Author Archives: jeffreyuw

Web 2.0 and Online Identity Formation

Our readings this week got me thinking about identity-formation, of all things. In “DIY videos on YouTube: Identity and possibility in the age of algorithms” Wolf describes how watching DIY videos can play a role in identity-formation – they can help us asses if we are capable or confident enough to do a task on our own. However, DIY videos aren’t the only activity that can influence our identity; there are many online activities like video games and social media that can also influence our identity.

“You Play World of Warcraft? You’re Hired!”

World of Warcraft – A raid group taking down Vaelastrasz the Corrupt in Blackwing Lair Source: MMO Examiner

In chapter four, Rheingold discusses how World of Warcraft (WoW) can influence our identity and can be seen as a good job training simulator. He says this because players must complete tasks collaboratively with other players if they truly want to engage with the game’s content. I’ve had similar thoughts about WoW because I played this game a lot growing up.

When I played the game, I use to raid hardcore (as they would say). My alliance guild (25+ people) would raid four nights a week and complete high-level dungeons to obtain the best gear and loot. In some cases, we were the first on our server to kill a new raid boss, which comes with its own bragging rights and rewards. These accomplishments don’t carry much merit in the real-world, but completing these collaborative tasks gave me a lot of skills that can be carried over to a work environment.

If I’ve ever felt like I couldn’t do something, I’ve caught myself thinking – “If I’m capable of organizing a raid to kill Yogg-Saron on heroic mode with no guardians, then why can’t I do this job interview or [fill-in-the-name] task?” This might sound silly, but playing World of Warcraft has given me confidence that I can accomplish great tasks and goals in my own life.

I’ve seen how WoW has affected my friends’ lives too. For instance – my guildmate created a bot in the game that would collect valuable materials for him (without him having to be at his computer). Creating this bot required that he learned coding, programming, and many other skills because it required modifying the game. He was eventually banned because creating bots is cheating, but the video game allowed him to refine his engineering skills. He is now a software engineer at a software company in Silicon Valley, which is a very fitting role for him.

I’ve also seen how WoW can destroy lives. There is a stigma that playing online video games means you have no life and are worthless. I’ve seen many of my guildmates get caught up in this lie and often view themselves as worthless and feel they can’t accomplish anything in the real world. To me, it’s incredibly interesting how one game can influence our identity and personality so much.

Lurkers are destroying online collaboration participation. Really?

The value of lurkers, commenters, and creators Source: Lurkers Anonymous

Rheingold discusses how the web has been primarily formed through collaborative efforts of many users. Kusher repeats this sentiment in “Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0,” where he explores how lurkers pose a threat to this collaboration and participation. At the end of the article, he states: “[lurkers] are the remainder of human activity that fails to conform – deliberately or otherwise – to the capitalist logics that drive Web 2.0.”

I agree and understand his argument, but I don’t agree with the tone that pervades the article and seems to negatively blame lurkers for destroying online participation. I rarely participate in social media activities and discussions, but I would not call my lack of participation as deliberate; I often just don’t feel any desire to comment or be part of the discussion.

However, I feel there are often good reasons to not participate online. I feel companies and social media platforms have ruined participation because they use information you provide (through a simple like or watching a video) as a means to target and influence your behavior through ads. Any information you put online also stays online, permanently – why would I want anyone to be able to pull my information up so easily?

At the same time, I often worry this passive majority isn’t participating where it truly counts. They may not share articles that expose corruption in the real world. They are not vocal when they need to be (like during elections and other highly political times). And social media platforms are doing a good job of making false participation – such as liking a video –  seem more significant than it actually is. We cannot confuse easy participation as real participation.

Where we have been, and where we are going with Web 2.0

Our senators seem to be the only users who don’t understand how Web 2.0 works.

I feel the majority of these articles summarize the main benefits and problems of Web 2.0 accurately. The main difference between when Web 2.0 was coined, and now, is a majority of users know what Web 2.0 is (except our senators, apparently). Your average user understands the danger of the web – we don’t click on random ads, we understand that there are bots trying to talk to us, and we know how our behavior on the Internet is used by others. However – as Reingold points out in chapter 6 – your average user does not know how to use the web mindfully (such as knowing how to use privacy settings and more). Going forward, privacy is going to be more of an issue than before.

I feel web regulation will also be a huge factor going forward. We can see this happening currently, with big tech companies having to testify in front of congress and more. Just the other day, I saw an article explaining that there will be a new California law that states chatbots must disclose that they are bots before continuing a conversation. I feel this is important because even though we are aware that there are bots on the Internet. It is becoming increasingly difficult to know when a bot is speaking to us, especially when it comes to sharing news articles.

I personally don’t know how far these regulations will go. I believe some regulation is necessary, but I also worry about those who will take advantage of the current fear in the political climate and make unnecessary regulations to control the Internet for certain parties.

The Role of the Blogger

Rheingold discusses the role of the blogger and the power of participation in chapter three of “Net Smart: How to thrive online.” This chapter, along with our other readings, caused me to reflect on the role of a blogger and their ability to influence action through participation.

The Power of Connective Blogging and Being Human in Markets

Rheingold discusses how connective blogging creates communities where people can comment, think critically, and influence action by sharing like-minded information. In the Cluetrain Manifesto, Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger argue that “markets” (bloggers, etc.) are able to do this because they speak in a human voice. They also argue companies often fail at this because they try to convince others they are human with lip service.

Most companies blog about their product or service and expect consumers to engage with it. They fail because they do lip service – they contribute to a conversation in order for you to buy such product or service. While this works to a certain degree – it is not the most effective way to create and influence action because most readers know what these companies are doing. Companies can create discussion, cause others to think critically, and influence action by being human.

Being Human Means Being Educational

Source: The Modest Man’s Website

The Modest Man is a good example of a blogger being human. Brock, The Modest Man, focuses on helping short men “dress better and ultimately feel more confident.” People actively watch his online videos, leave comments on his blog, and seek him out for fashion advice. Brock is not only able to get users to actively engage with his blogs and videos, but he was able to influence a men’s clothing company to change their sizing options after posting a positive, but critical review of their service.

Brock was able to have this effect because he has a human voice – he doesn’t post YouTube videos and blogs because he is trying to influence his audience to buy a certain product or service. He is blogging because he genuinely wants to provide helpful, educational information for those who are interested. When your focus is being educational, versus trying to influence a user to buy a certain product, you are more likely to gain a user’s trust (which Brock has done). The information he provides is authentic, truthful, and human because he is honestly trying to help men dress better, regardless of the product or service.

Being Human Requires Being Authentic

Source: The Chicken Whisperer’s Website

The Modest Man is similar in many ways to the Chicken Whisperer. Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Marketing Inc., loves to use the Chicken Whisperer as an example of a blogger who has gathered a large audience by posting educational content about raising chickens. However, it’s not that he just posts educational content – he demonstrates authenticity through his content.

For instance – his website and branding is slightly boring looking, but it helps provide authenticity. There isn’t shout outs to other brands, he doesn’t look like a executive who is trying to take your money, and most of his call-to-actions link to content and not products. This looks like a blogging information source that someone could trust and share with other users. His blog is shared because users respect and trust the information he provides them.

Being Human Means Being Trustful

Source: Realtime API Website

As a content marketer who works for companies, I often have a disadvantage because my content will automatically be seen as biased if I post anything about that subject matter on our corporate blog. One way I’ve remedied this is by creating third party microsites to publish and share information about a subject matter unbiasedly. For instance – my coworker and I created a microsite called realtimeapi.io that helps users build realtime APIs. All information we publish on this website is helpful for anyone who wants to build a realtime API and doesn’t focus on a single company or product. Whenever I create websites like this, I disclose that I work for a certain companies so users can trust and be cautious of the content. But websites like this also allow me to discuss a certain topic (like Realtime APIs) more generically and be more educational, and not force users to only look at my company’s product or services.

I believe connective blogging requires having a human voice. A human voice requires being educational, authentic, and being trustful. Companies typically fail at these three things because they only want to focus on their product and come off as biased. I believe companies must learn from connective blogger’s transparency and educational content to be truly successful in content marketing.

Technical Communication is Multifaceted

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

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

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


Most Often Used Types of Writing

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


Case Study Design

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

The Importance of Tools

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

The Bottom Line

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

When technology is a tool versus our friend

Tool or friend?

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

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

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

The human-machine relationship

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

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

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

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

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

Superconnected: The ownership of ideas and information security

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

Ownership of ideas

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

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

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

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

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

Secure communication and information

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

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

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

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

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

Chayko, M. (2016). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. New York, NY. Sage Publications

My blogging experiences and motivations

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

The Tech Ladder – Blogs as muse

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

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

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

Blogging for school – Blog as a community forum

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

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

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

Particle Blog – Blogs as commentary

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

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

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

References

Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Gumbrecht, M., and Swartz, L. (2004). Why we blog. Retrieved from https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/4180658/viewContent/26292099/View