the side to keep up with the workflow.  Newsflash: Everyone does not get a letter to Hogwarts.  I would know since I’m still waiting.

I recently started a new job at a startup ecommerce web design company and I already feel the pressure of this expectation.  I’m supposed to split my mind in three different ways simultaneously and accomplish several tasks at once.  These tasks vary in nature and focus, but somehow I manage to get them all done.  I just internally worry about the quality of my work, but not for long, because the fast pace always forces me to keep moving forward and not dwelling on what has already passed.

I don’t foresee this issue getting any better with time, but worse.  I can understand the need to be competitive, but realistic expectations goals need to be set.  Like I said before, not everyone was lucky enough to get their Hogwarts letters to study magic.

A Lighthouse in the Fog

Beyond Single Sourcing by William Hart-Davidson was a breath of fresh air for the topic of technical writers.  Whether you are thinking about a career in technical writing, wary of your current job safety, or bored because you are stuck updating product bulletins for a conglomerate, Davidson creates an outline for the future.  Granted theory is almost always shinier when it is discussed, the author lays out logical and plausible applications for expanding roles and responsibilities for technical communicators.

Davidson’s message stirred passion inside of me… my pupils dilated, my heart rate increased and my mind raced.  I love an “idea-person” and the author is just that.  In a world which can seem mostly cloudy, an economy that is only improving on TV, and a society where negativity is just easier, Davidson is the warm glow of a family room fireplace on a cold winter’s night.  He neatly displays his vision on Table 5.1 (p136) which he organized into three rows: text-making, creation and management of information, and design and management of workflows and production models.

The first row of text-making relates to creating an environment for a company’s information to thrive and grow.  The technical writer can create support processes such as templates, guidelines, and usability confirmation to help foster growth in the informational environment. The second row of the table describes how the technical writer is involved in the life cycle of the information.  They are responsible for the quality, accessibility, and the upkeep of the information’s environment.  The third row deals with how human interaction and the information’s environment coexist.  Having intimate knowledge of the information and its environment puts the technical writer in a unique position to refine work processes, improve workflow, and develop training materials.

Davidson has presented three intertwined objectives for identifying, developing, and managing a company’s information.  Each have a number of possible job titles attached to them and all of them relate to how a technical writer views, interprets, and creates information.  A growing question among companies in a “net profit era” is “what does a technical writer do?”.  Individually, that is a question each person must answer themselves.  However, Davidson offers a clear idea of what technical writers are capable of.  Personally, I would not consider myself a “glass half-full” or “glass-half empty” person, but rather a “the glass isn’t big enough” kind of guy… and Davidson fills me up.

We’re the assembly line

William Hart-Davidson’s article on content management was the most readable of our texts this week. Honestly, I didn’t really understand the first two, or when I thought I did, then I read more and completely lost what I had grasped. But Hart-Davidson’s piece was surprisingly a piece that followed technical communication practices and actually made sense (sidebar: anyone else disillusioned by how we’re reading articles by renowned experts about technical communication, the art of talking to users in the layman’s terms, only it’s all garbled academia? And yes, I know the audience is also academics; I just see the irony).

But good on Hart-Davidson when he said that “companies live and die based on how well they communicate” (p.135). And how he says communication is “why they [companies] operate” (p. 135). Yes, please! The challenges he outlines when it comes to a successful content management system are ones that I encounter daily at work.

While we have a network (two, actually) and shared folders, we do not have a company-wide protocol set in place to find the information needed. My day has at least one request for me to email a document to someone that is already on the shared drive. There is no documentation in place to determine where different content pieces have been placed (online, different ad pieces, etc.), and after reading the article, my takeaway is to organize our assembly line, to make it more efficient so that we can be a better end product for consumers.

Relevant Topic. Dated Examples.

I appreciated the expansion Salvo and Ronsinki (2010) give to the idea of digital literacy, for it allows for the fluency with which digital evolution changes communication. They state that “Digital literacy cannot be just the ability to use certain technologies. Rather, the term must apply to the thoughtful deployment of technologies…” (p. 123). What specifically intrigued me was the somewhat ironic application of the chapter’s message to the chapter itself.

Parts of the reading seem like rhetorical history in technical communication, especially when the authors focus on ambient findability. Much of the technology the authors wish existed during the time this chapter was written, already exists. For example, the authors say that “…search engines barely register any distinction between…desktop or laptop” (p. 122), but Google Analytics has incorporated these (and many more) aspects in its services. Furthermore, the authors foreshadow Facebook’s revolutionary EdgeRank Algorithm and advertisement cookies, wishing for a web browser which delivers advertisement based on “…maximizing applicability and relevance” (p. 122). These technologies exists, and has changed not only social media integration in marketing, but also the way information systems are designed.

However, I would offer an alternate approach to their statement  that “…as soon as a design is out of the author’s hand and launched in the world, we see how effective that design can be.” (p. 124). In a digital architecture, system creation does not have to be one deliverable which cannot be altered. Examples include Content Management Systems (CMS), web sites, app development etc. Each of these digital platforms allows for a responsive design. With responsive design of digital space, authors are no longer bound and “…cannot control how users interact with digital space [them]…” (p. 124). Responsive design, created from careful analysis of users’ current behavior within a space, gives the author freedom to adjust to a user’s interaction. This concept, I feel still ties in with the authors’ main point on the fluidity of trends within technical communication. The ability to remain flexible, alert and engage new technology with older methods, is still a cornerstone to digital communication, even when considering responsive design.

I would love to hear from my classmates, however. What do you think? Does Salvo and Rosinki’s chapter seem dated in its examples of non-emergent technologies? What are your thoughts on how responsive design’s ability to give authors real-time response to user interactions? 

Visual and Verbal, Communication BFFs


Out of this week’s readings, the concepts that spoke to me most were contained in Chapter 4, “Information Design” by Salvo and Rosinski. In this chapter, the authors approached much of the information design roles technical communicators have in terms of, not surprisingly, design.

I found the lines between traditional, historical roles of the technical communicator as writer and those of visual designer were blurred by the authors and this ties in closely with my observation that these types of information design roles will require cross-over proficiencies in practitioners as job roles and expectations are consolidated in the future. As noted by the authors, a base of historical genres and usability studies is a good starting point when applying both verbal and visual communications to new technology (pg. 106-108). Technical writers will need to develop aesthetic, visual design sense and visual designers will need to develop strong writing and reading comprehension skills in order to integrate both of these equally important, but traditionally separate, communication strategies into effective messages. Because writing is communicated visually, and visuals often use words to convey meaning, verbal-visual skills are inextricably intertwined, and ultimately most effective when used together (see image,

It was a difficult choice for me after high school to decide whether I wanted to go into writing or design. I was awarded a big journalism scholarship in high school for college, but after one year decided to try graphic design instead. Because of my interest and proficiency in written communication, I feel I’ve had an advantage to many of my designer colleagues. Being able to contribute or entirely create copy and writings for design clients is a distinct advantage over designers who don’t, requiring the client to create written content themselves, or hire a writer at additional cost. Even for designers who aren’t as interested in writing as I am, there’s no underestimating the value of being able to fully understand and analyze a design’s text components, and applying that understanding to create a visual design that is harmonious and appropriate. Basic literacy skills such as vocabulary and semantics, spelling, and syntax can save a lot of time, money, and hassle as well.

I’m currently researching for a midterm paper in a grad-level Design Education course about this very issue, the benefits of emphasizing writing and reading comprehension skills as a vital part of undergraduate design curriculum. To me, it’s just another skill to acquire in order to be the best communicator possible.

So on this same note, I’m interested in the writer’s perspective. How do you feel about utilizing or acquiring visual design skills as part of being an effective communicator? Do you see it as a valuable skill? Is it something that comes naturally to you? If not, do you plan on learning more about it to better market yourself or make it easier to talk with designers in the workplace?

Defining Vague Terms


The two most perplexing and vaguely defined terms Spilka has thrown at me so far are “The Rhetoric of Technology” and “Digital Literacy”. I read the author’s 5-page description of the rhetoric of technology, but still didn’t quite grasp it because she focused on separating it from “The Rhetoric of Science” instead. From what I understood she defined it more in terms of its practical application in organizations and society when dealing with specific situations.

In my opinion, the rhetoric of technology is pretty much technical writing. I think it could be a description of a particular piece of technology, how to use a certain technology, or thoroughly understanding the purpose and all the potential a certain technology has. I believe the heart of rhetoric lies in the author’s ability to effectively plant their thoughts and beliefs within their audience’s minds so naturally they don’t realize it. So I would say the rhetoric of technology encompasses the same in the realm of technology.

Spilka defined “Digital Literacy” more in terms of “ professionals knowing not just how to do things with technology but also why and when action needs to take place… One must have not only an ability to use new media technologies, but also a critical self-awareness that questions why and explores purposes digital communication technologies serve in culture”. I found this definition intriguing because most Americans in my age group (I’m 25) have an advanced understanding of digital and media technologies, however most of us never questioned it’s purposes and roles in culture. We use it as a constant tool for communicating with friends and trivial entertainment never considering anything greater. It’s strange to wonder how Instagram, Whisper, Tango and Tumble have a greater role in society and what their true potentials might be.

Thinking long and hard, I suppose these apps and means of communication would be excellent tools for politicians and lawmakers to reach our demographic as statistics have shown that younger Americans are the least likely to vote. I could also see public service announcements going out through this medium and being more effective than the radio or television as we use our phones and these apps more. What ideas can you all come up with?