Monthly Archives: September 2018

What is the hangup with current internal communication workflows?

The content from this week’s readings focused on the presence of communication within the technical and professional communication profession and the usage of social media. While much or the information provided an examination the current field of technical and professional communication it also offered insight on the scholar and resources behind this reasoning and laid the foundation for what “we” the audience could expect in the future.

One item I found to be of particular interest this week was the technical and professional communication field being explored in certain places, such as cafes and coffee shops. In particular, this article offers some insight as to the growing market and dynamics of coffee shops.

In a world filled with technology, cords, business meetings/gatherings all taking place on the road it’s no wonder many coffee shops and quick stop shops are taking note. As the use of communication through the means of technology continues to expand and play an even greater role for personal and business consumption it only provides a small glimpse into the future of all professions. Blythe, Lauer and Curran said, “’As Yancey (2009), the Revisualizing Composition Study Group (2010), and the Stanford Study of Writing (2008) have articulated, trends in digital tools and handheld technologies have made our lives all the more converged, synergistic and complicated’’(Blythe, Lauer and Curran, 2014). After reading this article multiple times, I was drawn to this phrase which highlights our current demand for technology, the use of it and how it’s actually perceived in the workplace and beyond. As one can only attest to, the power and use of technology with the field of communication is vital to send content, provide updates and alert the appropriate stakeholders, peers and anyone else who may be of interest. However, the caveat I found with this statement from the authors is one that I experience day in and day out. This recurring problem in the field of technical and professional communication is the constant flux of new and innovative programs, apps and systems of storing and sharing information. While some provide valuable resources for multiple individuals to access from any device such as Google docs, etc. it does not help the issue of cross communication between other programs like outlook, exchange, Asana, Slack, Smartsheet, etc.

Here is an article, which rates the 9 best business programs for internal communication.

workflow software - zinc

While many of these programs are valuable in their own unique ways, only some can provide cross communication and sync information and data between each other.Check out one of the newer business platforms which aims to solve this solution. Have you heard of Zinc? This program is very similar to slack.

What are your thoughts on the growing need and demand for a full communication system or integration between multiple apps, calendars and programs in your place of work?

Technically Speaking On Technical Writing

To be honest, I found this week’s readings to be rather troubling and discouraging. Granted, it’s possible that I’m overthinking the content, which may have quickly taken my brain to a place of angst and frustration. However, as I digest and reflect, my general takeaway is that social media is slowly but surely pushing the technical writing profession towards irrelevancy.

Technical Writing

Image courtesy of Campus Commerce

This notion rings similarly to that of blogging ultimately replacing journalism, a topic we covered previously. However, that topic was hardly troubling to me for two reasons. For starters, though I appreciate and enjoy quality journalism, it’s not a field I specifically aspire to enter. Second, I feel like this ‘blogs are the new beat’ trend has been progressing for several years now, so it’s something I’ve come to terms with. Though often unqualified to create and publicly share written content, bloggers do have a voice, as projected through the web.

Robot Journalist

Image courtesy of Springer Link

However, as one who aspires to build a career in technical writing, I am heavily disheartened by the thought of social media overshadowing and/or replacing technical writing. With the latter requiring a combination of intense focus, natural skill, and endless practice, it seems unfair for any unqualified yet self-proclaimed ‘social media specialist’ to take over and hog the spotlight.

While a ‘quantity over quality’ approach is seemingly becoming the status quo of web content, I’m also seeing a ‘speed over quality’ approach, which may be more frightening than the former. Traditional journalism emphasizes that it is far more important to publish accurate, credible content than it is to be the first to break a story. However, social media seems to contradict this age-old approach, with users racing each other to post something even remotely coherent and believable. This is partially because posted content can be edited a later time. However, this approach is rather transparent, with users largely taking into account their own egos, as opposed to the best interest of their audience.

Save Technical Writing

Image courtesy of OwlGuru.com

Will technical writing ultimately be negatively impacted by social media, just as journalism has been impacted by blogging? Say it isn’t so, fellow communicators!

Out with the Old – But Wait a Minute!

In this week’s readings, we take a look at how social media has changed and, in some cases, re-defined the role of a Technical Writer.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading through the research collected by Blithe, Lauer, and Curran in their article, Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.  They point out that the job title of “Technical Writer” seems dated in this current Web 2.0 world, and the authors quote Bernhardt (2010) in saying:  “Our graduates are getting jobs, but it is becoming ever more difficult to say just what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills they demand” (265).

I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in English with a Technical Communications concentration in May of 2001.  My first job out of college was a Technical Writer position with a local water heater manufacturer.  I was the sole writer at the time as the position had been created not long before I came on board and had only been filled prior to myself by a graphic design/CAD operator who had some writing aptitude.  I recall applying for positions and many companies having absolutely no idea what a Technical Writer was or what I could possibly do for their company.  I can’t even count the number of times I was asked if I was, “some kind of secretary.”  To say that our field has progressed by leaps and bounds since then is an understatement and, perhaps, social media has  played a role.

tech-writing-dilbert-4

Image from dilbert.com (August 3, 1995)

Some of the data that I found most interesting from the Blithe, Lauer, and Curran study was that most writers responding to their survey seemed to be under the age of 40 and the authors, “…admit that the survey results give us a more reliable picture of what younger alumni are doing, and a less reliable picture of what older alumni in advanced positions are doing” (270).

am-i-qualified-enough-to-apply-to-this-job

Image courtesy of http://www.prepary.com

So, what does this suggest for someone like me – someone who graduated in the field 17 years ago, took a great deal of time off, returned to graduate school, and will graduate and return to the field in the next few years as someone in the over 40-years-old category?  While I feel that my current job with Vantel Pearls has helped me to gain some social media skills and aptitude, I question whether it will be enough – or whether I will be skilled enough in the advancing trends in social media to prove competitive with my younger colleagues vying for the same positions.  I had better get to work learning these social media nuances!

But – Where is this Headed for the Social Media Illiterate?

In her article, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, author Bernadette Longo states that, “We in technical communication applied our expertise in what Maggiani (2009) described as ‘one-to-many’ communication” (p. 23).  “In contrast, …Maggiani argued:

In a social setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows.  The ability to successfully apply these skills, however, become more transparent.  Ultimately, though, while the line of authorship blurs, content would become richer, deeper, more useful, and would include multiple ownership or collaboration.  A collaboration through social media, properly undertaken, results in the truest form of audience-centered content” (p. 24).

During my time as a technical writer for the water heater manufacturer, we went through an issue where I was only receiving feedback from the engineer and the voice of the user was not being heard when it came to the manual design and content.  We tried bringing in representatives from the customer service department to help bridge the gap, but it never was quite enough to make the voice of the people fully heard.  I left the position in 2003, but a few years ago, they decided to use social media to allow customers to give feedback on the usability of their current manuals.  Much has changed since this was done and the manuals have become much more novice user friendly with actual photos (rather than CAD art), larger print, online access, etc.  – check it out:   Residential Electric Water Heater Manual – Photos/online. While this social media outreach was successful, some voices were still not “heard.”

Longo speaks mostly to the way that social media is not available to everyone around the world (in developing countries) the way that it is here in the US.  But, she fails to mention that many people in the US still do not have access.  I know families in my area who still live “too deep in the woods” or “too high in the mountains” for internet providers to be able to connect them to a line – or cell phone tower signals to be able to reach their remote locations.  Then we also have to consider age as well as expense when it comes to constant connectedness.  My mom is almost 70.  She has a cell phone but feels she can’t afford monthly internet access on her fixed income.  She doesn’t own a laptop or PC and she uses her cell phone date for anything she may want to do online.  While that does mean that she is “connected,” she does not have the benefit of a a large screen or keyboard, and some companies have very unusable mobile websites.  As social media takes center stage in the lives of the current generations, some in the older generations are being left behind.  My momma would much rather make a phone call or go by and visit someone than to go find them on social media or send them a personal message through the messenger app.  As a human, that matters to me.  When we are discussing peoples’ “voices being heard,” I don’t like to think that we are phasing out the elderly and the poorer people and nations.

confusedcomputer

Image courtesy of 11point.com

I suppose you could say that, in my advanced age, I am accepting change a lot more slowly than I once did.

Ambient Awareness: A Replacement for Social Connectedness?

Ambient Awareness is a social science term Clive Thompson used in his article, Brave New World of Digital Intimacy, to explain the new constant online environment we communicate and interact in.  This enables us to maintain weaker social connections in an incessantly overwhelming digital environment.  Facebook was the frontrunner in this form of digital interaction but it has developed to now include microblogging, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  Ambient awareness also considers the narcissistic.  tendencies for people to think that every single little thought or occurrence in every moment of their life necessitates a social media post of microblog. This awareness and behavior weakens social ties and further creates an ego-centric mainframe where the social media user is not so concerned with what is going on in other’s lives but rather the importance of their personal posts.  Are loose connections or acquaintances preferred over the deeper connection of the past?

Embed from Getty Images

Wikipedia further defines ambient awareness as an awareness propagated from relatively constant contact with one’s friends and colleagues via social media platforms. Wikipedia Ambient Awareness 

It would seem that the constant connection created a deeper disconnect or even devalued the meaning in social interaction.  It’s as if we don’t even
“see” each other as human beings but rather view these interactions as transactional.

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar believes that evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time, despite the rise in social media.  In the following TED Talk, “Why the Internet Won’t Get You Anymore Friends”, Robin Dunbar argues why social media doesn’t give us the expanded social connectedness that it promises.  He makes you question the quality of communication done on social media platforms.  Loose connections are the substance in social media communication.

 

 

So, how ambient awareness and the brain’s inability to have larger numbers of truly meaningful relationships effecting our workplace collaboration?  Clive Thompson goes on to further discuss in his New York Times article that ambient awareness allows us to maintain weaker social connections that actually create more common ground in workplace collaboration because the ongoing updates build the social context for collaboration.  B.J. McNely, in the October 2001 publication, Informational communication, sustainability, and the public writing work or organizations from Proceedings of the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (1-7), further explains that social media practices such as micro-blogging, as discussed in this post, are not seen as formal work, but rather the informal communication that happens alongside the work.  In this context, ambient awareness seems complimentary to the workplace by creating an informal way to collaborate that still builds trust and understanding.

 

While loose connections are viewed to be harmful to our social interaction, they do in fact have value in certain situations.

 

 

 

A Great Divide

The Haves and the Have Nots

As I study emerging media and how it has changed the communication landscape, a question emerges:  Does emerging media help humanity to be more connected or does its existence create a greater divide?  In her article published in Technical Communicators Quarterly entitled, Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, Bernadette Longo writes,

“Even when we do include input from users in our design decisions and revisions, we should keep in mind that the majority of people in the world still do not have access to devices that would allow them to participate in this design community equitably.  Yet, our actions still affect the lives of people without access, for example, the miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo who dig with their hands to give us rare minerals for making smart phones and other mobile devices.”

So, with all the wonderful new ways to communicate, feel connected, do research, and increase our awareness of what’s happening in the world, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that most of the people in our world do not have the ability to access publicly available online services (PAOSs).

In contrast to those miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, knowledge workers across the globe are using PAOSs for many tasks, both personally and professionally.  These tasks include developing associations with others, researching, and sharing personal information.  They regularly access Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, Skype, Google Maps, etc., to learn and communicate on a global level.  In their article, Technical Communication Unbound:  Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices, Tony Ferro and Mark Zachry report on the results of a survey of professional technical communicators and their use of emerging media.  They wrote,

“On average, participants reported using PAOSs for work between 20% and 27% of their workweek.”

While, in some societies, emerging media is a significant part of work and personal life, in others, it is virtually non-existent.  Does the fact that less than half the population of the world doesn’t have access to PAOSs cause a divide between them and those who do have access?  How does this affect our world, how people vote, what they know about the world, how they communicate and how they feel?  More study needs to be done on this.  As the various webs of social media grow and become more complex, those who have access continue to grow, learn and communicate while the majority of people cannot.  They can’t Skype with a relative who lives far away, have instant access to global headline news or do research online.  They are living in a world that is decades behind those who have this wonderful access.

Promising Trends

Although a divide exists, there are some promising trends happening globally.  Statista.com is just one resource for information that can shed light on how many people across the globe are active with emerging media.  One study shows that in 2010, about .97 billion people had a social media profile.  But, by the year 2019, it is estimated that this number will grow to about 2.77 billion.

Number of social media users in billions

social media (1)

https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/

Conclusion

When we consider the fact that more than 7.4 billion people live on the Earth, it’s enlightening that less than half the population is active on social media.  While activity on social media is just one indicator of a person’s overall use of PAOSs, this still help to put our connectedness (or disconnectedness) into perspective.

 

 

Creating Agile Communicators: Teaching Writing with ICTs

This week we read several scholarly articles on the technical communication field, where it’s going, how it’s defined, and how it uses social media. As a writing instructor, my major take-aways from the readings by Ferro, Longo, Blythe et al, and Pigg include:

  • The need for more collaborative writing
  • The need to understand the importance of emergent technologies
  • The need to understand how writing will change because of those technologies
  • The “need for social and communicative agility” (Ferro, p. 19)

Ferro asks, “how do we teach students to write in forms that do not exist?” (p. 20), while Longo argues that “teachers must understand their roles as mediators and integrators of ICTs [information and communication technologies]” (p. 23). While I don’t specifically teach technical communication, this question and assertion can guide what I do in the classroom to ensure that my students are prepared to communicate well in the 21st century.

We can start by using the  ICTs that students use in their personal lives. As a department, we’ve recently struggled with how to address the issues of “fake news” and the broadening complexity of information literacy.

lib-info-lit-chart

Information Literacy, courtesy of Otis.edu

Now that ICTs allow us to tailor our news feeds to show only what we want to see, how do we promote a more comprehensive analysis of news and information? As teachers, we tend to shun the use of social media in our classrooms, but perhaps we are fooling ourselves while simultaneously doing our students a disservice. Recent links on this blog indicate that fewer students are using Facebook, but we why not integrate lessons using Instagram, SnapChat, or blogs? Some may bristle at the notion of interacting with students this way (it’s too personal, too gimmicky, too much extra work), and we will have to embrace that once we’ve finally figured out how to use a certain ICT, “those darn kids” will be on to the next one. However, incorporating more ICTs in the classroom could make the classroom more relevant to the current technological climate as well as help students become more agile in the future technological climate.

Using ICTs can help students understand the concept of audience better. Longo’s article “Using Social Media” emphasizes that users have become producers. One common complaint of composition students is that they feel their writing is “just for the teacher” and that the notion of a real audience is therefore false. If educators can create content that supplies student writers with a real audience (even better, a real audience of their peers) perhaps they will invest more in the content they create? If they are already composing SnapChat group chats and YouTube videos, asking them to write a five-paragraph essay for their instructor can feel archaic and pointless. By using social media, “we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs” (Longo, p. 24). Using social media in the classroom provides educators a way to “recreate a professional setting where [students] learn about users directly” (Longo, p. 31). This real-life writing assignment provides immediate feedback for students from a larger audience and can allow them to carry that writing portfolio with them relatively seamlessly.

Using visuals is increasingly important in communication. Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” reports that surveyed technical communication alumni are increasingly responsible for visual communication (not just written communication). We are largely a visual society, and though the uptick in emoji use makes some of us nervous

HieroglyphsEmojis

How far have we come? Are we just circling back around? Courtesy of Steemit

(me included), visuals help to contextualize the written word and ensure greater reader comprehension. The social media applications that younger people are using are more visual (Instagram/Snapchat), but visuals will not replace the written word. Learning how to use both well cannot be a detriment.

HieroglphHumor

Source: Medium.com

Students should practice critical thinking as often as possible. Blythe et al recommend that technical communication students should be “exposed to situations in which they must choose the best channels for communication”, that they should be “exposed to a wide range of technology that will facilitate that process”, and that they should be “versatile with multiple media” (p. 281). I’m no longer a technical writer, but one of my most bemoaned complaints as a new technical writer in the early ‘00s was my lack of technical training. My college classes taught me how to be a better writer, but I had to teach myself how to use the technology. Aligning technology with communication is training students, no matter what their final profession, to be skilled in all forms of communication: audience analysis, visual communication, and content creation.

Creating better communicators across disciplines serves all of us. As more and more of us become both producers and consumers (“prosumers”), embracing the changes in teaching and technologies keeps our work interesting and makes our global world a more interactive and understandable place.

Technical Communication is Multifaceted

Ever since I joined the MSTPC program, I have noticed a repeated theme throughout technical and professional communication literature. Technical communication often doesn’t seem to know what it is, what it does, or why it matters. I have read many research papers that seem insecure about the profession and try to pinpoint what technical communication is and who it is for. Notable technical writers like Tom Johnson have even tackled this issue in posts like “Why is there a divide between academics and practitioners and tech comm?”. In my Theory and Research class, I wrote my final essay about why researchers seem to explore the identity of the technical writer more so than other professions. I understand all professions do research about about their own field, but technical communication is one of the first fields I’ve run into that seems unsure of itself. 

I saw some of these themes of identity in Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World.” However, these authors seemed more sure about what technical communicators do and seem to be okay with the fact that technical writers are a diverse bunch with a wide skill set. They focus less on “What is a technical writer?” and instead, “What does a technical communicator do?” I particularly enjoyed and agreed with this quote from the piece, “In other words it is not enough in a Web 2.0 world to ONLY write effectively, you must branch out and be a master of many skills and tools.” Blythe, Lauer, and Curran explore these many skillsets and tools throughout the paper and it inspired me to create my own list of common writing tasks and tools I use in my day-to-day job as a technical content writer: 

Most often used types of writing Most often Used Tools
1. White Papers 1. Google Drive (Doc, Excel, Slides)
2. Case Studies 2. Sketch
3. Blog / Syndicated Content 3. Slack / Email
4. Website / Landing Pages 4. UX Research tools like Ethnio
5. Blog / Syndicated Content 5. HubSpot
6. Press Releases 6. Asana
7. Advertising 7. WordPress
8. Strategy / Planning / Internal Sales documents 8. Survey Tools


Most Often Used Types of Writing

I decided to create two different list of my writing tasks / tools to show the multifacetedness of technical writing. For instance, many of my “most often used types of writing” involves doing more than just writing (especially the higher ranked types). To create a strong white paper or webpage requires knowing design skills, information management, and UX expertise. Sometimes, I spend more time designing white papers and case studies with design tools than I do actually writing. This often makes me feel more like a visual designer than a technical writer, but I would argue that you would need to know skills from both trades to make a compelling document that is exciting to read. 

A case study I created for work

Case Study Design

I created this document above to explain how Jacuzzi is using my company’s platform to create a connected hot tub. One of the biggest challenges with case studies is they offer a lot of information and most clients don’t have time to read them. As such, I believe it is important to create a document that would excite clients and can be read quickly. For this case study, I create a document that is easily scannable with data visualization and short paragraphs, while adding visual interests with color contrasts and visuals. I had to use design tools like Sketch to make visuals that draw the reader’s attention and use information management skills to organize the information in a way that is compelling. 

The Importance of Tools

In “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making,” Longo discusses how technical communicators must become masters of ICT technologies. I would add to that and say that technical communicators must master more than ICT tools nowadays, but also must become a master of design, information management, task management tools, and more. The number of tools required to be a become a proficient technical communicator is only increasing too. However, while mastering all of these tools is helpful and certainly increase career opportunities, I wouldn’t say a technical communicator must be an expert at all of them.

The Bottom Line

As a marketing technical writer, it makes sense why I see visuals and design tools as such an important element of being a technical communicator. However, a technical communicator who focuses on creating internal documentation may not need to know the same number of design tools as I do. They may prioritize other skillsets and tools that I may not even know about. And that’s the benefit of being a technical writer – there is so many different routes and paths to specialize in. These wide range of skillsets and purposes make it hard to define what a technical communicator is, but it is certainly not a weakness. It’s something we should celebrate more. 

Is Slack a useful communication tool?

Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World” is seeking to understand professionals who have graduated with a degree in professional and technical communication and understand what it means to be a “Professional and Technical Communicator” in today’s digital world given how the landscape of the disciple has changed. They highlight, for example, the fact that the job title “Social Media Manager” didn’t exist 10 years ago. In their results, participants were asked to rank the most comment and (separately rank) the most valued types of writing they do.

Most Often and Valued communication types

Image from Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article.

Beyond this, they also surveyed participants on what types of technologies they used to produce the texts.

Types of Technology used to Write

Image from Blythe, Lauer, and Curran’s article.

These findings were particularly interesting to me as I’m finishing up my MSTPC program and working on completing my field project. For my field project, I’m examining the effects Slack (see image below) has on workplace communication. There is a team I am a part of that recently implemented the communication technology Slack into our workplace, and I will be examining how implementing this technology has impacted the team in terms of team dynamic, communication style, productivity and efficiency. The team I am examining consists of members from across generations, so part of my research has to do with generational communication and how technological literacy influences the adaptation of communication technologies like Slack.

Slack

Slack screenshot.

I am still early in the stages of writing and will begin surveying team members soon, but in preparing for this research I found this study really relevant. Across the profession there are many different types of writing, and clearly different technologies used to produce each writing. In the team I am surveying for my research, we are all Communication Specialists in the UW-Madison College of Engineering, which means we fit into this group that Blythe, Lauer, and Curran studied. In the types of technologies used to produce texts portion of the study, Slack or any type of instant message technology wasn’t a technology that was included. The article is from 2014, so perhaps these types of technologies weren’t as common in the workplace as they are now, but it makes me wonder what the results would say today.

So I pose this question, have any of you used Slack in your workplace? If so, how has it affected your communication styles with your colleagues?

Collaborative, Efficient, and Overwhelmed with Online Services

Five years ago, Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry wrote about the use of publicly available online services (PAOSs) among knowledge workers associated with the technology sector. In their article “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices” in the December issue of Technical Communication Quarterly, Ferro and Zachry reported that the majority of knowledge workers surveyed used PAOSs for at least part of their workweek. Knowledge workers used them an average of 25% of their week, and a small percentage used them 80-100% of the time.

As a digital media director, I am a knowledge worker associated with the technology sector, so I decided to take a look at my own work processes in 2018. For my job, graduate school, and in my personal life, I use most of the services, tools, and social media platforms that Ferro & Zachry discuss.

Screen Shot 2018-09-26 at 10.45.36 PM

Almost all of the PAOSs I use are well known, but there are a few that are unique to the type of work I do including Zencastr for recording podcasts online. Motion Array is a site with royalty-free music and effects for video editing. Interact is a service that helps me create online quizzes. If you include all of these tools, I am among the group of knowledge workers who use PAOSs 80-100% of the time.

My list of PAOSs does not include all of the applications I use for work. I use a MacBook Pro laptop with apps such as QuickTime to record websites and Preview to edit photos. I also use browsers such as Chrome, Safari, and Firefox with plug-ins for specific uses such as downloading video and full-page screen shots. I have an iPhone with apps such as Voice Memos to record audio tracks. Plus, I use other software and applications that are mostly subscription-based and provided by my employer: Adobe Premier Pro, Adobe Audition, Adobe Acrobat, and Microsoft Office 365 which includes PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. There are also apps for services in the physical world such as Uber and Southwest that I use for work and in my personal life.

In my current position, I produce videos and often need to share large video files. To do that, I use Dropbox and Google Drive. In the past, I used Hightail, which was once called YouSendIt. Every few years, one of the services I use will be sidelined by a new one. I find that it’s best to work with the ones that are most familiar to my clients. Occasionally, I’ll need to learn the features of a PAOS that is new to me such as Vimeo because my client prefers it over the video player I normally use, which is YouTube.

My clients expect me to be up to date on all sorts of PAOSs and new technologies. Often, they rely on me to train them as well. It’s all on-the-job training. If I need to learn a new PAOS or app, I Google it. I also watch video tutorials on another PAOS, Lynda.com, which I just found out is now part of LinkedIn. I enjoy learning the latest apps and services, and many of them help me work collaboratively and efficiently. The downside is that I never feel like an expert at any of them, and at times, it can be overwhelming trying to remember all of the various passwords and platforms. I find that browsers can be helpful by storing login information, and luckily, most services are user-friendly if not user-centered with a not-so-steep learning curve.

As Ferro & Zachry noted, Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in the 1990s that the U.S. economy was shifting from manufacturing products to generating ideas and from the production of goods to specialized knowledge. While I feel I have a valuable skillset, my skills are always changing and evolving. I rely on my ability to problem-solve, write, organize, and plan. I also have gone back to school to update my knowledge and learn the latest tools as a graduate student in technical and professional communication.

Technology: User’s Best Friend

Technological Friend

Image courtesy of Haiku Deck

This week’s reading and corresponding blog topic compare technology as being a ‘friend’ versus being a ‘tool’. However, the way I see it, technology (among many other things) is both a friend AND a tool. After all, with ‘tool” being an all-to-common slang term, haven’t you ever used the term jokingly to describe a friend, or negatively to describe a foe?

 

I love you, technology

Digital Friends

Image courtesy of Faith and Technology

We get frustrated with our friends. They often disappoint us, hurt us, and anger us. Sometimes, we even think we HATE our friends. However, no matter how bad things may get, true friendships are unconditional and eternal. Similarly, as aggravated as we sometimes get with technology, it is here to stay.

Technology most certainly meets the criteria of a true friend.

Technology is our friend for various reasons. Technology saves us endless time and energy, helping to expedite otherwise manual/mundane processes through automation and digitization. On the flip side, true friends help us to save time and energy through miscellaneous favors and general assistance.

Technology promotes efficiency and accuracy in information input/output. For example, if a user inadvertently attempts to submit inaccurate information, the techno-wizards will quickly put their heads together before flagging the information in the form of an ‘ERROR’ message. In parallel, genuine friends will correct us when we’re wrong, always telling us what we need to hear, even if it’s not necessarily what we want to hear.

Technology allows us to remain productive while “on the go”. Thanks to the wonderful creations that are mobile devices and Wi-Fi, we can complete any number of interactive tasks while away from home and/or the office. Though possibly a stretch in comparison, friends keep us accountable while we’re on the go, as friendship knows no bounds. A true friend is a true friend, even if he or she is in a different room, building, city/town/village, state, country, etc.

Perhaps most importantly, technology makes it easy for us to stay connected to friends across the globe. Imagine that! Technology, our friend, allows us to maintain and nurture our friendships. In other words, technology is a crucial, mutual friend that links us and our human friends.

Life is obviously much easier with technology than without. While the younger generation might occasionally take technology for granted, the rest of us surely recall what life was like before technology landed on Earth.

At the end of the day, we NEED our friends, just as we NEED technology.

 

My friend, the tool

My Friend, The Tool.jpg

Image courtesy of Webreality

Personally, I refuse to classify technology as a strictly a friend OR a tool. Instead, I believe technology is simultaneously (and perhaps equally) both.

Merriam-Webster offers various definitions of ‘tool’. In the context of this topic, perhaps it is most relevantly defined as an element of a computer program (such as a graphics application) that activates and controls a particular function.

I believe this definition helps to mesh the ‘friend’ and ‘tool’ components of technology, which helps to facilitate execution and production through various means and platforms.

Technology is our friend. Technology is a tool. A friend can assist us in ways that a tool can. Now, let’s put them all together.

Triangle

Where Does Connectivity End?

The good, the bad and the ugly. I think everyone has their own stance on technology, what it means to them, their engagement with it and how it may be beneficial or detrimental at times.

In Superconnected, author states, “The pro side is I’m available, and that is the down side, also” (Chayko, 2008, p. 114).

Digital Technology - Potential

Let’s just let that sink in . . .

The conflict will always exist. We agree to disagree, agree to feel in sync or follow course and disagree to share our own perspectives or to just be different from the rest. The introduction of technology and it’s integration of connectivity has led us, our world, and our interactions to become even greater than before the use of technology. Without technology, some of us may reap the benefits, form stronger connections, have interactions in which are more meaningful, however, the inclusion of technology enables individuals to gain greater insight into specific cognitive functions, motor abilities and can even assist with making deeper relationships or allowing those who are afraid to speak up the opportunity to offer input.

As the pros and cons can continue to be weighed. I still find myself loving technology and all of its capabilities, but there are instances in which I oftentimes wish I was not so easily connected to everyone. I don’t mean the latter in a harsh or cruel way, but working in the field of communications and marketing at my full time job the demand and upkeep is exhausting. My daily routine consists of back and forth communication, correspondence both formal and informal, impromptu meetings, interruptions and quick instances of contact which allow for me to have this sort of love/hate relationship with the use of technology and connectivity to others. However, on the flip side it’s convenient when you are the one in need of a response, answer or need to check in on an item and the affordance of sending a quick email, picking up the phone or glancing at a computer screen to locate one’s schedule are some of the perks to this resource.

Going further, the use of technology exists beyond the workplace and allows for one to stay connected with his or her personal circles. As I begin to ponder, this part of connectivity I do enjoy seeing my long lost high school friends, living miles and miles apart and being able to see what they are up to or check in with them. Additionally, Chayko notes the following when highlighting the use of social media, distractions and what’s commonly referred to as, ‘FOMO’ she states, “I feel like I need to check [my favorite sites] regularly or I’ll be left out” (Chayko 2008, p. 125).

F . O . M . O . (Fear Of Missing Out) – In a recent article by Psych Health, the contributor said this, “The grass always looks greener on the other side” (Langdon, 2018). Langdon notes, the common uses of social media and how one can often be seen in a different light or the notion that individuals highlight the positive aspects of what’s happening in their lives over the negative ones. While it’s great to reflect on the positives and to showcase the big life moments you may be undergoing, this style of posting may come across to your viewers as “gloating” or may illustrate an inaccurate glimpse of everything happening in your life at that time.

FOMO ImageThis whole idea of “FOMO” is one that’s been highly researched and allows for individuals to even take quizzes to see where they may fall on the FOMO scale. Here’s a quiz you may take to see where you fall on this scale.

When technology is a tool versus our friend

Tool or friend?

I personally enjoyed Jonathan Zittrain’s discussion on how tech companies can shift algorithms from being a “tool” to being a “friend.” From my understanding, algorithms act as a tool when they give us results regardless of the potential outcome, and act as a friend when they work for us, the user. For instance – Zittrain showed that if you typed the word “Jew” into Google some of the first search results were anti-semitic websites. This is an example of an algorithm acting as a tool rather than a friend for the user. However, years later, these anti-semitic websites are no longer the first result, showing that Google has changed its algorithm. This is one of those situations where Google may be trying to change the algorithms from “tool” to “friend.” Google may have accepted social responsibility to remove harmful search results.

However, I feel that Jonathan Zittrain’s predictions that tech companies could make algorithms that are not friendly to users are becoming true. In August, the Intercept first reported that Google was in the process of making a censored search engine for internet users in China. This censored search engine can link search results to a user’s phone number, blacklist terms like “student protest,” and could replace air pollution results with doctored data sources from China. This is clear scenario where Google is making a tool that is a friend to the shareholders and certain government bodies, but not a friend to the actual user. Many have criticized this move as Google losing their moral compass. 

There are many other examples like this where companies create algorithms that are clearly not meant for the user, but for the company. In my tech marketing role, I’ve truly learned how algorithms can work for and against users. There are tools like “Full Story” that allow you to watch recorded sessions of individual users exploring your website. While this is a friendly tool for marketers, it doesn’t offer much privacy for users who are involved. As someone who works in the tech industry, I often ponder my own role of creating and using tools that are not friendly to users. I avoid marketing tactics that overly-rely on user data, and try to create content based of ethical principles and data.

The human-machine relationship

We can also see this “tool” versus “friend” discussion in our readings this week. Dr. Chayko focuses on what she calls the human-machine relationship in chapters 8 – 10 of Superconnected. She explores this concept by discussing how children are using and becoming dependent on technology at ever-younger ages: “Children often receive their first phones from caregivers seeking to keep them safe in the event of emergencies . . . many caregivers also do not want their children to be on the wrong side of a perceived digital divide. Owning a cell phone can be an indicator or status, wealth, or power.”

I remember getting my first cellphone in elementary school, but it was only supposed to be used for emergency situations. Receiving a cellphone was significant to me because hardly any other kids had one and it felt like I have been given a special privilege. And back then, this was just a simple flip phone – there wasn’t much to do on it except call my parents. However, by the time I was in high school, smartphones had become a thing and almost everyone had one. I wanted one too, not because I needed one for an emergency, but because of everything it could do.

In just a ten year timespan, our use of cell phones have flipped from being something to use in a state of a emergency to something you can use for almost anything, convenience. In a way, our cell phones have transformed from “tool” to “friend” in many ways – we can easily request a ride, find a place to eat, and text our friend along the way. But this much convenience has also lead to an over-dependence on our phones. I wouldn’t say it’s the reason we are “addicted” to our cell phones though. We are not addicted to convenience, we are addicted because of how the algorithms have been designed.

Social media news feeds are addicting because they track what we are interested in and continuously show us topics that are related to our interests. While keeping our new feeds relevant and interesting is a nice “friend-like” feature, it is not designed for us, but designed to keep us using the application. Today’s UX designers and engineers carry huge social responsibility to design mobile interfaces that are not addictive. An article on the Adobe Blog suggests that UX designers are “responsible for keeping users rights protected and their experiences enjoyable, but ethical as well.” When engineers and UX designers feel like shifting algorithms for users, they must first ask themselves if there are any ethical consequences of making these changes. 

One of the best things that we can do is educate the next generation on these harmful algorithm practices. Not so long ago, I read an article that Gen Z is quitting social media in droves. I’m not sure how true this is, but it does give me hope that the next generation is thinking about the ways algorithms and technology affect them.

Is it Possible to be Too Connected?

My father, who I admire, lives by a piece of advice his grandfather gave him – everything in moderation.  I’ve grown to understand and apply that way of thinking to my own life because I realize the wisdom in those three words.  It’s okay to have a piece of pie for dessert, but if I have a large piece of pie with three scoops of ice cream every single night after dinner, eventually I am going to suffer some negative effects in my health.  Even things that are good for us can turn harmful if we overindulge in them.  Exercise is an example.  It’s very beneficial for our bodies in many ways, but if we overdo it, we can injure ourselves or even reverse the benefits.  So, with my great grandfather’s motto in mind – everything in moderation – it is possible for us to be too connected from a technological standpoint.

As technology has grown and advanced, we have become more and more connected.  This connectedness provides us with a plethora of wonderful benefits.  I love it that my children are all just a phone call or text away.  It gives me a sense of comfort in knowing that they can call 911 if they are in an emergency situation.  I can purchase items online and have them shipped to me by the next day.  When my father traveled to Ireland , I could stay in contact with him and know he was well and enjoying himself.  I live in the north, and we get some terrible snow storms.  Since I have a company issued laptop, I can work from home when it isn’t safe to be on the roads.  There are so many advantages to living in a super-connected world.

Along with our ability to stay so interconnected comes some problems that are very real and very dangerous.  Our personal and financial information is at risk.  Our personal preferences can be known even without us realizing it.  We can be targets of those wanting to steal our identities, our financial wealth and our consumer preferences.  Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, writes, “The rise and proliferation of the internet, digital media, and ICTs represent the potential for individuals to live richer lives but also lives that are more closely scrutinized and surveiled.  The harnessing of collective knowledge and superconnectedness yields infinite possibilities, but the outcomes are unclear, uncertain” (p. 215).  In his book NET SMART:  How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheinhold writes, “Privacy-related issues such as identity theft, state-sponsored surveillance, and behavioral data mining that surmises more about your preferences than you’d prefer anyone to know are the subjects of daily headlines, and touch every aspect of our lives” (2012, p. 239).

Technology is being used to influence how people think and how they act.  Jonathan Zitrain, professor of Law at Harvard Law School, in his talk Alure of the Algorithm and Why We Should Be Aware, described how the Facebook algorithm can be used to predict relationships between people even before they connect on Facebook.  This is just one of the many examples of how being so connected has the potential to cross over into intrusiveness.

Can we be too connected?  Is it possible that our abilities to find out information about one another has become so advanced that we just don’t have the ability to stay as secure and private as we want and need to be?  There are ways to enhance our security, but it requires us to stay vigilant.  How do I, personally, apply my great grandfather’s motto of “everything in moderation” to this situation?  I do believe we are on a fast course to being so interconnected that we have created a world that has some new security issues for us.  I suggest we do everything we can to educate ourselves and others about the possible pitfalls of this interconnectedness that is our reality.  Then let’s take what we know and teach others about how they can keep their information safe.  

Always Open for Business

In chapter 9 of Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life, the author discusses the subject of “constant availability” with regard to digital and social media connectedness.  Chayco says, “People who live in tech-intensive societies can come to truly depend not just on digital technologies, but on the convenience they afford” (p.183).  She quotes an interviewee of hers that said, “The pro-side is I’m available, and that is the downside, also” (p. 183).

Fortunately, and unfortunately, this rings true for an online, social media based business as well.  If I need to contact a local store, someone at the post office, or even a restaurant, I have to wait until they are open again for business.  For instance, yesterday (a Saturday), I visited my son and found that the cat he recently adopted from the Humane Society is having some sneezing.  Of course, I wanted him to take her to our veterinarian for a check-up.  Unfortunately, the vet we use does not open again until Monday morning.  Considering that sneezing is not a medical emergency, there was no warranted reason for him to take her to a special 24-hour Emergency Vet Clinic.  So, alas, we will call on Monday.

My online business operates much differently.  One might say, I am always open – even though my hours are clearly posted on my website.

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Image from: Rebecca Snyder, Vantel Pearls Silver Leader Facebook business page.

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Image from Vectorstock.com

My posted hours do not stop customers from messaging my business page AND my personal page all hours of the day, every day of the week.  …And, I am guilty of doing the same.

My son and I decided we wanted to get similar tattoos recently.  We knew that the tattoo shop was closed at 2am when we were discussing this idea, but that did not stop me from contacting the shop that came most highly recommended (by my local Facebook friends) via private message (yes, at 2am) and asking about availability for the next day.  To my surprise, the reply came almost instantly with the tattoo artist who was available to do our artwork and what time we should plan to show up as walk-ins.  And, when we showed up that next morning, the owner remembered our message and got us right in for our tattoos.

 

 

As users of  24/7 social media, where do we draw the line?  Or better yet, are most even aware that they could be crossing a line?  An argument can be made that, anyone who does not want to be contacted outside of business hours can simply ignore the messages until they are back “in the office.”  However, as simple as that seems, Facebook has made it complicated to ignore a message.  It dings, it sits in the notifications and haunts us with that little red number at the top of the app letting us know that we have UNREAD MESSAGES, and, if that isn’t enough, Facebook also shows our customers that we have read the message by having our little profile picture circle move down the message thread.  No denying we received it – or even what time we read it!  Thanks Facebook!

 

I suppose the worst that could happen is that I lose a customer for not responding quickly enough to a message she may feel is urgent enough to send at 2 am.  For some businesses, that probably would not matter as they have many customers and many more to come.  In my smaller customer base (around 400 buyers total), it takes each one to make this work for me.  So, I truly can’t afford to lose even one customer – and I find myself jumping through hoops and answering messages as quickly as I receive them, even if that is in the middle of the night.  Chayco speaks to this and suggest perhaps it is not the fault of digital technology.  She says, “Keeping up with a flood of stimuli and information can be challenging and burdensome.  Tasks may start to snowball;  people can feel they need to work and/or be digitally connected day and night, lest they fall behind the curve…but…these stresses are not caused by digital technology us.  In fact some of these stresses are simply the ‘cost of caring'” (p. 191).

 

 

The Spiral of Silence in Social Media

The desire for human connection drives much of our communication.  But at what point does hyperconnectivity become anxiety inducing or silencing?

 

Hyperconnectivity is the extreme increased interconnectedness of people who resulted from technological advances.  Social media platforms massively contribute to hyperconnectivity. Numerous studies and articles are written to address and discuss the impacts on society, communication, and mental health as a result of the rapid changes in to our interconnectedness and changes to communication methods.

 

Embed from Getty Images

 

Ben Abbot, for Virgin (How the human need to connect works with hyperconnectivity), addresses the fact that as a result of comparing ourselves to others, we struggle with insecurity.  This is a result of us viewing all the happy, idealistic posts our social media “friends” post and comparing them to what’s really going on in our lives, as opposed to the idealistic posts we make on social media.  I’ve felt inadequate by other’s projection of perfection on Facebook, even by those who I know well. I do understand that no one is perfect.  However, I quickly forget that when all I see is everyone’s projections of how they want their digital reputation to come across.  It seems there is a goal of digital perfection.  I’m actually taking a break from Facebook for a while because my hyperconnectivity caused rising anxiety and I started to use silence for self-preservation.

 

Hyperconnectivity has caused me to become silent in order to preserve my dignity and sanity.  This  is the result of a theory known as the Spiral of Silence.  The Spiral of Silence is a term created in 1974 by Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, a German political scientist. According to the website, Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann: The spiral of silence, dedicated to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s work, her assumptions of social behavior are controversial but the spiral of silence theory is widely cited and replicated in social sciences.  The spiral of science is based upon numerous hypotheses.  The core basis to this behavior is that people are afraid of social isolation and therefore will be silent if they feel their opinion or belief will be rejected by the mass of their public sphere (in our digital world, those would be our Facebook page “friends” or Twitter followers.). The spiral of silence is typically elicited by controversial issues (politics, abortion, religion, etc.) and causes someone to be silent out to fear of pressure or social isolation.  The decision to be silent usually is done subconsciously (according to Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann’s research.  However, I’ve consciously made the decision to remain silent in many cases.  In 1974, when Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann defined the spiral of silence, mass media had a recognizable effect on public opinion by amplifying one side’s opinion and thus silencing the other.  This sounds to me that it is much more likely that silence is done so more consciously rather than subconsciously.  It is not that individuals changed their mind to avoid isolation, they kept their opinion to themselves.  An article by James Vincent (The “Spiral of Science”: How social media encourages self-censorship online,) discusses research done by Pew Researching Group that proves people will stifle their opinions on social media if they believe that their friends won’t agree with them.  Further more, the research and James Vincent’s article agree that concern for social isolation may not be the only reason for silence.  It appears our hyperconnectivity is evolving the spiral of silence into including factors such as “likes” and the permanency of  posting online opinions into our silence.

 

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Social media influences the spiral of silence on a much larger scale than mass media in 1974 because of hyperconnectivity. Further more, the way we become silent is different and the reasons we stay silent are different.  There are many reasons to stay silent: we value what others think of us, we want to avoid conflict, we don’t get enough “likes” on our posts, or we are simply overwhelmed by hyperconnectivity and all the information that we simply need a break.  I expect this is a short list of reasons and will grow as more research is done on the effects of hyperconnectivity and human behavior.  Has our desire to feel connected caused us more harm than good?

 

 

Tracking Your Every Move as You Shop

Close up on the Amazon Go store sign at the downtown Seattle Amazon headquarters

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses how the internet has revolutionized the retail industry. She mentions Amazon’s efforts to make online grocery shopping successful.

“The largest share of online revenue in the United States is generated in retail shopping, with Amazon the top vendor…Some businesses have not translated to e-commerce as well as others, but due to the large profits possible, innovations to them are being explored. For example, grocery shopping, which as of 2014 had not found major success online, seems to have a brighter future in e-commerce. Amazon is fronting the cost of an expensive delivery infrastructure, without which the business could not take off, and customers are getting used to the idea of buying fresh food online. It takes both a technological and a psychological shift for some businesses to succeed.” (p. 169)

It’s interesting to note that Amazon just opened a cashier-less grocery store in Chicago this week. This is the fourth Amazon Go store and the first outside of Seattle. It’s in the same building as Amazon’s Chicago office.

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The Chicago Tribune posted a video of a high-speed walk around the store. In the video, you can see the store’s slogan: “Just Walk Out Shopping.” There is no cashier or self-checkout stations.

Customers use their smartphones to scan an app on their way into the store. From there, hundreds of video cameras and infrared sensors in the ceiling track shoppers as they move around and pick up merchandise, which is monitored by weight sensors. Items are added to a virtual shopping cart as customers take them off the shelves.

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Chayko warns about data privacy in e-commerce, “…data mining and surveillance should be kept in mind. Consumers and companies alike should be aware of the implications of widespread sharing on people’s privacy and safety and of the (in)security of data in online spaces.”

Depositphotos_40145553_m-2015An article in the Washington Post quotes Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown University’s law school, saying it’s highly likely that Amazon Go collects more information than any other retailer setting today.

There’s also concern about the effect of cashier-less stores on jobs. Bloomberg reports that Amazon is considering opening up to 3,000 Amazon Go stores in the next three years. The Washington Post points out that being a cashier is America’s second-most common job according to federal data. About 3.5 million Americans are cashiers.

The Chicago Tribune reported that at the Amazon Go in Chicago there are several employees who answer questions, help customers download the app, find their receipt on the app, restock shelves, and check photo IDs of those buying alcohol.

I’m looking forward to visiting Amazon Go. As a tech enthusiast, I’m willing to give up some privacy for the convenience and novelty. And, now that I know there are cameras and sensors tracking my every move, I’ll be sure to be on my best behavior.

Overwhelmed or Emboldened? I Choose Emboldened

Frankenstein

Courtesy of Amazon

This fall I’m teaching an online Introduction to Literature course. The first piece of fiction my students read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a 200-year-old Gothic novel that asks the same question that Mary Chayko does in Chapter 10 of her 2018 book Superconnected: “what does it mean, really, to be human” (214). In a discussion board post, my students agreed on three major requirements:

  1. the desire for knowledge and learning;
  2. the ability to form connections with other human beings and show empathy for them; and
  3. the ability to feel intense feelings like love, faithfulness, rage, and vengeance.

Some critics believe Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a warning against the ever-reaching power of man. Essentially, they claim it is a treatise against the notion of “playing God.”  I ask my students to think about how Shelley’s monstrous creature relates to today’s modern advancements like cloning and artificial intelligence. Much of the content throughout Chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Chayko’s text made me feel anxious, hand-wringy. Then I came upon media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s quote:

“Living in modern technologized times can be a shock to the system [. . .] the more we become aware of these challenges—economic troubles, climate change, wars, any of a host of social problems—the more we can become overwhelmed with the prospect of actually solving them” (Chayko, p. 215).

Yes! That’s how I felt while reading this week’s content. That’s how it feels right now when I go online or turn on the radio. A recent New York Times article, “It’s Not Just You: 2017 Was Rough for Humanity, Study Finds,” shared that reported negative feelings were at an all-time low across the globe (Chokshi, 2018). Quite frankly, worrying about internet surveillance is the last issue many people (including me), already tired, stress, and overwhelmed, want to add to their worry list.

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Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Source: Time Magazine

However, like many other big issues (greenhouse gases, suicide prevention, North Korea) that we individually can only do so much about, individually we can educate ourselves on these issues and talk about them with friends and family, or blog about them on platforms like this. We can pay more attention when headlines about “net neutrality” pop up in our Facebook newsfeed. We can read works like Chayko’s and try to answer the questions she asks. As people privileged to live in a technologically-adept and responsive society, we have an obligation to make sure these new advances that make our lives easier and more efficient aren’t thwarting the human rights of others, that they don’t do so already.

Mary Shelley warns of “playing God,” but we know since Frankenstein’s publication in 2018, we have seen advancements that would frighten and mystify her. “As science writer James Gleick looks at it, ‘We can be overwhelmed or we can be emboldened’ (2011, p. 419)” (Chayko p. 215).  I choose emboldened, with the knowledge that liberty isn’t free. As Sam Cooke puts it: “A change is gonna come.” We have to be ready for it.

Dating apps, devices and microcoordination

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConntected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life dives into the 24/7 connectedness we have to others. We, as technology users, are connected to our social groups 24/7 regardless of physical location. As I was reading through Chapter 8, I kept bringing the content back to users on dating apps.

Dating App Pic

Screenshot of available dating apps for iPhone.

This connectedness and constant availability can hinder relationships as much as it can strengthen them. For a moment, consider the available dating apps: Tinder, Hinge, Bumble, League, etc. In these apps, users can open the app, connect with other users, and message the person virtually immediately as long as it’s a mutual connection. But when and how does the other person respond? If the person responds immediately they may come off desperate, however – as users who are essentially constantly available and connected, how long is appropriate to wait before responding? There’s are tons of articles on the internet offering advice to users on this subject, like this one from EliteDaily “How Long Should You Wait to Respond to a Message on A Dating App?” which says the key is to wait five minutes. Chayco says, “because the internet and digital media permit individuals to contact one another at a moment’s notice, people often expect to be able to reach one another and to make plans at any time. These rational expectations can be heightened when people want or need extra attention” (p.183). In the dating app scene, I believe it is true that these types of rational expectations are heightened. Users are expecting a timely reaction because of how connected we all are to our phones, but balancing those technological expectations with dating expectations can add some confusion in the mix.

modern dating

Once users on these apps connect with a person, they can message the person through the app and make plans to meet up in real life. Chayco continues in this chapter to discuss the ease of making plans with technology, she calls it microcoordination (p. 184). Sure, technology like cell phones give users an easy way to make & change & adjust plans but, as Chayco says “it can also help contribute to a climate in which plans and schedules are generally seen as vague, indefinite, and perpetually incomplete” (p. 184). I listen to this podcast, “U Up?which is a podcast about modern dating (p.s. It’s hilarious and I highly recommend it). In the podcast,  Jared Freid and Jordana Abraham, the co-hosts, are regularly getting emails from listeners and discussing how to move dates from casual conversation on the apps to a real-life date. And they are always discussing how so many people are getting ghosted (see #2), getting dates canceled last minute, and generally having texting conversations about going on a date but never actually making the plans.

u up

Image: U Up? Podcast Cover Photo

Weighing the readings this week against modern dating and dating apps, it seems that technology is making it easier than ever to meet people online, but harder than ever to actually make plans and follow through. Gone are the days of formal dates and grand gestures to win someone over. In today’s dating scene, dating apps seems to be the norm, where users are consistently connected to each other, but somehow this connectedness perhaps also hindering relationships.  

Feeling Superconnected

Hello, fellow bloggers!

For starters, my sincere apologies for my delayed contribution. I had this post saved as a ‘Draft’ before attempting to submit it via mobile phone. Unfortunately, it seems I was unsuccessful in that effort, which I hadn’t realized until tonight while searching for post comments/feedback from you all.

Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying Superconnected thus far, as I can relate to many of Chayko’s perspectives, opinions, and suggestions. Pardon the clichés, but she pushes me “out of my comfort zone” while inspiring me to “think outside the box”. Before I began reading, I really wasn’t sure what to expect, though I also didn’t expect her messages to be so deep, thought-provoking, and borderline controversial. That being said, I feel pleasantly surprised, intellectually stimulated, and eager for future readings.

Below are my reactions to Chayko’s primary areas of focus of web content: Ownership and Security.

Ownership

Ownership

Image courtesy of Digital Resource

As a whole, I agree with Chayko’s general stance on web content ownership. The way I see it, all web content is susceptible to at least being accused of plagiarism. While we can argue that our opinions belong solely to ourselves, even subjectivity is bound to be common among users. In other words, no matter how unique I believe my opinions to be, others are bound to share the same opinions. Therefore, if I publicly post what I’m hoping will be a unique, original opinion, others may still accuse me of content theft.

I believe this is what Chayko is getting at as well. However, it seems like she’ll provide a strong opinion and then almost immediately encourage her audience to challenge her opinion. Does anyone else gather this?

Security

Internet Security

Image courtesy of Router-Switch

Again, in general, I believe Chayko and I share similar views on web content security. No matter the precautions we take, I think it’s safe to say that all web activity is susceptible to being monitored by a third party, and all web content is susceptible to being obtained by an untrustworthy source.

You’ll notice that many websites contain a ‘Security’ section outlining the platforms being used to promote information safety and confidentiality. For example, such a section may contain a ‘Norton Antivirus’ logo, implying that this antivirus software is activity being used by the website. You may also see a ‘PayPal’ logo, designed to assure users that it is safe to purchase the website’s products through this reputable third-party payment processor.

However, please don’t be overly trusting! You can never be too careful when it comes to internet security. Such icons don’t necessarily guarantee any specific level of security, as any website in the techno-sphere can contain images of antivirus software and/or payment processors. To be a little more explicit, thieves can host fraudulent websites containing endless, invisible viruses and forms of spyware. However, to create a false sense of security, these thieves can easily include the aforementioned ‘decoy’ icons on their wormy websites. Copyright infringement? Perhaps, but still hardly the least problematic area of this type of web-trap.

Final Thoughts

people in the information space

Image courtesy of Mobile ID World

I am not certain there are right or wrong answers to the aforementioned topics. Regardless, these particular topics are prevalent, controversial, and “here to stay” (you had to expect one final cliché).

 

Superconnected: The ownership of ideas and information security

While Dr. Chayko discusses information and communication technology in a number of ways, I was particularly intrigued with her discussions about idea ownership and information security. In this post, I’ll outline these ideas and contribute my own thoughts about idea ownership and the security of information within digital systems.  

Ownership of ideas

Dr. Chayko questions the ownership of ideas in chapter four. She ponders if we own our ideas and how we can attribute ownership to something that’s not yet tangible. I ponder this questions often in my professional and academic work. Of course, I cannot claim someone else’s ideas as my own, but at what point can we truly trace the origin of an idea? My freshman composition professor also used to tell my class that no idea is truly original because we always got it from somewhere else (he would always make this argument so we would source our information in essays). This is something that has always intrigued me.

Our ideas evolve from interconnected and disconnected empirical experiences. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know the origin of an idea or if it is truly my own. This begs the question of what is more important: the idea itself or the execution of the idea? Chayko notes that, while “specific intellectual contributions are legally protected”, general thoughts are not.  

As such, differentiating between general ideas and intellectual contribution is something that I personally struggle with as a writer. When I’m writing an article about a new IoT (Internet of Things) initiative, I am often inspired by things I see and hear around me.  In order to codify this ideas, I try to apply my own interpretation in the form of execution — going beyond the ‘what’ and venturing into the ‘how’, ‘why’, and ‘what’s next’.

That said, the current speed at which information propagates makes it exceedingly difficult to trace the origin of an idea or that idea’s originating execution. We seem to be in an era where the only way to truly keep our ideas private is to keep them to ourselves or to try to pursue legal ways to copyright and trademark ideas. Dr. Chayko is also not the only one who is pondering this question. There are many articles, like this article from the Guardian, that explore the idea ownership and plagiarism in the digital age. In this article, the author seems to conclude that the application of the idea is more important than the original idea.

I personally believe that we can be inspired by what others have written and be allowed to write about similar topics. With the speed of which information propagates, I don’t see how this can’t be a reality. However, I do believe original ownership of ideas should always be sourced from those who originally inspired us. We cannot copy the structure of their idea, (i.e. we should add to the conversation, not copy what they said.) To do otherwise would just be dishonest. In that regard, II believe the original idea and the execution of the idea are both important. 

Secure communication and information

Chayko made me ponder secure communication and information accessibility. She states, “It is important to consider exactly how accessible and open computer systems should be – how various kinds of information should be accessed and who should do the accessing.”

If only information security was as simple as stock photos make it out to be. Source: CG Business Consulting

My company deals with this type of question almost everyday with the line of work we do. We help customers connect physical objects or systems to the Internet – these objects or systems can be anything, but most businesses use us to connect valuable infrastructure or assets that they would like to keep an eye on from a remote location. However, when you connect an object or system to the Internet, it is now sending and transferring tons of data and information into internal systems and other places. My company helps make this process secure and safe so none of this data can be hacked or used for nefarious means.

But this is the problem with connected systems. While every IoT company will promise that they will safeguard against these things, there is no way you can ever stop someone from hacking into something if they truly have the means. Nothing can ever be completely secure, which opens up the question, “What should and should not be connected to the Internet?” While we are connecting physical objects to solve real-world problems in the world, should we?

Personally, I believe there are certain things that should be connected and there are some things that just shouldn’t be connected (for instance we don’t need connected basketballs and connected hairbrushes — yes, these are real things). The only objects that should be connected are the ones that offer continuous, recurring value for the business and for the customer. I believe businesses are responsible for making sure the products they are connecting add value not just to their business, but their customers’ lives. Only then can they justify connecting their systems and gathering information from objects and systems. 

The use of communication becoming automated . . . “Hey, Alexa!”

 

Communicating with individuals, robots and machines are a part of some individual’s lives that live in first world countries. For some Americans, the use of communication has become so monotonous, streamline and assisted that it enables the user to become reliant on a machine, robot or personal assistant like device to handle the job or task.

With the use of communication the range of possibilities remained wide open. In this week’s reading from Mary Chayco’s book, SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media & Techno-Social Life, she states, ” Licklider described all kinds of possible uses for computerization, including digital libraries, e-commerce, and online banking, and he also envisioned a point-and-click system for using the computer” (Chayco, p. 19). The highly intuitive “world wide web” was breaking through ground as early as 1950, however some of us were not keen on how all of this would come together or perhaps had no idea this was beginning to set a precedent for the future of communication.

The use of robotics made its debut in the early 1950’s. Chayco said, “In 1954, American inventor George Devol laid the foundation for the field of robotics with the first digitally operated and programmed robot, named Unimate, which worked on a New Jersey assembly line” (Chayco, p. 19). More of this was in the works and Chayco furthers this concept with the following statement, “An extension of artificial intelligence, robots, guided by computer programs, would take on rote tasks that could be automated, but they would also, as we shall see, take on more complex tasks over time and become more lifelike” (Chayco, p.19). The use of robots was becoming centralized and congruent with the use of technology and communication.

But, let’s switch gears quickly . . .

As you may know, in the 21st century some of us have access to voice activated systems, such as Siri, Alexa, etc. and it sure does make life a little easier… well that’s what we like to believe right? As we learned about earlier and from Chayco the use of and integration of robots and robotic machines with human-like capabilities began it’s debut in the early 1950’s, but flipping ahead 60 years, users now have access to smaller voice-activated robotic like machines, similar to Alexa.

Amazon released a personal device for your home, business, and car or wherever you are to help provide you with assistance with your day-to-day lives. Alexa allows a user to ask just about anything and the virtual assistant will provide you with an answer.

The connection with other technology on the market!

As Alexa continues to gain popularity and newer technologies are released the compatibility of Alex and the new technology will need to continue to work in congruence. Earlier in the reading Chayco mentions how older technologies will work to become compatible with newer technologies or the newer technologies will integrate or become compatible for the older devices. Chayco said the following in response to this, “”Interestingly, as new technologies are invented, they do not necessarily supplant those that came before but are often used in combination with them, sometimes inspiring changes in how the existing technologies operate or are used (see Dunbar-Hester, 2014; Jenkins, 2006; Volti, 2014)” (Chayco, p.17). Even during the 1800’s communication and technology were setting the foundation for the future.

What’s next?

As we begin to forecast the future, what’s next or likely to be introduced in the form of technology and the use of communication it’s no surprise some of the hottest products out there are leading the way. Amazon’s Alexa is working on it’s own robot for the home as of April, 2018. It’s something that’s not ready it, but some companies have begun to introduce similar like devices and Amazon’s Alex recently expanded it’s capabilities to include it’s own “skills.” The skills are referred to as commands that are synced with other technology-advanced devices around your home that enable “smart-like” features to communicate and cooperate alongside the virtual assistant, Alexa.

Read more on the article featuring the future of Amazon’s robot-like Alexa.

Why Google Needs Oversight

google on smartphone

A smartphone and computer running Google search. Photo from Depositphotos.

In Superconnected, Mary Chayko discusses the inception of Google. It was developed by Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin and revolutionized the internet when the search engine became publicly available in the late 90s and created algorithms in the early 2000s. Today, Google is the world’s leading search engine.

“At the same time that it produces results for the user, Google also stores, caches, and archives large portions of web content as the web is being searched…Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and other major tech companies also allow the data that flows in and through their platforms to be mined and in some cases participate in the mining. As a result, nearly everything that is done on the internet is tracked, analyzed, stored, and then used for a variety of purposes,” Chayko writes.

Google Accumulates Power
In May of this year, Steve Kroft of the TV news magazine 60 Minutes reported on the power of Google and critics who say the company, worth three quarters of a trillion dollars, is stifling competition. Google, which is owned by the holding company Alphabet, went public in 2004. It has also bought more than 200 companies including YouTube, the largest video platform, and Android, which runs 80% of smartphones.

In the 60 Minutes story, Gary Reback, a well-known antitrust lawyer, says Google is a monopoly. He says it’s a monopoly not only in search, but also other industries such as online advertising. Plus, Google accumulates information about users and sells that information to advertisers. He points out that people tell search engines more than they tell their spouses, giving Google a “mind-boggling degree of control over our entire society.”

The Business Insider reports Google is also a major player in the news industry, surpassing Facebook last year as “the leading source of traffic to news publishers’ websites according to Chartbeat…the majority of traffic to publishers’ websites from mobile devices.”

Google Dominates its Competition
Also, in May, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims wrote about the growing demand to break up the monopolies of Google, Facebook, and Amazon. He writes, “…as they consolidate control of their markets, negative consequences for innovation and competition are becoming evident.”

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Google search results for “Mexican restaurants near me” showing Google information at the top of the first page

Jonathan Taplin, a digital media expert, says in the 60 Minutes story that Google has no real competition because it has 90% of the search market and Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has 2%. The co-founder of Yelp, Jeremy Stoppelman, points out that Google has changed its search results over the years so that instead of returning the best information from around the internet, results at the top of the first page are often from Google properties. Google lists results from its own data first such as maps, restaurant reviews, shopping, and travel information. This is especially important when many users are viewing results on the small screen of a mobile phone.

Google Faces Regulation
Google has been fined by the European Union for anticompetitive actions. Over the summer, the EU slapped Google with a $5 billion fine. According to the Business Insider, the EU ordered Google to stop using its Android operating system to block competitors. Google is appealing that fine. Last year, the EU fined Google $2.7 billion for illegally promoting its shopping search results over its competitors.

The U.S. government should follow the example of the EU and provide more oversight of Google and other tech giants. It’s clear that Google is a powerful force in society, and with the company’s dominance comes the need for transparency and accountability. Recently, Google, Facebook, and Twitter have been called to testify and answer questions at U.S. Congressional hearings regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. An Axios article by David McCabe had more ideas on how the government could provide oversight:

  • Require Google to release more information regarding its algorithms
  • Make it easier to sue big tech companies like Google
  • Designate it as a “common carrier” which would allow the government to appoint a body to oversee Google

All of these options should be considered, and more should be done to make sure Google and other powerful tech companies do not wield too much influence over our lives without our knowledge and consent. It should be noted that I relied heavily on Google to research this blog post.

Crowdsourcing is Key in my Social Media Based Business

Before I discuss crowdsourcing and its necessity in my social media based, direct sales business, let me give a bit of background.  I work for Vantel Pearls as an independent consultant and team leader.  This company began as an in-home party sales company much like Tupperware or Thirty-One Gifts.  However, with Facebook’s invent of the Live Video Streaming feature, Vantel Pearls consultants began to take their parties from the living room to the live video platform, thus allowing them to reach an audience well outside of their local social circle.

During my live videos, the customer makes a purchase, selects the oyster they would like to open, and I shuck the oyster, live, to reveal the pearl inside.  That pearl is then sent to our home office to be set into the jewelry piece they selected and they will receive their jewelry in 2-3 weeks via US Mail.  It may seem simple – Hit the “Go Live” button and voila, everyone in the USA sees your party, hops on, and makes a purchase!  Right?  Well, no.  As a matter of fact, Facebook algorithms make it virtually impossible to reach more than a small handful of even your Facebook friend’s list, much less those outside of your circle.  This is what makes crowdsourcing so important in my business.

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses crowdsourcing in depth in Chapter 4.  She says, ” Online attention can take the shape of a single glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment” (76).  It takes time and effort to build a social media presence.  My business began with my local social circle and a select few of my Facebook friends who had interest in the product and experience I was selling.  I encouraged those friends to host a party with me; they became the “hostess” with the promise of earning free jewelry based upon the purchases made by their friends and family (their circle).  They invited these friends and family members to the party and by doing so, increased my “circle” a bit more.

During my live parties, I spend time engaging with my customers and making sure they are having fun.  I wear silly hats, play games, bring on special guests and offer prizes to buyers as well as to people who SHARE my video on their personal pages.

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Image from: Grad School Pearl Girl VIPs Group Page

By having them comment a phrase with the hashtag sign in front of it  (#Just1morepearl),  I am able to randomly choose a “Share Winner” though FB feature called “Woobox.”  I ask that they make all shares public so that I can verify the share was made once the winner is chosen.

Mary Chayco says, “This is, indeed, a kind of economy, and it is one that has come to matter to many of us.  Attention is attracted as something shared is acknowledged online.  A kind of compensation follows in the form of likes, follows and comments.  More tangible rewards like social connections, jobs, and money can even follow” (76).  Facebook allows me to keep track of likes, shares, and follows via “Insights” that can be found on my Facebook Business Page.  It keeps track of the trends week-by-week so I can see the ebbs and flows in the number of people who are seeing and interacting with my page.

Mary Chayco points out that, “Attention online is subject to increasing returns.  That is, the more one has of it, the easier it is to get more.  …To succeed in such an economy, it helps to create or re-mix attention getting content and then to rapidly capitalize on bursts of attention as soon as they occur in hopes they will follow back and engage in return” (76).  This is something I find myself doing often.  When I change the times I go live, or the prizes I give away on a given night, sometimes my live viewers will jump dramatically.  When they do, I immediately take that cue to mention liking and following my page, joining my VIP group, or signing up to receive my text notifications.  I rev up the energy, start singing – anything to get those people to take it one step further and like or follow my page in hopes that they will, over time, see me pop up in their feed and ultimately, become interested enough to make a purchase.

However, all of this has been more that I can do alone.  Around Christmas, I enlisted the help of four “Admins” to help me run my Facebook Business and VIP pages.  These four individuals are responsible for making posts to increase interaction on my pages during times when I am not live, booting trolls from my live videos who, as Mary Chaco describes them, are “individuals who… “hijack”…and provide extreme, irrelevant responses in an attempt to pull focus away from the…original intent” (74), and sharing my live videos in groups to increase viewers.  I suppose you could say I outsourced crowdsourcing.

In March, Vantel Pearls sent me to Rivera Maya, Mexico in an all expense paid trip for being in the 125 top in sales.  My gratitude went to my customers, because, without their constant shares, post interactions, and purchases, I would not have a business.  While I am certainly not famous nor the absolute top seller in the company, I count my business a success because of my customers’, Admins’, followers’ willingness to share me with their friends and family – their willingness to crowdsource!

Left Behind

Communication is a desire of all humans.  Over the centuries, humans have found better, faster and easier ways to communicate.  We’ve even found ways to communicate with people who are thousands of miles away or in space.  As we’ve advanced, we’ve benefited – at least most of us.  One specific area that has benefited is workplace communication.  Modern technological advances have allowed organizations to have intranet sites that inform employees about company sponsored events, stock value, employee resource groups and training opportunities.  Employees visiting their intranet sites can learn more about the company and what leadership’s goals and vision are.  They can view organizational charts, access forms and policy documents and even read company newsletters.  Those who have company issued devices such as laptops and smartphones have the means to send and receive messages via company email, use an electronic time keeping system and access various applications.  Because companies have kept up the pace with modern technology, communication within them has been enhanced.  It has opened wonderful doors of opportunity for many employees.  However, there is one segment of the workforce that lags far behind the others in terms of having good access to modern communication methods and modes – production workers.

Employee engagement is lowest among production workers.  This lower employee engagement can be linked to less efficient communication to and from production workers.  So, while the majority of our workforce has been able to take advantage of and reap the benefits of what Mary Chayko, in her book Superconnected, calls a participatory culture, production workers do not have these same opportunities.  While internal workplace communication is growing and changing with the times among all other segments of the workforce, production workers are being left behind.  It’s no wonder they are less engaged.

While solutions to this problem are difficult to find, the reasons are fairly simple.  If, for example, you are a welder working the third shift at a large company, you most likely don’t have a company issued laptop or smart phone, you don’t have the ability to leave your work on the line to attend a town hall meeting and you probably don’t even have a company email address.  So, much of the company information about upcoming events, changes, training opportunities, policies, etc., is cascaded down to you through word of mount or perhaps a poster on the break room bulletin board.  You are not a part of the participatory culture that everyone else enjoys.  This creates a serious communication gap between production workers and the rest of the organization.

How can we bridge this digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce?  How can we give them better opportunities to participate and engage with the business they are such a valuable part of?  Is it financially feasible and beneficial for organizations to invest in ways to create avenues with which communication can flow to and from production workers?  An article by Jeffry Bartash in MarketWatch emphasizes how low unemployment rates (among other factors) have left many businesses facing a labor shortage.  Companies are paying for workers to take courses and get certifications as a way to obtain more skilled laborers.  They’re also offering better pay and benefits to attract workers.  What if some companies offered production workers time to attend town hall meetings and other company-wide events, or leverage mobile application technology? Bulent Osman writes in Forbes  magazine about how important it is to reach these employees, and that leveraging mobile technology is a feasible way.   Companies absorb the costs of providing workers with the tools to communicate better because they know how it benefits the business and increases employee engagement.  I issue a challenge that we begin to find ways to close the digital divide between production workers and the rest of the workforce, and that we provide them with better communication tools.

Blogging: Past Experiences and Article Reflection

Past Experiences with Blogging

I discovered my passion for web writing/editing back in the fall of 2013 when I began taking online Professional Communications courses through Fox Valley Technical College. To hit the ground running, I created two blogs of my own. First, I created a Milwaukee Brewers blog called Barrel Man’s Brew Blog. Shortly thereafter, I created a professional-advice blog called Positivity and Professionalism. Though clearly dated, the blogs are still live:

Barrel Man’s Brew Blog

Positivity and Professionalism

I enjoyed maintaining these blogs, as it was solid “beginner” experience for me in my new field. However, I found them to be time-consuming, possibly because I was trying too hard to create “perfect” content out of the gates. As a result, I most actively blogged while I was only working part-time.

The time factor is the primary reason the two blogs have become stagnant. However, having gained significant personal and professional experience over the past few years, perhaps I could rekindle my bloggership while hopefully being more efficient and responsible with my content creation/management.

“What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer

I enjoyed reading this article while learning about Medium, a company I was previously unfamiliar with. In fact, I learned that Medium created Blogger, the blogging platform of Barrel Man’s Brew Blog.

Though I enjoyed this article, I’ll admit I’m saddened by its primary message. Meyer insists that blogging is dead, old news, a thing of the past, etc. However, I’m not specifically offended by Meyer’s words, as it’s one person’s opinion at its core. Instead, I’m disappointed that, well…he might be right. Upon further review, it seems many other internet voices agree with that of Meyer, whose post might reflect a trending, collective viewpoint on bloggerhood. Darn it. Just when I was considering a blog reboot!

Unless I’m misunderstanding the content, I believe Meyer is explaining how blogs were so prevalent that they became the status quo of internet content, or the new “normal”. Furthermore, with blogs becoming increasingly prevalent across the web, it’s as though bloggers spread a message to the effect of “This is the type of internet content that appeals to the masses in the 21st century. Deal with it!”

As a result, it seems many electronic newspapers, magazines, and journals have adopted a “bloggistic” writing style to stay current and relevant. Accordingly, traditional journal-type blogs are no longer common because the majority of internet content contains a blog-like formula. In short, blogs are no longer cool and trendy, since everyone is blogging, even if they don’t realize it.

Your feedback is welcome, as I am not sure I’ve grasped the intended message of this article.

Thank you!

Jeff

Crowdsourcing, is it beneficial or harmful?

Social media channels exist because users (individuals, companies, organizations, etc) continue to post, share, like, and interact with content. Each user is actively participating in sharing their photos, status updates, locations, likes and dislikes with the world, collectively creating content for others to consume. But at what cost?

Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life discusses this idea of crowdsourcing, “Because the sum of the contributions of a group so often exceeds the contribution that any one of few people could produce, crowdsourcing can yield astonishing innovation” (p. 73). Examples like GoFundMe, Wikipedia, and Kickstarter are great examples of crowdsourcing content and money for the collective benefit. With crowdsourcing, GoFundMe can raise money for a cause, Wikipedia had detailed content for users to consume, and Kickstarter backs new, innovative products for consumers. In these instances, groups are emerging and sharing in common goals. However, what happens when content is being crowdsourced for individual accounts?

Think about Instagram for a moment. Content is being published at an increasingly quick rate and users with large followings are aiming to publish “on trend” posts. I follow a lot of comedy accounts and many of these accounts have feeds that look like this (@beigecardigan).

Instagram

Screenshot from the @beigecardigan Instagram account.

These accounts are sharing tweets or memes that other users created, published, and now this new account is getting the reward (the “likes”) for republishing it. The “credit” for the content is occasionally (but not always) included by keeping the Twitter username at the top of the post.  

Who is being exploited? Who is benefiting? Does it benefit the person who originally created the content? Maybe they are getting additional traffic to their page, but what if they are not credited? This type of content curation is clearly benefiting the owner of the account who is sharing other people’s original content. There is no need to be original – there’s already a world of entertaining content available at our fingertips.

And it’s not just individual social media users. Companies like Buzzfeed do the same thing regularly. For example, this article 23 Posts That Prove Millennials Really Are The Worst Generation is a collection of tumblr posts and tweets from individuals who commented on why millennials are the worst. Buzzfeed does credit the person (but you couldn’t tell if you weren’t looking, see red circle below). In this case, Buzzfeed is absolutely the one benefitting from this user content. By using other individual’s original content, they create an article, drive audiences to it from their social channels, and in turn advertisers pay them to post ads on their website.

Buzzfeed

Screenshot from Buzzfeed’s article: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katangus/tumblr-tweets-millennials

So is this a problem? Or just part of the social media expectation? Chayco says, “Online attention can take the shape of a simple glance at a photo or a more active step: a like, a follow, a share, a comment. But attention is a two-way street. In exchange for accumulating likes and follows, it is generally expected that one will like and follow in return, though not necessarily an even one-to-one exchange” (p.76). Is this type of content sharing the clearly uneven one-to-one exchange Chayco discusses? Is having your original content shared in a Buzzfeed article enough of an acknowledgement to the user as it is a benefit to Buzzfeed?  

Exploitation? Who cares? They like me!

 

SallyField

Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar acceptance speech

“Please like, comment, and subscribe to see more content like this.” I finish watching a YouTube video and click the thumbs-up button to show my approval. I scroll through the comments. I then flit through Facebook and Instagram, offering a few more “likes” and posting a picture of my cat. According to Mary Chayko, author of the 2018 book Superconnected: The Internet, Digital Media, and Techno-Social Life, I am contributing to the “participatory culture” of the internet age (p. 68) in which I prosume (produce + consume) content (p. 69).

My social media presence is small, but as I’ve liked posts, articles, and pictures over the years, I notice more targeted ads and sponsored posts. They certainly know I’m a woman of a certain age who likes cats, travel, food, and yoga. exhale-inhale-kitteh-yoga-cat-yoga-27239757In Chapter 4 of Chayko’s book, the author cautions that this free sharing of information is making corporations profitable while not paying consumers:

“As people contribute information to websites, blogs, and social media networks, they tell others a great deal about themselves and make quite a bit of personal information public without being compensated in return. Such data, in the aggregate, can make organizations and corporations very wealthy” (p. 68).

Our internet habits make large corporations money, but so did our TV habits and our radio habits before them. Buyer beware; viewer beware. At least now we have more say in what gets created.

Chayko asks if people are being exploited when they share personal, free information online so readily (p. 76). In a capitalist society, we’re driven by profit. Though cruising the internet and social media feel like casual, non-consumer activities, they’re not. The YouTuber we watch for fun is likely making a profit. The items they’ve chosen to talk about are probably profit-driven, based on viewer requests or brands scouting them. Like any form of communication, a tit-for-tat structure forms this “prosumptive nature” of the techno-social world. If you like my picture, I’ll like your video. If you ask me a question, I’ll give you an answer. While we’re not directly paying for our social media applications, we are paying with the amount of attention we give them. In the so-called “attention culture” of the internet, the amount of attention we give to a social media presence creates a currency in the form of attention paid (p. 76). This has become so important that some creators now pay for likes, comments, and subscribers: see Buzzoid or Stormlikes. We like attention, and we like to feel part of a community; social media gives us that.

“Those who communicated via these online networks very often came to feel bonded—like members of a community or club in which they were genuinely, often deeply, engaged. It was, for sure, a new way to initiate sociality ” (34).

To feel part of that genuine community, we gladly ignore exploitation.

As social media personalities become more well known, they have to become more savvy, too. Any why shouldn’t creators who put out strong content make money from that content? Many bloggers and vloggers lament the hours they spend writing, editing, and tagging their posts. They have to be skilled at technology, communication, marketing, branding, and research. Audience members are also pretty good at sniffing out phonies, and with the number of options available to click and find something new, content has to be good, or at least amusing. No matter whether we’re speaking through grunts and hieroglyphs or emojis and hashtags, we have a “timeless human desire to communicate with one another, to be seen and known and understood (p. 15). Social media and the internet allow us to do that every day, all day, if we so choose (which carries a burden of its own).

To stay part of this growing online community and attain the always-on attention we seek, most users overlook or ignore the very-real exploitative nature of this techno-social world. 

(While composing this post, a series of throwback songs popped in my head, including Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Diana Ross’s “Upside Down” and Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”).

 

My Blogging Journey – Lisa Rohloff

216309Blogs are a unique and wonderful medium for writers.  We can post just about anything, anytime, our audience can respond with their candid thoughts, and we can grow and develop as a writer through this process.  Here, I will describe some of the limited experience I’ve had with blogging, what I feel I gained from it, and where I’d like to go with blogging in the future.

My first experience with blogging was in 2011.  I was taking a class towards my bachelor’s degree in Communication, and I was required to create and maintain a blog.  It was fun!  I enjoyed creating something of my own that was both visual and textual.  I filled it with different essays, poems, and assignments I had written.  But, after the class ended, I did not keep the blog updated.  Since beginning my master’s degree program at UW Stout, I’ve also had one class where we entered blog posts.  We were only required to do a couple posts, but I enjoyed that as well.  From there, I started a blog of my own, but since I didn’t keep it updated, I cancelled my post.  I’d love to have a blog and keep it updated regularly, but with working full time, taking classes towards my Master of Science in Technical and Professional Communication (MSTPC) and my family, I honestly don’t have time right now.  However, I am excited that this class gives me an opportunity to develop my blogging skills, so that when I am ready to start my own blog, I’ll be that much better!

Blogging is a terrific way for writers to satisfy that deep desire to write while honing their writing skills.  It is also a great way to gain honest, real-world feedback.  Bonnie A Nardi, Diane J Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht and Luke Schwartz wrote, “In our sample, we discovered five major motivations for blogging:  documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums” (2004,  p. 43).  The blogging I have done fits best into the categories of articulating ideas through writing and forming and maintaining community forums.  But, what I’d really like to do in the future, is to express deeply felt emotions.  I picture myself reclining on a comfortable deck chair, listening to the birds sing their songs to one another, and allowing the wind to calm me as it moves through the leaves.  I long to smell the pine fresh air and then use my pen to help my audience smell it too.  I know I’ll eventually have my own blog – probably soon after I graduate from the MSTPC program.  Until then I’ll keep learning about how to do it well.

 

Nardi, B. A., Schiano, D. J., Gumbrecht, M. & Schwartz, L. (December, 2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12).

 

Social Media’s Digital Labor

Social Media gives us the connection we long for as human beings.  We feel part of something so much bigger than ourselves and are able to connect with past and current friends on a daily basis, if we so choose.  However, is social media connecting us the way we believe it to be or are we all incorporated into a false consciousness where what seems to be super connected is actually complete alienation?  One could argue that it is a matter of perspective, possibly determined by our internal definition of “connected” or that we are potentially being brainwashed on a massive scale.  According to Mary Chayco’s book SuperConnected: The Internet, Digital Media, & Techno-Social Life page 71, the idea of false consciousness is that individuals may not realize that giving away their free time by making and reproducing creative digital communications, they are actually benefiting the more powerful in society rather than themselves.  In other words, social media users and producers are focused upon the view that they are being creative or accomplishing a goal but actually those free efforts are benefiting companies.  Of course there are paid promotional considerations, influencer marketing, and other ways to monetize a blog or other social media platform efforts…  However, who is benefiting the most from this digital labor?

digital labor.jpg (960×851)

The weight of our social media engagements.

Image Source: https://goo.gl/images/sZPpck

 

Digital Labor is the act of individuals producing content for public consumption on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and others that benefits organizations and corporations (Chayco, 2018, p. 71). It’s an organization of human experience that drives marketing, mostly unbeknownst to the producer and the consumer.  In one respect, by the vast amount of digital media consumers are exposed to, they learn about products and services that may not have crossed their path or are able to be involved in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.   However, one could argue that by websites and companies having this inexpensive or even free digital labor, that consumers are exploited.

We rush to social media as a way to express ourselves creatively and to be included in the digital society.  Engagement on social media has become to norm in our highly digital society so much that the act of not being engaged in social media is seen as antisocial.  We’ve come to a collective consciousness in regard to digital media behavior and we didn’t even realize it.  We didn’t question it.  In addition to digital labor, companies also gain information about online behavior by the use of “cookies” (Chayko, 2018, p. 84-85).  This online behavior monitoring and data mining, along with our digital labor, reveals so much personal information about an individual that I’m certain they wouldn’t just tell a complete stranger.  However, that is exactly what is happening with our digital media interactions.  The video below shows how labor has evolved and what it looks like as a “social media workforce”.  It speaks to the idea that we do not feel we are being exploited or alienated as a result of coercion and then our consent.  It’s a bold statement and hard to accept because we like that rush of human interaction.  Again, there is much value in digital communications but we have a responsibility to understand exactly what it is we’re engaging in and agreeing to.

 

Digital labor can be beneficial to consumers on social media platforms but as producers and consumers, we need to reclaim our worth.  Social media users are valuable to corporations by their ability to reach others.  So, how do we make certain we are not free or cheap digital labor?  It starts with awareness.

 

 

My blogging experiences and motivations

The article, “Why we blog” discusses people’s motivations for writing blogs, which got me thinking about my motivations. I have a couple of experiences writing for blogs and I have learned different lessons (about myself and writing) from each of them.

The Tech Ladder – Blogs as muse

Occasionally, I write original tech content for my own website, the Tech Ladder. When I first started this website, I used it as a place to practice writing articles that focused on trending tech content. I practiced because I had tons of experience writing academic essays, but hardly any experiences publishing my own articles.

From this experience, I quickly learned blog writing was drastically different than academic writing – the purpose and style of writing serves different means. I learned that readers didn’t want to read long blog posts, they wanted something quick that educated them. I could use bullet points and needed to find images to make my writing compelling. I learned how to make the visual structure of articles (headlines, headers, and paragraph length) visually compelling so readers would stop to read certain sections. I no longer had a professor who was going to read it no matter what I wrote or said – it was my job to make it interesting and compelling for all sorts of readers.

My main motivation from this blogging experience was to become a better writer. In that sense, I used blogging as a means to educate myself on how to write on the Internet. While this doesn’t seem like an incredibly vulnerable act, it kind of was. Writing my first blog post on this website was slightly nerve-wracking and exhilarating as the same time. While the article wasn’t about me, (and I don’t think I’ll ever be the type of person who blogs about my personal experiences because I just don’t find this type of posts enjoyable/cathartic), it was about me becoming a stronger and more proficient writer (which can be a vulnerable act). I learned that I enjoyed article writing and took my tech content to other websites, which helped spark my career into technical writing.

Blogging for school – Blog as a community forum

The article “why we blog” discusses using blogs as community forums and comes to the consensus that they are not that effective for creating meaningful communities. I believe this is true and not true – it depends upon the needs and goals of the community.

I once created a community blog for an undergraduate class that was particularly difficult. Other classmates joined the blog because they also knew the professor was no easy grader and they were going to need all the help they could get. While we worked together to share study guides and such forth, there was definitely a group of classmates who contributed more to others. Regardless, there was some engagement. Classmates actively posted questions about homework, and sometimes used it as a place to vent their frustrations about the difficulty of the class. At the end of the course, many shared their final grade they got back, whether it was good or bad. I was surprised by how some were so willing to share their personal thoughts about their grades and other experiences in the course.

Afterwards, one classmate created a new blog for us to continue communications with each other even as we parted ways. This blog was not successful, mainly because the need for a community was no longer there. Before, we used the class blog because we felt we needed it to pass the class. Now that the need was gone, there was no reason to use this website or visit it to see what was new. This showed me in order to create a community, you need to have common need or goal in order for it to stay alive.

Particle Blog – Blogs as commentary

I currently publish tech content on my company’s blog. We mainly use this as a place to inform our engaged audience about trends in our industry, and product-related posts. Our main motivation is to provide commentary on our piece of the tech space and show that we are thought leaders in the industry. Writing for a company has taught me the challenges of continuously publishing relevant content. While there is plenty to write about – it can be challenging to stick to a schedule, which can be hard to build an audience when you post infrequently. It has taught me that blogs must contain more than just words these days. You must include images, videos, and other forms of interactive content to keep content engaging. It has also taught me about SEO, and making blogs findable via google search.

At the same time, it has taught me this is probably one of my favorite forms of writing. I like being a thought leader in a space and being able to show how things are evolving in a given industry. It allows me to put my writing in a public place, and receive reception to my work. I can consider myself as a published writer, which was always my dream growing up.

I look forward to blogging with you guys in this class. Even if I don’t wants get to comment on everyone’s post, know that I am reading and enjoying your posts.

You blog, I blog.. Well, I tried to blog and here’s what I learned!

Blogging – A platform used in today’s world to offer one’s opinion, recommendation or share information to a tailored audience. In Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog, Mann  (2015) refers to a blog as, “The contracted form of weblog, a website made up of ongoing entries, usually called posts, that are published in reverse chronological order (i.e., the most recent entry appears first, at the ‘top’ of the page, and so on)” (Mann, 2015).

The very first time I was introduced to blogging was through Pinterest. One day, I was pinning away on all the accessories, designer apparel, outfits, latest fashion trends and just about anything that related to luxurious homes including curb appeal, dreamy master bathrooms, kitchens, and the extravagant necessities one could only dream of having.  It was on this pin, right here, where I was brought to a blog… As the pin loaded, I stopped and almost shut my computer. But, I became so intrigued by what was loading that I anticipated what was to come.

I thought to myself, “Wow,” I could do something like this myself, but perhaps what would I write about? The question stumped me so much that I began researching like crazy all the different topics I could write about. One blog led me to the next blog and the next and so forth. Finally, I took away one recurring theme in each of the blogs and research I compiled online which was to find a specific topic to write about. The blogging industry was becoming so popular that one was advised to write on something very specific to attract, entertain and retain a certain audience. The next piece of advice often given was to write on something that interests you.

thought bubble

 

That’s it.. I wrote down a few items I was heavily interested in and this is the last I came up with:

  • Hockey
  • Fashion
    • Designing Apparel
    • Hair Styles
    • The Latest Industry Trends
    • What’s in Season and what’s not
  • Eczema
    • Yes, I understand this is painful and boring, but as soon as I found a food related link contributing to my dry-skin outbreaks. I wanted to inform, help and guide other individuals on my experience.
      • I couldn’t believe that certain “foods” were linked to my skin outbreak and that I consumed a vast amount of my free time researching skin care products, best practices and reading about other’s experiences, cures, and triggers which caused or help eliminate eczema.

Now, it was time to write. (Yikes!)

  • I could not come up with words, sentences, phrases or images/videos I wanted to include or expand upon for any of the above topics.. I felt a sort of shift in my interest level and motivation to write a blog altogether.

The blog – Well, the blog did begin, but it was for an undergraduate course during my time at UW-Madison. As I began to build my own personal website part of this site included a blog where others could read about my personal background, experiences and areas of interests. Essentially, it was another resource for hiring companies and professionals to get a better feel about the type of person I was and how I could fit into their culture and organization.

  • Reflecting on this (above) I noticed Mann (2015) talked about professional development and career advancement as reason 4 of 5 to begin an academic blog. While at the time I curated this blog, I wasn’t sure how much help or assistance it would ultimately provide me; I’m beginning to see the advantages of presenting a potential employer with more than just a resume… Mann addresses the benefits of creating a blog for this reason by stating, “A well-done academic blog can be a nice feature on a CV” (Mann, 2015). As I began to generate more content to add on this blog, I focused more on the clarity of the content and specific topic to highlight versus just writing to write! Additionally, Mann talks about his experience being awarded a scholarship by keening into the topic of making scholarship available to a wider audience (open access) and with the creation of his own website, ultimately he could illustrate what he was highlighting (Mann, 2015).
    • Y U P !
      • Mann is spot on. For me, as I created my own website I used the website domain in my graduate school application, resume and various other job sites to showcase my own capabilities, reference my work and highlight other interests that were outside of the job scope.

I guess that’s all for now, but there will be more to come with this course and another try at creating an academic blog with all of you.

-Kim Drake

 

References:

Mann, Joshua. (2013, July 25). Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog [Blog post].

Retrieved

from: http://www.academia.edu/4101490/Press_Publish_Start_an_Academic_Blog

 

 

Previous Blogging Experience

My previous experience with blogging is limited, at best.  In 2008, when I began homeschooling my sons, I decided to chronicle our journey through blogging.  Each day, for around 2 months, I would finish school with the boys and spend an hour or more recapping our day in my blog and adding photos of the work the boys had been doing or activities we had completed that day.  I had something to show my doubting family and friends – “Hey guys!  Look!  We really are doing something!”  However, after the first few months of doing this, I grew weary.  It was taking forever and we had just finished a day of challenges and joys that we worked through or celebrated in the moment.  It was an experience for us – not my doubting family and friends!  So I stopped the blogging.

About 4 years later, I decided to pick up blogging again.  I had started taking a weight-loss supplement that I was just determined was going to change my life!  In my direct sales brain, I decided that the best way to “share my journey” with the masses once these miracle supplements had taken me from a size 10 to a size 2, was by chronicling said journey in a blog.  I am pretty sure I blogged sporadically for 13 days before realizing that, A. These supplements were not producing the miracle I had hoped for and B. Most people probably didn’t want to read about my bloating and nausea day-in and day-out.

As Social Media became more popular and my number of “friends” increased exponentially, I found less need to share my life by way of blog.  Author R. Meyer speaks to this in his 2015 article, “What Blogging has Become.”  He says, “We had already lost (the single-URL game)…But in return, we got Twitter and Facebook and whatever your other favorite social-media tool is. They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one. They made blogging easier, because a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore. And along with the chattiness and ease of blogging, they were supposed to bring its attendant emancipations to the masses, too.”  For me, Facebook became a “blog” of sorts.  Granted, my post length is shorter on Facebook, but the sentiment is the same, and adding photos to Facebook could not be easier.  Add in App tools such a Word Swag and I can make a post that both grabs the attention of my reader and makes a statement all at the same time.  And there is no need for my friend/reader to think of me and purposely go to my blog and read – oh no! – Facebook makes sure I pop right up on their screen and tell them all about my day whether they wanted to know about it or not.

Blogging reminds me of the hand-written journals I used to write as a kid.  I have stacks of them stored away that I have not picked up in at least 25 years and will likely never read again.  Life is all about seasons and, most of those, I do not care to relive once they have passed.  Of course, Facebook missed that memo and each day alerts me to relive my posts made on the same day X number of years ago.  Who doesn’t love saying goodbye to their beloved cat each year on the same day through heart-wrenching photos of the kids in tears and the little cross they made for his grave?  Thanks Facebook!

Occasionally, I will find a witty, generally sarcastic blog post that I stop and read, but those are few and far between for me and generally I happen upon them by sheer accident.  Other than that, I have never found blogging to be all that enjoyable personally.  I have never stuck with blogging on my own and I am sure that I have never read anyone else’s blog in its entirety.  I am cautiously optimistic about blogging for this class and I am interested to learn about blogging and social media usage with regard to technical communications.

Rebecca Snyder

 

Is social media driving traffic to blogs?

Blogging for my work organization

I am an idea contributor to the UW-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering blog as part of my full time duties in my current position. This blog is rebranded on our website as “Department News” highlighting stories about our faculty research contributions, student group successes, and alumni stories. It is entirely composed of articles, there are no videos, podcasts, or other forms of media listed.   

The blog itself is separated into content categories of alumni, awards, educational innovation, faculty, in the media, newsnotes, perspective, research, student services, students, uncategorized, and Wisconsin Idea. Each article is tagged with one or many of these items based on what it relates to. Additionally, each article is tagged with the primary or affiliated departments (i.e. Mechanical Engineering and Industrial and Systems Engineering) for the specific topic.

I am not the primary contributor to this blog. We have a fully developed External Relations Team housed within the College of Engineering whose primary job is to find and tell these stories about the College of Engineering. My role comes in two-fold, 1) when the idea is just an idea and 2) when the newspiece is produced. I am a collector of information from faculty, students, and alumni and I share that information with our External Relations Team. I make sure that those individuals are informed of the story idea, the important contacts for getting the information, and any photography that might accompany the story. Once our External Relations Team produces the piece, I share the story on our Department of Mechanical Engineering Facebook page.

Sharing blogs to social channels

As mentioned, once a blog is created it is my responsibility to share the information to our Facebook channel. The article “What Blogging Has Become” by Robinson Meyer discusses the organization of old blogs in “reverse-chronological order” within a connecting set of topics. However, now with Twitter and Facebook there is a whole new tone to blogging. Meyers says, “They [Twitter and Facebook] made blogging easier, because a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore… they were supposed to bring it’s attendant emancipation to the masses” (“What Blogging Has Become”). I totally agree with that. When I am posting the blog posts our team created to our social channels, I already know I have an engaged audience. The followers of my page have some interest already in what I am posting, and in turn are following these social posts to the blog page of our website. It seems clear at this moment, that Facebook is driving traffic to the website, not vice versa. It will be interesting to see how this is affected as the social media landscape continues to shift. As Meyer’s highlights in this article, the social channels organizations are using is one of the primary contributors to driving traffic to blogs today.

Beyond participating in my organization’s blog, I do not have any other online blog presence. I do occasionally visit blogs, primarily thanks to Pinterest, where I click on pins that typically lead me to a individual’s blog post who is sharing a recipe, fashion advice, or home decorating tips. Blogging is a much different art form than social media, where I am heavily present. Whereas some individuals dive into their blog, it is much more likely that peers will see me on social channels like Snapchat and Instagram.

From Mommy Blogs to YouTube Vlogs

HeatherArmstrong

Heather Armstrong (Dooce.com), courtesy of ProBlogger

I began reading blogs when I was a technical writer in Fargo, ND, in the early 2000s. Professionally, I followed some technical communication blogs, and personally, I read a handful of “mommy blogs”, one of which was the famous Dooce.com (Heather Armstrong), who has gone on to write several books about her experiences with mental illness and parenting. I still read a few of those lifestyle blogs, but many of the bloggers quit blogging after five years or so. I also had a personal blog for about six months where I mostly recorded my thoughts and observations for the day or week. I quit because it felt odd when people started commenting on my posts.

According to Nardi et al (2004), people are motivated to blog for five reasons: 1) to document their lives; 2) as a form of commenting on events; 3) as a way to process topics (catharsis); 4) to figure out how they feel about a topic (“thinking with computers”); 5) to build community with like-minded individuals (p. 43-45). My personal blog was a version of motivations 1, 3, and 4, and the other blogs I read were for similar reasons. I agree that these are reasonable motivations and that many bloggers touch on all five of those motivations at some point in their publication history.

When I began reading blogs, most of the bloggers posted at least several times a week. As their blogs grew their audience and perhaps the bloggers’ personal lives became more complicated as a result of that, their postings became less frequent, which is also a trend that Nardi et al (2004) note; they call it “blog burnout” (p. 42).

Nardi et al’s article “Why We Blog” was published in 2004, and a considerable change has occurred in that 14 years. Kissane (2016) chronicles the five most important trends in blogging include: 1) the end of the blogger and the advent of the influencer; 2) the size of posts becoming longer and more substantive; 3) removing or at least responding less to viewers’ comments; 4) incorporating more and better graphics; 5) measuring how long viewers stay on the site versus whether they visit the site. I definitely see these trends happening. Though I watch more YouTube now than I do read blogs, I hear more and more people refer to themselves as “influencers” or “creators.” Graphics have definitely become more elaborate, and I know that Google/YouTube provide tools for users to perform data analytics, which tell creators how long people are staying on specific pages or videos. I’m not sure I see the trend of fewer comments, but I know some creators choose not to reply to comments or even to block or remove distasteful content (troll behavior).

To have an online presence, be it blog or vlog, influencers must stay up-to-date on technological trends and essentially become mini producers. They have to know how to edit, tag, add music, know the rules around adding content (like music), keep on top of comments, police the comment community, and keep content fresh. Several of the big YouTubers have management teams, and more advertisers are recruiting these influencers to help sell products. That’s an entirely other can of worms regarding ethics and rules.

Blogging and Digital Marketing Strategy

Blogs have become my main use for Facebook.  While I first used it as a social outreach tool, I now appreciate it as the one place I can see all the blogs that interest me in one feed.  I also technically follow many bloggers on Pinterest. Pinterest is my go-to place for recipes, craft ideas, or sewing projects.  When I click on those Pins, I’m directed to the site. I find that I am more likely to engage with these bloggers if I can use certain social media platforms as a central feed or board. Otherwise, as my email inbox fills up, I’m more likely to delete communications without reading them.

Digital Marketing Strategy is an excellent tool for gaining blog followers.

From the article, 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners, by Belle Beth Cooper, she states she’s heard blogging referred to as a “mixture between an art and a science”.  What a precise statement!  The balance between the writer’s artistic, personal expression and attracting an active readership is an analytical challenge.

I’d like to touch on a few of the 16 tips provided in Belle Beth Cooper’s article that tie in Digital Marketing Strategy and blogging.

#4 – Build an email list.

Creating a call-to-action encouraging readers to sign up for an email list does make sense because your intent is having that open channel to reach their inbox.   However, consumers are bombarded with emails on a daily, if not hourly basis, and realistically because of the demands on people’s time, your email is more likely to end up in the trash.  Although the intent of building an email list is to circumvent competitive factors such as Facebook News Feed ranking (EdgeRank isn’t used anymore by name but Facebook still ranks based upon 1000’s of factors using algorithms) and Search Engine rankings, there are simple ways Bloggers can stay visible on social media platforms.

I encourage you watch this brief video by Facebook, “How Does Facebook News Feed Ranking Work?”.

A few recommendations I offer to create different call-to-actions encouraging readership are:

  1. Encourage readers to not only “like” your page but to also “follow” it.
  2. Encourage comments to your blog posts on social media.
  3. Consider “sponsored” posts. “Sponsored” posts are available on most social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. “Sponsored” posts allow the blogger to target consumers who’ve already indicated behaviors that tie into their target audience.  Blogger’s can determine their own spend and the analytics immediately show if it paid off.

#6 – Focus on building an amazing call-to-action.

A central component of any Digital Marketing Strategy is the call-to-action.  What do you want the visitor to your blog site or webpage to do? As much as a blogger should stay true to their artist output, how are you going to encourage people to read it?

Nate Kontny, founder of Draft, a blog for writers, noted that when he created a strong, relevant call-to-action, it “immediately increased my Twitter followers by 335% in the first 7 days!”

The proof is in the analytics!

#7 – Give stuff away.

This sounds ridiculous at first because aside from wanting to share your writing as a blogger, there’s also the intent for it to be an income source.  However, the main idea behind “giving stuff away” is showing good faith to your readership.  Share those writing tips, offer a new seasonal recipe, or give away a PDF sewing pattern.   The best way to win followers is to offer them something they didn’t have prior to coming to your blog site or webpage.  This encourages readers to follow your blog.

According to research by Incentivibe, “adding a giveaway contest pop-up to the bottom-right of their website led to 125% more email subscribers”.  Again, I believe that the main focus should not only be on email subscribers, but the same giveaway contest could be offered to gain social media followers.

Digital Marketing Strategy can be a very useful tool in operating a successful blog!

Blogs Today Are Like News Sites

All Together

All Together, the blog of the Society of Women Engineers

I produce a blog for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) called All Together. As the homepage states, it’s a blog about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics. It’s up-to-date information and news about the Society and how its members are making a difference every day. You’ll find articles, videos, and podcasts under a variety of categories: Advocacy, Diversity & Inclusion, Member News, Outreach, Professional Development, SWE Magazine, and more.

Blogs vs. Websites
When I show people the blog or ask them to write an article for it, they often say it looks like a website. In fact, it is. As Robinson Meyer notes in the 2015 article “What Blogging Has Become” in The Atlantic, blogs in the past were a list of posts in reverse chronological order written by a single author. Today, blogs look like Medium, Tech Crunch, and Mashable. They have headlines, photos, and sections. They often appear the same as news sites, which many blogs have become. Huffington Post and BuzzFeed come to mind. Meyer also discusses how social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter have changed the online environment, driving traffic to today’s blogs.

Blogs and Social Media
Every post on All Together is shared on SWE’s social media channels which include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Snapchat. Each article page also has social media sharing buttons to make it easy for readers to share the content with their friends and colleagues. This strategy seems to be working. I just checked Google Analytics for the latest data on how All Together is performing. So far in 2018, it’s had more than 100,000 visitors. That’s a great statistic considering the total number of readers last year was about 65,000. The bar chart below shows how All Together’s readership has increased since it was launched in 2015.

All Together

Visitors to All Together

When recruiting contributors to submit content for All Together, I send them a document describing the basics for writing a blog post. It calls for a blog to be at least 300 words for search engine optimization, and it should have subheadings and photos. Every blog should also have links to websites and embedded video or social media posts. This post follows all of those rules.

In Dylan Kissane’s 2016 DOZ article the 5 Most Important Trends in Blogging for 2016, number one is that bloggers are often now known as influencers. Number two is that size matters. The article cites a survey from Orbit Media Studios that found the average length of a blog post in 2015 was 900 words. Number three is  the comments section is disappearing. Four is great graphics are needed. Visual rhetoric is just as important as text. Finally, number five is that engagement rates are more important than visitors and page views. It’s a measurement of how much readers engage with the content in the form of not only views but also shares, likes, and clicks. Fortunately for All Together, the average time readers spend on a page is almost two minutes.