Monthly Archives: November 2016

What about internal social media?

In their 2014 Technical Communication Quarterly article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry discuss “knowledge workers engaging in communicative processes outside the bounds of their workplaces by using public available online services (PAOSs)” (p. 6). That is, non-proprietary social media services “that are often not available through enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6). However, I wonder if they focused on non-proprietary services because most companies don’t provide non-employees access to their proprietary systems. Therefore, I would like to discuss my company’s internal proprietary social networking system and how it relates to my work as a technical communicator.

My company is a Fortune 300 financial services provider (credit cards, banking, and loans) with about 15,000 employees. Much like 1/3 of the participants who participated in Ferro and Zachry’s study (p. 13), my company blocks access to many PAOSs (as well as personal e-mail sites like Gmail and Hotmail) for cybersecurity and regulatory (rather than productivity) reasons. Instead, my company has an extremely comprehensive enterprise intranet system, built on the Jive platform, that combines most of the features found on the most popular PAOSs.

jive-n_prod_feat_str2bus

A sample Jive team page, not unlike my team’s intranet page. via

Here are some of the features available:

  • User profiles for all employees (auto-populated with their title, team name, manager, department, contact info, building location, etc., with the ability to customize with additional information such as work experience or profile photos)
  • The ability to “follow” other employees and receive updates on their activity
  • The ability to see who has followed you and whom other people have followed
  • The ability to view any employee’s reporting chain
  • Microblogging in the form of Facebook-esque updates
  • Public (i.e., anyone in the company can view) and private (i.e., only designated employees can view) sites, pages, and subcommunities
  • Wiki-ing
  • Blogging
  • Announcements and articles
  • Photo and video sharing
  • Ability to create surveys or polls
  • Ability to upload documents and request feedback (or disable feedback)
    • Version control
    • Approval process
  • Ability to follow any of the above
    • Notifications of changes/updates
    • Customized “news feed” of changes/updates
  • Calendars and events
  • Discussion boards
  • Private messaging
  • Tagging (topics or users)

The first three bullets fulfill the definition of social network sites provided by dana m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison in their Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2013, p. 211). The others are familiar features from PAOSs like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Wikipedia, Instagram, and many others. Additionally, team sites on the intranet can be linked to a team’s SharePoint, which opens up features like synchronous document editing similar to that offered by Google Docs.

In addition to the obvious benefits for team collaboration, the company’s intranet fulfills many functions that are vital for a large company with a worldwide user-base and many silos. Although speaking about PAOSs, Ferro and Zachry’s words hold true for my company’s intranet:

Social media provide knowledge workers new avenues to find and leverage resources, enabling work that is increasingly important in the new economy such as developing and strengthening connections, finding and leveraging information, and participating in a professional community consisting of a vast and varied array of people and resources. Recent studies of social media use in business illustrate the important role specific types of social media services (e.g., blogs, microblogs, online forums, wikis) play in supporting knowledge work. (p. 9)

I also find it breaks down silos. I can communicate with anyone in the company, whether in my own department or any other. If I need a particular resource from outside my own silo, it is fairly easy to figure out who to contact to find it.  Here are some examples of how I use the social media features of the company intranet to carry out my work as a technical communicator (“public” in this context means available to all employees within the company):

  • Our documents, which are relevant to large populations within the company, are available on our subsite. I use the wiki feature (with me set as the only editor) to link to the documents and additional resources. I use the announcement feature to announce changes. Finally, I use the blog feature as a publicly available changelog.
  • When I needed to find the most recent version of a style guide, I posted a comment on the outdated version. The person who uploaded it was able to direct me to the owner, who provided the updated version.
  • I administer my team’s SharePoint site. As such, I frequently visit the SharePoint Team’s page to read or comment their documentation, ask a question, or help other users who post questions. They also host monthly “user groups” where people share their experiences and projects–these are coordinated via the intranet’s event and calendar functions.
  • I participate in non-work related discussions and surveys with employees from all over the company (and all over the world). I created a survey about how green/yellow/speckled people prefer their bananas. I have perused our local classifieds page. I participated in philosophical discussions and asked for advice about good laptops to buy. The company allows and this behavior despite it being unrelated to work. I suspect this is because the company is very focused on the company as a united community. And, as Rheingold observes in Net Smart, “small talk” such as this builds trust among community members–it is, as he puts it, collaboration lubricant (2012, p. 155).

These are just a few of the ways that I use our social media-esque intranet in the course of my job duties (and non-job duties), but I think it illustrates how an enterprise-sanctioned proprietary social media platform can serve many of the same functions as the PAOSs in Ferro and Zachry’s study.

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My (dream) office: Starbucks!

Apologies on this being late. It’s been a trying week with elections, social media feeling the crush, and mental digital exhaustion.

My thought of Starbucks: meh, but they have two things going great for them:

  1. Coffee and food to keep you going throughout the day
  2. Fast internet and a high-paced environment you can drown in to get your work done

 

I remember for two years, my job was mostly telework. Instead of sitting around inside of my house, I explored the country a little bit because all I needed was an internet connection and a power outlet. Starbucks was a consistent place to work in. One of those years, I spent about three months away from home. I’d hop on a plane, spend about a week somewhere, do work at a coffee shop and move to my next stop.

I became one of those people, a knowledge worker that was “disconnected from desk and office spaces” (Pigg, p. 69) using a technology “outside traditional spaces” (p. 74) such as a coffeehouse. Unfortunately, this teleworking position prohibited the use of social media and as such, I kept a quiet lid on my opinionated social media posts for fear that someone might use it against me. Also my work thought that social networking sites were ‘‘productivity killers’’ (Skeels and Grudin, 2009 in Ferro and Zachry, p. 18) and they blocked those sites on the network.

Fast forward two years later at my current job, I’m encouraged to use social media because I happen to manage the brand of the community college I work at. I think it has been extra special that I have that responsibility as well as being a technical communicator. I agree with Bernadette Longo that as a technical communicator, my “practices for making and sharing information [has] effectively redefined [my] work” (p. 23).  I write in ways that I never imagined I would write and I’ve transformed myself into a technical marketing communicator (that’s a mouthful to say).

For example, when we rolled out our fall enrollment campaign, we had to change the way we marketed online because it was different than what we did in the past and we learned new skills. Rich Maggiani says it best: “in a social media setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows” (Maggiani in Longo, p. 23). I couldn’t agree with him any more! I had to learn the ways of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram advertisement, understand the reporting tools to get data from our advertisement campaigns, and coordinate with multiple divisions in our department to prepare the ad slots. A lot of work and planning went into the campaign and my part was just a small subset of a larger marketing effort.

In retrospect, will it be too much for me to handle and take care of developing all of these new skill sets? My tool belt is quickly filling up with too many skill sets that I’m afraid I may have to drop a few and focus on specific ones. Perhaps I can find a couple of them that are of interest to me and I’ll put my best effort into skilling myself in that domain. I am quite lucky our work provides us with that type of opportunity frequently.

Moving on to learning using new tools. I was intrigued that to know my sentiments are the same as “knowledge workers who do not have access to enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems (e.g., freelancers), but they are also used by many who—for various reasons—choose to use services not sponsored by their employers” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6).

Perhaps I can share some insight on the reasons why we choose to use alternative services:

  • Tools are often faster and feel modern
  • Services are available on many devices instead of one
  • Systems are more reliable
  • Rules on how to use services are less strict
  • Free to use

I’m sure I’ve made every single IT worker in the world cringe at my reasons. But it’s true, I’ve dealt with email that doesn’t work, clunky tools that waste my time, and the need to have a mobile version for my on-the-go lifestyle. Lastly, if services are free to use–you can’t beat free (unless a software company paid you). I know my latest experience with Office 365 has made me consider using it more often than Google Docs at work. There’s much more IT can improve to change my reasons and get me back to using tools sponsored by my employer.

In conclusion, we have so much power in front of our computers that it’s unbelievable. I wish one day we can reflect on this and see that we have it very good right now. I’m not sure what the future will bring us. I predict it will be a melding of technologies that look like one huge amalgamated blob of technology that we hook up to.

Maybe I’ll grab a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and work from the virtual office for a change of pace and ponder more about the scary future of our technical communication tools.

Spooky. #Halloween #coffee.

A post shared by Roger Renteria (@roger.renteria) on

Hey, Look. It’s A Technical Communicator! What! Where! Who! When!

TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TRANSNATIONAL REALITIES

We have spent the past two months working to understand the breadth, depth, usage, analysis, audience, and users of social networking sites and emerging media in general. We have read articles, done our own research into companies and their social media presence, and experience a wide variety of opinions about the state of society in the Chrome Age we live in currently.

Thinking about the way we use social media in the different spheres of our lives is necessary if we are going to come to a consensus or even just a common denominator of standards and usage.

“Technical communicators are no longer able to control these new communication environments (perhaps they never really could), but technical communicators and teachers of technical communication are poised to understand content users now as producers and to work toward relationships between ICT and human interaction to design documents and content in this global context, allowing us to cross community boundaries (Longo p. 23).

I really appreciate what Longo had to say about the role of technical communications professionals and academics. If you’ve read my other posts, I do go back and forth about the role and mindset needed by academics and professors as we deal with a field that is constantly changing: partly because technical communication is still such an amorphous, inclusive field and also because we deal in technologies and platforms that are in a constant state of flux. It is definitely the definition of “blink and you’ll miss it.”

In my current role, I do see myself as straddling the world of information and communications technologies and the human experience. So much of what we do, as people, depends on the audience that exists almost constantly in our orbit. I work professionally to introduce people to different technologies through educational materials and technical manuals. I also manipulate content, create and Photoshop visuals (at a very basic level), and play around with layout design (bumbling around like an amateur) to make my content more streamlined and palatable to an audience that does not need or want to have the heavy technical knowledge required to fully understand the systems, softwares, apps, and other technologies they are using.

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

Source: (https://www.theadvocates.org/internet-privacy-conversation/)

I also really loved what the article has to say about a non-American perspective on social media and knowledge management/collection. One of the great things to say about social media is that it connects us as a transnational community. Having said that, dealing with each other has started to form a sort of transnational shorthand (like the way English is taught all over the world while languages here are encouraged, but not taught in the same way English is all over the world) that sacrifices cultural knowledge and particulars to avoid cross cultural communications confusion.

COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

Thinking about our work (or future work) in the technical communication field, we as working professionals and budding academics must always question what we are learning and what value we can offer current and future employers. But how do we know where to start? Of course, the Society for Technical Communication (STC) offers a great place for us to network, job search, gain skills, and belong to as we start, or continue, on our chosen career path. The definition of technical communication offered by the STC website is a bit of a webpage full.

“Technical communication is a broad field and includes any form of communication that exhibits one or more of the following characteristics:

  • Communicating about technical or specialized topics, such as computer applications, medical procedures, or environmental regulations.
  • Communicating by using technology, such as web pages, help files, or social media sites.
  • Providing instructions about how to do something, regardless of how technical the task is or even if technology is used to create or distribute that communication.

What all technical communicators have in common is a user-centered approach to providing the right information, in the right way, at the right time to make someone’s life easier and more productive” (STC website).

stc

Source: (https://www.stc.org/about-stc/defining-technical-communication/)

Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) dive into the idea of technical communication, collective knowledge, and social media. What I focused on was what they had to report from others in the field about what the role of the technical communicator was and potentially could be again.

“Following this line of thinking, Johnson-Eilola (1996) suggested that framing technical communication simply as an activity that serves the real work of those engaged in symbolic-analytics disempowered both technical communication practitioners and those they supported. He posited that if technical communication was going to be valued in the new economy, it needed to be positioned as symbolic analytic work itself, rather than as support for that work (Fero and Zachary p. 8).”

This idea is not new but not one I had experienced as viscerally before. We are not meant to act as go betweens, connecting audiences to the work completed by engineers, mathematicians, scientists, and other insular, niche knowledge professions. We must work to cultivate our own audiences and we must find validation outside of the work we do after technologies and other fields have developed their plans.

What do you think about this idea? Was it very obvious to you? Am I just late to the party?

 

Social Media as a Tool

In Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South (2013), Bernadette Longo discusses the necessity of considering social media as a tool to use as a technical communicator.

When It Could Work

It wasn’t until I changed jobs that I realized the reality of this concept.  Working for an antiquated government agency that prohibited departments and employees from using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for both personal and professional use, I did not see the merit in using social media to promote and advertise business.  In the case of my prior employer, Facebook would have been very beneficial for many of the departments and agencies.  For example, I worked for an Aging Unit and specialized in the coordination of transportation and mobility options for older adults and people with disabilities.  I taught people how to ride the bus, I taught AARP Smart Driver courses, and did a lot with the community such as social events, senior fairs, and educational events at the local libraries.  I also taught Dementia Awareness among businesses in the county.
If the county would have allowed its employees to embrace and use social media as a communicative tool, the county would have the ability to reach a much greater audience by advertising these positive community events and public programs to internet users.  According to the Pew Research Center, “46 percent of senior citizen Internet users access Facebook and other social networks, compared with 73 percent of all adult Internet users. Factoring in non-Internet users, just 27 percent of adults 65 and older use social networks, compared with 63 percent of all adults, and 27 percent of adults 80 and older use the internet” (2014).  There is certainly a market of older adults on Facebook.  If the aging unit advertise its smart driver courses and the fact that by taking the course you could save 10-20% on your insurance rate, I believe seniors would find that very appealing and the advertisement would be effective.

When It Does Work

It’s vital to be able to reach your audience; without capturing an audience, a business venture–whatever it may be–has a very slim chance of succeeding.  I work for a fitness company now, and our audience is the 25-55 year old woman who has an interest in health, wellness, and personal improvement.  We know that our client is online, using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, is a blog reader, on Snapchat, uses apps, in any combination.  So when I develop a marketing campaign, I have to consider my audience, the social media usage, and how to best reach them via those communicative avenues.
social-media-communication
Longo speaks directly to technical communicators in her essay:
“Incorporating social media into our technical communication toolset for audience accommodation promises that we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs and that are more directly inclusive of a range of perspectives across global communities. These media do help us play the role of a moderator who manages information flows from many sources. But when we think that technological tools can help us make decisions that are true, we need to more deeply explore this utopian desire for inclusion, asking to what extent it is possible” (2013, p. 24).
I heed this advice quite seriously now that I understand how absolutely essential an online presence is.  I know as a marketer and professional communicator that I could have the most incredible message to send to my audience.  But if I don’t use the correct channel, it won’t reach them, thus negating the purpose of my message in the first place.

Bernadette Longo (2014) Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making:
Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 23-34

Social Media Collaboration and Symbolic Work

This week’s articles evaluated and iterated social media’s convergence of collaborative, collective knowledge and symbolic analytic work for business and personal purposes.

social-media-analytics-to-be-used-in-conjunction-with-the-iot1

Mobile Social Media Apps. Image courtesy of OnCloudOne.com

Symbolic and Distribution

Stacey Pigg’s (2014) “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” analyzed how one freelance blogger used several social media sites to draft a blog and maintain relationships and conversations with other networks. The symbolic analyst, according to Reich (as cited in Pigg, 2014) “involves creative and critical thinking and managing information” from different sites/places. Writing these weekly blogs are an example of symbolic work according to Reich’s definition and if I shared this blog on other social media sites, it would be “distributed” to other audiences. However, distribution is also important to maintain conversations with other social media sites. For example, monitoring sites where one has posted or commented previously to check if others have continued the conversation. Often found on blog sites and LinkedIn, these conversations not only further conversation, but they also provide collective knowledge and can lead to collaboration. Pigg (2014) states, “Social media are common  places not only for creating ideas and texts but identify and professional trajectory are continually invented…” (p. 84). Specifically, where personal and professional interactions meet online but also contribute to symbolic work.

Collective Knowledge and Collaboration

Bernadette Longo (2014), Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) examined collective knowledge through the use of social media by following the theory of “one to many” shared ideas and experiences contribute to greater knowledge as a whole. Longo (2014) begins with “New technologies for making and sharing information in a variety of media have made it easy for users to tell their own stories and share their knowledge across media” (p. 22). This holds true for both crap detection and authentic collaboration. We’ve seen the string of comments after a blog post or hastily shared news article that piques our interest. However, collaborative spaces like LinkedIn and Facebook groups also contribute to specific knowledge-making goals for its members. This knowledge is then shared outside the group and invites further conversation and knowledge-making. Ferro and Zachary (2014) affirm,

“Understanding the ways in which knowledge workers are employing social software can help technical communicator scholars understand the changes taking place in knowledge work in general as well as in workplace communication” (p. 9).

Ferro and Zachary (2014) also propose, “What are we teaching students and what do they need to learn for post grad job positions?” and How can we help them (students) engage in critical thinking when using social media – as contributors, collaborators, and users? (p. 19). Longo (2014) attempts to answer these questions, but it’s not without similar regards for recognizing the shared learning experiences from both instructor and student. Longo (2014) says as educators, we create a culture for learning in listening to our students experience and knowledge of social media and our own experiences that contributes to knowledge as a whole (p. 31).

Separate Worlds

My 17 year-old son has friends from school that he like to hang out with.  They go bowling and go to the movies.  They play online video games and go out to eat.  They do all the things you would expect a group of teenagers to do. They are all within 4 or 5 years of each other.

My son also has a group of cousins.  The cousins get together every couple of months, mainly because of a family get together or some sort.  They hang together because they all have to be in the same place together on occasion.  They like to do things like video games, bowling, movies – basically, they like the same things that my son does with his school friends.

Once, his school friends wanted to go bowling, but the cousins were over.  I suggested that he take the cousins bowling with his friends.  Oh my goodness!  Apparently that wasn’t acceptable at all.  It was as though I expected him to walk on a tightrope between two buildings, 100 feet in the air.  His explanation?  “My worlds can’t mix.” 

Bernadette Longo, in her article “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and Global South” discusses the expectations of students to utilize social media and technologies from their real lives in their student lives. Outside of school, students create and share content. Longo asserts that professors struggle to incorporate this outside learning interaction while still maintaining their position of knowledge in the classroom. The problem is that if educators don’t address the technological expectations of students, students “may tune out of their academic lives” (p. 30).

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-31-43-am

My son was very successful at keeping his worlds separate.  Social media is the place where he couldn’t do that.  Things he posted, things he shared, and content he created opened up dialog between him and his friends, him and his cousins, and his cousins and his friends.  In addition to social media, technology in general helped meld his worlds.  My son created a server in our home in which he ran a Minecraft game.  Only those he invited in could access it.  He would play Minecraft with friends.  When friends weren’t available, he invited in his cousins.  Before he knew it, friends and cousins were logging on at the same time.  He even found that they played together even when he wasn’t live.  After playing Minecraft together, they recognized each other’s names on Facebook and Instagram.  They began to interact outside of Minecraft. The worlds have met and they like each other.

When they came together in real life, they all knew each other.  My son had to go to a wedding where all of the cousins would also be.  Since it was my other son’s wedding, I hired some of the friends to help “work” the wedding.  It all went well at first, but since the cousins and friends began to figure out who each other were, I ended up paying a bunch of kids to dance, hang out, and have fun. 

I understand the two worlds idea.  Once upon a time I used to be much more verbal and active on my Facebook page.  Now that I am “friends” with colleagues, co-workers, family, promoters, various bands, and other “worlds,” I am very careful not to make political posts, emotional posts, overly personal posts, and the like.

Longo says, “For technical communication teachers, establishing learning environments in which students learn from each other — as well as from people outside the classroom — provided opportunities for authentic learning that can prepare students for the workplaces practitioners now encounter.  Using social media in classrooms, teachers can recreate professional settings in which technical communicators learn about users directly.”

Using blogs and discussion boards bring social media to the classroom.  The fine line in my eyes is incorporating more public venues of social media into the classroom.  I like to keep my academic world separate from my personal world.  I also keep my professional world separate from my personal world.  Although, I utilize social media as though my world were mixed.  Although, I want my personal world skills be be usable in my academic world. 


Reference

Longo, Bernadette. (2013). Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical communication between the global North and South. Technical communication quarterly. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014. 850846.

Doing What at Work?

Bringing it all together, this week’s readings get right at the heart of where technical communications and social media meets. It seems to me that they connect on three levels: personal, professional, and in principle.

Personal Use of Social Media

We began the course discussing our personal experiences and affinity or hesitations with using social media. In Alone Together, Turkle largely focused on the personal space and how we develop online identities and communities as we navigate social media in our discretionary time. I think it’s telling that our exposure and familiarity with social media tools comes increasingly from our personal use before crossing over to the professional realm. This will certainly be true for the upcoming generation of “digital natives,” who learn Facebook and blogging long before they need to use it for work.

I’ll also note that in my experience, there is a brick wall between using social media for personal reasons and for professional reasons. I have a “home” laptop and a “work” laptop, and the two worlds don’t mix, not even in social media. However, as the research from Ferro and Zachry shows, many people don’t experience this separation and the line is a lot more blurred.

Professional Use of Social Media

At this point of intersection, social media is directly used toward professional work — whether advancing your own career or the goals of your employer. Ferro and Zachry put a number on it with participants using social media for 20-27% of their workweek. In Pigg’s example of “Dave” the fatherhood blogger, using social media literally is his work. This is a fascinating trend and a major change from a decade ago. Rocky Mountain Media presents several interesting statistics about this, including the graph below, but the major theme is that everyone predicts professional uses of social media growing.

professional-use-of-social-media

Rocky Mountain Media Group: http://rm2g.com/blog/2012/09/21/social-media-at-work-infographic/

Social media strategy is now a job position and a conversation in many boardrooms. In the resumes that I review, social media literacy and experience with particular websites are nearly always listed as skills and reasons to hire.

Again, in my personal experience, this is a tough concept because we’re a very insulated company with concerns about intellectual property and proprietary information that causes us to ignore social media channels for outreach. Instead, we wait until customers are signed with us, and then bring them into our own social media community that we’ve formed, rather than using social media to connect with a wider audience.

social-media-and-workplace

Graphic courtesy of Bradon Gaille Marketing (note that the study is from 2013) http://brandongaille.com/21-great-social-media-at-work-statistics-and-trends/

Applying Lessons Learned from Social Media to a Professional Workspace

This is the aspect I find the most exciting. How can we take what we’ve learned from the social media phenomenon and use it to improve traditional technical communications? I see it in two major categories:

Managing Content

We’ve discussed this at length in earlier weeks and I don’t want to continue to harp on it, but this comes back to being symbolic analytic workers who are redefining technical communications in a new world. Technical communications is no longer just typesetting and publishing or even producing content, but rather thinking critically about what information an audience needs and the best way to deliver it. We’ve talked about the importance of filtering and navigating to help the audience find the content they need. Pigg discusses this as moving past “textual coordination” to “social coordination,” where we’re not only arranging information but also leveraging the contexts of social media tools and personal careers. Web 2.0 has shown us both the wonders and the pitfalls of mass amounts of content and what types of tools we can provide to help people navigate it.

Managing Communities

We can also take the lessons learned online about relationships and interaction and apply them to technical communication. Longo’s discussion of his “Practicing Science, Technology, and Rhetoric” colloquium hits on two major lessons — the power of collaboration and the ability to cross geographic lines. Lofstedt and Holmberg further expand on this and emphasize how there is opportunity to expand user participation in technical communication today. They write, “SM [social media] make it possible to move TC [technical communication] from the current one way broadcast and producer controlled model into an interactive co-generating model. In this way the problem with passive users and narrow feedback may be overcome.” They also suggest forming user communities and leveraging existing social media platforms for technical communication. Social media has demonstrated the huge potential for forming communities and encouraging user-generated content, and the field of technical communications can begin tapping into this.

References

Abel, J. Social media at work. Rocky Mountain Media Group. Accessed 12 Nov 2016 http://rm2g.com/blog/2012/09/21/social-media-at-work-infographic/

Löfstedt, U. & Holmberg, S.C. Social media as a mean for improved technical communication. Syst Pract Action Res (2016) 29: 297. doi:10.1007/s11213-016-9373-8

Social Media and the “Real World”

An overarching theme in this week’s reading was the use of social media in the “real world” of technical communication, and how that can be translated to students in technical communication programs. I think this is an excellent area to look at, to see both how social media are becoming increasingly utilized in the field and how introducing students to the professional use of such media is highly effective.

Social media tend to get a bad rap – many see the various popular social networking sites as encouraging narcissism and inflating individuals’ sense of importance. In a sense, this is true – they provide users with a “public” platform on which to display personal information and opinions openly. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing… I’ve seen social media bring people together and help others increase self-confidence. Often times social media can be a huge benefit.

This explains why it is also utilized by professionals, technical communicators in this case, though I’m sure most professions have similar usage. The ability that this media provides to collaborate and connect individuals has been immensely beneficial to many. Not only does it allow colleagues and people from the same or similar fields to connect, it also provides a way for (in the case of technical communicators) the writers/creators to communicate and interact with the consumer/user. This interaction can help strengthen technical communication in a way that was not possible prior to these technologies.

Incorporating social media and its myriad of professional uses into the classroom is an excellent way to help students learn to use these media and appreciate their strengths and shortcomings. Although many students are already utilizing at least some variety of social media in their private lives, providing a look at the professional use of such technologies can help shine a different light on them. Using such social media to provide a platform for students to connect and share their ideas in a “professional” way, helps to highlight the potential uses for these media in their future fields as well as drawing attention to the difficulties they may face with them. As Longo (2014) points out:

If lively and robust discussions result, all parties can learn from each other. But even in situations where discussions are fitful and sparse, classes can learn about the difficulties of establishing trusted and meaningful communication channels. (p. 31)

In this way, students will learn how to navigate social media in a productive and professional manner.

We are in the Curated Web Experience

Forget Web 2.0 for a moment. That was more than a decade ago. We’ve moved on from the world according to Andrew Keen and David Weinberger that we commonly know of that has “YouTube, the blogosphere, Wikipedia, MySpace or Facebook” (Wall Street Journal, 2007). For one, we still have a lot of Web 2.0 services surviving on the Internet these days, but their days are numbered. We live in the Curated Web Experience where content will be served up based on your interests, needs, and behavior. There is nothing you can do to escape the reach of what is being recorded every day on the Internet.

In the article by Keen and Weinberger, “what ‘matters’ in the world of Web 2.0 [is]:

  1. Engadget
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. TechCrunch
  4. Gizmodo
  5. The Huffington Post
  6. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide”

Instead, this list should be updated to include the tools that matter the most in the world of the Curated Web Experience:

  1. Customer Relation Management Systems (such as SalesForce, Zoho, and Zendesk)
  2. Cloud-based Media Networks (such as Netflix and Spotify)
  3. Cloud-based Data Visualization Services (such as Tableau, Google Data Studio)
  4. Cloud-based Internet of Things (devices such as Google Nest and Amazon Echo)
  5. Apps that take care of you based on habits and events (automation systems like IFTTT, Microsoft Flow)

These tools and much more are what matter the most to get the best curated web experience out there and Web 2.0 is going to have to compete or work alongside these new systems. Right now, we have live with what we have and will slowly transition to the new sanity (or insanity) of the web.

Existing as a Zombie Social Media Networks

Right now, we are so overwhelmed with the fragmentation of social media networks that I wonder why so many still exist. I still have a MySpace account but I hardly check it. I still have a LiveJournal account and it only exists. Why hasn’t Flickr simply collapsed? Yahoo crippled the service for diehard fans like myself who actually had a paid account for years just to avoid advertisement and had worse service than the folks who didn’t pay for Flickr.

I hate to say it, but there are better services out there that have a different flavor of networking engagement than ever before. More and more, there are social networks that exist only in a mobile app environment, meaning you cannot engage in networking with people except within a smartphone or tablet. Examples of social networks on mobile apps that I have used are Tinder, YikYak, and Snapchat. I predict that the next phase of social media networks will fall into a category where you are going to have to have a portable devices to gain access to these services. Also, these social media networks will use various types of curation tactics to serve information to users. I’m curious if these apps will survive or experience fates similar to the countless networks that have closed down. The data shows we have passed the point where mobile usage is greater than desktop usage.

Web Curation Experience, Inc.

Getting back on topic, modern social media networks are curating content based on our interests. We tend to be our own curation system and not even know it. However, algorithms are out there to guide us where we want to go. Jonathan Zittrain says that “we have arrived in a world that is much more sophisticated and personalized algorithms and processes decide what we see.”

page-rank

Screenshot of Google’s Page Rank from Jonathan Zittrain’s presentation at 30m37s.

“For example in our Facebook news feed that at this moment decides that Argentina and the Falklands is more of what I want to see than a video of a cat” (Zittrain, 2015).

Even Facebook can figure out when you are going to be in a relationship. Funny how much of our lives are constantly recorded.

Privacy Concerns or Convenience over Privacy?

Most of what I see as the curated web experience will come from ourselves providing a firehose of data points. We are exchanging our information to gain access to using the Internet whether we like it or not. Somewhere hidden in all of the Terms of Service agreements we click or tap, we are signing contracts without thinking we are. According to Quartz, Apple fans have click-signed more than 100,000 words of legal contracts. In addition Christopher Groskoph says, “a heavy internet user could easily have agreed to a million or more words of contracts.” Yikes. On the other hand, this is great news for getting you the content you want!

For me, I prefer convenience over privacy. Who knows? I might be pregnant and not even know it! It’s how the world is going to run and I’m confident that people will overcome their fears of letting companies enter their sphere of privacy. I understand that you can change how you share your information and supposedly trick algorithms and it’s not as bad as it seems. The other end, by not sharing some information, you may not get the access you want.

read-story-wsj

Screenshot of an example where I have to provide some information to gain access to this Wall Street Journal article.

Right now at work, we are trying to figure out how to sort through tons of data that we have collected over the years and how to put that data to work. I honestly don’t know how we will interpret the data, but it will be useful to gain an edge in how people behave and we might be able to link events through various data points based on event timestamps. The end goal is to help us serve information and other services easier and identify trends as they happen.

Already, some companies use this type of data to serve tailored content or suggest people you might get along with. This is completely different than what Web 2.0 offered over a decade ago. We’re finally at a point where the framework of Web 2.0 is slowly reengineered to look and feel more comfortable and easier to use with amazing cloud-based tools and services.

Welcome to the Curated Web Experience. 

What is talent anyway?

In the Web 2.0 text debate between Andrew Keen (author of The Internet is NOT the Answer) and David Weinberger (author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, and others), the authors discuss whether the Web is a Kafkaesque miasma of chaos and disorganization or a Cinderella story of a happy ending waiting to rise from an underrated medium (fortunately, they did specify Disney’s Cinderella — it would be a totally different debate if it was the Grimms’ version!). Keen was on Kafka’s side, while Weinberger was on Cinderella’s.

I willingly acknowledge my bias and optimism toward the Web and all it has to offer — ideas, communication, knowledge. With that said, Keen came off as a Luddite who is terrified of losing his precious status quo because of the newest technology on the scene. It seemed like every sentence of his gave me the desire to retort — yet Weinberger provided all the retort much more eloquently than I could have here. He his ultimate criticism of Keen’s views came early in the article, but sums up my thoughts perfectly: “Andrew, you join a long list of those who predict the decline of civilization and pin the blame on the latest popular medium, except this time it’s not comic books, TV, or shock jock radio. It’s the Web.”

Keen’s arguments shifted as Weinberger rebutted his arguments. Starting with the Web populated with nothing but monkeys (I assume drawn from the infinite monkeys theory) who just make and endless chaotic cacophony, to the threat to the livelihoods of those in traditional media (sad, but not like technology has never threatened whole industries before), to the fact that without traditional media, talented individuals will neither be discovered nor properly groomed. He even goes so far as saying that artists are useless without the industries that support them:

The issue of talent is the heart of the matter…. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content…. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs.

While Weinberger addresses this handily:

It aims at moving units. It therefore does exactly what you complain the Web does: It panders to the market…. The question, therefore, is not whether the traditional media’s taste is better or worse than the Web’s. The Web doesn’t have taste, good or bad. The Web is not an institution, a business, or even a market, any more than the real world is. It’s us. We have lots of different tastes. On the Web we can better fulfill those tastes (because of the Long Tail you ridicule in your book), rather than simply relying on others to decide for us what is worth attending to.

However, I had more questions about Keen’s arguments about talent and commercial value. For instance, what is talent? Does talent equate to commercial value? Has the definition of talent changed with the advent of the Web and democratization of the arts?

From Keen’s remarks, is definition of talent would include being “discovered” by some media outlet (publisher for authors, recording label for musicians, agent for actors, etc.), groomed for success, and then made famous by that media outlet. As we have learned about the long tail, it is much more likely for somebody to make it big when their only competition is the limited to the amount of physical shelf space in a bookstore or music store. Thus talent does, indeed, equate to commercial value and marketability in his view.

But bookstores and music stores are dropping like flies (RIP Borders, Blockbuster, Sam Goody and countless others), and only those who adapt to the new media on the Web will succeed.

So the question still remains of what constitutes talent in a system where you might be successful if you are a skilled self-marketer… or you might not. Or when all it takes is one lucky viral video to make it big.

What even constitutes popularity and success? In traditional media, it was the number of books or CDs you sold. It was the number of awards your acting netted you. It was the ratings you got on your TV network during prime time. Yet some things inexplicably become extremely successful. Are the winners of reality TV shows successful or talented? By what measure? They gained popularity and wealth–they had tons of commercial value (so I guess they could quit their day jobs, according to Keen)–but is that truly success?

The Web is even more complicated. Are you judged by the number of Facebook friends your Famous Internet Cat has (Grumpy Cat has more than 8 million). The number of subscribers you have on YouTube, or the number of views your videos have. Pewdiepie has the most viewers and views, and few would call him an artist of any sort of merit — even a 17-year-old responded with disgust when I asked if Pewdiepie was relevant among teenagers: “Not to me anymore. I’m older than 12.”

Or maybe it’s your commercial value–both Grumpy Cat and Pewdiepie have made millions off of their respective branding. However, Grumpy Cat’s phenomenon was started by a viral photograph, while Pewdiepie’s fame was arguably due brilliant self-marketing. But much like the mega-stars of traditional media, Internet mega stars are uncommon. Yet, I would argue, not as uncommon as those in traditional media because there are no gatekeepers beyond luck and the fickleness of Internet democracy (and Facebook’s algorithms, but that’s another story).

It’s in the long tail where we see the main differentiators between the traditional and Web media. The long tail does not just fulfill our tastes, as Weinberger argues, but it also gives a chance of success to those who would otherwise not have it. In traditional media, you’re either a star or you’re not (for the most part). But on the Web, there is a wide spectrum of success. I follow a blog whose author makes $400,000 per year just on ad revenue. But I also have a friend who self-published a book and has sold fewer than 20 copies due to poor self-promotion. I have several artist friends somewhere between those two extremes–some survive exclusively on their art, while others struggle to break even. In a world of traditional media, it is unlikely that any of these people would be successful–there would be no spectrum.

I think the biggest talent when it comes to producing creative content for the Web (be it paintings, music, videos, video games–anything a person creates) is self-promotion. It is a vital literacy to “make it” on the Web. In fact, I’d say it is the content creator’s analogue to the content consumer’s “crap detection.”

Oh, and Grumpy Cat’s first book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardbacks. So, Keen, put that in your “I applaud the engineering of books about critically important subjects in politics, history and theology.” pipe and smoke it.

What Do We Expect from the Internet and Why Do We Expect that?

Thinking about how information is aggregated and shared online is a must, both as digital consumers and as technical communicators. But how do we make sense of it all?

We start by listening to Zittrain’s presentation. As he spoke on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel, there were definitely a lot of interesting ideas spoken. The one that I want to talk about at length is the idea of Google and other Search Engines as “information fiduciaries.”

By using the examples of searching for information about vaccines and Jew, he starts to develop ideas about how we use Google and how it should be formatted at the back end in order to act in a more responsible and sanitized way. Now, when he talks about the search algorithms and the reality of Facebook programmers having the power to influence events and attention by manipulating the way the News Feeds shares and loads information, there are definite causes for concern.

We know that there are people creating and managing the content and websites we traffic on a daily basis. As technical communicators, it may be in some of our job descriptions to act as the information gatekeepers and analytic experts. Even our work on the blog represents this fact when we get down to bare bones. Our job is to use our assigned readings and real life experiences to craft content and drive attention to this site.  But how much of a look behind the curtain do we need to have or be aware of in order to be truly effective as technical professions and savvy as consumers? The answer is…to be determined. Zattrain uses examples such as mugshot.com and Amazon sellers to talk about how information is not just manipulated by the technology we use to access it, but also affected and altered by the consumers as they access it and use it for their own needs.

Image result for analytic algorithms

Source: (http://openclassroom.stanford.edu/MainFolder/CoursePage.php?course=IntroToAlgorithms)

But he continues to talk about search engines and our thinking when we interact with them. “Are they just tools or are they our friends as well? In my mind, the idea of Google as a friend is ridiculous. It seems to just be another way to remove the impetus of the user and place all of the blame on the technology that exists.

The idea of “being mad at Google” as Zittrain posits seem like a useless endeavor to me. Google is not Siri. It is not Cortana. It is a method for us to learn information and get our questions answered. To demand, or even suggest that Google constantly alter its coding to be more sensitive to potential audiences and potential searches would hamstring the service and all of us who use the service.

It is up to us as users to learn how to navigate the digital arena we live in now. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We should not be willing to give up the autonomy of a “clean” interface for the idea of a more politically correct atmosphere. Even if that were something a majority of users or providers could agree upon, when so many users dependent on Google for answers, someone is bound to be offended unless we act like other countries and give the government control over which sites we can visit.

In my work, I do not work directly with websites or search engines, but I do use them as a source when I perform my research. It is my job to weed through the articles, pages, and offerings of sites like Google and other search engines in order to produce the best-researched product for my supervisors and my audience. If I felt in any way limited in my choices, however much I may already be unconsciously, I would have a hard time depending on the service to meet my needs in the future.

Image result for manipulating content

Source: (http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/sci/facebook-scientists-experimented-users-manipulating-content.html)

In terms of talking about learning, I definitely agree with his closing point about the change in thinking that needs to occur among academics. If you read my previous post, you can tell that I have had a bit of a mixed bag relationship with educational institutions. I know that there is still a place for professors and other experts to instruct students; I decided to enter this program because I know that there are things I don’t know and find interacting with other professionals and technical communicators as we learn skills, competencies, and how to frame the questions and perform the research to delve into the topics of social media, rhetorical theory, and project management. There does have to be the realization that expertise in a field is a lot harder now than in the past.

The information we all have access to does not make us PhDs, but it does put the onus on the educators to continue pushing themselves in their fields, ask questions, poll professionals, and yes be open to the idea that a student twenty years younger than them can be an authority they should listen to.

Overall, there were a lot of ideas working in the presentation. A lot of which connect to what we are doing in this class and in the workforce as technical communicators. In your opinion, should we expect Google and other search engines, like Bing, Yahoo, and DogPile (does anyone else remember this), to be more conscious of what the algorithm is spitting out? Or should it provide us with the raw output and leave the decision making process up to us?

Soap Box

Allow me to get up on a soap box for a minute.  The dialog between David Weinberger and Andrew Keen ignited a fire in me as it touched on a couple of things that really get my goat. 

I take issue with the reference and description of the lay web user as opposed to the almighty and wise journalists:

Yes, the people have finally spoken. And spoken. And spoken.

Now they won’t shut up. The problem is that YOU! have forgotten how to listen, how to read, how to watch.”

OK – while Keen’s overall opinion is quite distasteful to me, he has a point here.  In fact, I just watched 60 Minutes in which Mike Wallace narrated a piece that looked at our cultural climate during this election.  One person interviewed said, “We don’t listen.  We blast our opinions out on Facebook and we don’t pay attention to see what comes back.”  In other words – where’s the dialog.  No one can have a respectful conversation because all we do is throw out opinions and ignore anything that didn’t come out of our own mouths.  The piece went on to blame social media for the cultural climate during this election.  But they added that it is not just the fault of social media – that people also blame mainstream media, being the gatekeeper of our information, for feeding us all of the negativity and controversy.

While I, for the most part, agree with David Weinberger, I’m not pleased with how he describes us in his response.

“People chatter endlessly. They believe the most appalling things. They express prejudices that would peel the paint off a park bench. They waste their time watching endless hours of TV, wear jerseys as if they were members of the local sports team, are fooled by politicians who don’t even lie convincingly, can’t find Mexico on a map, and don’t believe humans once ran with the dinosaurs.”

Ouch!  Really?  I’d like a little clarification of exactly which people he means…all people?  Some people?

But Keen is quick with another blow to “ordinary people.”

“You see, to use this chaotic media efficaciously, we need to invent our own taxonomies — which isn’t realistic for the majority of ordinary people (seeking to understand the world) who think a “taxonomy” is something that drives us to the airport.”

For the record, I know exactly what taxonomy is.

Of course, Keen and Weinberger are intellectuals.  What you will see in this next Keen quote, is evidence that the web is changing things and Mr. Keen is not adjusting well to change.

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Weinberger gets it.  He understands that we can gain from the knowledge of others.  He gets that no one person has to be an expert in everything or have a singing voice that appeals to everyone.  Instead he knows that even an ordinary person may have a an area of expertise or a voice that appeals to someone:

“With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find others who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect…..

Knowledge is generally not a game for one. It is and always has been a collaborative process…..

Consider how much more we know about the world because we have bloggers everywhere. They may not be journalists, but they are sources, and sometimes they are witnesses in the best sense. We know and understand more because of these voices than we did when we had to rely on a single professional reporting live at 7.”

He goes on to describe some people who give him great conversations, incorporate new ideas, reveal his own biases to him, and produce valuable content.  He later reveals who these people are…ordinary people.

Keen’s response? 

“The comments sections of most major website are littered with this trash. As is the blogosphere. So, yes, the Internet is great for experts to discover one another and conduct responsible conversation. It’s the monkey chorus on the democratized web that bother me.”

Ummm?  Did he just call us “monkey chorus?”

So Keen wants the riff raff off the web as it should be reserved only for those intellectuals who have been enlightened.  Content should be controlled and no one can make any comments.  He sees the Web as a threat to himself and other intellectuals and does not like that everyone can have a voice.  After all, people either have talent or not.

Weinberger, on the other hand sees the value of the Web.  He sees the conversations and the benefit of gaining insight from ordinary people.  Just because one does not have a platform, that doesn’t me he has nothing to contribute.

monkey holding cell phone clipart

Photo Credit: ClassroomClipArt.com

The Gatekeepers

That brings me to the second thing that caught my attention.  Keen calls for gatekeepers.  Gatekeepers are necessary to determine what is newsworthy, what should be reported and written about.  Gatekeepers determine who can do the writing, who has talent, who can get published, or get a recording contract, or get to record an album. These gatekeepers determine if a person has talent or not. They have it or they don’t. Keen says,

“But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s disintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.”

He says that like it’s a bad thing.  May I respond that that?  Bologna (yes, I had to sing it to spell it).

For every person who got a recording contract, there are at least 10 who can sing better.  The adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true.  Why do some people “make it” and others don’t?  There are many answers: luck, passion, people, coincidence, destiny……  I take issue with these so-called gatekeepers. Who are they?  And by what authority can they decide what I like?  Are they the ones who fired Oprah Winfrey because she was “unfit for TV?”  Or how about the MGM director that said Fred Astaire “Can’t act.  Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  Lucille Ball’s drama instructors told her to find another profession.  Elvis was told by the Grand Ole Opry that he should go back to Memphis and be a truck driver. Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, and many more were told by gatekeepers to hang it up, give up, or move on because they don’t have talent.  I wonder how many were told the same thing and actually took that advice, gave up their dream, and kept their talent to themselves. Check this out to see who else was told they don’t have talent:  50 Famous People

My Final Beef

One last “issue” I would like to resolve here is my response to Keen’s need to have intellectuals explain the news to ordinary people.  Nothing gets me more than after a presidential debate when the news media take it upon themselves to tell us what we just heard.  Excuse me?  That’s why I watched it.  I know English.  Similarly, when they try to draw a news worthy event out and discuss at length everything we are watching.  I hate that the media thinks it is their job to tell me what I heard, what I saw, what to think, what to wear, what to eat…….. Keen says, 

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to pronounce David Weinberger the winner of this debate.  I would also like to echo his words to Keen:

“Andrew, the mud you throw obscures the issues you raise. Porn sites, silly posts, monkeys, cockroaches, toilet seats. This rhetoric isn’t helpful.”

Ah hem.  Thank you. (Steps off of soap box.)


Reference

Keen, A & Weinberger, D. (2007). Keen Vs. Weinberger. The Wall Street Journal.  Dow Jones & Company. http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677

TPC: More than a Writing Degree

technical-writing-Dilbert-cartoon

Technical writing is misunderstood. Reproduced: Scott Adams, Dilbert, United Feature Syndicate (1995)

Technical and Professional Communication vs. English Degree

Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer and Paul Curran’s (2014) article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reaffirms the breadth and depth of communication and web 2.0 knowledge that is needed in many job positions. However, this article specifically took account of Technical and Scientific Communication as well as Professional, Technical, Business and Scientific Writing degrees, but English degrees could also fall in this category. Since English majors potentially are doing the same types of writing, collaborating, and web 2.0 work, I’m not sure if employers valued a technical communication degree more than another English or related writing degree.

Methodology and Results of Survey

The authors surely provided an extensive methodology to discover the types of communication that TPC graduates used in their lives and the graphics equally supported their results of the study. Surprisingly, TPC graduates are employed (or studying) in “education, technical and scientific communication, and publishing and broadcasting” (p. 271) as well as more women were employed in the software, hardware, and network industries. However, the authors did say these numbers were “skewed” based on the number of male vs. female respondents. Other noteworthy statistics from this article was the most types of writing done and the ones most valued. These numbers were from the respondents; however, I wonder how their supervisors/managers’ opinions would differ? For example, Grants/proposals was eighth on the list of type of writing and sixth as most valued (proposal was not included on most valued list) and Definitions was fifth on type of writing and did not appear on the most valued list (I’m not sure what definitions means anyway). Would supervisors/managers agree with these statistics?

More Technologies Used in Writing Process

Email, not surprisingly, is the most popular type of communication written and most valued. Does this mean that colleges should teach students how to write effective email more and less about blogging? According to Russell Rutter (1991), college graduates discover that what they learned in college do not always correlate to the writing type/purpose/audience in the workplace (p. 143). On the other hand, as Blythe, Lauer and Curran (2014) noted, technical communication graduates use a multitude of technologies during the composing process from pencil and paper to social media (p. 275); likewise, Rutter noted, “technical communicators must know how to do more than write –  do more than inscribe, type or keystroke” (p. 145).

I still argue that English and other related writing degree graduates could accomplish similar tasks with a similar amount of success. Writing skills can be taught, but writing seems to be a natural ability. Rutter (1991) asserts, “Education should seek to create sensible, informed, articulate citizens. Some of these citizens will want to become technical communicators…” (p. 148).

References

Blythe, S., Lauer, C. and Curran. P. G. (2014). “Professional and technical communication in a web 2.0 world.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:4, 265-287. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014941766

Rutter, R. (1991). “History, rhetoric, and humanism: Toward a more comprehensive definition of technical communication.” Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, 21:2, 133-153.

What the Heck is Bebo and Cyworld?

It’s amazing to me that since “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2008) was written, the world of social networking and Social Network Sites (SNS) have changed so dramatically.  And considering the sites that have come, seen their heydey, and gone since 1997, it’s amazing how irrelevant these topics can become less than a decade later.  For example, Boyd and Ellison’s illustration of the various Social Network Sites that have existed since 1997 looks like a list of irrelevant, outdated, and unknown sources of networking (Fig. 1, p.212).  Out of all of the SNS listed, I recognized only seven out of the (I think) forty-two examples on the timeline, and that list is not an exhaustive list of all of the past or present Social Network Sites.  It’s not wonder that the internet, social networking, and technical communication itself is so difficult to define:  this seemingly limitless word constantly ebbs and flows, more or less unchecked, and essentially anything is possible within it.

The section Bridging Online and Offline Social Networks (p. 221) goes into detail about a lot of what my class peers have been discussing in past posts.  As Boyd and Ellison point out, the beginning of Social Networking Sites created an online format for “real-life” friends to interact in a different way.  Today, people form and maintain friendships that live exclusively online without having begun in a more tradition, face-to-face manner.  As my colleagues have pointed out, there are online lives that occur independently from a person’s “real” life but that are considered just as qualifiable as their face-to-face or physical relationships.

While I have never experienced this phenomenon personally, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that they exist.  There is certainly enough evidence to suggest that virtual relationships can be just as meaningful as relationships and friendships that occur “in real life”.  I use these terms lightly because many people in my generation, the so-called Millennials, have grown up online and are accustomed to maintaining an online persona.

Importantly, Boyd and Ellison also touch on the fact that “phishing” does occur in what is supposed to be a friendly environment.  People take advantage of online users.

“In another study examining security issues and SNSs, Jagatic, Johnson, Jakobsson, and Menczer (2007) used freely accessible profile data from SNSs to craft a ‘‘phishing’’ scheme that appeared to originate from a friend on the network; their targets were much more likely to give away information to this ‘‘friend’’ than to a perceived stranger. Survey data offer a more optimistic perspective on the issue, suggesting that teens are aware of potential privacy threats online and that many are proactive about taking steps to minimize certain potential risks. Pew found that 55% of online teens have profiles, 66% of whom report that their profile is not visible to all Internet users (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). Of the teens with completely open profiles, 46% reported including at least some false information” (p. 222).

This evidence is troubling and it shows the risk involved is creating relationships online.  I’ve never watched the show Catfish (MTV) which is a documentary style reality show that follows people who have been “catfished.”  This happens when a person begins a romantic relationship online only to find out the person with whom they are virtually involved turns out to have lied about their identity.

I believe if Boyd and Ellison revisited their research they would find that many of the Social Network Sites visited are no longer in existence and come across as irrelevant to modern scholars.  At least that’s how their research came across to me.  While I appreciate their research and learning about the history of Social Networking according to them, I had a hard time relating to their subject matter since I’m unfamiliar with Cyworld, Bebo, Ryze, Fotoblog, Skyblog, Friendster, and the list goes on and on.

This point is important for scholars of technical communication.  It’s vital for us as students to understand how quickly this world evolves and how we must keep a finger on the pulse in order to keep up and remain relevant.

 

Filters in the Age of Amateurs

Has the democratization of the Internet turned us all into Kafka-esque cockroaches? Andrew Keen argues yes in his debate with David Weinberger. From Keen’s perspective, the Internet has stripped away traditional filters and given a voice to the masses — and the resulting clamor shows the worst of humanity. Instead of having gatekeepers in the form of publishers and traditional media sources to groom experts and present us with the best, the unaware Internet user is bombarded by amateurs and their trash.

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Image from Books by Audra. http://www.booksbyaudra.com/2016/04/18/considering-kafka/

Weinberger takes the opposing viewpoint that the traditional media filters were flawed, and the Internet offers opportunity for everyday experts and untapped talent. He’s not alone in his assessment. Philip Tetlock created the Good Judgment Project on the premise of nonprofessionals making more accurate predictions than established experts. Tournament style, the project identifies the top two percent of “superforecasters” who don’t have any particular credentials but are amateurs with a knack for making predictions. Through Web 2.0, these individuals are now able to connect and share ideas in a way that was inconceivable just twenty years ago.

Interestingly, most of the articles that I saw about everyone being an expert through the leveling of the Internet were from about five to ten years ago. After that, it stopped being news. Now, it seems that the voice given to the masses is assumed and taken for granted. The last decade has softened it from a potential catastrophe to now just an accepted part of culture.

The twist is that the Internet is both still reliant on traditional gatekeepers and developing new types of filters. As we’ve discussed earlier in this course, the more content is created, the more significant it becomes to navigate and find the right content. Jonathan Zittrain discusses how Google and other search engines have become a de facto filter as people attempt to find material online. Zittrain talks about the tension between “neutral” search algorithms and Google’s moral responsibility to present quality, or at least accurate, sources. His talk acknowledges that most people have a knee-jerk reaction against search engines serving as a “Big Brother” and controlling what you see, but also don’t like the specific examples of overtly wrong or biased sites being at the top of search results. Even though anyone can contribute online, search engines and other tools for navigating the web still provide some basic form of filtering. The questions is how much power should we give them?

Even in light of the massive amount of user-generated content and the new ways of determining what has value, there is still a role for traditional gatekeepers to help audiences from being bombarded. This is good news for Keen who sees “professional intermediaries [as] arbiters of good taste and judgement.” For me, the example that comes to mind is Wikileaks. On one hand, it embodies the ultimate democratization of all information being released to the public online. On the other hand, nobody reads the thousands and thousands of released leaks, and the general public hears about only the top few items of interest as reported by major media outlets. The gatekeepers are still serving to prioritize the information and tell people what they care about.

wikileaks

Wikileaks releases unprecedented amounts of information online, but still relies on traditional filters to make sense of it. The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2010/nov/29/wikileaks-cables-data

The New York Times just ran the article “WikiLeaks Isn’t Whistleblowing” that offers a scathing condemnation of the Wikileaks approach to “journalism” and argues that massive data dumps are inappropriate and counterproductive by not offering context for the information or discerning what is necessary to share. Tufecki writes, “Mass data releases, like the Podesta emails, conflate things that the public has a right to know with things we have no business knowing, with a lot of material in the middle about things we may be curious about and may be of some historical interest, but should not be released in this manner.”

Putting aside the other moral and privacy questions raised by Wikileaks, it serves as an extreme example of how the Internet enables a massive amount of content from all types of sources, while we’re still figuring out the role for filtering and gatekeeping. Keen warns that if we don’t find an answer, we’ll soon see the worst of ourselves reflected back in the Internet and discover our true cockroach nature.

References:

Tufecki, Z. (4 Nov. 2016).  Wikileaks isn’t whistleblowing. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/05/opinion/what-were-missing-while-we-obsess-over-john-podestas-email.html

Good Judgment. Accessed 5 Nov. 2016 https://www.gjopen.com/

The “intent” of the internet

Of the assignments for this week, I found the video of Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel to be the most intriguing. He brings up a good question about the responsibility of the internet – especially the more widely utilized social media like Facebook and search engines like Google. It is an interesting idea to think about – how much do we consider Google and Facebook and the like to be our “friend” and how much do we consider them “tools”, and should this arrangement change?

This dilemma reminded me of Rheingold’s chapter on “crap detection” in Net Smart.

Rheingold essentially argues that the internet is a tool (in Zittrain’s words) and it is the responsibility of the user to determine what is accurate and most serves his or her needs. I tend to agree with this stance. While Zittrain makes some excellent points about the potential benefits of such sites as Google and Facebook to become even more in-tune with each users’ preferences, and to cater to those along with the “absolute” truth. However, it is impossible for there to be one “absolute” truth. He mentions the fact that when searching “Jew” Google’s top results are anti-semitic sites and Google even acknowledges this fact but will not change their algorithm to prevent such results. While this is an extreme case and I certainly wish those were not the results at the top of Google’s list, I don’t really think that it is fair to stifle the freedom of speech and differences in opinion of internet users. If we start doing that in extreme cases of prejudice (where it is understandable and encouraged) where do we draw the line? And if each person receives different results in everything based on their prior behavior and opinions, how can anyone ever expand their knowledge or develop new and different opinions?

I think that a decent dose of “crap detection” is the right way to go. Let Google and other sites spit out what their “algorithm” thinks is right for all users and let each of us determine what we want to read or believe. It is an imperfect system, definitely, but it is one that allows for more freedom and free-will.