Monthly Archives: September 2020

My Virtual School Community & Enforcing “Authentic” Identities

(Inspired by the section about using ‘real names’ on Facebook from Haimson and Hoffmann)

The school that I teach for is called Rural Virtual Academy, but our administrator always tells new students and families that RVA really stands for something else: Relationships, Values, and Academics. “In that order,” he always adds. Our first goal as RVA educators is to forge meaningful personal relationships with our students. The relationship between a student and their teacher shouldn’t be merely transactional. I want my students to know that I genuinely care about them because I want our school to be a community, not just a network. On page 163, Rheingold states that the difference between a social network and a community “comes down to whether participants care about each other and are willing to act on their feelings.” Rheingold goes on to ask, “If I didn’t show up online for a while, would anyone knock on my physical door to see if I’m OK?” It’s my school’s goal to create a welcoming environment for students and to let them know that they are cared for.

One way that we are trying to build these relationships is to encourage students to use their webcams more often. Last year, my online school switched to a better streaming service which allows students to have their cameras on during class discussions. I work with high school students, though, and they are shy. They tend to keep their cameras off. The Haimson and Hoffmann article online identities has me concerned about our school’s current mission to incentivize students turning on their cameras. One of the reasons many students come to our school is to escape bullying, and they might consider turning on their cameras in the invasion of their privacy. While anonymity might help them feel safe, it might damage their role in our classroom community. As a teacher, I would prefer to see my “authentic” student’s faces to build our relationship, but early online communities were able to build relationships without those. This issue is something I intend to discuss in our staff meetings this year.

Let’s Build Something

Over the course of the past several years, the web has evolved into a user-generated space, known as web 2.0. According to Rheingold, Wellman’s response to the single most important change with the shift to digital socializing is “the shift from group-centered to network-centered life.” The group-centered life is limited to a group of people that know each other, whereas the network-centered life provides a platform where people can connect and share knowledge, regardless of location or whether they know each other.

One example of a user-generated space is Youtube’s DIY channels. From life hacks, to woodworking projects, and crafts, DIY culture has dominated the internet, allowing people to take on new challenges and hobbies. Back in March, when Covid started its initial peak, I was quarantining with a friend who was eager to tackle a full bathroom renovation. My friend has a knack for fixing things, while I on the other hand, can’t seem to get to square one. Nonetheless, in attempt to contribute to the renovations, I resorted to Youtube.

In Wolf’s article, DIY videos on Youtube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms, Wolfe touches on the idea of “identity making,” where people become more confident about the possibilities of what they can achieve. As a novice renovator, I resorted to Youtube’s DIY channels for some guidance. I started with small tasks but eventually moved up to bigger projects like gutting the bathroom, laying down floor tile, installing new features, and even assisted with plumbing. Feeling a sudden boost of confidence, I was reminded of an article I found years back (2008) about a mother of four who moved away from her abusive husband to build a new home in a safe place for her kids. With just enough money for supplies, her and her family built a new home from scratch just from watching Youtube videos. I was always amazed by this article (link below), and more amazed now considering the platform wasn’t nearly what it is today. While DIY culture continues to sweep the internet, it’s important to be aware accuracy and credibility.  

Like the students in Wolfe’s article, I approached some of the platforms with skepticism. Being completely new to renovating, I evaluated the videos’ credibility. Oddly enough, I was more critical of the professional videos, as I felt more at ease with the raw, unscripted videos. Given my lack of experience, I felt more capable of completing the projects by watching those videos. The professional videos, although potentially more credible, either required high-end tools or cut out the gritty, realistic aspects of the job.

While browsing a wide variety of other platforms in attempt to find relevant sources, I noticed my browsing selections determined my recommendations. For example, while looking at different tile schemes on Pinterest, my recommendations suddenly filled with patterns of all colors and varieties. While in this case, the algorithmic manipulation was positive, the algorithm can be misleading. Wolfe quotes Eskami who states, “Many individuals are unaware that their online experiences are algorithmically curated, often attributing how and when content is presented to the actions of other users rather then the platform itself.” While social media tailors to an individual’s interest, it traps the individual in their own bubble. A case to this point is browsing history related to politics. If the algorithm only shares content the user will like, the user will not view any outside opinions to counter or question their own beliefs or “narrowing their information worlds.”

Despite some of the downsides, the ability to connect to informational resources and achieve new hobbies or projects is quite remarkable. Social media has created a space for people to link up, form communities, and share knowledge in a much more engaging way. And while I may never be able to build a house from scratch, I can at least say I have a bathroom renovation under my belt.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press. 

https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6787/5517

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-four-cara-brookins-builds-her-family-a-house-by-watching-youtube-tutorials/

Knowledge is Power

In the article, Web 2.0 User Knowledge and the Limits of Individual and Collective Power, Nicholas Proferes begins by talking about Tim O’Reilly’s 2004 definition of Web 2.0. According to O’Reilly, Web 2.0 was created through an ‘architecture of participation’ as it gets better with the more people that use it and remix it by providing their individual data as well as data from other sources. In comparison to Web 1.0, Web 2.0 is said to deliver “rich user experiences” according to Tim O’Reilly (2016). Others in this article are also quoted by saying that Web 2.0 “provides novel opportunities for the articulation of individual and collective social power by enhancing participation in media production and cultural expression” (2016). Based on these descriptions, it sounds like the ultimate platform. A platform where growth and contribution is of the utmost importance, and users can be key players in online communities by offering their knowledge and experiences rather than being passive observers. However, other arguments in the article detail how “users are left with little true choice or control regarding how information about them is collected and shared; how user labor is commoditized; and, how users are alienated from the information they produce” (Proferes 2016).  These findings bring up the 10 year old debate: does Web 2.0 empower the user or disempower the user?

While users may feel empowered sharing content on social media that is important to them, Proferes writes that, “these so-called technologies of empowerment slowly began to be realized as a data-mined, mobile, always-on, surveillant social media” (2016). He continues by writing that some of these sites are constantly “undergoing continuous tweaking, changing, and updating to provide new functionalities” (2016). Which seems great, right? Why wouldn’t you want your interactive apps and sites to work out the bugs automatically to allow for smooth and flawless interaction. However, he goes on to write that with these updates and changes,  “users may be less aware of when changes to a Web site or service occur (as users do not have to install a “new release”). Further, they may be less aware of knowing what has changed when updates occur. These changes contribute to a situation where “platforms” are constantly shifting under users’ feet” (Proferes 2016).  As a user, it’s hard to feel empowered using technology when you’re unaware of how to use it properly and/or how the technology may instead be using you.

One of the most confusing elements of social media is the algorithm. Many users don’t know about the algorithm and how it works, therefore disempowering the user to use it effectively.  The author writes that, “a lack of information regarding how these technologies function is a problem for users. Not only do users often have incomplete, inaccurate, or otherwise incorrect understandings of information flows in Web 2.0 spaces, but their development of more robust understanding can be hindered by the sites’ structures, code politics, and algorithmic transparency, and by the discourse surrounding them” (Proferes 2016).

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/43065740174985963/

However, users have come a long way in the last 10 years. With more information and understanding of the algorithm and social media sites, the user is better equipped to understand why they are being shown specific content. In addition to understanding why they are being shown certain information, they can also use their own knowledge as a source of empowerment when it comes to their own contributions to the online community. As Proferes says, “Thus, access to information about how technologies function creates a genetic base for other expressions of power, both in relation to the Web 2.0 environment and outside of it” (2016).

For example, Trending Topics on Twitter. According to Proferes, “Twitter does not disclose exactly how the Trending Topic algorithm works. This lack of algorithmic transparency has led to some confusion about why some topics trend but others do not. Twitter Trends are automatically generated by an algorithm that attempts to identify topics that are being talked about more right now than they were previously” (2016). As a user, not knowing why your topics aren’t trending can be incredibly disempowering and discouraging; especially when others that may be similar are. However, having access to information about how Twitter’s Trending Topic algorithm works would directly influence and encourage users’ decisions about how best to share information through their tweets. Knowing that the algorithm responds more effectively to short burst of tweets and that it is best to change the hashtag every couple days is an example of the user being able to make decisions that will benefit them based on the knowledge they have acquired. The information and knowledge of the algorithm that the user has at their disposal will better their chances of appearing in the Trending Topics; therefore allowing the user to feel more empowered as “the exercise of symbolic power is shaped in part by relative informational power” (Proferes 2016).

One social media account I follow, @nastyfeminism, is aware of and knowledgeable about the algorithm. The account has over 100,000 followers and each post usually receives thousands of likes – until recently. Recently they noticed that the content they were posting was receiving less than 400 likes, which was completely out of the ordinary. They hadn’t changed their content, but were instead noticing that Instagram was filtering them out. To see how many people they would reach they created a test post, asking those that follow them who saw the post to leave a comment so they could see who the post was reaching. Understanding how the algorithm works allowed them to use that knowledge on their platform to try to reach more people specifically with that post. In addition to the post, they also told followers who saw the post how to get the post to reach more people as well.

In the last 10 years since Web 2.0 was coined, users have come a long way. Graduating from Web 1.0 where they could only passively observe, users now are able to engage and add to the content they see online. Rheingold writes, “Now that we have gained access to digital tools that enable us to share what we know and aggregate small contributions into large knowledge repositories, a new level of collective intelligence is possible” (Rheingold 2012). Users are empowered by their knowledge, and are able to share and use that information to their advantage. Proferes finishes by saying, “A lack of knowledge about how Web 2.0 platforms function limits understanding how the technical environment shapes individual informational experience, thus impacting information sense-making; it inhibits understanding the context of the environment others experience and how others may interpret information from Web 2.0 platforms; and it limits the expression of forms of power with the social, political, cultural, and economic world surrounding the Web 2.0 environment” (2016).

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press. 

Difficulty in Setting Guidelines in Diverse Online Spaces

I was either 11 or 12, I cannot remember precisely, when I joined DeviantArt. DeviantArt is a website that has always boasted itself as being a platform for artists and art lovers.  I hopped on the website after learning about it through fanfiction.net where I would read and post fan fiction works surrounding characters of the video game series Harvest Moon. One of the authors I followed on fanfiction.net started posting links to a comic series, also fan fiction of Harvest Moon, on DeviantArt and as a kid who’d been interested in drawing since as early as I can remember I was amazed by the broad array of art people were making. In my bedroom in my parent’s house I still have poetry from DeviantArt I copied and pasted into Microsoft Word into a font I liked and glued onto construction paper hung up on my wall. 2009, right around the time of my first forays into the DeviantArt community and likely when I printed out that poetry, was when the “Share Wars” Dan Perkel explores in Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt were playing out. 

Perkel’s research followed the online community of DeviantArt and the range of responses and tensions created by the introduction of the “share tools” features. These share tools were pretty similar to features that other websites have that allow users to share content via embed links that can be embedded in things like Facebook and blog posts. Tensions rose as groups of the DeviantArt community expressed these tools made art theft easier, promoting sharing outside of the community and garnered unwanted attention without the choice of the artist. Perkel’s research dives into these differences of response and opinion and in doing so reveals that much of what determines if something is theft or not, in the eyes of the artist, has to do with the artists’ interpretation of what art theft even was. I was a child and I printed that poem and now I wonder would that poet have considered me and art thief?

I know at the time I didn’t consider it stealing, as it was posted to the internet for me to view freely at any time and I certainly did not sell the poem after printing it. However, with the range of interpretations from Perkel’s research, I’m no longer sure the artist would see it that way. Some artists from Perkel’s research considered even linking art content was theft. 

The solution that DeviantArt came up with for the contentions around share tools, to ensure that people who liked the tools, people who hated the tools, and people who simply wanted options for using the tools was to simply give the artist these choices when creating artwork. They then had the options to “encourage sharing” and enable share tools, “discourage sharing” and disable the tools or even make the content only visible to fellow “deviants” (the website’s word for their users). They encouraged their users to set their own terms about their work, which in many ways is what most users wanted. 

I also remember the hoops I needed to jump through the user interface to post a simple drawing and walked into spaces like Tumblr and Twitter openly at the thought of simply tagging an artwork and posting it in a few clicks. I’ve noticed in these communities though there’s a lot of emphasis on artists setting their own terms in their bios about how they would like their work to be used and shared, putting the communication on the artists and taking away some of the responsibilities. 

Having been an artist online for years now I know that setting one’s own terms upfront can prevent unintentional offense. I also know as artists are extremely varied as far as people go that these terms and people’s ability to communicate them to their audience also varies greatly. In Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, in the section on virtual communities, he emphasizes the importance of setting clear rules and expectations at the get-go of creating an online community. The runners of DeviantArt struggled with this while attempting to create an online community that was highly individualistic and thusly setting few expectations and adding new features. As a Tumblr user, unexpected features that upset the whole community is something I’m widely familiar with.

While I think there’s merit to Rheingold’s assertion on setting clear guidelines, I also understand through my studies of user experience design that the wider you make your user base, the harder it is to make features that please the majority while keeping them online. Considering this I think that DeviantArt’s solution was fairly elegant if only that had researched their user base enough to realize share tools without these functions would not be desirable by the majority of their users. 

Two Ways to Make a Bigger Impact with Your Blog

In the fifth season finale of How I Met Your Mother, the lovably despised Barney Stinson is found on the street poorly disguised as a juggler remarking to his friends that (although claiming he doesn’t know Barney or what a blog is) he’s heard that Barney’s blog is getting better. He goes on to ask in an unconvincing Estonian accent, “What is blog?”

Marshall Erickson, the archetypical Innocent, answers, “It’s just something that was cool eight years ago.” As this episode aired in May 2010, some simple math tells us that Marshall might have felt that blogging should have died out in 2002. Yet here we are in 2020 seeking answers about how we can leverage blogs to advance our own pursuits (which are hopefully more noble than Barney’s).

In writing about the blogosphere and its problems, Alexander Halavais asserts that civic nature of blogging in its early days has been undermined the “centralization and commodification of social computing.” Perhaps what made it cool back in 2002 was that bloggers were unfettered by the confines of the emerging social networks.

While blogging may have begun as a means for anyone with a computer and network connection to contribute equally to public discourse, the onset of major social platforms restricts bloggers’ liberties and exposure with their content moderation and algorithmic curation. If we believe the power of networking is in the free transfer of knowledge among the masses, then any hierarchical moderation of this transfer of knowledge might be more of an obstacle than a facilitation.

Howard Rheinhold, in Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, writes about collective intelligence, which promotes “a networked rather than hierarchical command-and-control structure.” A collective intelligence can be described as the aggregation of every contributor’s knowledge, skills and abilities. A collaborative effort among networked bloggers can accomplish more than the mere compilation of their findings.

Although blogging has evolved over the past 20 years, they are still a vital component for research, branding, marketing, and civil discourse. However, one small blog can be a hard fish to find in the vast, oceanic blogosphere. Here are two ways to make a bigger impact with your blog in a digital environment where content creators are often overshadowed by corporate whales:

1. Collaborate!

While you may be an expert in your field, your content can only get better with the synergy that comes by collaborating with peers. This is not just sharing research and findings, but also making available your specialized skills and access to resources. This requires a lot of trust in your collaborators, but your risk will be rewarded with stronger content and increased exposure.

2. Make the big platforms work for you

Whether you’re blogging on a hosted platform or on your own custom website, you can use the power of social networks to boost your exposure. Cross-post links to your blog entries across multiple platforms. Optimize your blog for search engines. Purchase paid ads if your budget allows. When you and your collaborators leverage multiple social networks to pull in traffic, you will be rewarded with more organic traffic from improved search engine results.

Our current online environment might not favor the individual blogger, but collaborative efforts that capitalize on the popularity of social networks for dissemination stand a fair chance at contributing to our digital landscape.

Sticks and Stones: From the Playground to the Web

Man in pillory

Punishment, whether in abstract or concrete terms, is something most humans grow up knowing to avoid. From childhood, the messaging is consistent: “wrong” choices/actions/words = negative consequences. Whether it’s soap in the mouth, a spanking, standing in the corner, a time out, or loss of privileges, we’re trained to make the “right” choices/actions/words in order to avoid that pain. Who establishes “right” and “wrong” varies a bit from one community or culture to another, but ultimately those norms are communicated through rewards for adhering to them and punishment for failing to do so. 

In spite of recent real-world pivots away from punishing bad behaviors in favor of things like Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), Chapter 4, “Social-Digital Know-How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence,” of Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, notes how this long-standing social principle applies in the digital world. He first notes that “reciprocating cooperation, punishing noncooperators, and signalling a willingness to cooperate are useful for individual[s], as well as the groups they contribute to.” Later, he says, “Punishing those who break the institution’s rules is apparently essential to cultivating cooperation; ‘altruistic punishment’ may be the glue that holds society together.” First its our parents, then our classmates, and our colleagues; of course, it we do this online, too.

The challenge for those wishing to innovate is to find a way to subvert the rules that maintain the status quo without triggering those very same punishment mechanisms. I wrote my master’s thesis on this phenomenon in the social-problem novels of Industrial Revolution England. In each of the novels I highlighted as evidence, the heroine worked to protect those around her from the worst of the fallout hitting the working class, and in the end, was rewarded for her efforts by getting what she wanted for herself and then being removed from society to some idyllic, less industrial location, usually with a husband. Ultimately, even the writers whose books sought to spark change in their communities knew enough to punish, albeit relatively altruistically, their own characters for breaking those accepted rules. So this tension between progress and homeostasis is nothing new to the human race. 

Rules in the 3-dimensional world evolved over time and only changed from one community to another, requiring that one had to physically move to encounter those rules. Because a newcomer would be alone in their efforts to change any norms they disliked, these communities were often allowed to remain static for generations. Digital users, on the other hand, are able to interact with any number of unique communities on a daily basis. These overlaps allow for far more rapid evolution of community rules. While this has some advantages in terms of change agility, the lack of centralized leadership in these communities can mean that real change or progress is stymied by constant uncertainty about the rules of engagement. 

In “Get Lost, Troll: How Accusations of Trolling in Newspaper Comment Sections Impact the Debate,” Magnus Knustad explores the ways that calling out “trolls” in comment sections can impact the discourse within that community by potentially shutting down ideas that don’t agree with that of the majority. In this, he identifies the term “troll” as a type of punishment intended to alienate the person challenging the status quo opinion from the rest while also invalidating the ideas themselves, thus vanquishing two threats with one insult. Knustad notes this, as well, “The activities of trolls, real or imaginary, and how they are responded to, can affect how people communicate in comment sections, the trust between commenters, and the inclusion of all those who want to participate.” And this is the complexity of this method of encouraging conformity for the collective good: it exists for a reason, but its existence stifles collaboration and progress.

xkcd comic: throwing rocks

Until digital communities can reconcile this contradiction, meaningful growth will continue to languish under competing desires for coordination, cooperation, and collaboration, against our human need for continuity. It’s a battle between our basic needs and our self-actualized aspirations. The potential for what might come assuming we manage this, though, is mind blowing. 

Art Heist: When online sharing leads to digital theft.

The internet connects us through unmeasurable hyperlinks, thus leading it to be known as the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989 in hopes of creating a global network for referencing and sharing information. This is how Howard Rheingold (2012), author, professor, and proud shoe painter, begins the second half of his book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Rheingold focuses on collaboration, community, and networks both in the digital and real-world realms. He reflects on conversations he’s engaged in with other similarly focused professionals and personal experiences as they relate to communities and networks. Infinite numbers of ideas, opinions, recipes, photos, videos, how-to’s, and art get linked around the web in a practice we know as ‘sharing’. Forget the New York minute, honey, sharing is happening in a cyber-minute and it’s modern communication lightning. Sharing happens so frequently that in 2019 (a simpler time) global online users sent over 41.6 million mobile messages. Many of these were, I’m sure, simple communications, but they also included an abundance of link-sharing. The act of sharing information is why we have the worldwide “web” and the infinite number of communities and networks entangled within. Sharing is not just something one can perform online, it is truly engrained into our cultural practice of the internet. Rheingold’s (2012) chapter 5 discusses sharing at length, but he states early on, “entire communities exist for the purpose of sharing and organization” (p. 22). 

     DeviantArt was created to share and organize art between artists. A Web 2.0 darling, DeviantArt was a community embracing collaboration and inclusivity until a simple platform switch encouraging sharing changed everything. Dan Perkel, now director of global design company Ideo, spent three years doing fieldwork on DeviantArt. Perkel’s work would inevitably become a piece for firstmonday.org entitled Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt. Amid Perkel’s fieldwork, August of 2009, DeviantArt’s platform added new “Share Tools”. The tools were a result of application programming interfaces (APIs) ability to share DeviantArt content directly into other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit.

2009 DeviantArt Share Tools courtesy of firstmonday.org

In the days following the launch of the new Share Tools, conflict erupted across the DeviantArt network. The primary issue was the loss of control for community artists. Shortly after the tool’s incorporation, community members’ original work began showing up on other websites as banners and button or as other artists own “work”. Of course, most damaging of all was community members original artwork appearing for sale on other websites. This underside of sharing, the inspiration for Tim Berners-Lee’s vision, has a very real and impactful effect on both independent artists and brands. 

     The story of Tuesday Bassen versus Spanish apparel retailer Zara was featured in the podcast Articles of Interest, #8 Knockoffs. Articles of Interest is a “limited-run podcast series about fashion, housed inside the design and architecture podcast 99% Invisible.” As a quick side note, I highly recommend 99% Invisible, created and hosted by Roman Mars. It deep dives into design features present all around us, things we engage with or see every day, but never knew the full story behind them. I digress. Tuesday Bassen is an illustrator and entrepreneur who sells her unique, pop-art sketches in the form of prints, pins, t-shirts, and most notably her satin jackets which feature saying like “Hail Satan” and “Mixed Emotions Club”.

Tuesday Bassen (left), Tuesday Bassin ‘Mixed Emotions’ satin jacket (right)
– courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine and ShopTuesday.com

Tuesday is made aware from others on social media that Zara seems to be copying her original work. Initially, she’s scared to go after the giant retailer – which is understandable. Just like Dan Perkel’s experiences with his field study of DeviantArt, independent artists are not prepared for legal battles, nor do they want to participate in them. Who would? Yet, Tuesday Bassen decided for the love of her brand, she would play David against the Goliath, Zara. Bassen eventually wins a settlement, only to shortly after find items similar to her originals on Zara and many other sites. 

     Music and video theft, as discussed by Rheingold (2012) came with heavy legality, copyrighting, and ultimately streaming serves which aided acts of piracy. Similar movements for artists online exist but don’t have the backing of the film and music industry. A growing trend in stock art websites allows anyone to purchase or obtain both knock-off and original art, videos, and stock photos. Sites like pexels.comflaticon.com, and unsplash.com are useful resources – especially when I’m designing a website and my client doesn’t have photography in the budget. However, I’m certain their services are hurting independent artists. Technology combined with sharing within both communities and networks is a beautiful, progressive process. Technological expediency within art communities, however, may be providing shortcomings and downright theft for many. 

The Public Sphere Grows with Every Tik Tok of the Clock

The internet has revolutionized the manner in which we conduct every aspect of our lives. Banking, shopping, learning, communicating, distributing, and socializing have all been radically transformed by the internet’s might. Why then should activism be exempt from this incredible journey of human transformation?

Activism and civil disobedience have been central destabilizing and self-correcting mechanisms in virtually every human society. It is an important balancing act to pushing the public sphere towards progression. Howard Rheingold in the 2014 text Net Smart: How to Thrive Online writes, “When you ask whether it is possible for citizens to influence those who have power over us, you are asking about a notion that was formally designated “the public sphere””. When considering the power dynamics of the internet and assessing them in the context of the public sphere, it is vital to understand the significant potential granted to online activism.

In the 2016 article, “The Domestication of Online Activism”, Mathias Klang defines social activism as, “any intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change.” This is an objective well suited to the internet; a space where communication volume is maximized, organizational and geographical challenges are eliminated, and response speed is of negligible concern. The internet has changed activism with the consequence of bringing exponentially more voices into the public sphere.

Tulsa, OK, 2020. President Donald Trump takes the stage at a campaign rally that “had fielded more than a million ticket requests” (Lorenz 2020). But the event attendance was significantly lower; a dismal showing that reflected negatively on the event. Many reasons were cited: COVID and protests among them; however, the most intriguing and illuminating is the social media activism undertaken via the use of a platform called TikTok. TikTok is a platform in which users share short videos. TikTok boasts its own trends, memes, challenges, influencers, and has steadily become a greater online presence since its launch in 2016.

Evidently, per the 2020 New York Times article “TikTok Teens and K-Pop Stans Say They Sank Trump Rally”, many TikTok users who never had any intention of attending the event registered for potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets (Lorenz 2020). The social media campaign paralleled a “virtual sit-in” in which “coordinating protestors…simultaneously visit and refresh the same Web site” and “when enough protesters attempt to view the same Web page at the same time the server would be overwhelmed and the site would return an error message” (Klang). While the tactics used by TikTok users were spread over a longer timeframe and never overwhelmed ticket servers, the concept is quite similar. A person in the public sphere is occupying a position in order to protest and prohibit another from using that service, function, or space. While virtual sit-ins are relegated to only the internet, the activism undertaken by TikTok users represents the progressive intertwining of our in-person public sphere with that of the digital public sphere. The consequences of this pseudo-virtual sit-in breached the digital space into the traditionally recognized public sphere.

Predicting the events of the TikTok social media campaign against President Trump’s rally attendance, Klang writes:

…a successful message is the one that is shared widely across the network. Ideally, individuals who have critically read and support the message are the ones who will share it. The activist wishing to undertake a campaign on social media must therefore play by the rules of that media if the campaign is to be successful. Once again, the goal is to transfer the message to the widest possible audience. (2016)

And transfer the message they did. The activists on TikTok engaged in digital civil disobedience by using their knowledge of algorithms and how to “boost” videos to reach the maximum possible audience with the greatest overlap in their vision for the social sphere (Lorenz 2020).

The social sphere is growing and changing with the power of the internet. Concurrently, the activist mechanisms that function within that sphere are adapting and maximizing the potential of opportunity the internet affords. The story of the TikTok social media campaign provides insight into Rheingold’s question, “Can many-to-many media effectively counter the well-funded disinformation apparatuses of powerful political and economic interests?” (2014). While Rheingold’s concern was for the public sphere’s ability to access and propagate information, evidence in digital social activism indicates the true power and potential of social media platforms.

Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: How to thrive online. The Mit Press.

Link in Bio: A Decade of Practical Participation

Instagram Bio

In thinking about online participation, fundraising is a classic example of how online networks can generate money and resources. In his text Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Rheingold defines this topic in the context of social capital, or the capacity of a population to accomplish collective action. Resources that could not otherwise be secured can emerge from building relationships into what he calls a “network of trust.” Communications professor Scott Kushner agrees with this phenomenon as he discusses “lurking,” or the action of viewing content without interacting with it. In his article, Read Only: The Persistence of Lurking in Web 2.0, Kushner claims that considerations of online participation matter because social media transforms both content and interaction data into resources. A lack of active social media usage can cripple the success of any campaign.

Considering the new and easy ways to learn about and give to causes, are we more willing to donate now than we used to be?

Where the second half of the 20th century saw telethons and TV ads, the first portion of the 21st century has the Internet, social media, and online payment options transforming fundraising campaigns. In the past decade specifically, the use of smart phones now allow people to carry opportunities for fundraising everywhere. Fundraising is surely more convenient than ever, but the motivation to not only like and share but also give money may or may not be stronger today. 

It has been a decade of influencers and celebrities recording short, informal appeals for anyone who sees the post to donate to the cause they wish to champion. Use of celebrities in previous decades featured them on special television events to raise money or offered handsome compensation to appear in an ad. Now, the same obligations can be fulfilled on an Instagram profile just under their picture. Frequent posts can also use the phrase “link in bio,” for the reader who wants an easy way to help. Link services can also be used if the same Instagram user wants to share and support a number of different campaigns.

This year alone, we have witnessed two huge movements that included both knowledge-sharing resources and ways to donate: Coronavirus relief and support for Black Lives Matter. Using social capital during this year was enabled by technology innovations, updates to platforms, and changes to how they have been used. The Instagram story feature that allows for links to other posts was responsible for my own continuing education of the movements. I also appreciated that celebrities I follow skillfully highlighted the best charities for their area of need. In 2010, I could have completed a Google search for a charitable organization after reading a paragraph caption on an Instagram post. Ten years later, one link brought me to a webpage optimized for mobile, and donating would be as simple as my thumbprint loading my saved payment method. While I do not know whether people today are more charitable, it is truly fascinating to think of how many barriers to giving we as a society have removed.

The Rise of the Algorithm

As I was just placing my phone down to start working on this post, I scrolled through one last Instagram story. In this story, a local account detailed their experience making homemade pumpkin pie today. In this multi-story post, they broke down each step while writing small sections of text that one would need to know in order to follow the recipe. As casual as this may seem, Christine Wolf’s piece touched on this scenario directly. Wolf states that Web 2.0 now “[allow s] users to generate and distribute their own content can support informal and self-directed learning” (Wolf, 2016.) After reading this statement from “DIY Videos on Youtube” by Christine Wolf, I immediately connected to what I just engaged with moments before. Personally, I never have baked a homemade pumpkin pie from scratch, but the organic content generated from the Web 2.0 structure allowed me to self-learn a new skill. 

Now, I only was able to see this story pop up first on my feed since the Instagram algorithm tracked that I watch this specific account’s stories routinely. Thus, this leads the story to be seen first on my homepage when I log into the application. I was not presented with that DIY baking video by accident, rather, the algorithm is in control.

https://memegenerator.net/instance/76508474/one-does-not-simply-one-does-not-simply-understand-the-youtube-algorithm

As a person who has dabbled in creating their own creative content, I struggle to appease the social media algorithm. It seems as though it maintains a mind of its own, placing content and audiences into invisible groups. Algorithms can guide us to engage in our passions and niches on internet platforms. At times, algorithms can even present us with new content that we end up admiring. However, algorithms also box-in and categorize users into certain groups. On one end, this seems like a helpful tool to present users with content they enjoy while keeping them logged into the platform.

Subsequently, algorithms also stop the transfer of new knowledge into the user’s algorithm created bubble. For example, if I only watch YouTube videos on how to garden, there is a large chance I will never be presented with exercise content. Maybe the user would not want to see different content, but maybe they would want to be brought outside their echo chamber as well. This situation that Wolf mentions reminds me of another Web 2.0 experience I had just a few days ago. It is true that “algorithms also shape individuals’ experiences with Web 2.0 platforms in many ways” (Wolf, 2016). I recently downloaded Tik Tok, mostly to understand why the application serged into popularity this year. Before downloading it, my only concept of it was a platform where people choreographically danced to music in small sixty-second videos. That type of niche did not interest me at all, but when I created my Tik Tok account, totally different content filled the screen. I was surprised to notice that the same niches I followed on other platforms appeared in my Tik Tok feed as well. It was almost like the overarching Web 2.0 algorithm already knew what I would like. Instead of watching dances, I interacted with the application in a totally different way than what I thought I would. My experience and concept of the application changed due to the algorithms prior notions about me.

As interesting as I find this, I feel like it also has negative consequences as well. Gone are the days where content is completely and freely flowing into your space if there was ever such a day!

The “you can just tell” heuristic for tutorial videos

The DIY YouTube video culture is something that has really grown in the last decade with tutorial videos on an abundance of projects uploaded every day, ranging from home improvement to computer software topics, and even cooking. As someone with an interest in music and gaming, I find myself invested in many of these videos quite often. In reality, almost every area of interest has its own community of DIY video makers and personalities. When I visit my parents, my dad is almost always watching some video on how to perform a certain car repair on one of the family vehicles (an area I am much less adept in than he is). There’s a few specific YouTube channels that my dad usually turns to, probably due to a combination their creators clarity in explanation, use of video and clearly showing where a specific part is, and the type of vehicles that they focus on.

When reading Christine Wolf’s article, DIY Videos on Youtube: Identity and possiblity in the age of algorithms, the author brought up an aspect of these videos that I thought was very fascinating. She explains, “Many participants described a ‘you can just tell’ heuristic when evaluating the credibility of videos” (2016). When she mentioned this, I totally understood what she meant, but had never really thought to explain as a type of heuristic before. I think it does make sense though to describe this as a heuristic. In my experience, you sometimes (but not always) really can “just tell” when a video has quality content, just by watching the first several seconds of the video.

There is not exactly one thing that can define this heuristic: rather, it is more of a sum of several things. Some of these are a bit more obvious than others. For example, if you open a video and you see that the dislike to like ratio is about 9 to 1, you could guess that the video has some problems. Similarly, if a short software installation tutorial opens with a pulsing EDM intro that lasts more than 10 seconds, and the song continues while the rest of the video is in subtitles, this leaves a poor first impression. On the other hand, videos that are made in high video quality with clear audio, are paced well, and have a decent number of views are generally good signs. If there appears to be some kind of following, I feel like that usually shows that the creator knows what they are doing and is good and what they do.

However, these are just things that I am more or less speculating, and do not necessarily define a ‘good’ video. You can sometimes encounter a video that is well produced, but just doesn’t explain exactly what you’re looking for or does so poorly. Wolf quotes one of her participants when she says, “Sometimes you don’t find helpful things on [YouTube] … Maybe situations where you’re searching for the terms and things come up with and they ended up blowing up the water heater or something. That’s more of a funny thing.”

(That quote made me think of this YouTube channel)

I think it would be really interesting to research more into this heuristic and give it a more cogent definition. My suggestions of like to dislike ratio, video/audio quality, and following are just from my experience. There are probably many other factors. Wolf’s article also mentions how videos where the creator is actually doing the task demonstrates a sense of credibility, because it shows that the person might know what they are doing. Going back to my dad, my guess is that many of the videos he likes are because of this aspect, and because its much easier to find the location of the oil filter on a 2012 Hyundai Accent when it’s just shown to you, rather than explained.

Wolf, C. T. (2016). DIY videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms. First Monday.

Being online affects society and democracy, but does it really make good changes?

https://wpmu.mah.se/nmict11group7/category/media-revolution/social-media-for-development/

There are numerous relationships between technology and society, especially in the areas of social media and civic participation.  It provides innumerable arenas for virtual gatherings and discussion.  The access to technology isn’t equal for everyone though.  In his 2012 book, titled Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold discusses at length about an “… Emerging digital divide… between those who know how to use social media for individual advantage and collective action, and those who do not.”  Part of me understands this to some extent is inevitable despite our best effort as a society.  This being the case, our work is never over if we commit as a society to decreasing this divide.  Regardless though, I’m not so sure we as a society are prepared to focus only on the divide.  We still need to focus on our basic societal knowledge before we can tackle any technological divide.  Our newer generations’, I believe, are not receiving and therefore do not have the necessary civic knowledge needed in order to use social media yet for democratic purposes

After 30 years of civic participation through Boy Scouts as a child, studying American Legal History in undergrad, working for several small communities in a municipal role, as well as serving on the County Board, I believe in my civic experience but I still doubt my understanding.  There is still more for me to learn about local and federal government.  In recent years, I have found myself people-watching more and more.  In doing so, I am appalled with how little people know about civics and governance.  Using personal rights as just one area to make my point; people expressing their opinion on rights repeatedly show their ineptitude.  “I have a right to do this… I have a right to do that… “  In one experience, a neighbor claimed he had the right to park his vehicle on the sidewalk in front of his house.  I asked him to explain further and he pulled out his iPhone and asked Siri about it.  To her credit, she didn’t return any results for him and he stopped parking on the sidewalk. A few more lessons in civics and this gentleman would’ve had a better grasp of actual enumerated state and federal rights.

Rheingold too all but tells us outright that education is needed in order for us to use technology effectively in society.  Rheingold discusses using coordination, cooperation, and collaboration in order to take “collective action.”  In addition, he emphasizes the importance of knowing the difference.  In establishing an effective “virtual community,” Rheingold discusses the importance of positive effort, patience, and the willingness to not say anything when deciding how and when to act.  When reading Rheingold’s discussion on the problems of social dilemmas, I tasted his hint at the importance of social institutions like family and schools.  None of this comes naturally to us, but I would argue all of these items are still more basic than advanced. Where did we change as a society where we lost the opportunities to teach positive attitude, individual value and verbal tact. Regardless, in the rapid pace of our technological society, education is the fastest way to learn these in order to use them collectively.  Unfortunately though, I don’t think we’ll see this as schools are cutting family and consumer economics and civics classes; and instead teaching to standards.

Without a better understanding and education in civic knowledge, I see parallels to slacktivism in Klang and Madison’s discussion, “The Domestication of Online Activism.”  Slacktivism occurs when an individual focuses his/her activism towards a cause online.  He/she might feel an increase in democratic participation, but in reality this is just online activity that does little to nothing in creating actual change.  Tying in how I believe new generations have less generalized civic knowledge, focusing their effort to participate in government or democracy online also provides little to no actual civic participation despite their personal senses of participation and accomplishment.  You see this in social media posts and resulting discussions.  Even the news profession plays their part in projecting the importance of a social media item that has gained 10,000 likes.  Operating as a society from one social media item to the next is circular though.  Essentially, one social media post can cancel out another just based on its social acceptance through likes.  This approach does not allow for a cohesive and logical flow from one issue to the next.

In sum, online participation and activism may effect some change, but the result, were it in person and informed would be undeniably more effective.  To help this, we need to ensure our newer generations are informed adequately on civics and how their in-person involvement matters in a democratic society.

Theft Through Sharing

Before the rise of Web 2.0, artists were limited in the way they can distribute their content to the world. Anderson briefly talked about the limitation of physical distribution of content to consumers in The Long Tail (Anderson, 2004). This also extends to artists, whether that be in music, visual arts, or writing. It was hard to gain recognition for your own skills when you are limited by your geography and lack of networking which has become such an important thing these days as new freshman’s will learn going to a university. Since the dawn of Web 2.0, sharing your work has become easier than ever with the rise of websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, etc. This however, leads to a new problem on the opposite end of the spectrum. Where Anderson states that digital means have made it easier to consume niche content, Perkel has noticed that it has been easier for people to steal others work (Perkel, 2016).

Perkel’s study into the art community of DeviantArt users was no less than an interesting task. The community was full of up and coming artists who post up their own work, who would then network and make friends with new artists as they discuss about their art. It was a great community where artists were able to connect with each other and be inspired, gain feedback, and learn new things, all in the comfort of their own homes. But as soon as DeviantArt implemented a share tool, things like theft started to become a common place. This has led to what has been called the “share wars” in which case, many users find their work being used without consent in other places (Perkel, 2016). Users would find their own work being used on other websites, in products being sold to consumers, or by small businesses. This was not just unique to DeviantArt though, this was a problem in many other social media sites.

Being an aspiring Illustrator and Graphic Designer, I have been following many artists on the web for years. Anything from visual art like illustration to filmmaking, to music and poetry were always something that I am searching for on any websites. It comes as no surprise as it is commonplace for me to find many of these works by the artists that I follow being shared or distributed without proper credit. I have also seen people claiming they have made these works themselves. Luckily, these artists have enough followers that will notify them when they do spot a potential theft of their work.

One of the channels that I follow on YouTube and I actively watching is Corridor Crew. They make a lot of great content as artists as well as give great insight into the world of digital effects.

Earlier this year, they posted a video concerning a theft of one of their own videos that they have made. It was a reminder that even big and popular artists still have to deal with theft as well. This issue has been a constant storm brewing in the back of my mind and has made me a bit more conscious about posting my own work online. Despite all of this madness, the share wars have birthed new conversations regarding the idea of sharing artwork, both good and bad. Sharing art, when given proper credit, can lead to artists gaining new followers as their own work become viral. The best example of this is the SpongeBob Squarepants anime parody that was created by Narmak. Narmak’s video went viral, being shared all across social media gaining Narmak, new followers. At the end of the day, sharing can be a double-edged sword that artists must risk when sharing their own work online.

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail.

Perkel, D. (2016, May 28). View of Share wars: Sharing, theft, and the everyday production of Web 2.0 on DeviantArt: First Monday. Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/6795/5526

Critical Thinking in the Deep Ocean of Information

Nicolas Proferes’s perspective on the limits of individual and collective power resonates with me, and it helped me to think about the issue of collective power and mob mentality that forms online. I’ve been always worried that these two ideas can bring about negative effects that could lead to producing scapegoat due to the diminished critical thinking skills as Michael Zimmer and Anna Lauren Hoffmann mention in “Preface: A decade of Web 2.0 – Reflections, critical perspectives, and beyond.”

Ever since the advent of Web 2.0, netizens have been actively participating in generating context based on their own private points of view and experiences. This also has been serving as foundation for the growth of social media. Users started indulge themselves into using the abundant information online and freely exchanging each other’s opinions. Hereby, my concerns are: Who will confirm if the information online is correct or not? Can younger generation avoid blindly accepting the information online, trusting the effect of collective power?

As I see that many social media influencers actively present their ideas and sometimes products, I worry that they can hinder (especially but not necessarily) younger users from developing critical thinking skills. This can lead to a serious issue in the future, highly possibly causing the side effect of mob mentality (meaning not thinking neutrally) by naturally accepting the information online without filtering. Users might trust a certain type of information just because many other users like it or because other users think that sounds correct or useful as Rheingold (2014, p.201) notes, “[N]etworks of activists are reconstructing civil society at local and global levels… [S]mart mobs are redefining socially.”

In conclusion, it is essential for users to acknowledge that there is a limit to their power in the Internet world and to prevent users from unconditionally accepting undiscerned information online. In order to do so, it is crucial that older generations need to pay more attention to younger ones so that the young users can obtain how to discern the right knowledge and how to critically think when they are faced with inundated information online. Therefore, I believe that this is the assignment left to all of us, not just to those who use the web contemporarily.

Lurkers Gonna Lurk

It’s been a minute since ‘Web 2.0’ (“the second stage of development of the World Wide Web, characterized especially by the change from static web pages to dynamic or user-generated content and the growth of social media” –Oxford) became our standard.  It’s hard to imagine one-way-Web at all, really.  How our online lives thrive (or don’t) is a precarious balance between lurking, contributing value, and damage control.

Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2012) sets an excellent example of how collaborative actions online can contribute to a sense of community and confidence.  He discussed his online communities; how they have contributed not only to a collective knowledge bank, but how they have enriched each other’s lives IRL, too, by building trust over the years.  Trust is the tricky part of the equation, he acknowledges, as is true of our social lives overall: “social dilemmas are the conflicts between self-interest and collective action that all creatures face in daily life-situations in which a lack of trust in the potential cooperation of others prevents individuals from acting together in ways that would benefit everybody” (151). 

The simplest things can help to build trust in a network, be it online or elsewhere.  Rheingold outlines the basic tenets of doing so (p155-6):

  1. Small talk and idle chatter build trust and lubricate collaboration
  2. Move from mutual benefit to common interests by building trust and negotiating goals
  3. Take risks to demonstrate that you are willing to modify your own activity in pursuit of common goals
  4. Be generous
  5. Seek to learn from and teach your collaborators.  Be willing to change your behavior in light of learning, and be willing to help your partners enhance their own position

The common factor in Rheingold’s book is collaboration; contributing to live online rather than ‘lurking.’  You might even call this ongoing role User 2.0 in that the two-way street is dependent upon those at the keyboard.  Scott Kushner doesn’t like lurking, which he says is when “users read, watch, and listen to content, but they do not contribute any of their own.”  In his article Read Only: The Persistence of Lurking in Web 2.0 (2016) Kushner “argues that lurking posts a threat to the prevailing logic of corporate social platforms.”  But there’s a line between contributing value and simply filling space: “the true value of Web 2.0 platforms is derived from knowledge work, not mindless status updates.” This is where I latched onto Kushner: I don’t need to know what conspiracy theory is being perpetuated this week when I spend time online.  I (should) need to know how people healthfully navigate life, what they are learning that adds value, and what I need to change about myself to be a better citizen. Rheingold says to contribute in a healthy way to our online experience, we need to “pay attention to opportunities you might be given to improve the public sphere.  It’s not up to anybody else” (242). He doesn’t mince words that the responsibility is universal.

I’ll admit, I am a lurker on several social media sites (Twitter and Reddit).  I am a contributor on others (Facebook, certain blogs, Instagram).  This is mostly because I’m not pithy, not clever.  I am active and I do have a lot of friends with whom I share experiences, though, and everyone likes pictures.

I should try to do better.  I should ask more questions on sites dedicated to knowledge sharing.  I should look more closely at opportunities to answer questions about which I am knowledgeable.  Rheingold gives us succinct rules for developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN): explore multiple media, search for more after you’ve explored, follow, tune your network, engage and inquire, and respond (229).  I know where people can trust me, and where I am still learning.  I can embrace admitting this when needed.  I know darn well that communities based on fandom, crowdsourcing (I’m a huge fan of Michelle McNamara and her crowd-sleuthing contributions), forums, and open source coding will die on the vine if they’re not tended to.  These are huge parts of my life – am I contributing to their success, or gluttonously lurking?

Having Intention When Pursuing Online Education

The online market for the entertainment and media industries over the past decade or so really has experienced a shift in comparison to traditional physical media distribution. The long tail, as described by Chris Anderson in his titular article, is a great metaphor to describe how the market exists today. In short, it is a seemingly endless ‘tail’ with an everlasting catalog of products, whether that be music, games, books, or television. Every product is technically accessible to every person, but usually ones that have more of a “buzz” become more popular and consumed, and many other products are essentially lost in the sea.

What I think of in visualizing this shift in the industry is the difference in Nintendo’s online store for video games on their current console (the Switch) versus their previous two (Wii and Wii U). The change can sort of be characterized by Anderson when he says, “In a Long Tail economy, it’s more expensive to evaluate than to release” (p. 15) In previous years, Nintendo’s online store (the Nintendo eShop) was very tight in what was released. Nintendo mostly released their own developed and/or published titles, with very few and select third party of independently developed games released. Games that were “green lit,” or approved for release on the eShop, were few and far between for the latter. The eShop for the Switch is quite different, as nearly dozens of games become available each week. There are plenty of articles/videos that point some of the silliness in the lack of quality in many of these games, which I think indicates Nintendo’s approach to ‘release more’ and ‘evaluate less.’  In terms of quantity, the Switch’s eShop currently holds 2973 games, compared to the Wii U that had 265 titles which is also telling. This is approach is much closer to the PC gaming world where distribution services/applications like Steam have had the ‘release more evaluate less’ mentality for years. This means that is more up to the consumer to evaluate a product when making a purchase decision and having clearer intention with what they choose to put their money towards.

How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?

I think it is certainly possible to use the trends of digital media to predict possible changes in education. While the two industries, so to speak, are not the same, there are similarities. A person can pursue an online degree or certification irrespective of their proximity to a particular school, just as how any person can stream a movie on Netflix without needing to go to a movie theatre. However, just as how there is a long tail of media products online, there is probably a long tail of different types of online certifications/programs that a person must select from. I think what is important is for people to make their selections with intention and to envision what they want to get from their online education.

Mind Power - 6 Advanced Techniques To Improve Your Focus | Udemy

This applies to an overarching goal, to small everyday goals. Just like how sometimes it’s possible to take in large amounts of digital media at once, and sometimes go into ‘autopilot’ mode when scrolling through social media occasionally, it might be easy to loose focus during daily assignments/activities that are related to online school when a person is not in an ‘active’ physical environment. Rheingold explains that to gain control of attention, one needs to set goals with an intention (p. 42). I this is one important thing to keep in mind as we come to learn more about the changes in education.

(Apologies to my blog cohorts for the lateness, just trying to balance out work/school and figure out my routine for the semester!)

Anderson, C. (2004). The long tail. Change This.

Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: How to thrive online. Inglaterra: The Mit Press.

What If Humanity is the Market and Our Future is the Product?

Nightly News anchor in 1980’s

In an earlier blog post, I referenced my parents daily connection to the world through the newspaper and nightly news programs. At the time, there was one major regional newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and three or four channels hosting news programming between 5:00 and 7:00PM each evening. Then it was on to Seinfeld and Cheers. That was the late 80’s and into the 90’s. Then we gained access to cable and the internet, and the amount of information sources increased by an amount I can’t even guess at. Instead of feeling plugged into the world after a maximum of three hours reading and viewing, the news cycle stretched to 24 hours and “printed” news could come from around the world by turning on the computer. My parents, and grandparents, and great-grandparents, etc… made informed decisions about their families, their careers, their charitable giving, their health, and their vote with a fraction of the information I navigate and can consume in a single scroll through Facebook. 

This isn’t about information overload, though. Or at least, not in the way of how it impacts our well being or mental health. It’s about how humanity is now the product shaped by the hyperconnected social media spaces available via the internet and our technology. The fight is on for the future of our country and the world, but for perhaps the first time in history, the voices participating in the discourse are not limited to those with wealth and political power. In “The Long Tail,” Chris Anderson explores the “world of abundance” created by the limitless spaces of the online world. He writes, “Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody… This is a world of scarcity… we are entering a world of abundance and the differences are profound” (p. 7-8).

He’s right for more reasons than just those retail-driven examples of music, books, and movies that he highlights. He means the availability of more diverse consumable products here: “the cultural benefit of all of this [the economics of the Long Tail] is much more diversity, reversing the blanding effects of a century of distribution scarcity and ending the tyranny of the hit,” (p. 26), but he might as well be predicting the current Black Lives Matter movement, calls for living wages, affordable healthcare access for all Americans, or women’s rights to control their own bodies. In the Long Tail, everyone’s tastes can find space. On social media, everyone’s opinion can find space. 

social media icons

Whose voice sways the masses can be difficult to predict, but we can find some clues in Rachel Spilka’s 2010 book, Digital Literacy For Technical Communication: 21st Century Theory and Practice. In that text, R. Stanley Dicks writes in “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” that user-centered design and iterative design support agile development. These strategies are intended for use by companies needing to get products out to consumers at ever-increasing speeds, but they can also be used to predict which voices are more likely to influence social movements. If that voice is a person engaged in the process themselves or is carefully connected to those who are, they are more likely to craft messaging that is user-centered. The comments section and more simplistic “like,” “love,” “dislike” reactions of their audience allows for dramatic user involvement and real time feedback to use for iterations. If they have a history of activity on their social media engaging in a particular discourse or others like it, they’ve been and will continue to be iterating their message and messaging. The voices with the most staying power will be those who are able to adapt their message with as much agility as the masses respond and adapt to everything impacting them via the 24-hour news cycle and all their other social media inputs, as well as the realities of their daily lives. 

When the murders of George Floyd, Amaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other BIPOC individuals found space in the Long Tail of information available for the public, one of the products in question became the fallacy of American equality, and individuals have had to reckon with their own participation in this economic product that is the American Dream. Once this happened, businesses were suddenly encouraged to act in alignment with this evolving national conscience. The NFL finally acknowledged the systemic racism that they allowed to reframe Colin Kaepernick’s protests into a political statement. It was now good business as indicated by the fact that Nike’s release of a Kaepernick jersey sold out in one minute. 

Kaepernick jersey sells out in less than a minute

Locke, Levine, Searls, and Weinberger break down the complex relationship between businesses and the communities they exist within to an easy-to-follow chain in their “95 Theses.” One of those theses states, “To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities,” and that’s followed immediately by, “But first, they must belong to a community.” The community is struggling to redefine itself in the midst of this abundant space and un”blanding” that Anderson identified as the Long Tail. Neither our country or our economy will settle until the community determines how to move forward in a new reality that has space for everyone, not just those that have been identified as the “hits.” 

9/20 Horse Limes

How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?

If I had to choose one line from this week’s reading that impacted me the most, it would be Rheingold’s quote from page 89: “there is nothing more important than for kids to learn how to identify fake communication”. 

When we discuss plagiarism in my class, I share this image with my students:

Some are slightly disturbed by it, but most of them appreciate the humor. I explain to the class that the image illustrates the importance of checking an author’s credentials. “The beautiful thing about the internet,” I say, “is that anyone can publish anything they want! The terrible thing about the internet is that ANYONE can publish ANYTHING they want.” 

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have policies in place for verifying accounts. Now, those cites are also beginning to inforce policies to help stop the spread of misinformation (Cohen). 

I hope that this trend will continue: if students see popular media platforms incorporate fact-checking, then maybe they will become more conscientious about the information they are gathering for themselves.

Cohen, M. (2020, September 10). Twitter expands rules against election-related misinformation, teeing up a showdown with Trump as 2020 voting begins. CNN.

Social Media – Behind the Scenes

Before diving into our assigned readings, I turned on the television and browsed Netflix’s previews to check out their new releases. I stumbled upon a preview titled, The Social Dilemma – a documentary that explores the dangers of social networking. In the documentary, tech designers weigh in on their own manipulative strategies, and the problematic social media use that ensues. Although I already had a broad sense of social media’s impact, I didn’t realize the extent of its manipulation.

The documentary quoted Edward Tufte, who stated, “there are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software” (Rhodes, 2020). A tech designer then gives an example that addresses the difference between social media platforms and bicycles. He explains that social media platforms are not comparable to bicycles because bicycles are tools. Bicycles are tools because the user decides when they want to use it, whereas social media demands something from the user, seducing the user using powerful algorithms.

As I read the first three chapters of Howard Rheingold’s book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, I was surprised by the similarities between the chapters and the documentary. More specifically, I was interested in the overarching theme of awareness. Rheingold quotes Matt Richtel, proposing that checking social media is “play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement – a dopamine squirt – that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored” (Rheingold, 2012). When a simple reminder or notification appears on a screen, especially when social media employs features that refresh content or push display notifications without showing the content itself, the temptation to check out what’s new is perpetual – and half the time, users aren’t aware of the control it has over them. The reading suggests that in a world of disruptive abundance and habitual multitasking, it is important to at least be aware of what we pay attention to and how we use our time. Rheingold states, “establish a new habit that connects—however thinly at first—your goals to your moment-by-moment stream of attention” (Rheingold, 2012). By being aware of your own thought process and attentional habits, it’s easier to establish a healthy relationship with social media and prevent the impulse response.

Another example addressing awareness is one I personally fall victim to daily. I’ll be scrolling through stations on Pandora and arrive at a song I enjoy – so much so, that I press the little “thumbs up” icon at the bottom of the screen. The songs following then echoes the song I just liked, whether it be more songs from the same artist or songs of a similar style. In Chris Anderson’s article, The Long Tail, Anderson states, “Great Long Tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown” (Anderson, 2004). Even if you are aware of what is happening, it is the same “what’s next” rabbit hole that applies to both social networking and music platforms that guide and manipulate user selections while businesses profit – tactics that feed off of behavioral instincts.

While everyone has a different relationship with social media, there’s no denying its pervasiveness in society. Whether you consider it a tool that forms connections and establishes communities of interest, or a platform capable of manipulation (or both), the readings and documentary establish the importance of awareness and “everything in moderation” mentality.

Larissa Rhodes. (2020). The Social Dilemma. Retrieved from https://www.netflix.com/

Anderson, C. (2004, December 13). The Long Tail.
https://www.porchlightbooks.com/blog/changethis/2004/the-long-tail

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.

Three Ways to Balance Your Communication Strategy for Both the Skeptical and the Naïve

In every passing moment, bits of information are drawn up into a seemingly infinite universe of data. We call it the Internet—a small, confining word for a thing that we sometimes regard as a self-aware entity whose influence and reach surpass our most capable government and corporate agencies. We visualize the Internet as a web that connects every human being who has access to this world-wide network. Perhaps that’s all it was when it began; however, it is so much more today.

We have instant access to humanity’s collective knowledge. Today, the synergistic interactions between billions of humans, which are myriad and growing, are merely surface-level events. With the advancing technology of machine-learning, automated software is collecting and analyzing the 2.5 quintillion bytes of data being uploaded daily and re-uploading predictive analytics in real-time.

Does this advancement in access to information and insight improve the human condition? The answer is certainly too nuanced and is likely argued by armchair philosophers in every profession. However, there is one thing that is important for everyone to consider. How are we deciding to use the information we find? Invariably, we see humanity using the information we consume as we always have: to sell our goods, to promote ideals, to instigate conflict, to resolve conflict, and to otherwise inspire advantageous reactions. The benefit to humanity relies more on human motivation and not the technology we use.

Technology advances. Human nature does not.

It is paramount that we take this into consideration when creating a communication strategy. If we can think of the Internet as its own entity, we can think of individual members of our audience as having their own unique history of relating to it. Much like their interactions with fellow humans, our audience may approach online content with wary skepticism or with innocent naivety. People who’ve been betrayed by the Internet may have difficulty trusting the integrity of your content. Similarly, the gullible among us who accept everything on the Internet as truth may react unpredictably when presented with conflicting truths.

Here are three ways to help you balance your content to accommodate trust issues with both the skeptical and the naïve:

1. Encourage Investigation

In Net Smart; How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold advises readers to approach online content with a healthy skepticism. “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing,” he writes. “Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.”

To assist wary readers in their investigations, we can simultaneously build trust and educate our readers by fortifying our communication with convenient pathways to curated resources. Linked citations are common and useful, but also consider widgets and page sections labeled, “Learn more…” or “For further reading…”, or inline charts and graphs that link to raw data in addition to their source.

2. Be human

Remind your audience that the content they are reading is coming from a human being. Darrin Rowse, Problogger.com author, offers advice on creating content that builds trust: Create content that is vulnerable, has personal touches, or tells a story. By presenting content in a way that shows our personal, skeptical approach to information gathering and reporting, we mirror the critical eye of the wary reader while demonstrating an attitude of rigor that may inspire the overly trusting reader to expect more from their information sources.

We can be honest about what we don’t know. We can acknowledge the validity of opposing arguments. We can question our own assertions to show readers we trust our process. We can help our audience realize there are shades of understanding between the true and the false, between the plausible and the probable. Chances are they will reward us with their trust and return visits, even if we are occasionally found to be on the wrong track.

3. Focus your content

Before creating your content, you ought to know who you’re creating it for and how your content can help them. We should always presume our audience has a short attention span. In many situations, communicators have mere seconds to prove to their content has the answers to their readers’ questions. Knowing our audience helps us write focused page titles and email subject lines.

Readers appreciate when writers get to the point quickly and stay on topic till the end. While it’s often effective to present information in story form, a story that takes the focus off topic risks losing a skeptic’s interest and leading a naïve or inattentive mind in an unintended direction.

For an excellent comprehensive (and free) resource on creating a focused content strategy, read Distilled’s Guide to Designing Your Content Strategy, by Kyra Kuik. While focused on content marketing, the guide offers helpful processes that can scale to a variety of communication strategies.

Audiences with similar needs reach your content from different places. Whether their relationship with information on the Internet is fraught with betrayal and mistrust or met with gleeful and unwavering acceptance, we strive to communicate in a way that delivers the content they need.


Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.

The Power of the Web and Media User

We are humans.

We are consumers.

We are digital citizens.

As a result of new media and enabling technologies, humans can incorporate new abilities into all areas of our lives. New spaces and services have been built, but we, the users, are also responsible for their continued success. The inventors define what is allowed, but we define how their resource is used now and will be used in the future. In describing digital literacy, Howard Rheingold explains this participatory tenet with: “We who use the web have an opportunity to wield the architecture of participation to defend our freedom to create and consume digital media according to our own agendas.” While the services may be built based on what they believe we will like and benefit from, it is our challenge to become an active agent in all of these processes.

The power of the humans consuming digital media is further explored in Cluetrain’s 95 theses. It is repeated again and again, that the people are the market. Whenever the people are ignored, the product and company will suffer. On the other hand, when users are acknowledged as humans, better outcomes can be actualized.  One way the world has answered this call to action is in the fields of user experience and user-centered research. These departments continuously acknowledge a people-first approach that the author insists is a prerequisite for success in the modern world.

An examination of the growth of media providers, such as Netflix, also supports the idea that our actions online matter greatly, and they represent who we are beyond what we like to watch on TV. Rheingold explains that while the technological advancement is still in an early phase of spreading, this is the prime opportunity for users to exert their influence. He speaks generally for any new technology, but for a streaming service, things like how we search for shows, how much time we spend browsing, and which shows we binge watch are all metrics they could use to make decisions. These seemingly unimportant actions are under our control. They are a path for us to help the provider help us better. Beyond a lengthy product review, our computer interaction speaks volumes on what our preferences are.

If a person does not have interest in intentionally influencing the market, they can continue to be a passive user. Rheingold optimistically hopes for more from us. He explains that we are already contributing to the evolution of these technologies, even if we are not consciously aware of it. If we can open our minds to the possibilities of engaging differently, or mindfully, our efforts will be rewarded. The benefits of developing an improved sense of awareness as an online user begin with personal empowerment, success, and power. Beyond improvements to the self, a global effect of better communities and increased digital literacy surely would make these ideas worthy of reflection.

Keeping in mind the insights of Rheingold, I can track how my online presence and use of web technologies has impacted not only my life but all who are in my communities. I thought of the effects of spending a typical day involving work on a computer, which is only interrupted by an hour of interacting on a phone, and then is followed by a number of hours consuming media on TV before the day is done. Screen time limits may be a necessary prescription in the future, but for now it may be that we simply acknowledge times when we could use a little more balance. Overall, if we look at our own use and the ways to encourage each other to think more about it, the rise of technology and the web can remain a period in our history that afforded us more than it harmed us.

Internet Culture & Consumer Identity

This is one of my favorite shirts, I bought it for a very low price from Romwe.com while reworking my wardrobe a year and a half ago because most my clothes were from high school and either didn’t fit well, were falling apart, or just didn’t appeal to me anymore. I knew that Romwe is a fast fashion company out of China, and was under no illusion as to whether or not the business owners cared about racism, sexism or LGBTQ+ rights. So why did I buy it, and why is it still my favorite? I’ll get back to that later.

In Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online he attempts to give the reader insights into how to intelligently and mindfully use social media tools. In the book, he brings together information from colleagues and other experts and narrows the information he gleams from them into chunks to the reader can use. Two of these chunks from our class’s assigned reading from this book this week stuck out to me as they related to ideas I formed while reading the other two readings. Both chunks were in relations to the research of Mizuko Ito studies internet cultures among teenagers. The first came from page 87, in the section about making internet searches, where Rheingold discusses how Ito found that youths were using search engines to find more information about their interests and were actually learning a great deal doing so. The second came up in the chapter on participatory culture, where more Rheingold reveals more information from Ito’s research, specifically highlighting the difference between those communities that are interest-driven and those that are friendship-driven. Essentially, friendship-driven communities are more so ones that exist on websites like Facebook or MySpace, consisting of people who know one another already and want to catch up, and interest-driven communities are more often on interest specific forums and digital spaces.

Rheingold emphasized that people more likely to be drawn in by interest-driven communities tended to be those who do not have a strong pool of real-life friends. This reminded me of the idea of consumer identity and how it plays into internet-based, interest-driven communities. People left alienated in their social lives turn to the internet to find people who like the same things as them, and then as they do liking and consuming, those things becomes an integral part to their identity and their community. These thoughts are not new to me, having grown up within fandom cultures on the internet I’ve spent a good deal of time in my young adulthood reflecting on whether or not those experiences were good for me. Much of my identity as a teenager was based around buying things about merchandise about those things. I proudly sported Marvel and BioWare tee-shirts to flag to other teens who might be interested in those things to maybe start a conversation. Businesses love that, fandom is essentially free and incredibly powerful advertising. The tiniest communities that can form online over the most niche of interests can be profited from in this way.

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson explores exactly how profitable these niche interests can be. Anderson explains that through features like Amazon recommendations, sellers are collecting information about what people like and connecting them to other things and in doing so increasing their profits and sales. Companies like Amazon terrify me because no matter how much I despise Jeff Bezos and abhor the company’s track record when it comes to treatment of their workers, the website is still where I’m going to publish my graphic novel when it’s finished because it will be the easiest way for me, the author, to get it out to the audience I’m looking for and profit off of it.

The business worlds’ interest in the communities that purchase their products was also apparent in The Cluetrain Manifesto, where the writers express to business heads that they need to speak with and be a part of those communities or they will become a thing of the past. To me, the entire document was alarming, because while the writer protests that advertising is no longer being paid attention to by consumers, the kind of response they’re asking for from businesses is the type of advertising landscape we live in today. Asking businesses to stand for something while also keeping profit as their goal brought to mind Pride themed vodka and snarky Denny’s and Wendy’s twitter accounts. With these ideals the line between consumption and culture continues to blur together in a frightening way.

Then why did I buy that shirt and why do I still love it? Well, for one it’s very soft and it fits me well. The other thing is that it does flag me as a safe person to those who I want to protect, and it flags to others I won’t tolerate their behavior. During the 2016 election, as bigots in my community were getting more vocal than they had been since I was a kid, I noticed how safe something as simple and commercial as a rainbow flag made me feel. Whether we like it or not consumer goods are part of the way we communicate with others, and they do relate to how we identify. However, I haven’t purchased anything from Romwe since that shirt, and I am much more mindful over the consumer goods I purchase and how they represent me.

I’ll leave you with a YouTube video that’s only about ten minutes long if you play it at double speed, that explores the idea of consumer identity becoming a type of identity actively cultivated by businesses.

No one is immune to 2020: Staying human online

For the most part, I consider myself resilient despite the political, social, and economic chaos that is 2020.  I’m not jaded.  I am optimistic.  I still believe in community. 

Well, as it turns out, I may have been kidding myself. 

I just read the first 3 chapters of Howard Rheingold’s book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (2014).  The idealistic way in which Rheingold describes online interactions is arguably NOT aligned with what I see post-2016.  He talks of a ‘culture of participation,’ fostered by online communities working toward knowledge sharing and critical thinking.  He speaks of digital knowledge sharing as a wonderous, limitless add-on to what and how we learn in real life, and how much we all gain by taking part.  “Knowing how to blog, tweet, wiki, innovate, program, and/or organize online can lead to political, cultural, and economic value” (111).  Even though I am a student, scholastic, reliable content is not the majority of what I encounter when I’m online.  I see throngs of anonymous contributors shitposting, sharing unsubstantiated “articles” and starting arguments in comment sections.  Rheingold, forging ahead, gushes about our potential: “web culture has made it clear that if it is easy and inexpensive enough to contribute to cooperative enterprises, many people will choose to do so for a variety of reasons, including reputation, altruism, curiosity, learning, a sense of reciprocating value to a community that provides value, as part of a game, and contributing something for public use that you had to do for your own purposes anyway” (112).  Rheingold doesn’t even use the words ‘toxic’ and ‘trolls’ until after page 100!  I, on the other hand, see people looking to stir the pot, using language not said aloud in talking to both their social circles and complete strangers.  My response to his reading got me thinking about my role and my responsibilities as an online presence overall. 

First, I need to be more optimistic and proactive – find and support online education communities like schools, Google Scholar, reliable news outlets, and constructive social media content.  I KNOW there’s good stuff out there.  I know I don’t just have to put on blinders and block everyone with whom I disagree on social media; I can be equally discerning and protective of what I encounter, and I should not expect the impossible from where I normally surf. I can find blogs, subreddits, and pages that are looking to inform, not upset. I can turn my time online into a more productive activity.  I can get on board with Rheingold’s ideas.

One place to start might be what Chris Anderson calls “The Long Tail” in his 2004 article of the same name.  For Anderson, the long tail is what exists outside of the most popular culture; “the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream” (1).  Finding your own healthy place online can take some digging, as what we’re fed isn’t always what we need.  “We equate mass market with quality and demand, when in fact it often just represents familiarity, savvy advertising, and broad if somewhat shallow appeal” (10). Anderson writes about how markets continually change with the ubiquity of availability and potential revenue online, where products are unconstrained by the size and cost of physical space.  This helps us to find what we should be consuming on a more personal level and engaging with others that also care enough to contribute to that community.  We can choose a new jumping off point.  “Great long tail businesses can then guide consumers further afield by following the contours of their likes and dislikes, easing their exploration of the unknown” (24). Before long, it’s possible to change your entire feed.

I want to be informed and rational (and maybe even a little happy?) when I’m online.  I want to support others looking to do the same.  Creating a new experience might be as easy as clearing my cache, cookies, and search history and starting from a healthier point, even if that point is obscure.  Using an incognito window to indulge in guilty pleasures and gossip can satisfy whatever brought me there while maintaining accountability for what I see most often.

How the Long Curve is Now Driving Entertainment

As Anderson’s “The Long Tail” makes abundantly clear, the entertainment market is finally growing. This growth is due to technology such as social media and the internet allowing entertainment content to be endless and specialized. No longer is the only available entertainment controlled by only what attracts the most people at once (Anderson, 2004). Anderson explains that “many of our assumptions about popular taste are actually artifacts of poor supply-and-demand matching — a market response to inefficient distribution” (Anderson, 2004, p. 4). Sites that support blogging, personal content, and specified entertainment finally can reach the long tail end of the entertainment bell curve. Entertainment can finally reach wide ranges of audiences, even if it is not a “hit” to the masses. This means content finally addresses certain niches and conversations.

This new entertainment model brought on by social media benefits both the industry and audiences. Businesses discovered that if you “combine enough non-hits on the Long Tail and [you have] a market potentially as big as the hits” (Anderson, 2004,p. 12). This can be seen on social media applications such as Youtube. On the trending page, videos have millions upon millions of views. This would be considered the “hits” that defined entertainment options in the past. However, media now allows users to bypass the most popular content in exchange for what interests them more. The “Suggested” and “Subscription” tab now allows users to customize their entertainment experience, seeking out less popular, but more targeted content. The amount of small creators blogging outnumber, or equal, the impact viral content has. Small creators are simply spread out on the long curve, collecting views and audience engagement across the board.

Moreover, the widening of entertainment means content is becoming more personalized. The ability for anyone to carve out their own part of the entertainment pie allows communication to become more authentic. This entertainment is succeeding because “their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking” (Weinberger, 2000). A natural discourse emerges that speaks to certain sectors of the population. In the past, formal companies and businesses struggled to replicate this personalized and natural content users would gravitate towards.

As personally generated content grows, businesses are reaching out to work specifically with solo content creators. This aligns with Weinberger’s thought that “[businesses] will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf” (Weinberger, 2000). Posts are now popping up across social media platforms of creators being sponsored to post on behalf of companies and their products. As seen below from a current Youtube video, creators are now using “ads” within their videos to note that it is sponsored by a brand.

This is an effort to combine authentic human conversation with product placement and advertisement. From the frequency sponsored posts are used, it seems they are successful for companies to use. As entertainment and media become evermore accessible and customizable, it will be interesting to see how the long tail of media consumption continues to broaden and drive the industry as a whole.

Anderson, C. (2004, December 14). The Long Tail. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://www.porchlightbooks.com/blog/changethis/2004/the-long-tail

Weinberger, D. (2000). 95 theses. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from https://www.cluetrain.com/book/95-theses.html

Derailed by the Long Tail

    At the present, we are living in a vastly digital, on-demand world. Gone are the days of patience and anticipation, replaced instead by instant gratification. Once entering the digital realm, all we encounter is stimulation. Perform a simple Google search and you’ll be met with links, pictures, videos, and information. This excessive quantity of stimulus warrants the advocation for both mindfulness and “crap detection” online found within the first three chapters of Howard Rheingold’s (2012) book Net Smart. The antagonist to Rheingold’s call for digital awareness is editor of Wired.com, Chris Anderson, who in his article The Long Tail, predicts the future of markets is found within niches. While streaming serves are the status quo, providing extensive offerings from standard fare to obscurity, their long tail offerings are derailing our digital journeys.

      Rheingold (2012) states, “powerful technologies always entail trade-offs and while the power of a new tool is evident early, the price we pay may take longer to become visible” (p. 61). Video-on-demand, endless libraries of music at our fingertips, and a never-ending flow of social media now make up our day-to-day. Want to hear a song? Press play on Spotify or Apple Music. Want to watch a movie? Turn on Netflix and watch. Want to share a thought? Log onto social media and have at it! Of course, these activities have become effortless as smartphones accompany us everywhere. Information overload and consumer satisfaction walk a narrow line, as Rafeal Lucian details in his 2014 article in The Journal of Internet Banking and Commerce. Lucian found online customers expect the same amount of offers as provided by the last minute products that line the checkout aisles – we anticipate choices. When we choose to stream a show or listen to an album from the comfort of our phone, the options are interminable. Have you ever sat in front of a tv with your dinner getting cold because you were unable to choose something to watch while you ate? This is an example of how Anderson’s long tail is effecting your day-to-day life clouding your digital mindfulness.

    There’s nothing wrong with digital rabbit holes. Personally, I enjoy a good mindless romp through social media or the little trailers that now play before you select to watch anything on Netflix. Yet, in drawing back to Rheingold’s (2012) statement, is the price we pay our time? Often easily forfeited, time is a very valuable currency. Anderson’s (2004) The Long Tail even points out the poor exchange of time spent locating open-sourced music versus paying to download instantly. With digital services able to offer us the long tail into obscurity, the tradeoff is we’re inundated with decisions. This abundance strains Rheingold’s (2012) concept of infotention, the conjoining of the brain and machine filtering, by providing the machine an advantage. The machine is providing us the information we’re seeking, but a new challenge amasses – an overabundance of information stimulus. We as the user can focus our attention, being mindful of our digital journey, but the long tail and its many offerings detract from our mission. This is not to say I disagree with the niche offerings which compromise the long tail. I am a consumer who desires both the unique and the unconventional. However, in reading Rheingold’s (2012) calls for mindfulness, I couldn’t help but consider how hindering the broad access to niche materials works against our focus.

     Combating the extensive number of digital stimuli isn’t an easy task. It’s rare a day that I’m able to be truly present online, staying faithful to the purpose of being there in the first place. This dissension from my true online task is not my fault, it’s exactly what the long tail hopes to accomplish. By falling into a digital rabbit hole we’re engaging with more content, videos, or media. If time is money then someone somewhere is getting paid for my digital off-roading. Thus, pulling us away from our intention and harnessing our participation elsewhere is the goal of the long tail. This keeps us from accomplishing our digital intentions in the time we thought it might take us. The truth is the long tail is rarely, in my experience, disappointing. Thus, we’re willing to part with our time in exchange for interesting, attention-grabbing content.

Choosing Between Ethics and Abundance

Getty Images

It has now been seven months since it was declared that Coronavirus was a global pandemic. With elections around the corner, those that don’t trust voting by mail must face the unfortunate reality that they will have to choose between their right to vote and their health. While this dilemma is much more serious and life threatening, there is an underlying parallel that exists between that situation and The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. With the evolution of the internet there is a larger selection of goods and services from mass retailers online, as well as the added convenience of instant download or having the goods shipped directly to your home. Users are finally able to find an album by an obsolete artist that they haven’t been able to find since 1989 with ease. The album that they had been searching numerous record stores for years for is now available at the click of a button AND they don’t need to leave their home or interact with others to obtain it. During a pandemic that sounds like the ideal situation, right? A real no brainer. However, what happens when the mass production company that buyers are supporting (Amazon, Walmart, etc.) are infamously known for treating their workers poorly? Is that still a company that shoppers should feel good about supporting when they could be supporting a local small business instead?  Shopping locally, however, has its negatives as well. While they are creating jobs and revenue for their town or city, there’s a good chance that the smaller, locally owned record shop may not have that album by that obsolete artist that listeners haven’t been able to find since 1989 as the shop’s selection is smaller. With that, the consumer’s question becomes, “Do I sacrifice not having this album to support local businesses by not buying online, or do I purchase it from a vendor who is infamous for treating their workers poorly?” 

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, details how online vendors have the luxury of providing an abundance of entertainment goods in comparison to physical businesses and establishments. Online retailers such as iTunes and Amazon can house a plethora of movies, books and music as their online storage is infinite. The record store down the street, however, doesn’t have that convenience. These physical establishments must consider whether what they are offering will sell or not, and if housing it will make enough money to cover the cost of carrying it. Anderson writes that, “An average record store needs to sell at least two copies of a CD per year to make it worth carrying; that’s the rent for a half inch of shelf space” (2004). Local shops can’t carry the obsolete or niche items that online retailers can because it will end up losing them money in the long run; and instead must stock their shelves with the trendy items that are sure to sell (Anderson 2004).  

Anderson writes also that online retailers don’t have to worry about these overhead costs, and because of this they are able to stock their inventory with trendy hits as well as the more unheard-of niches. “With no shelf space to pay for and, in the case of purely digital services like iTunes, no manufacturing costs and hardly any distribution fees, a miss sold is just another sale, with the same margins as a hit. A hit and a miss are on equal economic footing….Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability” (Anderson 2004). While online vendors can provide more obscure selections, they are also able to use the algorithm to their advantage. Vendors can note patterns in buying behavior and suggest recommendations of similar artists and interests. If consumers adhere to these suggestions, the offering of personalization and customization paid off and the vendor has an opportunity to secure another sale.  

However, while the algorithm is benefitting the online business, is it doing anything for the consumer? Sure, they are being exposed to new artists and interests that they may have otherwise never explored before, but at what expense? In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold writes about how users’ contribution of photos, likes, videos, posts, etc. to the online world has the potential to profit large corporations (Rheingold 2012). Rheingold includes in his book a quote by Trebor Scholtz regarding online contributors that reads, “They leave behind innumerable traces that speak to their interests, affiliations, likes and dislikes, and desires. Large corporations then profit from this interaction by collecting and selling this data. Social participation is the oil of the digital economy” (Rheingold 2012). Whether consumers are aware that privacy settings can be adjusted or not, their actions and online navigation has the possibility to directly influence the algorithm and the content they are shown – sometimes without their knowledge and/or consent.  

So, is it worth it? Is having that album by that random artist that has been obsolete since 1989 worth putting more money into the pockets of businesses that have little regard for their employees? According to the article titled Jeff Bezos values profits above safety’: Amazon workers voice pandemic concernduring this pandemic Amazon warehouses have neglected the safety of their employees to keep up with demand of online shopping. In the article one Amazon worker is quoted saying, “The fact that we’re still expected to report to work in a compromised warehouse to ship non-essential products if we still want to earn our living tells me that Amazon and Jeff Bezos clearly value profits above employee safety or health.” (Sainato, 2020). Other Amazon warehouse workers spoke about the conditions as well saying,  “We have no more wipes and hand sanitizer. We aren’t provided masks, don’t have the proper gloves, and not everything is being sanitized and cleaned before it comes to use”, “The 6ft rule isn’t really being followed”, and “We have people working day shifts and night shifts, meanwhile the virus lasts on cardboard for up to 24 hours, putting all of us at risk who come in contact with boxes or plastic wrap.” (Sainato, 2020). All of this is happening while Jeff Bezos remains at home on his track to be the first trillionaire the world has ever seen.  

It’s also important to consider if having the album by that random artist that has been obsolete since 1989 is worth having your information tracked by large corporations for their profit. In the article, 7 Ways Amazon Uses Big Data to Stalk YouJennifer Wills details how Amazon uses analytics to determine how consumers spend their money for targeted marketing to increase loyalty to the Amazon brand. According to Wills, Amazon can “analyze what items you purchased previously, what is in your online shopping cart or on your wish list, which products you reviewed and rated, and what items you search for most to recommend additional products” (2020). Wills also writes that, “Amazon reviews words highlighted in your Kindle to determine what you are interested in learning about, has a shipping model that uses big data for predicting the products you are likely to purchase, when you may buy them, and where you might need the products” (2020). The article closes by saying, “Other companies benefit from Amazon Web Services by using them to analyze customer demographics, spending habits, and other pertinent information to more effectively cross-sell company products. In other words, these retailers can use Amazon to stalk you, as well” (Wills 2020). 

While Chris Anderson raves about the emergence of abundance that online vendors have to offer, and consumers may not always be able to find what they are looking for in smaller local shops, it’s important to consider the risks of supporting the long tail businesses that seem like a good idea on the surface. 

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Retrieved 2020, from ChangeThis.

Getty Images. Online Shopper. https://www.inc.com/peter-roesler/new-research-reveals-more-consumers-are-shopping-online-for-everyday-items.html.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. London: The MIT Press.

Sainato, M. (2020, April 7). ‘Jeff Bezos values profits above safety’: Amazon workers voice pandemic concern. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/apr/07/amazon-warehouse-workers-coronavirus-safety#:~:text=The%20firm%20insists%20safety%20is,seasonal%20employees%20who%20test%20positive.&text=Instead%20they%20called%20mandatory%20overtime%20for%20two%20weeks.%E2%80%9D

Wills, J. (2020, April 22). 7 Ways Amazon Uses Big Data to Stalk You. Retrieved September 19, 2020, from Investopedia: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/090716/7-ways-amazon-uses-big-data-stalk-you-amzn.asp

Foreign Content Through A Connected Digital Age

It is such an interesting thing to think about how we as consumers have been given access to a wide array of different items over the years as our society has slowly become more digital. With new services such as Netflix and Spotify that can give consumers more than what is generally shown to us, people have been exposed to more content from other countries and cultures.

Growing up in America, walking the thin line between two cultures, I have always been very interested in a wide array of things from superhero movies and rock music to foreign flicks and music from other countries. I have noticed that a lot of the things that I loved growing up were strictly of two different worlds. But in this day and age, this isn’t really the case anymore. Online services have now opened up a new world for people who have been craving for more from their content. Consumers are now not limited to whatever is stocked on the shelves of a store, but now have a virtually unlimited amount of content at their disposal (Anderson, 2004). This kind of power has been able to meld my two worlds together as I now have access to all my favorite superhero content as well as my favorite foreign films in one streaming service. People are now starting to discover new content through online selections as anime starts to gain popularity as well as foreign music.

Anderson made an interesting example within The Long Tail that seemed almost like he was describing me. Wal-Mart tends to be the store that people think has everything, but as Anderson mentioned, is actually very limited in its selection. I love rock music and searching through the CD aisle of Wal-Mart for anything that isn’t pop music can be an extreme pain. Now try searching for foreign rock music. That is nearly next to impossible. This is where online services fill that void. Recently, I have started to listen to music from J-rock groups such as One Ok Rock, Babymetal, as well as Mongolian folk Metal in the form of The Hu.

(Valcourt, 2016)

All of these groups, I discovered through YouTube, a service that has blended everything that I love from all over the world into one nice place. I ended up ordering albums from these groups online as well as other albums from my favorite rock groups of the 2000s. I am no longer limited to hoping luck is on my side when I stroll through Wal-Mart. I am no longer limited to listening to whatever the radio has to offer. I now have power over my own content, and through the way our consumer society has evolved, I am now connected to other people like me.

Before, I was a loner in the content that I liked. I was limited by my geography and the people around me. “One Ok what?”, people would say when asking about some of my favorite bands. But now with the way everybody is connected, I have a chance where I can discuss and talk about my shared interests with other people like me. And to my surprise, there are quite a bunch of American fans across the country that feel the same way.

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail.

Valcourt, K. (2016, July 5). [One Ok Rock members]. Retrieved September 20, 2020, from https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jul/5/one-ok-rock-open-5-seconds-summer-sounds-live-feel/

Have purpose and stay focused out there folks

While reading Hurley and Kimme Hea’s (2014) discussion last week about improving social media use among technical and communication students, I thought about how important having purpose was for a user to use media appropriately.  I look at having purpose in the sense of setting goals and being goal-oriented; and then applying this to media use.  I essentially ask myself, “How best do I achieve a specific result?”  More specifically, along the way “what do I have to do to achieve it?”  Having this in mind, having this purpose, keeps you focused while using media and decreases the likelihood of using media inappropriately.  This week’s readings also caused me to think about the importance of having purpose when surfing the internet and understanding the power of one’s attention.  Discussing attention at length, the readings provided me a greater understanding of the power of my attention.  I can use it for good, but it can also be used against me and my purpose.

In the first chapter of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Rheingold (2014) discusses in incredible detail the science behind the power of attention.  Practicing mindfulness, Rheingold argues that a person can focus on his/her attention skills, training your ability to avoid distractions.  Distractions are everywhere. As I type this I am able to look out my windows and see the Mississippi River, several islands, and the bluffs of Minnesota.  Then I jump to thinking about my fall window cleaning.  Catching myself, I wonder back to finishing my thought about focusing my attention.  Were I also not using a Google Chromebook with a twelve inch screen, I would have a larger screen or even a double screen and find other distractions from this paragraph.  Twenty minutes later, I’m back focusing on this discussion. These are just two examples of how the world around us and the media in front of us can draw our attention away from our purpose.

Later in his book, Rheingold (2014) also discussed how media can be used effectively with a more focused purpose.  Essentially, digital participation can be either friendship- or interest-driven.  For the former, there are social media services like Facebook (in the traditional sense) allowing friends to reconnect and maintain a digitally-assisted relationship despite time and distance.  Other mediums like Twitter and MySpace also allow people to communicate and share personal information with one another. Were it not for these services making sharing and communicating easier, the same relationships would be weaker or none-existent.

The latter, interest-driven digital participation, is pervasive in our interconnected world.  Arguably all the media services driven by the Internet provide an avenue for people to connect around a specific topic or purpose.  Websites, social media groups and blogs all provide people seeking others with a specific interest a forum to share and learn.  Niche groups abound; anyone reading this likely participates in a Facebook group or Googled their way to a blog to answer a question.

While these previous topics touched on the power of attention for good, it can also be used against you and your purpose using media.  Being a part of niche social media groups and blogs exclusively can work to only reinforce your own beliefs.  Citing the Echo Chamber Effect, Rheingold (2014) cautioned the power of your own attention.  It is important to realize a singular source of information can cause you to have too narrow of an understanding or perspective. Don’t be afraid of another or opposite perspective on a similar topic.

Having this information immediately available is also potentially damaging.  Rheingold (2014) discussed a study showing a tendency for some to accept less credible information so long as it is received faster and more conveniently.  Despite the immediacy, take the time to check the credibility of the information.

Anderson (2004) also cautioned the power of one’s own attention.  Media uses your attention to reinforce your role as a customer by using your customer history to shift your attention and connect you to other products.  Using features like “Customers who bought this also bought…,” websites can direct your focus and attention to other items.  In our current market of “Abundance,” where everything is available all the time, Anderson discusses how this business approach providing niche products is still profitable for companies.

In sum, attention as a skill is natural but can be refined and honed with practice.  It can also contribute to your success when you use media with a purpose.  It is important to be aware of though, how attention is subtly used against you distracting you away from your intended goal.  By establishing and staying focused on a purpose, media users can better navigate all the information and noise available to them all the time.  Happy focusing.

Week 3

How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?

(I couldn’t find the instruction for this week on Canvas, so I got the question on the top from Rebecca’s blog. I had no time to ask anybody before the deadline. If it is not this week’s prompt, please understand that I didn’t mean to copy her question.)

Last week, I asked my junior high school students when they started using a Smartphone. Most of them said ever since they were in the kindergarten. I felt like I was literally old and began to think how to explain to them about iPod and Walkman stuff while we were reading about Steve Jobs. I felt as if I was explaining about old relics to my students and finally realized that I needed a certain type of new adaptive education method.

As Rheingold (2014) mentions, media has attentional effects, and this eventually wakens our attention’s attention so that we can be mindful digital citizens (p.75).It is also interesting to see Rheingold (2014) deploys the idea about crap-detecting, which is how we find what we need to know and how we decide if it’s true (p.77). In this sense, Rheingold (2014) continuously mentions that “there is nothing more important than for kids to learn how to identify fake communication” (p.89). I believe that this is important not only for kids but also for adults. Regarding this, Anderson (2004) introduces the idea about “unlimited selection” (p.4). “Unlimited selection” is about “how [consumers] want to get it in service after service” (p.4), and I believe that this is an alarm for those who unconsciously take in the information online.

In conclusion, Rheingold (2014) presents that it is “the act of participation” to link “paying attention to attention,” and “practicing crap detection and infotention” with “participation” and that the participation “connects” the individual mind to the web of digital culture” (p.109). Through this type of digital literacy education, students can learn how to adapt to the digital world as digital citizens.         

YJD’s

No Longer a Fairy Tail: Education in the Digital Space

How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?

Chris Anderson’s 2004 work “The Long Tail” details how the digital marketplace has radically changed the economics and consumption of media. Anderson posits that the digital space has heralded a new age of media consumption. Gone are the days of big hits monopolizing media; digital downloads have opened an entirely new market to appeal to the niche interests everyone possesses.

Anderson juxtaposes the constraints of brick-and-mortar retail and entertainment establishments, such as movie theaters, with the limitless potential of online marketplaces. Retailers are restricted in the content that they carry and must ensure that it appeals to the largest customer base available locally by necessity. The merchandise, whether that is DVDs, CDs, videogames, or other items with digital potential, takes up physical space and requires employees to transport, handle, unbox, and maintain. This, coupled with the packaging necessary to contain the product and the hardware, such as a disc, increases costs. Retailers don’t have the luxury of filling their shelves with niche items that may or may not sell. Even if these items are popular to a large but widely spread and sparse audience, the retailer will not see the financial benefit to carrying these products (Anderson 2004).

Juxtapose brick-and-mortar retail with the limitless potential of digital marketplaces and their downloadable content. Niche songs, videogames, and movies are not taking up physical space, they don’t require packaging, they don’t need to earn their keep. They exist until called upon and are capable of reaching that large but sparse audience. There is no concern about what appeals to a locality; there is only the potential of accessing “the long tail” (Anderson 2004).

This has changed the entertainment space, allowing for individuals to explore niche interests and ensuring that a cornucopia of content is available alongside the megahits. This is an “example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries” (Anderson 2004). “The Long Tail”, as Anderson states, represents the very large audience base with varying niche interests that the digital market taps into.

Anderson discussed these trend changes in media industries in 2004. Simultaneously, and with no less import, another trend was continuing its steady march into the digital space: online learning. There is a significant degree of parallel between the potential of online learning and the long tail as discussed by Anderson.

Digital media has the potential to reach a significantly greater audience based and is not constrained to localities. Anderson writes, “Retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep…each can pull only from a limited local population” (2004). This is equally true for education. Prior to online education opportunities, individuals in rural areas may have had limited program options. There may not be a high demand for business management in a primarily agricultural community. However, with the introduction of online learning, individuals in all geographic locations have significantly greater access to various programs. Just as consumers of digital media can find content in their area of choice without relying on the brick-and-mortar supply, students can find programs in their area of choice without relying on local, traditional schools. This opens up an infinite source of opportunity for students and taps into the long tail of academia.

Online education also has the ability to significantly cut costs for students, further increasing accessibility. Just as the cost of digital media decreases due to, “no packaging, manufacturing, distributing, or shelf space overheads” (Anderson 2004), online education can provide similar financial benefits by not requiring the use of campus classrooms, not having to provide offices for remote teachers, and not having to adjust the overall campus space to accommodate the increase in students (via expanding parking, for example). The long tail prevails in its ability to increase accessibility for students in various geographic locations and decrease costs!

The digital media purchasing trends that Anderson notes in his 2004 article can provide a generalized commentary on how digital spaces are transforming society in multiple facets. Education has developed in a similar manner as digital marketplaces simultaneously. The digital space has allowed individuals to access the content of their choice, whether that be media or academic. The provides so many valuable opportunities to consumers and perspective students and has made society richer for its ability to engage varied content and promote the educational opportunities of more people. Costs have also been decreased through the use of digital spaces.

Traditional schooling certainly holds a valuable place in society. However, with the introduction of online learning and the accessibility of the digital space, educational opportunity is no longer a fairy tale to those challenged by geographic location, cost, or time constraint. The digital space is changing how society understands markets, media, and education. The long tail is representative of those who hope to access different media content, who desire variety, and who want to explore more of the art humanity has to offer. The long tail can be equally representative of those individuals for whom traditional education is an impossibility but who deeply desire academic opportunity.

Laptop Online Learning
“Laptop Online Learning” by bluefield_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.

Can the Blogger be Defined out of the Blog?

I would describe myself as an avid consumer of information. Following the example of my parents who read the newspaper cover to cover every evening and then sat down to watch a solid hour of nightly news, I make it a point to stay abreast of what’s going on in the world. Of course, I don’t have to wait for the paper to be delivered each day; I am not limited to one editorial board’s perspective, and if I have far greater access to information, I have to work harder to make sure it’s credible. 

My first conclusion regarding my own experience with blogs is that in spite of how much reading I do online, I only follow one blogger regularly. Hungryrunnergirl has defined my view of the evolution of blogging. The author blogs about her running, her love of food, and her life. In the early years of the blog, she posted several times a day in colorful fonts. Lately, she’s dropped to six posts a week. She blogged through a divorce, adventures as a single mother, remarriage, blending a family, and more pregnancies, as well as an ultramarathon, breaking 3 hours in the marathon. Robinson Meyer’s take on “What Blogging Has Become,” I see this blog has also limited my appreciation for what blogging can be, perhaps what it must be, today, not the least of which because that article is already five years out of date. Meaning, if my ideas on blogging were outmoded in 2015, they must be fossilized in 2020.  

woman’s hands on typewriter keys; the word “blog” on paper

In “Why We Blog,” Julie Nardi, Diane Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht, and Luke Swartz say that “bloggers are driven to document their lives, provide commentary and opinions, express deeply felt emotions, articular information through writing, and form and maintain community forums.” That was in 2004, but it captures where my current appreciation of blogging stands. 

I mentioned my news consumption earlier. I don’t pay to have the local news delivered to my doorstep, but I do pay to have online access to it. I am also a paid subscriber to Talking Points Memo, which is apparently also a blog. I guess the President of the United States also blogs given his affinity for Twitter, which I also learned is a thing called microblogging. Who knew? Well, you knew. Now I do, too. 

numerous social media icons featured Polaroid pictures

When Meyer asks, “Is there a place for blogging online in 2015?” I begin to think that there cannot be a simple answer for that in 2020. Blogging certainly has a place. As it was defined even five years or 15 years ago? Perhaps not really. Can one simply start a blog and drive readers to the site on the power of their topic and personality alone? Can they do it without leveraging the power of centralizing sites like Medium? Without microblogging on Twitter? Without Instagramming content, as well? Without vlogging or podcasting on top of it all?  Kyle Beyers reports that as of 2019, “there are over 600 billion blogs in the world.” That’s a big crowd.

As my appreciation for what blogging has become grows, I’ll make better use of that content and the strategies that inform the content and the format. What actually concerns me, though, is that much of the current practices surrounding blogging seems to devalue the individual behind the content. Joshua Benton thinks Medium “degrades authorship, renders it secondary, knocks it off its pedestal.” This is seconded by Robinson Meyer, who writes about Medium that, “Medium doesn’t want you to read something because of who wrote it; Medium wants you to read something because of what it’s about.” The implications behind that move need more exploration and consideration on my part. 

 

Benton, J. (2012, August 13). 13 ways of looking at medium, the new blogging/sharing/discovery platform from @ev and obvious. Nieman Lab. https://www.niemanlab.org/2012/08/13-ways-of-looking-at-medium-the-new-bloggingsharingdiscovery-platform-from-ev-and-obvious/

Byers, K. (2019, January 2). How many blogs are there? (And 141 other blogging stats). GrowthBadger. https://growthbadger.com/blog-stats/

Meyer, R. (2015, February 26). Why no one blogs anymore. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/02/what-blogging-has-become/386201/

Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Gumbrecht, M., & Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM47(12), 41-46.

Predicting the Future: Will We Blog?

The opinion that Tumblr will be the last great blogging platform comes with a defense of its format from writer Jeremy Gordon. He remarks on the differences between Tumblr and the even more popular Twitter. When thinking about why the other social media sites are in a different league than Tumblr, a few theories come to mind. While groups and organizations take advantage of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, Tumblr seems to be designed for individuals but not for groups. Organizations enjoy the efficiency of 140 characters and the guarantee that the audience will quickly receive the message. If Tumblr were the only option, we would see a lot more promotional blogging, but the other sites make it impossible for the blog form to compete.

Even though it is not in the top three, Tumblr would likely be recognizable if a group of people were surveyed outside a mall. According to Gordon, Tumblr’s popularity can be attributed to a number of usability advantages, including its format. He cites a metric that even today, Tumblr is in the list of the top 50 most popular websites. This surprising fact brings up a question to think about: how has it remained popular? It may have lasted because brief and regularly updated postings from individuals continue to be in demand. Instead of keeping ideas in a notebook at home, people have developed a habit of interacting online, by either posting or scrolling at specific times of day.

Another explanation that keeps Tumblr from extinction looks at the common denominator of all social media. If a user connects with a post, psychology and neuroscience dictate that this individual will likely be back for more. Researchers have investigated the link between likes and dopamine levels and published many recent studies about social media and neuropsychology. They used previous research of the impact of any social interaction on the brain and built upon research of internet use and addiction. It could be the affordance of interaction that keeps Tumblr in the top 50 most popular sites today. Whatever the reason, I would bet that the future will include plenty of new “Tumblrs,” and many people eager to share, regardless of the format. It is not the end of its era, even if it dropped a few numbers down the popularity scale.

In their chapter on academic blogging as a new literacy, researchers Julia Davies and Guy Merchant define additional affordances of blogs for a particular group, that is, academics. Their discussion includes examining the ways to study blogging as a practice and blogs as texts. It also describes blogs as an opportunity to be taken advantage of. In a blog, an individual shares information and personal experiences in order to connect with potential followers, also known as their readership. This is attractive to academics and other professionals because they can extend their work to share knowledge and experience beyond their physical work environment. Academics who want to leave a legacy and extend their reach can look to blogs. The same can be said about academic journals, but they lack an important attribute: simplicity. Furthermore, Davies and Merchant reveal the best part: blogs create online communities capable of hosting debate, connection, and knowledge transfer all in one spot. Again, we see efficiency as a high priority that is improved upon with blogging over professional journals.

In my experience, I have never been an avid user of Tumblr, but I can still recall its influence in my life. From around 2009 to 2011, it was common to hear either, “I saw it on Tumblr,” or “I just spent two hours on Tumblr.” Instead of or in addition to keeping up with Twitter threads and Facebook chats, some teenagers and young adults took to Tumblr to post or read. I also had not read a blog before a couple years ago. Even now, I would only credit myself as a once-in-a-while blog reader, and this will be my first blog post. I have been aware of blogs, and like to know what topics the creators are talking about, but this is something I have not fully committed to. If you are like me, I do not think we have missed our chance yet: the “Tumblrs” of the internet are sure to make a comeback. The name will be different but we will be able to use the literacy we have gained from the rest of our backgrounds in blogging and social media to create the same communities and reap the benefits of these connections.

Social Media & Technical Communication

As social media continues to permeate into our daily lives, it’s hard not to wonder if its evolving influence will mean the end of good writing. From strict character limits, to text speak and hashtags, social media has created a space for quick information – disrupting the standard writing process. The students from the reading express their concerns about the “immediacy of social media” and “carelessness about the craft of writing” (60). While it seems they have a point, social media’s ties to technical communication may have a more positive impact than one might think.

communication bulb

Social media has transformed the way consumers engage with technical communication by turning readers into active participants. While technical communication serves to inform the reader, social media opens a dialogue between the author and reader. The reading touches on two concepts that help bridge the gap between social media and technical communication – reach and crowd sourcing. Hurley and Hea (2014) quote Pearson’s definition of reach as “the ability to form relationships, address user interests, and determine long-term effects of networking,” and crowdsourcing as “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditional have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization” (57). Applying these two communicative strategies allows the author to think critically about how the content will both inform and engage readers. In this context, social media channels can be an effective and meaningful form of technical communication.

In terms of reach, it is the author’s responsibility to prepare content that will inform readers, address their needs, and keep them interested. As the author continues to engage with readers, the author’s online presence grows, establishing credibility. In return, the reader can voice their opinions and provide feedback, allowing an opportunity for the author to refine their work. This type of collaboration is aimed toward a specific communicative goal that creates a space for “acquiring knowledge through interaction” (61). As a technical writer, I see this process every day. The engineering department implements a new product feature, they select a group to perform user testing, and the field testers report back on their findings. Engineering then evaluates the needs of the collective audience to determine the pros and cons of the new feature. Social media channels work in a similar way and can make it even easier for the author, considering they can reach audiences faster and more efficiently. From how-to videos, to blog posts, and other training material, engagement with consumers on a digital platform allows the readers to establish a relationship with a given brand or product, creating brand loyalty and product insight.

Source: Elise Verzosa Hurley & Amy C. Kimme Hea (2014) The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.

Why Longform Blogging Needs to Stay


WHY BLOGGING NEEDS TO STAY

As a middle schooler in the early 2010’s, the term blogging seemed to be everywhere. Many of the figures I now follow on various social media platforms actually started as bloggers. Many current Youtubers and Instagrammers alike first started their online presence through their own blogs. In today’s world, this concept seems so foreign. How could someone gain so much organic growth without the use of social media like Twitter, Tick Tock, and beyond? The reason it seems so foreign is that the speed of information has increased substantially since true blogging began.

As I delved into Jeremy Gordon’s Let’s All Go Back to Tumblr article, it dawned on me that our need for information has grown since the beginning days of Tumblr. However, our need has not grown for the quality of information, but rather, the amount of it. I have maintained a Twitter account since around 2012. My first attraction to the platform was the ability to have endless amounts of thoughts with simply one refresh. I tended to follow people in specific niches, so my timeline was filled with everything anyone thought about a certain topic. I enjoyed this discourse, but always felt a sense of urgency while on the application. This sense of urgency was from the feeling that I was missing out on more tweets. There was always more to see, and I began feeling left behind if I did not keep totally up-to-date on the current discourse.

Flash forward to the past few years, this feeling stayed the same. However, now instead of feverishly staying current on One Direction news, I was worried about the world’s current events. Within the past year, I’ve realized something that Gordon also touches on. Twitter is technically a blog, but it is a rapid-fire of thoughts, and due to its limitations, users avoid nuanced discussions. Unlike the slow, unfolding thoughts of Tumblr, users seek to generate as many thoughts as possible as soon as a story becomes public. Ideas need to be fully formulated, discussed, debated to actually provide the true context of situations. Since Twitter “encourages white hot anger predicated on context collapse,” fully-fledged ideas are never discussed (Gordon, 2018). This leads to tweets that neither explain a point nor persuade anyone else. Longform blogging arenas, like Tumblr, provide space for discourse to naturally progress. We have become desensitized to longer forms of communication to instead long for the brevity of 2,000 tweets scrolling past your eyes.

I do think there lies a balance in the middle for communication, but that balance relies on blogging staying in the realm of popularity.

Gordon, J. (2018, August 14). Let’s all go back to Tumblr. Retrieved September 13, 2020, from https://theoutline.com/post/5811/why-tumblr-is-better-than-twitter-and-we-should-bring-it-back?zd=7

One does not simply Stop tweeting. (n.d.). Retrieved September 13, 2020, from http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/36dk2o

I Don’t Understand Blogs

I don’t understand blogging. No really, I don’t. I have heard the term thrown around for quite some time, but I never understood what it truly was. Could it have been some form of journal or online diary? Or maybe it was a form of news outlet? Could it possibly have just been something that people use to ramble on about different ideas and values? After taking a look at, Why We Blog, an article that discusses the importance and variety of blogging, I have come to realize that it is all of the above.

Taking a look through the article, I was able to understand just how varied blogs can be. Everything from commentary on science to even “Blog-as-personal-revelation” (Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, & Swartz, 2004). It became quite easy to see why blogging has gotten so popular as of recently. This form of social communication has virtually limitless possibilities. Taking a quick scroll through blogs that have been done in the past has made me realize just how varied the format can come in. Pictures and videos can be added to enhance the reading experience as well as seeing more attention to the design of blogs as well. Carefully constructed blogs that look very reminiscent of a professional website can often give it a much more credible visual appeal.

Spending the majority of my time as a graphic design student during my undergrad, this aspect of blogging has really shattered my original bias of what a blog can visually look like. More than anything, this has made me extremely excited for the future of blogging as it relates to design. What else could maybe enhance the blogging experience or those who read them? Could potential UX Design be used to create interactivity with blogs just as videos and photos? I have always been intrigued by the idea of how design and text work together. When designers take text and morph it into something else, we can get some really fantastic works of design. This is why publication design has always piqued my interest as designers are always finding new kinds of formats and layouts to experiment with text. But why just limit this to publication or even just website design? Blogs, with its’ emphasis on its written ideas and values can also be morphed into something that can be worthy of the best that design has to offer.

My experience with blogs has been very limited. Growing up in a household without access to the internet has left me quite a bit behind the rest of the world. I didn’t have access to the world until I moved to my college life at the University of Wisconsin – Stout. Even then, blogging was one of those terms I barely understood. The only form of online communication I used was Facebook and the mess of a comments section that would be Youtube. I still fell behind everyone else as new social medias were gaining popularity such as Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. I am now wondering, where on Earth have I been these last couple of years. I am very excited to see where I can go in terms of blogging. I have so much different ideas that I would love to put out to the world especially in terms of storytelling. Learning the ins and outs of blogging can potentially help me get these ideas out there.

Nardi, B. A., Schiano, D. J., Gumbrecht, M., & Swartz, L. (2004). Why We Blog. Communications of the ACM, 47(12), 41-46.

Blogging to Build an Expert

What makes an expert writer? How do we get there? Is part of the equation of making an expert writer housed outside of the formal, academic sphere? Alex Reid in his 2011 work “Searching for Writing on the Web” contends with this question, determining that an expert is not so clearly defined, and that expertise may not be reached using solely academics as a vehicle. Instead, a combination of academic and personally driven exercises are necessary to access the true potential of an expert.

Reid is focused primarily on writing and how blogs can act as a catalyst for those who seek expert writer status. Blogs fulfill an area of skill development that is removed from the typical academic sphere. Blog writing allows you to engage your interests, manage your digital content, and set your own standards. Blogs also challenge you to guide your own writing in a manner that is typically dictated by assignment requirements. What will the length of your blog be? What will the topic be? How will images, videos, or other media be integrated? Who is your audience? Why are you writing? You design the experience, you dictate the content, length, and design, and you have control over the timeline. It is a writing experience unlike any other that appeals to intrinsic motivational factors that inspire us to improve organically and with our own decisions as the only roadmap.

With these considerations, blogs can help us become expert writers because they meet a unique need in our developmental journey; they allow us to grow, practice our skills, and manage our content organically and independent of the typical academic space. We become experts by working in an extrinsic, academic space and also by looking inward, towards our own motivators, using those as fuel to develop something wholly unique and uninhibited. The combination of these approaches can result in a much greater level of expertise because we are engaging in exercises of variety. Imagine, for a moment, the strength a gym goer who neglects leg day misses, focusing on their upper body exclusively. There is an entire repository of potential strength just waiting to be accessed. Are writers missing out on their metaphorical leg day by not engaging their creativity, activating their intrinsic motivators, and developing their own digital writing space?

Ironically, my personal experience with blogging is limited to the academic. I managed one blog over the course of a semester and while this pursuit was directed by my education, it was not fully formed by the extrinsic motivators typical of assignments. Students were given a significant degree of freedom and responsibility with respect to overall blog topic, entry topics, digital design, and audience assessment. While it was not wholly organic blogging as promoted by Reid, I did find that this was a unique experience. I led a busy life in which a blog for my own purposes would have been difficult to justify. The academic requirement, coupled with the significant degree of freedom, gave my writing room to breathe. I found myself exploring my selected topic of interest with a zeal, catering content to my audience with a greater degree of consideration and skill than I had previously, and feeling an inspiration that comes from (almost) limitless opportunity.

Reid writes, “Students confronted with a syllabus or an assignment can find it difficult to get beyond the mindset of “what do I need to do to get an A?.” Unfortunately, decades of research suggest that such extrinsic motivators can actually hurt our performance on challenging intellectual tasks like writing an essay” (2011). This resonates with me, and I’m guessing, if you’re a student, you’ll find this relatable as well. While having academic standards and guidelines is essential to the development of expertise, it is not the entirety of the equation. By giving yourself freedom to grow independently through a blogging experience, you are exploring areas of your writing and confronting challenges that are atypical of the academic sphere by necessity. You are becoming an expert by engaging multiple elements of motivation. You are requiring more of yourself by requiring of yourself, rather than looking to the requirements another subscribes. Writing for ourselves, exploring our talents, taking ownership of a writing space, and acting independently are all fundamental aspects of becoming an expert and blogging can assist us in this. Becoming an expert is about strengthening your skills in all arenas, academic and otherwise.

It is a writer’s leg day; don’t skip leg day.

Sailor lifts weights during the Ike Strength Fest competition.
“Sailor lifts weights during the Ike Strength Fest competition.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Alex Reid. (2011) Writing Spaces: Why Blog?. Parlor Press.

Why I “Left” Tumblr

My first experience with blogging was Tumblr so it’s no surprise I was interested in Jeremy Gordon’s LET’S ALL GO BACK TO TUMBLR article from The Outline when Professor Pignetti mentioned there was an article on Tumblr in the module.

Reading over the there were some sentiments that resonated with me more than others and some that just didn’t fit in my experience with the website and Gordon’s main point of comparison, Twitter. Gordon, like me, seems to be feeling a bit of nostalgia for Tumblr’s heyday and wondering why after many people made the switch to Twitter enjoyment of that type of platform has been more difficult. However, I was surprised that Gordon never really asked why people made the switch, instead he focused on the different cultures he experienced between the sites, and made clear his preference. The only pondering he does of why people left Tumblr is through suggesting things like Twitter’s growing popularity and his peers’ changing lives after college. He recalls abandoning the platform as the majority of people he knew on their moved on to other platforms, and I more or less recall doing something similar but importantly I remember why I saw people leaving the platform.

I got into Tumblr through DeviantArt, noticing both my peers and content makers I looked up to becoming more active on the site as a more streamlined way to post and organize their work as well as share process and their lives with their fans and peers. While I followed a fair share of meme blogs, ARGs, and writing blogs the primary group of content makers I was following was and still is fellow visual artists. Making the professional switch to Twitter had to do with seeing Twitter become the social media standard for Game Developers leading up to, during, and after my Junior year trip to San Francisco’s Game Developer’s Conference. At the same time I noticed others make the switch for an unrelated, but very profound reason. From what I recall, Tumblr was making changes to how to censored content to crack down on illegal pornography on the site, as a result, the site started censoring a lot of unrelated images and tags. I remember searching tags I searched often in the past like “lesbian art”, something pretty mundane for an out lesbian artist to search and getting the “There’s nothing here.” message. There were also many accounts of people getting their blogs taken down for showing “pornography” that was misread images of art. While this was happening people within the circles I was following were bringing up the injustice of sex workers having their business removed from the platform, destabilizing their income. 

While Tumblr has fixed most of these issues by now, and the reason for the changes made sense at the time despite being poorly implemented, many were so frustrated that it even happened to begin with that they just made the switch to twitter permanently. I had, unrelatedly, removed everything from Jackie Cummings from my blog because it was largely only tied to my life and work as a teenager, and so sticking with Twitter instead of trying to build a new Tumblr continued to make sense to me. 

I do wish that Tumblr hadn’t had the troubles it did because I truly haven’t experienced a platform with as many features that I liked since. My biggest irk when using Twitter is still that it doesn’t organize with tags the way Tumblr did, making it harder to find things and people related to my interest or even search my interests within someone’s account. I agree with Gordon that the way Twitter does threads sucks compared to Tumblr. On Twitter, I’m always seeing reply tweets out of context and having to dig up to see who said what and what they meant instead of seeing the thread at once and only in relation to the person who’s account I saw it on, and I agree the character limit on Twitter doesn’ leave room for the sort of nuanced discussion people are trying and failing to have on Twitter. Whenever I see someone on Twitter has a Tumblr, I make sure to follow both to get a better idea of who they are and what they do, because Tumblr usually paints a clearer picture in my experience.

Social Media, Tech Comm, and Education.

Technical communication is an incredibly diverse field, but can broadly be defined as the presentation of information through written, visual, or auditory forms. Social media is an accessible outlet for such deliverables. In person’s feed on sites like Facebook or Twitter, there is constant flow of informational videos, infographics, graphs, and statements of fact or statistics on a plethora of subjects. What a person sees is partly dependent on a site’s algorithm based on searched words and website history, and what is relevant to rest of the world. Now, it there is plenty of information being shared about the current pandemic, the 2020 presidential election, and racial issues. I think one of the biggest challenges we face now is evaluating the efficacy in the forms of “technical communication” that we see on social media. One post might come from a factual and accredited source, while another might simply be a conjecture from a single person. People now more than ever need to really scrutinize the type of information that they see on the internet, namely social media, and synthesize what they read.

Information that is posted and written is quite different than it may have been several years ago with how common social media has become. Anyone can share their opinions, observations, and reasonings to the public at any time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but does shift the way people write. In The Rhetoric of Reach, the authors quote a student from a survey about social media who explains, “Social media has definitely altered the way writers write. They used to write to be read. Now, they write to be browsed” (Hurley and Hea, p. 60). People take in information differently in this context. While it is easy to become familiar with virtually any topic, there is a great deal more of ‘information overload,’ and there are probably differences in the way people retain the information they read from a social media post than they might from another source.

We Are Living in a World of Information Overload - Sight On Stress

Similarly, one aspect of the relationship between social media and technical communication brought up in The Rhetoric of Reach, relates to job readiness. This topic is not one that I first thought of when thinking about technical communication, but it certainly applies. As a person who works in vocational services and in job readiness programs, these are things that I consider quite often. It is debated how much a job-seeker should concern themselves with the professionalism of their own social media profiles, if at all, and only factor in professional networking sites such as LinkedIn or Monster. Regardless, the authors do promote that, “technical communication instructors are also well-suited to teach social media in our classrooms because we can demystify the current rhetorics of fear and illegitimacy about social media” (Hurley and Hea, p. 56).

Overall, I agree with Hurley and Hea’s point about the importance of social media being taught by technical educators from both a student and instructor’s standpoint. People who should choose to share information on social media should do so mindfully and having some education in that area certainly helps. Tech Comm experts have the greatest insights into things like research, technical writing, audience analysis, etc., which are all relevant to social media. I’m hopeful that over time and with good education, we will be able improve the way in which we share information across the internet.

Sources: Hurley, E. V., & Hea, A. C. (2013). The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 55-68.

Ramblings of no interest to anyone

Previous to this class my blog experience boils down to one lonely and embarrassing blog I created on Blogger when I was in my early 20s. When Pinterest was at its peak and I was scrolling every day, I noticed that all the posts I clicked on led to blogs. Most of them were managed by stay at home moms or professional bloggers, and they were rich with content. I was always sucked in by one post, and then would naturally read 2-3 more posts in addition to the original one before realizing how much time had passed. I loved reading these blogs and wanted to start one, but had no idea what to do. Do I journal? Do I write short stories? Do I give tutorials? I had no clue where to start or what to do when I got started, so naturally it was an epic failure. It basically ended up acting as an anonymous online journal that nobody read, because of course the content was extremely personal and not applicable to anyone else. The audience wasn’t getting anything out of my online vent session. Not only did I not know how to reach people with my writing, I had no clue how to physically reach the people. How on earth do I get this blog in front of people? I was clueless, and honestly still am. Nowadays, it’s a lot easier to share your content by posting on social media, adding the content to websites with SEO, attaching the link to a pin… but back then? I just assumed I’d write the journal entry of the year and since it was online I would automatically be a worldwide online sensation overnight. Knowing that I didn’t reach anyone, I can’t help but wonder why I wasted the time in the first place. What was the point of blogging? 

The article Why We Blog was a helpful reminder as to why people choose to blog. The article features interviews conducted with a range of bloggers that detail why they choose to blog – and the answers are all across the board. What it boils down to, is that more often than not most blog are written by every day, ordinary people such as ourselves, that are intended for smaller groups of readers and provide a platform for a variety of expression (Nardi et al., 2004). When reading this article it solidified something for me. This article confirmed that although you may not have readers there is a yearning for connection and/or validation; this might even be something that bloggers didn’t know they needed until they started blogging. According to the authors, in their interviews they uncovered “five major motivations for blogging that pertain to the bloggers sampled: documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums” (Nardi et al., 2004). Thinking back on my short lived blogging experience, I think it’s safe to say that I fell under the category of ‘expressing deeply felt emotions’ and ‘documenting one’s life’.  

Bloggers in the article say that their blog serves as a ‘relief valve’ where they can “get closure out of writing” and “let off steam.” (Nardi et al., 2004). However, if we look at these reasonings, again I come back to the thought “what is the reader getting out of this” and “who cares”. While some of the bloggers in the article were offended at the mention of “blogs being indulgent chatter of little interest to anyone but the blogger”, if you are writing for yourself, who cares? If you are using your personal blog as an outlet for your emotions, thoughts and ideas, does it really matter if the readers don’t get anything out of it, or if you have any readers at all for that matter? If you aren’t writing directly for the viewers or the sole purpose of entertainment, interaction or critique, maybe it’s okay that you are using the blog rather than that journal between your mattresses as a means to express yourself freely with ‘chatter of little interest’.  

Whether writing for yourself or for others, I think the fact that blogging can be done behind the shield of the internet (or anonymously) eliminates some vulnerability that might otherwise be present in an in-person setting. Nobody wants to be the person that makes a statement or asks a question in an in-person group and feels stupid, hears crickets or faces backlash. I have found that while writing on my laptop from the comfort of my home I’m much more carefree and open than I would most likely be in a larger group of people or in a classroom setting. Like many I’m sure, I’m more likely to contribute my thoughts or opinions knowing that the blow of confrontations or negative feedback is softened by the online safety net. This is of course assuming that the conversations being had are wholesome, mature, respectful and without the presence of internet trolls. Perhaps using a virtual setting where people won’t be able to see you has the potential to allow the writer to step outside their comfort zone and produce more fulfilling and engaging content.  

If creating distance between the writer and the reader allows the content to flow more freely, it’s possible that the communications between the two surrounding the content have the potential to be more open and honest – possibly creating a closer online community. In addition to the potential of a close knit community, the blogging platform could be used as a motivation factor for writers to generate even more content than originally intended. The article mentions one blogger, Jack, and how he “began posting poems about halfway through the study, though he had initially told us the blog was not a proper forum for poems. Later he said: “I … discovered that allowing myself to post poems was helping me write poems, since I could think of it as material for the blog to be immediately posted, as opposed to being stowed in a drawer somewhere.” (Nardi et al., 2004). Plus, if you do have readers, you have them to consider. They’re going to be chomping at the bit for the next piece of work! 

Nardi, B.A., Schiano, D.J., Gumbrecht, M., & Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Communications of the ACM, 47 (12), 41-46.  

Reach & Crowdsourcing: A Binder of Tech Comm and Social Media

The relationship between technical communication and social media is a peculiar crossroads. The notion of pitfalls and perils of social media, as discussed by Hurley and Hea (2014), seems to define the differences between the two. As I reflect on synthesizing technical communication and social media, I initially question how I would go about doing so. The former seems sterile and definitive, while the latter open-ended, free-spirited, and uncontrolled. Technical communication, for me, has been best approached by Redish (2011) who states technical communicator’s goal, “is to make even complex interactions understandable and usable.” This concept of understanding and usable can transfer to the activity detailed throughout Hurley and Hea’s (2014) article where students prepared instructional documentation for a social media website. So why when I initially went to synthesize the relationship between the two did I feel it was unrealistic? I believe it goes back to the beginning of Hurley and Hea’s (2014) article and the previously stated pitfalls and perils. Social media in the realm of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter seems very free-form. Devoid of checks and balances, social media commentary can flow freely like the jazz music of digital communication. It can change on a dime with users rhetorically appealing to the same concepts Hurley and Hea forefront – reach and crowdsourcing.

Reach, as defined by Hurley and Hea (2014) is, “the ability to form relationships, address user interests, and determine long-term effects of networking” (p. 57). I would argue reach is central to successful communication as the content must resonate with the user. In the technical communication field, this viewpoint would center on user experience and usability. As the student’s in the Hurley and Hea (2014) article framed their instructional topics, their focus on reach also focused on user experience. By producing an article central to usability, as all of the instructional documents within the article did, the authors ensured the article reached users. Thus within this example, we can see the connectivity of technical communication and social media. Both utilize reach in varying ways to resonate with an end-user. The document itself, the ‘how-to’ technical communication element, uses reach in connecting a user and the technology. The social media component or the ability to engage with the document, leave comments, and share it, uses reach to connect the document to a network. It could almost be deconstructed into two stages: production and dissemination. I don’t think, however, that we need to disassemble this to such a sterile level. The point being both technical communication and social media utilize reach to connect with the users. By positioning users in this way, both technical communication and social media also use crowdsourcing to their benefit.

Hurley and Hea (2014) define crowdsourcing as, “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditionally have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization” (p. 57). When technical writers, for instance, create a manual for use by end-users, they traditionally and hopefully perform user testing. This examination of the user employs crowdsourcing to determine a variety of useful knowledge. This can include user nomenclature when it comes to a particular device or performing a task. It can also include document user successes and failures to determine the required content to reside within a how-to manual. Crowdsourcing, like user testing, requires user experience. It requires engagement with an audience to define what the people want and need. Social media both uses and offers the ability to use crowdsourcing for discovering channels of communication and user information. Similar to user testing for a manual, engaging within a social media channel requires crowdsourcing to comprehend what users are saying. To join a conversation, you need to know both what’s being discussed and topics of interest. You wouldn’t engage with a social media channel focused on MMORPG’S to share a document about games outside this genre. In this instance, you’ve inaccurately utilized the communication channel because you’ve neglected to crowdsource. A more successful approach would be sharing a beta test of a new MMORPG with a Discord channel focused on that game genre. Just as one could share a sample of a user manual for a VOIP phone, for example, with users of VOIP phones in an organization. Crowdsourcing, to be successful, must focus on the user, and ultimately, it must make sense within the conversation. Thus the connection between technical communication and social media can be found within reach and crowdsourcing.

Hurley, E., & Hea, A. C. (2014). The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for technical communication in the age of social media. Technical Communication Quarterly23(1), 55-68.

Blogging: Stop Overthinking and Just Write

Reid’s 2011 article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” resonated with me as a graduate student, even though it was written nearly a decade ago. While in the past I’ve mostly used blogs to find answers to specific, first-hand user experience questions (such as how to sync functionality between my laptop and my phone, or how to properly sauté’ mushrooms with an iron skillet), I’d like to focus instead on how personal blogging might help me in the future.

As I head into my final year of grad school, the pressure to narrow down my final thesis is building. I don’t feel totally confident in my writing ability, and I don’t have strong, lasting ideas for a central topic. What I have written up to now was always based on assignment parameters and grading rubrics; heavily structured, extrinsically motivating factors. For my thesis, I’ll need to embrace a subject that is important to me, that builds internal motivation; one to which I can dedicate my time and be proud of. To ferret out a central thesis I can commit to, and to further hone my writing skills, blogging may be the answer.  Reid says, “blogging is one good way to develop as a writer” (303). Regularly writing about personal experiences may help me to understand what kind of writing I’m best at.  I just need a spark.  For Reid, the challenges of starting a blog are where I, too, am struggling: “as with all writing, perhaps the most challenging task is finding a subject on which to write, or what we rhetoricians term “invention”” (311). Even with all the reading I’ve done and the new information I’ve learned, nothing sticks out as a viable scholastic option worthy of defense.  I may be putting too much emphasis on the professional aspect of a thesis and not enough on what elicits an emotional response.  The path to a strong, central idea is human for Reid, less intimidating and rigid. “Blogging has a special relationship with serendipity and inspiration” (312).  I see now that I don’t have to commit to an abstract concept and then dig for data; I can just start and see what shakes loose, which is liberating: “blogging gives you the opportunity to write many, informal, short posts over a long period of time” and thus, “as a regular writer or blogger you begin to trust that exigency or purpose will become clear through the act of writing” (313).

In short, my expectations for how to write my thesis need to change.  The limiting nature of expectations was the biggest take away for me in another article: “What Blogging Has Become: Why Medium’s new features are more important than they seem” (Meyer, 2015).  Let me put that into context.  A few years back I took an HTML, CSS course at Madison College to brush up on my basic coding literacy.  My professor said something that stuck with me: “expectations by the user do not influence tech functionality so much as functionality influences what we come to expect as users.” Meyer writes about a specific platform, Medium, and why and how it differs from other centralized social media and blogging sites.  Mainly, Medium prioritizes topics over author bibliographies, the latter of which tends to be most common.  Meyer goes as far as saying that “no one blogs anymore” and that “it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, URL game.” Instead, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook became central hubs in cyberspace, offering exactly what Meyer said we’d lose and without the need to adopt a URL or a central theme.  Thus, no matter what we think we want as consumers, or what we think should be available, it’s what these big players offer that shapes what we expect despite how strongly we feel otherwise.  Sorry Medium, I never found a need to need you.

So, I need to figure out how to write a thesis worth defending. Blogging, which some, like Meyer, will argue is passé, may be the way to extrapolate a central theme in what motivates me.  I shouldn’t expect to have an earth-shattering idea fall out of the sky.  What I should do is change my expectations to how this process should be done and instead focus on how I can continue to improve my writing while being watchful for inspiration. 

From one merit badge to many. Critical thinking takes work.

In my journey through the Technical and Professional communication program, I frequently look back at my use of various media and how well (or poorly) I utilized it.  Along with what I’ve learned academically, which triggered the introspection, this review process especially helped me better understand the relationship between technical communication and media.

As with learning anything, my use of media started simple and grew in complexity.  Along this trajectory was a learning curve of wins and loses, success and fails.  For example, with website design I remember my first page in GeoCities listed all my Boy Scout merit badges.  I just put them up there assuming anyone who found their way to my page would conclude I was working on my Eagle Scout rank.  Despite the design itself being simple and taking a minute to create, I was proud of my HTML coding and the intrinsic value of having earned the merit badges.

I’m sure now anyone who found it would’ve simply seen it as a list of circular badges as it lacked functionality and rhetorical elements.  This example demonstrates my lack of understanding in designing for an audience.  What it also highlights is my lack of critical thought, which Hurley and Kimme Hea (2014) advocates in their argument to improve social media use amongst technical and professional communication students.  In today’s wide world of media, the authors discussed the myriad of examples where poor social media use ended careers and reputations and I think the principal culprit was a lack of critical thought.  Among those that succeed in its use, critical thought, among other things they discuss, is necessary in order to succeed in crafting a design or presentation that provides value to someone.