Category Archives: Blogs

Blending 70s and modern tech

While I was looking for sources for my article that discussed the military’s use of emerging communications and technology, I found this article from the Duffel Blog, which is the military’s version of The Onion. 

The article, “Navy Issues Tablets to Prepare Sailors For Careers Working With 1970s Electronics” isn’t wrong. In fact, the system I was trained the maintain, the AN/SLQ-32, was developed in the 1970s.

Duffel Blog “quoted” the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens: ““This is a cost effective way to replace the two books we issue at boot camp and it will also streamline the training process so recruits can spend more time folding clothes.”

Also true. And yes, I spent a lot of time in boot camp folding and ironing clothes. These mundane tasks are given to teach recruits to pay attention to details. Most of boot camp is designed around that purpose, actually.

However, while issuing tablets to Navy recruits can generate some funny stories, it signals a huge change in the service: audience analysis. Military service is often categorized by blind obedience, but the Navy is moving away from that philosophy. Leaders are encouraged to explain the “why” behind orders. And the military is creating training methods and knowledge management systems that mimic the devices and apps digital natives are already familiar with.

When the news about Navy boot camp issuing tablets to recruits, I joined in the ribbing around the ship that new recruits were spoiled. However, reading the story again through my technical and professional communication lens, I can appreciate Stevens’ revolutionary idea and I applaud him for making it happen. Because several of his salty peers would have dismissed the idea the way I originally did.

In addition to looking at new technology, I also examined the military’s use of social network sites. Overall, the military encourages servicemembers to use social media for its positive benefits, like keeping in touch while deployed. The military has even created its own knock-off version of Facebook. YouTube, Blogger, and Wikipedia. However, the military is still working on negating the negative aspects of social media: OPSEC violations and harassment.

Speaking of OPSEC. Check out this sweet declassified report I found.

Finally, I examined how technology was changing warfare tactics. I found a source that talked about Russia spending a lot of money to create #fakenews when it annexed Crimea in 2014. #shockedsaidnoone

However, #fakenews will be an issue for incoming servicemembers because multiple researchers found today’s students aren’t very good at discerning fact from fiction online.

Overall, I assessed the military’s use of technology and emerging communication methods as on the right track but with room for improvement.

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Blog on blogging

Blog, blog, blog. . .

I have never blogged, nor found interest in blogs. Perhaps this was largely due to time constraints, but I am also sure it was due to my personal bias toward blogging, for it seemed to me that many used it to vent. I thought of blogs as more of an online personal journal.

The Writing Process

Many of my students blog, so I decided to use the following video about writing a blog as a way to connect with my audience, and show them that writers don’t just write– they follow a process.

Audience, Tone & Context

In addition, to sharing the above video about writing a blog, we also discuss audience, tone and context. Since the professor in the video is Canadian, that alone opens a discussion on audience, tone and context. So, we also evaluate the professors choices in devising this video.

Ta Da!

After doing activities like this with my students, I realized I needed to change my attitude about blogging. My goal as a writing instructor is to get students to write– even if they are writing blogs. Most likely they will enjoy the process more since it isn’t a traditional “essay.”

 

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

TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TRANSNATIONAL REALITIES

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

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

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

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

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

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

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

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

COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

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

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

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

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

stc

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

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

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

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

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

 

Step 13 says I need a catchy headline.

While not an expert, I do not consider myself a stranger to social media, despite being a late-adopter of Facebook and other Web 2.0 social media. I was active in America Online chat rooms in middle school and joined forums for various purposes throughout high school–while not the same as modern social media, it can definitely be argued that they are indeed in that class.

In high school, my friends introduced me to LiveJournal, which was arguably one of the earliest blogging platforms. Most of my friends used it as a diary, expressing their teenage woes and triumphs and commenting on each others’. However, some artists I knew at the time used it as a platform where they could communicate with their customer base–very similar to how some modern blogging platforms are used.

I was in college when I first heard the term blog. And like any proper Luddite, I hated it. These crazy Internet portmanteaus are ruining the world! (As an aside, I still hate the term vlog, despite accepting blog. Grudgingly. One can only go so far.) While blogging was somewhat common, wikis were more my speed. We used them for collaboration and discussion in class, and I wrote my senior thesis on them. I have since come to realize that a blog is simply a wiki with a single editor.

While I skipped the MySpace craze, I finally gave in to Facebook late in my college career. To this day I don’t have any other social media accounts. My cat, however, has both a Facebook and an Instagram–my husband curates the Instagram because I just won’t! Any day now, Tau become the next Grumpy Cat, and we’ll be able to retire. Or that’s what we tell people who look at us oddly for having feline social media.

I have a personal blog, which I actively posted to when I was looking for a job and had lots of spare time. I considered it a vital part of my “brand,” which also included my resume and portfolio. That fell by the wayside despite all of my intentions of resurrecting it. Meanwhile, for the past two years, I was the webmaster for the Chicago chapter of the Society for Technical Communication. While not a traditional blog, it it is a WordPress site, so behaved very similarly to my own blog/site.

In addition to being a producer of social media, I am a fairly avid blog consumer. I read many blogs in various genres: cooking, crafts, gaming, webcomics, science, and many more. I’ve been following some of these blogs long enough that I’ve seen them evolve as the landscape has evolved. They are constantly challenged by staying relevant, keeping and growing their readership, and staying profitable. I’ve seen at least one blog fold completely because it just became insolvent.

And I understand the struggle myself, as somebody who wants to make it big on Facebook–it’s simply very difficult to do, and often feels random. Sometimes it seems like all you can do is dream that something you have goes viral, and hope that once it does, your existing content is good enough to hold readers while you churn out as much new content as you can (while still retaining quality, of course).

That’s why I get very frustrated when I see articles like Belle Beth Cooper’s 2013 offering, “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners.” Articles like these are all over the Internet, and many of them have conflicting, or simply inapplicable, advice.

The first “top tip” in this article is one such example: “Get ideas from your audience” (Cooper, 2013). The gist of this tip is to use your preexisting audience as a topic resource. That’s great and all, but if I’m a new blogger (the “for Beginners” part of the article’s title), I don’t have an audience to get ideas from. How does this tip help me right now, while I’m a beginner? Tip number five, “Love your existing readers,” also strikes an odd note for the same reason (Cooper, 2013).

Ironically, number two is, “Know your audience” (Cooper, 2013). It seems that Cooper failed to follow this very advice when compiling this article. Otherwise, why have so many tips that don’t apply to truly beginning bloggers?

Not all the tips seem as nonsensical, however. Tips six, eight, nine, eleven, and thirteen all seem like very good advice. But they are good advice for any writing–not just blogging.

My blogging evolution

Before this course, I blogged off and on for several years on Blogger, LiveJournal, and WordPress. In college, LiveJournal was my first exposure to the idea of a blog. I used LiveJournal as a personal diary to share my thoughts with my closest friends who used it on a frequent basis. To me, it was my first social network experience because I would check every day for new posts from my friends and I would post there many times a day. After a few years of constant posting, I abandoned my account because my focus shifted to Facebook.

keyboard-wide

My life is behind one of these electronic typewriters. Credit: Roger Renteria.

Beyond documenting my personal life to my friends, I blogged about my summer internship for a grade. As part of the class requirements, I wrote about my experiences working for the Public Information Office at New Mexico Tech. My blog only had an audience of one: my professor, and I didn’t think I’d reference it here eight years later. Now when I re-read these posts, I definitely notice how different my writing was back then. As with any kind of activity, you get better the more you keep trying you improve with practice.

After I attended the Society for Technical Communication 2011 Summit, I started my own blog called WriteTechie. I was inspired to create a technical communication blog because I saw so many people blog about their experiences at the conference, technical communication issues, and anything related to this field. At first, I had difficulty finding topics that were interesting to write about, and I couldn’t maintain a consistent schedule.

When I was told in a job interview that my professional website was “too bloggish,” I converted my blog into a professional business website; my blog became a section of the website. Right now, if you search on Google for “technical communication blogs,” my blog shows up on first page of results. If you search Google for “professional usernames,” my blog post shows up first. I used search engine optimization to get my blog post to show up at the top, and somehow it has stayed there since 2011.

Lately, I hardly blog much because I have no time to write lengthy articles and do the necessary research to post anything meaningful. At my current job, we discourage blogging. I admit there are no technical limitations to blogging; however, it is a massive time commitment. That is something I understand when I look at my own blogs I’ve created. At some point, blogs become stale and then dormant.

Where do I go from here?

When I was reading the articles about blog literacy, I was surprised to learn from “Scholarly Reflections on Blogging” that “[b]logging has slowly become part of academic life” (Doucet, 2012). Andrea Doucet makes a nice point that blogging frees you from the bounds of the academic world and opens your content to larger and different audiences. I feel that when you write in a blog, you have more room to speak freely and develop a voice than in other formats such as press releases or research papers. In essence, blogging can be a formal-informal way of communication because you can express your professional ideas in a fresh and casual format while reaching a very broad audience. Andrea and I agree: “[b]logging has helped me as a writer” (2012). Whenever I read my old work, I notice an evolution in my writing. Writing for blogs is challenging and I know it only gets better with more experience.

Lastly, before I read, “Why We Blog” (Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, & Swartz, 2004), I didn’t consider my LiveJournal as a type of confessional blog which was a form of catharsis. In retrospect, writing in my LiveJournal was therapeutic. When I read old posts, whether from LiveJournal, Blogger, or WordPress, I look back at how much I’ve grown since then. Some day when I least expect it, I’ll look back at this blog, re-read my entries, and wonder: what was I thinking?


References

Doucet, A. (2012, January 2) Scholarly Reflections on Blogging: Once a Tortoise, Never a Hare. The Chronicle for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/Scholarly-Reflections-on/130191

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

The Wide World of Blogging

blog-42

Courtesy of The Gingerbread Gem.

I started blogging in 2008 before I started working for an online marketing business. I didn’t know really anything about writing online or blogging; however, I was interested to have my thoughts and ideas published online and to learn more about WordPress. I began with a site similar to this one and later moved on to the self-hosted WordPress.org where I selected a title and registered it with GoDaddy.com.

Part of my job with the online marketing company  was to write, edit, and publish about 12 blog posts per week for business clients. I wrote about car parts, plastic surgery, divorce and dating, limousine and wine tours, travel within the United States, custom cabinets, pet memorials, pet sitting, shipping/packaging supplies, Ohio law (lawyers) and more. To improve a business’ visibility in the search engines, search engine optimization (SEO) was important, which included keywords. These keywords (1-2 blog post) are placed throughout the blog post, title, meta-title, meta-description and meta-keywords. Check out Hubspot’s “How to Search Engine Optimize Your Blog Content”.

Content was important since anything published online is permanent.  Then you need to think about your blog’s “reach” according to Elise Hurley and Amy Hea (2014), “consider the ways which content is shared and distributed across social media and other media venues” (“The Rhetoric of Reach”, p. 62). Not only content, but also connecting with the audience. Be personable and imagine talking to one person about your topic. Whether a blog was one sentence or 750 words long, it was important to make a connection with the audience. This is true for business and personal blogs. How often have you read a recipe blog or a computer review that was dry and boring? Probably not too often.

With my personal blog (mostly how to be more eco-conscious), I didn’t think anyone would read it because there was already so much information online; what could I possibly add? There’s always something that you can offer – your opinion – on any topic and someone will read it. For example, Wikipedia, this is user-generated and user-edited. Anyone can start a topic on Wikipedia and others can add, clarify and provide sources of additional information to make it valid and credible. Hurley and Hea (2014) used Instructables.com as a student project to examine crowd-sourcing, the involvement of several people to do small pieces of a project. The result of crowd-sourcing is engagement though use of commenting, responding and sharing the content (p. 65).

Social media and blogging are important within the technical communication field because it provides another communication medium to connect with a larger audience and create a professional platform for future opportunities.

Reference

Hurley, E. V. and Hea, A. C. K. (2014). “The rhetoric of reach: Preparing students for technical communication in the age of social media.” Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 55-68.

A Mixed Bag of Blog Experiences

A major reason that I pivoted from journalism to technical writing is the joke “What do you call an unemployed journalist? A blogger.” For me, blogs have been a casual acquaintance that make an appearance in various contexts every couple of years. I’m always impressed with the potential of blogs to be a dynamic forum to give voice to your worldview, and then a little bit disappointed when the reality of the work they take and mediocre response sets in.

I actually kept my own blog for a semester in college when I was studying in New York City, which was considered a different world from my home and school in Minnesota. It was the stereotypical travel “abroad” college blog to share pictures and stay in touch with family and friends. I like to think that my blog was slightly more clever and widely applicable than most, and I actually had a pretty strong and consistent readership. Then I came home and intentionally killed the blog.  

Nevertheless, a lot of the points in the Nardi, Gumbrecht, and Swartz article “Why We Blog” resonate with my experience with personal blogging. Along with the mix of motives for creating blogs, the authors discuss the awareness of readers and the effect that blogs can have on off-line relationships. My NYC blog was certainly an intentional form of communication, and I was very aware that my parents read it. I also appreciate the authors’ acknowledgment of “blogger burnout” and how the pace and style that you set for your blog can determine its long-term sustainability.

As a reader, I have a couple of favorite blogs that I frequent, but I haven’t bookmarked, closely followed, or commented on any of them. These range from recipes blogs to political commentary to friends’ blogs, and I categorize them all as “junk food” reading when I want to mindlessly skim and not think.

Along with my personal use of blogs, I’ve also blogged previously in academic contexts. Somewhat surprisingly, I actually can’t remember any blogging when I did online courses in eighth, ninth, and twelfth grade. I’m not sure if it was just too early in the virtual education revolution or if blogging wasn’t to be trusted to high schoolers.

In college, I did have several traditional and hybrid classes that included an online blogging component. My experience is in line with the findings in “Learning with Weblogs” (Du and Wagner) about the value of using weblogs in a constructivist model of learning. The learner-centered nature of a blog certainly helps with engaging course content, processing it, and creating based on it. Then again, this isn’t particularly new, and teachers have had students writing short essays for generations, long before they could be published as blogs.

However, I’ve been disappointed in the past with the collaborative aspect to blogs that Du and Wagner emphasize. Despite the potential, I haven’t really seen great dialogue come from blog comments. Even for classes that require commenting on others’ blogs, the comments are often low-level steps to a grade and don’t meaningfully contribute to a larger conversation or collaborative learning. In his article “Instructional Blogging: Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input,” Stuart Glogoff enthusiastically embraces blogs for online learning, but also recognizes the difficulty in creating quality community through blog commenting.

I think this comic is a fair summary of my casual contact as a blog passerbyer so far, and I’m hoping for a much better level of comments and engagement in this course.

blogging-post-comic

Emerging from Emerging Media

thats_all_folks__by_gbetim-d5aydtbThis Course

Before taking this class, I tinkered with social media. After this class I suspect I will continue to tinker with it. Not because I don’t want to do more, but because working more than full-time and going to school full-time precludes pretty much anything else for the foreseeable future. But, when I’m ready, I know I will be very glad I took this class.

It has challenged me to think about what drives communication within social media, i.e., it’s rhetorical basis. It never occurred to me to think about social media from a rhetorical perspective. But, the great eye-opener for me was to realize social media is perfectly compatible with rhetorical practices.

For example, in social media, we think about how to put the message together: short meaningful sentences if possible. We group information under headings and use lots of pictures. What we are really doing is attempting to deliver a message in as palatable way as possible. In other words, we are thinking about the reader’s experience. And, from what I’ve learned this semester, nothing could be more important.

My Final Paper

Dr. Pignetti suggested my final paper could build off of my blog posts this semester. My strategy for those was to take the readings, think about how they apply to my past and present work, and form an advice-based post. (The advice was intended as much for me as anyone else.)

My paper presents a set of practical guidelines related to social media that can be applied by individuals or businesses. It’s a practical guide—a sort of owner’s manual.

This guide is organized into five components: communication strategy, channels, content, connection, and community. I formed these by thinking about how the principles around social media we discovered this semester fit together. Each principle or idea could be grouped under one of these categories.

Communication refers to the strategy that needs to be considered when engaging in social media. Channels represent the various types of social media individuals and businesses can publish information to. Content is a discussion on what types of information fits into your strategy whether that is self-generated or curated. Connection refers to how you connect your social media efforts to external content and themes. Community means the importance of building a sense of community around social media efforts.

It’s important to see these five components not as individual puzzle pieces, but as pieces of a solved puzzle—they work together to achieve an effective, and comprehensive social media platform.

Good Luck to You!

I have enjoyed reading your blog posts this semester. I learned something from each one and often that something caused to me think in a different direction, if only for a little while. But that, I’ve come to realize, is the point of education.

Another End Brings New Beginnings

I often say that everything happens for a reason and at the time it should be happening.  But what I have found with my schoolwork over this past year-and-a-half is how the uncanny unfolding of situations at work parallel and seem to be answered by my school work.  This class was no exception.  For the past year, I have worked to try and create a blog just for my own department and for various political reasons it has not been very successful.  Fortunately this class has brought a number (too many to count) ah-ha moments. For example, developing a sound social media strategy is vital in order for organizations to survive in today’s digital world.  But the miss to this strategy is how we can also create a social media strategy as it relates to internal organizational communication.  Something I am now working to formalize with my role.

Just like the following image, however, aligning social media tools can be just as challenging to solving a Rubik’s cube.  Interestingly enough, the Rubik’s cube was actually designed by a professor to help his students look at how you solve an objects structural problem and solve individual problems without the whole object falling apart (Wikipedia).  The same goes for developing an internal organizational social media strategy.  While organizations may have entire strategies to build around this topic, it is looking at each situation that needs to be solved and understanding how that situation and solution fits into the whole strategy.

Rubiks

On that note, a sweet melody that brings to you my…

Final Paper Abstract
Many marketing and communication experts have defined this time in our history as Web 2.0.  It is the time in our digital history that highlights how organizations are required by societal norms and expectations to use social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook to communicate and connect with their consumers.  Kids, adults, students, even grandparents are using social media channels to connect with each other on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis.  But the use of social media for organizations to communicate and connect with employees is uncertain and volatile.  In fact, in a study completed by Towers Watson (2013) the results concluded that just over 50-percent of companies are using social media to connect with employees in some way.  There seems to be little evidence and research into the social media structures and strategy for internal organizational communication.  Therefore, this paper will look at the social media channels that could be used to build an internal social media communication strategy for an organization and to begin identifying the effectiveness of these social media tools and tactics. 

Whew – nearly all of that in one breath.  I will say that the research aspects of this final paper have been tedious, exhausting, and exhilarating.  It can be like finding a needle in a haystack when there is little research out there.  But what has been an interesting challenge is to take the knowledge that has been built around social media and decipher and pull from it how internal communications could benefit from these tools and tactics.

tedius

And although this semester is coming to a quick close, the work around this class and this final research paper will drive my career and school work.  With that, while I could probably write to you for hours on this subject, I’m afraid I must bid you adieu.  Thank you all for such a wonderful semester.  Your thoughtful comments and intriguing posts truly provided for some great thought provoking conversations.

Feliz Navidad.  Happy Holidays.  Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukah.  And to new beginnings.

Wrap-up and best wishes

At first, I found the final paper quite daunting due simply to all the research involved; however, once I started it, I was amazed at how much I was learning. For example, I didn’t realize how much social media users can circle back and help technical communicators improve their documentation. End users of technical documentation often leave feedback on social media such as a company’s Facebook page, which technical communicators can use to better organize their materials, improve content or add more illustrations or video. At the same time, technical communicators can engage with commenters online to fill in holes in documentation or answer questions, all which improves customer service and retention.

Also, I learned that today’s consumers consult how-to videos and online discussion boards before they read instructional manuals. I, too, prefer to type “how to . . . ?” into a search engine rather than pore through a cumbersome paper manual. In fact, companies are now offering more of the “quick start” type of instructions as an adjunct to the full manual; these types of instructions tend to be much more user-friendly and heavily illustrated with step-by-step instructions.

Lastly, I came to realize how much technical communication roles are changing for the better. Rather than being seen as an “add-on” to an assembly line product, technical communicators are taking a seat at the table as invaluable members of  interdisciplinary teams that are responsible for company growth and vitality. This means that we all need a robust education and can’t be content to conduct business as usual. I think this growth will present great opportunities for all of us.

Of course, emerging media are not without their disadvantages and dangers. We all have to be savvy consumers of information when doing research online. As technical communicators, we need to be quick to correct the errors that are prone to show up in online consumer help sites. And we need to be ever vigilant that our “need for speed,” which has increased exponentially since the advent of the Internet and social media, doesn’t affect the quality, originality, availability or appearance of our documents or audiovisual presentations in negative ways.

Abstract

Emerging media such as social media, email and the Internet have enabled us to gather and synthesize information faster than ever. We can accomplish tasks that used to require time, money and travel in just a click of a button. We can find and interview subject matter experts online at our convenience. And when we’re done, we can distribute our final document to the whole world, if we wish. But have these tools made our technical documents better—or just faster? This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages conferred by emerging media since the advent of the Internet. It gives concrete examples from the daily work life of a newspaper reporter and technical communicator and offers ideas as to how technical communicators can use emerging media to their advantage rather than to their detriment.

Wrap-up

This has been a great class, and I’ve learned so much from every one of you. Thank you for all of your thought-provoking comments, helpful suggestions and general feedback over this semester; it has been invaluable in both my coursework and my career. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and good luck in your education and careers. Who knows, we may meet again!

And…Thats a Wrap!

 

Initial Thoughts

I came into this class reluctant about the whole idea of blogging. I didn’t think I would like it and thought I would have a hard time writing about topics that others would find interesting. When I first started, it was difficult for me to transition from writing in an academic tone to a more conversational tone. But over time, I became more comfortable with the medium, found my voice and actually found myself (gasp) enjoying it. Not only was it interesting to see what my classmates wrote, but the resulting comments and discussions were intriguing as well.

 

Paper Topic

For the final paper I chose to explore the idea of “long tail love” online. The idea was spurred from a combination of Michael Anderson’s “Long Tail” reading, Turkle’s talk of Second Life/profiles, and Rhinegold’s “crap detection”. Additionally, hearing about the encounters of my friends in their pursuits of online dating made me curious about the subject. Deciding to give it a shot, I started doing some preliminary research and the rest is history. What I can say is that researching the subject has certainly has lead me down a rabbit hole.  One lead uncovers the next as there are unlimited avenues this subject can take. Even though it won’t be for a while, the idea of “long tail love” online is even a topic I am considering for a thesis.

 

Abstract

The pervasiveness of technology and the internet impacts almost every facet of our lives. It has made our lives easier, faster and better in countless ways as it affects how we work, learn, and communicate with each other. However, can these technologies help meditate the need and physical drive to find love and develop lasting relationships?  And can the allure and convenience of the Internet really help us find “the one” and maintain these close ties? Or, does its ease provide protection, where in the digital realm where it is easy to present oneself in the light in which they want to be seen? To answer this question, this paper will explore online representations of the self, deception and misrepresentation, long tail love and the pros and cons of online dating and sustaining romance online. It was found that while the internet can certainly foster relationships, it can readily lead to misunderstandings as differences between face to face communication and computer-mediated communication occur. Thus, for better or worse, technology is redefining romance in our ever-connected world.

 

Final Thoughts

A big thank you to everyone for your intriguing posts and thought provoking comments during this semester! Have a wonderfully relaxing break and good luck with your future endeavors!

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Social Media’s Use in Higher Education Recruiting

The End

This has been an interesting class about blogging. I came into it unimpressed with the tool itself, as I previously found most bogs to be rants. Through the class I saw that another type of blog exists – one with research supporting the ideas, and with thoughtful commentary. It has been especially insightful to read posts from my peers. So many of you are incredibly talented in this social media platform and it’s been a pleasure to see your take and creativity in discussing the readings.

Working in higher education in a college that doesn’t use social media in a calculated way to attract students, I wrote about using several social media platforms for recruitment purposes. In addition, I made recommendations based on what I researched at schools that were utilizing social media effectively.

Abstract

Social media usage has seen a significant shift in the last ten years, especially with colleges and universities that are trying to attract prospective students. Not long gone but certainly less influential are flashy paper brochures, college open houses, and static websites. Colleges and universities recognize they need to increase their social media presence to attract students. Done poorly a college may be “clicked” past, but done well, a college’s social media presence can increase student curiosity and drive students to the college website. Is it working? This paper explores the importance of social media as a recruiting tool, how universities are using it, and, probably most importantly, how prospective students are reacting to it. It explores best practices that universities can follow and offers recommendations for effective, efficient use in student recruitment.

Reflections on Paper

Combined with my case study on the social use at my school, the addition of information from my research on it’s use in recruiting helped me shape suggestions for our Marketing department which included: a faculty spotlight blog, an “Eyes on the ground” student post and Twitter tweets about interesting or important daily events t each of our campus. This would be particulary useful in creating a sense of community between our six campus sites throughout the county.

Goodbye

It’s time to say goodbye. A few of you have been my peers in other classes and its been great to see how we’ve all evolved in our thinking about technical communication and social media. I’ve especially enjoyed the humor and camaraderie. To those of you completing this degree, I congratulate you. To those of you new, I wish you the best on this UW journey.

Dana

So long, and thanks for all the fish

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

– Douglas Adams, the title of the fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy

 

My thoughts before and after this course

Social media and how to use it for a business advantage always seemed so simple before starting this course. Now, after this course, I know how to use it more wisely and how to use it more for my advantage.

But the learning did not stop there. For the final paper, I decided upon a topic that the Professor had suggested after reading a blog posting that I passionate about – how companies were exploiting people online without them realizing it.

Abstract of my paper

This paper aims to explore the result of what most people do with technology nearly every day – working for free while thinking that it is play. This working for free while playing is what some people have started calling “playbour” or “immaterial labor.” To avoid confusion in this paper, I will use the word, “playbour” to reference both. Thus, the focus of this paper is the internet and how it blends work and play together and how people are benefiting and/or are being exploited by it. Additionally, because technical communicators are told to create a portfolio of projects that they have done voluntary, these concepts are especially important. Furthermore, this paper also attempts to examine copyright infringement issues regarding work done as playbour, and the advantages and disadvantages of creative commons.

Reflections on researching my paper

 As I have not written a paper in nearly ten years, I was nervous, especially when I tried googling the topic of “playbor,” and Playboy kept popping up instead. (Yes, try to explain this to a boss at work). After those failed attempts, I tried the Stout online library with some success. Luckily, one can ask a librarian anything and they never disappoint. They found several documents for me to begin the paper proposal. But the biggest help came from the Professor herself. Thus, the lesson here is, never be afraid to ask your superiors for help. 🙂

Final thoughts

The only thing that I did not like about this paper was all the research. Most documents were quite long, and two were books. Sadly, I do not have the time for that much reading. In fact, after this semester, I am giving up my college days. My life is too busy at this moment, but I may be back in ten years. =D

I wish everyone much success and happiness in whatever you do. I am sure that whatever it is, it is exciting and a wonderful achievement that will not be taken for granted.

 

 

A Career Primer

A few weeks back, I expressed my desire to work in freelance technical communication.  Stacey Pigg;s piece, Coordinating Constant Invention:  Social Media’s Role in Distributive Work, puts the mechanics of that desire together.

I have a blog.  I am not very good about keeping up with it.  I have a Twitter account.  I am not so good with following up with that either.  I have read a dozen books on how to harness social media to further my career.  Stacey Pigg’s piece did a nice job of simplifying that.

Pigg’s ideas were nothing new, but it was helpful to read those ideas in a scholarly text.  While I can set my blog off to the side for personal reasons, her article reminded of all the practical reasons I should keep writing.

Recently, I parred down my book collection.  I had an abundance of business and marketing books, most were about ten years old.  I tossed all the business and marketing books.  Those books appeared outdated but, in reality, business is business.  The PR and business strategies were different, yet they continuously tell you to find ways to stay in your audience’s view.  You have to stay fresh, current and visible.  Dave’s “daily grind” is all about staying relevant.  He is a living and breathing personal PR machine.  The blog isn’t just to write and it certainly isn’t to entertain.  While the “traditional” advice in those book was useless in light of social media, it still has many similarities.

Dave made his work visible.  In many ways, his blog simplifies how a business, or in this case an individual promotes himself.  His blog is a portfolio of his writing.  It also served the purpose that an ad would by reaching his consumer base.  Even better, he is cultivating his contact list without the expense or effort that a direct mail campaign would require 20 years ago.

 

As this semester winds to a close, I am excited to return to my blog, re-experience Twitter and develop my social media from the stand point of my career versus my “personal” life.  What I let slip away in my private life, is not what I would do for my future or career.

I shared the above article with a friend of mine.  We both identified with Dave’s frantic multi-tasking.  We had never discussed this stuff before but it turns out we both have a ritual every morning.  This occurs whether we are working on our blogs, working, writing school papers, etc.  We both log on and sign into our various email accounts.  We also check back throughout the day, even if we can’t do anything about them.  Dave did reinforce our idea that you have to multi-task and jump around to be successful and get followers.

I loved this article and thought the author put what we need for success in a nutshell.  I did find one thing humorous.  I didn’t tell my friend any of my impressions about this article.  I sent it to her with a simple question:  “What do you think?”  She replied, “In this day in age—even if you don’t have a blog—don’t we all toggle to our social media a hundred times a day?”  Social media and email is part of many of our lives, just like getting dressed for the day.  We are always “connected.”

Who Are You?

What is it?

In Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World, authors Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul Curran (2014) pointed out graduates of this degree “…often begin their careers by gaining experience at several jobs or…struggle to find full-time or stable employment in the current economic market” (p.266). While I believe all of us start out in that scenario, Technical Communication, unlike more specialized degrees, is misunderstood by employers and often students themselves. When someone asks what degree I’m earning I know this will be a conversation rather than a statement. Say Technical and Professional Communication and even my college colleagues aren’t clear on what I’m studying. So I explain that for my purpose it’s primarily professional writing for technologies, business communication, media, and scientific fields, and incorporates rhetoric, ethics, and theory to deliver concise content.

 

St. Leo

What to do with it?

“What will I do with it?” they ask. So I explain relevancy to website revision, and moving into a faculty position to teach English. “Why not an English degree?” Well, I don’t care for literature (although I’m a voracious reader of it), and don’t want to be pigeonholed as an English instructor. “So why study technology?” My God, it’s gets tiring. But the point is that Technical Communication is not an easy degree or field to describe. Similarly, with my BA where I double-majored in Public Administration and Management, everyone understood Management – but Public Administration? So after awhile I went with “It’s Business Administration without taking quantitative methods.” Whew. Must have been widespread confusion because St. Leo University no longer offers the degree. No wonder students have a hard time defining what they do and finding relevant jobs. As Bernhardt (2010) found, “Our graduates are getting jobs, but it is becoming ever more difficult to say just what kind of jobs are out there and what kinds of skills they demand” (as cited in Blythe, Lauer, and Curran, 2014, p. 266).

 

knowledge workers chart

(Mari Pierce-Quinonez, “What You Need to Know About Management” https://www.techchange.org/2015/06/16/knowledge-management-explained/)

 

What’s new? 

Confusion continues as communicators embrace new media, roles, job opportunities, and trying to define themselves to meet employer needs. The “typical” communication is no longer. Communicator jobs are not only in flux, but non-fixed. In Coordinating constant invention: Social media’s role in distributed work, Spinuzzi (2007) stated, “Recent scholarship has explored how the ‘‘distributed’’ nature of this work affects career trajectories and work practices of professional and technical communicators (as cited by Pigg, 2014, p.60). Meanwhile, Pigg (2014) considers the decentralization of ”typical” office work, and see’s todays’ “symbolic-analyst” workers method of social media use to be whatever they need, accessed wherever they want. Additionally, Pigg (2014) found, “With knowledge workers increasingly disconnected from desk and office spaces on the one hand, and with contract and freelance work on the rise on the other, professional communicators whose work is symbolic-analytic often face a dual burden: composing an immediate time and space to conduct their work and overcoming a long-term lack of stability related to future professional opportunities” (p. 69).

 

GoogleTwitter

(Scott Abel (2013) “Technical Communication 2012: Our Biggest Challenge Is Thinking Differently About Being Different” http://thecontentwrangler.com/2011/12/13/technical-communication-2012-our-biggest-challenge-is-thinking-differently-about-being-different/)

 

Will it matter?

What will Technical Communicators face? Blythe et. al, (2014) indicated, “Job titles that seem to have arisen more directly from a Web 2.0 economy include social media marketing manager, SharePoint engineer, social media consultant, content strategist, knowledge base coordinator, and Web content editor” (p. 272). In their “tcworld blog” ), The evolution of technology, authors Monalisa Sen and Debarshi Gupta Biswas (2013) stated, “technical communication has transitioned from a conventional author-reader engagement to a realm of social collaboration.” Additionally, they redefine technical communication stating “With the use of Wiki and Web 2.0 concepts technical communication has transitioned from being instructional to interactive. A technical writer has truly become “an honest mediator between people who create technology and who use technology” (Sen et al., 2013).

 

Who Are We? 

For me, “Instructional to interactive;” nicely captures the new realm that technical communication has reached, while seamlessly tying in traditional purpose. Yet it makes me wonder – will the roles under this umbrella title continue to swell until communicator means little? Will Technical and Professional Communication become another degree that disappears? What does this mean for us? As the great Roger Daltry asks “Who Are You?”

What do think?

It’s Time to Talk- Mobile Etiquette

mobile use in public

In Kenichi Ishii’s article “Implications of Mobility: The Uses of Personal Communication Media in Everyday Life,” he broaches the topic mobile communications and relationships in everyday life. Specifically, one area he explores is the use of mobile communications in public areas. In general, Ishii found that mobile phone users are criticized for violating the implicit rules of public space. When thinking about these implicit rules in everyday life, it makes sense. We all have encountered times when we have witnessed loud or annoying phone conversations in public. Despite public cell phone use being something that everyone finds annoying, many people continue to do. Perhaps they do it to feel important, or less alone, but no matter the reason, for better or worse, these private conversations have an audience.

Everyday Occurrences

I have a coworker who frequently makes private cell phone calls at work. Even though she steps aside to a “private” area to makes these calls, there is little privacy. I’ve found out more about her mother’s health conditions, her sister’s financial problems and issues dealing with internet providers than I care to know. The first time I heard it happen I thought it was a little odd, but because it was about her mother’s health issues I figured it was situational. As it continued to happen, it was made clear that she doesn’t realize that these private conversations are very public. These are things that she normally would not share with me (or probably the majority of my coworkers), yet she seems oblivious to it. Its not that I’m trying to eavesdrop on her calls, but the one sided conversation is so apparent to anyone within ear shot.

The Facts

Luckily, Psychology Today has an explanation for why we find these conversations to annoying.  In part, its because cell phone conversations are generally louder than a face to face conversation. Forma and Kaplowitz found that cell phone conversations are 1.6 times louder than in person conversations– a slight difference, but noticeable nonetheless. Because its hard not to overhear, and the lack of respect this implies for the others around you is grating.

In addition to loudness, these conversations are irritating because they are intruding into our consciousnessLauren Emberson, a psychologist from Cornell University found that when you hear a live conversation, you know what everyone is saying because it’s all there for you to hear. In contrast, when you hear a cell phone conversation, you don’t know what the other person is saying, so your brain tries to piece it all together. Because this takes more mental energy than simply hearing both sides of the conversation, it leaves less energy to allocate to whatever else you might be doing.

When is it Okay or Not Okay to Use Cell Phones

A study from the Pew Research Center found about three-quarters of all adults, including those who do not use cellphones, say that it is “generally OK” to use cellphones in unavoidably public areas, such as when walking down the street, while on public transportation or while waiting in line. In contrast, they found that younger generations are more accepting of cell phone use in public. While the definition of “cell phone use” in this study was not clearly defined, it generally is presumed that it means holding a conversation rather than texting.

For instance, only half of young adults found it okay to use cell phones in restaurants, this activity was frowned upon by older generations. Places where cell phone use is considered unacceptable in both groups include family dinner, movie theaters or worship services.
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Enough is Enough: Cell Phone Crashing

Greg Benson had enough of annoying people talking loudly in public and decided to take things into his own hands. To fill a void in a layover in an airport he came up with the idea of “cell phone crashing”.  In “crashing” the prankster sits next to someone talking on their phone, and then proceed to fill in the gaps left in the one-sided conversation. When one person said “What should we have for dinner?” into the phone, he responded, “I don’t know. Steak and potatoes sound good.” pretending to talk on his own phone. The whole process is filmed with a camera hidden from afar as the hilarity ensues. While the video may give you a few laughs, it may also help you reconsider how public your cell phone conversations in public really are.

So, what do you think? Should mobile devices be banned in certain areas? Or is this an infringement on our rights? 

AnnoyingCellPhoneGuy

Ethos and Instagram: Essena O’Neil

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This week’s post touches on ethos, or identity, image or credibility of an author. Ethos can be used to persuade, relate impressions and convey notions about one’s character. This especially is true in online contexts where it is what we rely upon to communicate our sense of self with others.

In light of the major news story this week I think ethos is an important topic to touch on. For those of you who haven’t heard, Essena O’Neil, a social media starlet from Australia with over 800,000 Instagram followers and 270,000 on You Tube is calling it quits and leaving it all behind. This provides a relevant opportunity to examine social media, ethos and the implications it can have. While she looked like she was at the pinnacle of success, her job of being on social media and the ethos she created was consuming her life.

In an online confessional video explaining why she decided to quite social media O’Neil states,“my whole idea of self worth revolved around my appearance and my social media status. Basically, my self worth relied on social approval.” Everything she did- from the food she ate to the clothes she wore to the exercises she did- was to prove herself online and keep up her credibility as a”perfect person”. Because she created an image of herself that others feel that is unattainable, her success hinged on lies, followers, views and likes. One article even said, “The most authentic girl on Instagram is made of plastic.” 

Some may say she is selfish, others may say she is selfless. Is it all a hoax- using social media to criticize social media to become popular on social media?

Real Talk

On Friday we had a slow day at the office, and my coworkers and I spent the better part of yesterday discussing this story. Interestingly, that the group I was discussing this issue with was all female, ranging in age from 23 to 48. While the eldest in our group applauded her efforts to be real, the youngsters of the bunch shot holes in her argument. Below you can find some of the points our conversation brought up:

Pros

  • Quitting to get back to a more natural way of existing and reassessing things in her life.
  • She was encouraged and rewarded with hundreds of thousands of followers, money, contracts, and fame. If she was uncomfortable with it, it is her decisions. Let it go.
  • We shouldn’t feel we have to do anything to be up to someone else’s standards.
  • Now she can develop her new audience and approach with her new website and use Social Media differently.
  • She can use her tremendously positive force and use her frame to rebrand herself into the way she wants to be.
  • Ditching all expectations and pressure is awesome.

Cons

  • Ironic that she “got what she wanted” but then bashes it for being fake.
  • The reason that she is blaming social media is your classic burn out story. She finally realized that relying on her looks will be unsustainable, so she is cashing out while she is on top.
  • What’s wrong with showing a photo or wearing yourself made up?
  • Fame doesn’t equate to happiness.
  • Just because she views likes and views as validation don’t necessarily mean that everyone is that way. Generalizing they way that people view social media and lumping it together is not true. THE ONLY way she can spread her message is through social media.
  • No one talking about social media is trying to deceive you.
  • Its a reflection of her in choosing to wear or promote certain brands.
  • While her comments certainly make sense in her situation, can they apply to the average Instagrammer in the same way?

Conclusions

What I gathered from her post and confessional like videos is that she wants to be more transparent and honest and not do sponsored or extremely posed shots. While I’m not sure her intentions for quitting are 100% pure, this highlights a few important issues. O’Neil’s story opens a conversation not just about this case, but rather as our use os social media as a whole. The ethos she created is an illusion, yet her essence is so much more. She felt as if her numbers were overshadowing the content- her creativity, her personality, her intellect- the person she is. Social media isn’t the problem, but its how people use it that are the problem. It is how people are comparing themselves to these fake ethos, instead of just letting it motivate them. Particularly, the normality of image obsession, especially with younger girls is concerning. O’Neil’s story is especially important because she grew up with social media and belongs to a generation that did so as well.

One user said: “I wasn’t a fan of you before but I am now. Thank you for adopting a smart and realistic approach to social media and an even bigger thanks for moving things in the right direction.”

Perhaps its time for all of us to take a social media break…

Social Media Relationships

I’ve become a regular at a cute diner in my neighborhood. There’s something cozy about the restaurant’s décor that reminds me of my grandparents’ kitchen. Similarly, I regularly visit Facebook, as there’s something about connecting with old friends and acquaintances that I enjoy. I am a creature of habit in my digital and non-digital life. Do I feel more connected or am I isolating myself? Some argue that social media isolates people. Users may have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but many of those people may not be strong social connections. I used to have a few hundred; seriously. Until I took a look and realized I didn’t “know” these people. Now I’m squarely at 45 and they all connect with my real life. Quality, not quantity is what counts.

Relationships formed through social networking sites may be positive and beneficial. According to the PEW Research Center  Facebook users were found to be more trusting than others and have closer relationships than the average “isolated” American. Technology makes it possible for us to maintain relationships with others in ways that were not possible a few decades ago. Conversely, that same technology has contributed to the decline of other technologies – when was the last time you saw a phone booth or used a traditional landline telephone?

Bernadette Longo (2014) in Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making points out that the way we use social media shapes us while we shape the media. Our digital world is now far more collaborative and interactive, and we expect that from all social media. At the same time, the world is shrinking and becoming “borderless” due to the opportunities new technologies afford us. This brings new challenges as different cultures bring very different perspectives. Where I may experience Facebook as a forum for sharing my individual life and experiences, someone from a more collectivist culture may see Facebook as a place to represent the community. The challenge is to recognize that there are multiple cultural perspectives and interpretations of technology and its uses.

Social Media HoneyComb2

(The Social Media HoneyComb, Business Insider, Jan Kietzmann)

Also, each social media platform fills a different role in our social lives. In Social Media? Get Serious! Jan Kietzmann, Kristopher Hermkens, Ian McCarthy, and Bruno Silvestre (2011) describe a framework for understanding social media through the seven functional building blocks: identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups.” (p. 243). Each platform allows users to experience these elements, but each platform gives users different tools that emphasize different building blocks. When Facebook added the feature of posting status updates, (and who doesn’t love seeing what someone cooked, or who’s at the dentist…) it began to emphasize the building block of presence and not just identity. One major building block of social media is the sense of community and how we connect with others. Longo (2014) states, “The desire for community seems to be so strong that we do not often consider how forming a community is as much an act of exclusion as it is of inclusion” (p. 25).

In many ways, social media connects to my life in a way that is different from my non-digital life; yet they clearly intersect. By positively reviewing my favorite diner online, I may help the business thrive and grow which may benefit my connections with the restaurant. Through my classes at Stout, my digital friendship with one classmate has turned into a “real” friendship and even though she graduated, we remain strongly connected. In speaking of the audience and tools of technology, Katz, 1992; Moses & Katz, 2006 stated “It is through processes such as this that we can come to greater understanding of the effects of social media on our relationships—how they extend our ability to engage people and how they impose a machine ethic on human relationships” (as cited in Longo, 2011, p.30). I may find technologies and social media frustrating at times, but I appreciate what it’s done for me. Without it I wouldn’t have found a new job opportunity, be completing my degree, or met a terrific new friend. And while that’s all really important, I have to go now.

Facebook needs an updated picture of my cat.

Buddy

A Millennials Experience with LinkedIn

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LinkedIn is a powerful tool to help professionals connect and stay connected. But treating it as anything more than just another tool in a job seekers utility belt is a mistake. While it has all the bells, whistles, and name recognition, I find that people’s experiences and success with the site very greatly. Contrary to what they may claim, LinkedIn in not the golden ticket to your dream job. Rather than an automatic connection to top recruiters, it is a tool people can use to gain a competitive advantage in the workforce market. But is it really meant for everyone?

Be Your Own Biggest Cheerleader

It’s not enough to create a profile and hope that the right person stumbles upon it. You have to be an active proponent and really sell yourself. This means regularly updating your profile, posting relevant articles and content. But with two to three people joining per second, the network is louder and more crowded than ever before. It’s hard to have your voice heard when it easily can get lost in the chaos.

Who is LinkedIn for?

While it may be a good tool for more experienced individuals mid career, it is extremely difficult for younger generations, including myself to use to help start a career. A recent survey of 23 major social networks ranks LinkedIn as the “oldest” social network, with an average age of 44.2 years old (Tumblr, for example had an average age of 34.6 years). So, while 80 million Generation Y users log on to social media daily, only 23% of Millennials are using LinkedIn. Therefore it makes sense that the majority of the content posted is geared towards more experienced users.

While I may be smart enough to be among the 23% of millennials who do use it, the types of positions listed aren’t for someone in my situation. I found that I was generally was either overeducated or under qualified for the vast majority of the positions listed. While I still applied to positions that interested me, the “1-3” or “3-5” years of related experience many employers required were a major problem. How am I supposed to get my foot in the door if employers are requiring experience upfront? There was no good way to win and little incentive to continually engage in this site.

Unfortunately, this is a large problem across all types of industries. Despite having the drive and ambition, many young graduates simply can’t get a start in the field of their study. Employers want young talent with experience, but with today’s job market they are able to employ experienced professionals just as easily, making it easier for established professionals to move up the corporate ladder, not newbies who have little if any substantial professional experience.

Making New Connections

Making new connections sounds great, but it’s difficult to create new meaningful connections. While relationships certainly matter, it is hard for younger generations to make connections that are actually worthwhile. I could reconnect with my past co-workers from Culvers or my lifeguarding days, but how helpful will those connections really be? If I am trying to break into a certain industry, these are not the people I need to target. Rather, I need to connect with notable people in the company as well as recruiters. Simply adding Bill Gates on LinkedIn probably won’t help me get a job at Microsoft. Similarly, sending inbox messages or stalking recruiters will not help generate a lead. There is a fine line between extending your professional reach and seeming desperate.

A Different Animal

Perhaps LinkedIn is less of a true social network and more like a job board with social components. If younger generations are using Facebook more, why not try to turn the tables and revamp its strategy? If Facebook is the destination, why not transform it into something more? Or, why hasn’t LinkedIn paired with Facebook to become just that? Creating a Facebook app that feeds informed networking and job opportunities to people could be a valuable tool for users- especially younger generations. It could combine forces and become a super social network, improving its strength and recognition.

Conclusion

But, after all the smokes and mirrors you can find a platform than can be quite useful in the proper hands. With over 94% of recruiters using LinkedIn, it would be a waste to dismiss it entirely. It may not appear to be as beneficial in the short term, creating a profile has the potential to connect to others later down the line. While I believe LinkedIn’s greatest asset is its ability to help maintain and foster new professional relationships, this should be taken with a grain of salt. Building professional relationships can be exceedingly helpful, but at its core, these relationships already need to already be in place to be beneficial.

Five Topic Areas to Write About on LinkedIn to Survive In a Smart Technology Future

Evil angry robot . Render on blackbackground

As I watched the debate between Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain, Smart Technology – Future Employer or Job Destroyer, on AspenIdeas.org, I became uneasy. No, I became frightened.

I’m a middle-aged man working on a master’s degree. I’m attempting to stay relevant as younger folks enter the workforce and my knowledge and experience becomes increasingly dismissed. I think I understood this was a part of getting older. (It shouldn’t be, but it is.)

Now, it seems, I must also begin to think about how to contend with non-human competitors aka smart technologies.

What’s Up with That?

“The problem,” says Keen, “with this technological revolution—and your right, no one has any right to a [particular] job and no industry has any right to a continuing existence. The nature of technology…lends itself to permanent destruction. But, the problem is that these old jobs are going away and there doesn’t seem to be any new jobs.”

If you’re my age or older that means one of two things. Maybe you’ll squeak by and retire just before the smart technology revolution is in full binary bloom. Or, maybe you won’t and you’ll be displaced much earlier than you expected.

If you’re somewhat or much younger than me, you’re still faced with these two scenarios. But, you have more time to prepare.

On the Other Hand

What if we have nothing to worry about, young or old older?

“If you can find, I hate to use the word efficiencies,” says Zittrain, “because it masks just how rich what we can find is. But, if you find efficiencies, yes, then society faces a question of ‘We’ve just discovered way more abundance, how might we share it?’”

Zittrain is suggesting that allowing smart technologies to do our work would give us the freedom to do what interests us—mostly anyways.

So Which Is it?

Don’t ask me. I’m your competition. The non-robotic kind—or am I?

I will, however, offer five topic areas you can write about on LinkedIn that should, for the time being, be difficult for smart technologies to produce.

Resistance Is Not Futile

In Using LinkedIn to Get Work from the June 2010 issue of Intercom magazine, Rich Maggiani and Ed Marshall suggest LinkedIn is a good way to find and keep a job. They focus on profiles, connections, and job searches.

“The possibilities for getting work through LinkedIn are boundless,” they say. (Give’em a break. They wrote that in 2010, which is like sooooo like long ago like.)

But, they did give some sage advice: “Remember, though, that as a social media network, your chances are enhanced by relying on your [LinkedIn] connections. So cultivate them.”

These topic areas should help you do just that and they are smart-technology resistant:

  • Your Analyses. Only you can analyze an issue in your field, a book review, or a news item and provide your opinion. No smart technology can do that on your behalf.
  • Your Ideas. Smart technology can’t yet see what is going on in your head. Leverage your great ideas by carefully fleshing them out and documenting them in your LinkedIn posts.
  • Your Accomplishments. It’s okay to post your accomplishments. In fact, LinkedIn often does it for you. Be sure to share the takeaways and stick to relevant and/or significant accomplishments for the LinkedIn crowd. Won an award? Good. Finally cleaned the cat litter box. Not so much.
  • Your Experiences. Attended an industry event? Taken a class? Why not write about your experience and related outcomes and findings? Unless you sent your surrogate A.I. robot in your stead, you should have plenty of fodder for your LinkedIn posts.
  • Your Curation. No smart technology can curate content on your behalf. Sure you can enslave some feed aggregator to do the dirty work of compiling content. But, only you can choose what to curate. Don’t just focus on your interests. Build a curation profile that people can rely on.

Unless you are assimilated entirely by some social collective network (you know the one I mean), these topic areas should help you stay relevant—at least until the post-apocalyptic war between humankind and machines.

Would you add anything to the list?

My Relationship With LinkedIn

I love LinkedIn. I visit her regularly, usually sneaking away from my work monitor to check her app on my phone. I’m addicted. But LinkedIn’s like a flirty little hooker – teasing me with options and promises, but only if I pay up front. She is, what Jonathan Zittrain in Smart Technology – Future Employer or Job Destroyer calls, an “owned platform” that supposedly promises “abundance.” But Andrew Keen, referring to Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, says abundance hasn’t happened – it’s just an illusion on a platform that everyone uses. So what? It’s how we find jobs and stay connected and updated to industry happenings. Yet Keen asks, “to what extent do you need a platform” (33:56)? What extent? It’s where I go; it’s expanded my options. Or has it?

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Well, it turns out these owned platforms actually make our world smaller, and the platform itself harder to escape. We become reliant on LinkedIn to help us find connections, information and jobs – to the exclusion of other resources. That’s a problem with solely using technology, the Internet, and these “pay for more” networking sites. Plus, it’s expensive. As Zittrain states, “If everybody uses it, it’s going to take a larger cut” (39.56). Which is what really annoys me about LinkedIn. She lets me look around, and browse some resources, but she doesn’t let me look as good as I am to prospective employers, colleagues, and a plethora of professionals who could mentor me or connect me to others. Do I even look good enough; am I creative, relevant, and clear on the benefits I offer…everyone? In Using LinkedIn to Get Work, Rich Maggiana and Ed Marshall (2010) describe a LinkedIn profile as “a living document of your professional life” (p.32). Yikes. And while I think I’m projecting well and tons of people are admiring my skill set, one look at my weekly up/down searched statistics shows that clearly I’m not being “seen.” But I want to be seen!

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So she tempts me. Every day. She knows I like the look of her and that I wonder about her “premium services.” Don’t I want an open profile, expanded search options, and to know who’s checking me out and ranking me? I can have it she whispers, if I’d just fork out that teeny-weeny, recently increased price of $30 or $50 a month. But there’s more, and it’s not even a whole $1000 dollars annually. Makes my pulse race, which is why I can’t stay away. In Net Smart, Harold Rheingold (2014) states, “Our hormones reward us for information seeking and social contact…” (p. 246). And he advises that we “regard search as a process of investigation…instead of searching to find, search to discover” (Rheingold, 2014, 248). LinkedIn shows me a “selective audience,” one made of up people similar to myself, but without premium services, I can’t access the broad audience of network contacts that makes LinkedIn valuable. Which means I’m not succeeding at the purpose of LinkedIn. It’s become a second Facebook and I’m a passive spectator.

In Who Owns Your LinkedIn Connections, Dorothy Dalton states, “What is clear is that network contacts are a currency with significant value to anyone as a job seeker.” And I need more. So I guess it’s time for me to follow Maggiana and Marshall’s steps to be successful on LinkedIn: write updates weekly, list awards and conferences, and make sure my profile is set to full view. None of which makes me more searchable…

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So she wins. I guess I have to pay up

Is it a Small World After All?

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What do the Queen of England, a cabbie in New York and a second grade teacher in Italy have in common? No, this isn’t the beginning of a bad joke. A solution truly exists. Believe it or not, but they are all related by six degrees of separation. In other words,everyone in the world somehow connected through a chain of six people. This connection demonstrates the “small world phenomenon” coined by Stanley Milgram.

Milgram’s Experiment 1976

In 1976, Stanley Millgram conducted an experiment in which he randomly selected 300 participants in the Midwest to deliver an information packet to a stockbroker Boston. The only rule was that they had to send it to one person who they think would get the package closer to the destination. While only 64 of the 300 packets actually made it to Boston, they found that on average “path length” was 5.5. This led them to conclude that six steps connect everyone, and the small world phenomenon was born.

Milgram in Cyber Space

Fast-forward twenty-five years and several studies have demonstrated that this phenomenon remains the same. For instance, a 2010 study by the New York Times discovered that five steps connect 98% of people on Twitter. Similarly, Jure Leskovec and Eric Horvitz examined 240 million users for the average path of an instant messaging service, Microsoft Messenger. While the results of their study found that the average path length was 6.6, a number slightly higher than Millgram’s study, the results are shockingly similar. In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold states, “Social cyberspaces… are small world networks because they are electronic extensions of human social networks.” In other words, these networks of smaller networks closely mirror the connections in our everyday lives.

Criticisms

However, can we generalize the connection between online and offline contexts? Online, people may be more apt to try because the consequences are lower. Because they can hide behind the protection of their screens, perhaps they were more likely to take on a bolder persona and reach out.

Additionally, the extent to which instant messaging is a marker of a relationship may be blown out of proportion. Next, I believe the term “relationship” may have been too loosely defined. While I can strike up a conversation with my garbage man, does that really count him as being within my social network?  I think a similar offline study would need to be conducted to make stronger generalizations to compare Millgram to Leskovec and Horvitz.

Even more, the low completion rates of both studies should be noted. In Milgram’s study only a handful of letters made it to the target in Boston. Likewise, Leskovec and Horvitz. had to examine a staggering large number of participants to yield a small result of successful messages. Whether the reasons behind participants behavior stem from low motivation or a lack of connections, it is a broad claim to base an entire theory on such shaky evidence.

Lastly, USA Today found an unpublished archive sent to Milgram that revealed indicated low-income people’s messages didn’t go through. Subsequent studies investigating by Milgram found a low rate of completion as well as a social divide between racial groups.

Judith Kleinfeld, a professor psychology at Alaska Fairbanks University, went back to Milgram’s original research notes and found something surprising. It turned out, she told us, that 95% of the letters sent out had failed to reach the target. Not only did they fail to get there in six steps, they failed to get there at all. Milgram was a giant figure in his world of research, but here was evidence that the claim he was famously associated with was not supported by his experiments.

Rather than living in Milgram’s small world, we are living in a world where a select few elite and well-connected individuals reign. The rest of us are living in a “lumpy oatmeal” world looking through rose colored glasses.

Conclusion

In sum, there are a variety of reasons why we want to buy into the small world phenomenon. Perhaps the desire to feel connected to others makes us want to believe. Or maybe we want to believe in this urban myth for our own sense of security. Whatever it is, I think it needs to be reevaluated again. While our networks may reach not farther than we think, maybe it’s not a small world after all.

six-degrees

Netflix and Long Tail Economics

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Whenever I open Netflix or Amazon Prime, I notice a large amount of algorithm-fueled recommendations curated and tailored for me. Sometimes I find them helpful, but it makes me wonder: do I actually want all of those recommendations, and are they even necessary? According to the writer Chris Anderson (2004), in The Long Tail, these are part of Long Tail economics – a new age of digital entertainment that’s opened audiences to a greater variety of entertainment, and companies can now make money on more niche products rather than purely relying on hit movies, music, and books.

 

Making recommendations based on previously watched films benefits me because it exposes me to movies I might not otherwise see, and yes, the more I find, the more I like. But I wonder – how much of a movie do I have to watch for Netflix to generate the recommendation? What if I turn it off after 20 minutes? And the recommendations aren’t just on the streaming service. I get DVD’s I didn’t place in my queue. Has anyone else noticed this? Is Netflix ensuring my queue is never empty? And at what point will there be a need and option to do as Howard Rheingold (2014) asserts with Facebook – “…use…privacy settings to consciously control your boundaries to the degree…it allows” (p.233)?

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(System Architectures for Personalization and Recommendation by Xavier Amatriain and Justin Basilico on TechBlog.)

 

Personally, I find there’s an overwhelming amount of entertainment material online. Just scrolling through my Netflix account and selecting a movie can be time consuming and frustrating. So while the digital world has virtually unlimited amounts of space for storing, selling or streaming media content, I still have a limited number of hours in the day to consume it. I understand that companies must compete for our time and attention, and to be successful, they must collect and analyze vast quantities of data about their clients. But their motivations may not be transparent. As the past few years have illustrated, protecting our privacy in online media use can be difficult to achieve, and is anything really private? And our collective culture is becoming more fragmented as we’re consuming media that purely fits within our niche interests. The drawback to this is that our cultural and daily connections may suffer.

 

While Long Tail economics revolutionizes how businesses do business, the effects on social media are less clear. In general, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram dominate the market while smaller companies struggle to find an audience. And in the way we use social media there may not be an audience for every story, as ones that are positive and arousing are far more likely to be shared or retweeted. For example, news stories designed to make a reader angry or inspired are far more likely to be shared on Facebook than neutral stories that evoke fewer emotional responses. With the political debates, has anyone else noticed more “us versus them” rants?

 

The sunny ideas explained by Chris Anderson about Long Tail economics are great in that they show that media is evolving, audiences have greater choices, and we are exposed to less mainstream movies, music, and stories. However, Long Tail economics fails to take into account the complexity of our digital media, which may be reflective of our previous patterns of media consumption. When TV was first invented, there were only a few channels, and frankly, I didn’t mind having just four. As we technology advanced and more channels were added, that meant more choice. At one point I had access to over 600 channels and the time it took to just scroll through the guide was ridiculous. Then I realized the law of diminishing returns for me was 84 channels. So as Steve Jobs observed – “focus is about saying no” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 246), I cancelled the rest. Now I surf less but on more options, and I benefit by the changes in which businesses like Netflix attract and keep customers. As a matter of fact, I intend to benefit from this strategy by re-watching House of Cards, Luther (one of the coolest detectives ever, oh and there’s that serial killer chick), and Sherlock on Netflix – right after I finish scrolling through my recommendations. That could take a while.

Communicating virtually through virtual communities

 

As I think about the idea of communities, I think about growing up and the vast array of community-based arenas I found myself to be a part of including, 4-H, FFA, my local church affiliate, softball team, basketball team, and so on.  Each of these organizations provided me with a different community and each had different, unified goals.  But more importantly, these communities allowed me to network, coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate.  What is important to highlight is: these four qualities you can find through in-person community based situations are the same qualities that drive virtual communities, in which we are all interconnected through like-minded goals and commonalities.

virtual community

Graphic courtesy of newmediastudies401

In my previous blog entries, I have at times referred to the work I am currently doing in my organization in order to develop an internal employee blog for my Information Technology (IT) department.  This blog, in and of itself, is a form of a virtual community designed to bring like-minded professionals together in order to acquire information.  And at the crux of virtual community development is this idea of collaboration, which, as Rheingold puts it, “has transformed not only the way people use the Internet but also how information is found” (2014).
The idea for developing this internal blog as a way to improve staff communication with each other, initially spawned from the excessive time it took to develop an employee newsletter (which I was the only one writing).  However, through the development of a blog, I would (in theory) have the opportunity to invite blog authors and co-contributors on board to create content.  As a lone communications role in my department, I can tell you it is difficult to build a community of trust and engagement if you’re the only one contributing.

rheingold quote

One of the most interesting things that Rheingold discusses in his book Net Smart, How To Thrive Online, is this idea of “collective intelligence” that can be pertinent in order to make an online community successful.  The tips he provided are as following (Rheingold, 2014):

  1. In order to build trust in an online network, foster conversations
  2. Ensure there is a diversity of participants within your community
  3. Provide continual options to for all community members to collaborate
  4. Offer this community as a place to share knowledge and make it easy for people to share

As we think about designing and establishing new online communities, understanding these types of drivers for a virtual community can help us to shape the community group and to foster more of those four qualities I previously referred to:  Networking, Coordination, Cooperation, and Collaboration (Rheingold, 2014).

Have you ever participated in online/virtual communities?  As a participant what are some of the expectations you have in these communities?

Pomodoro Technique Put to the Test

pomodoro technique

It goes without saying that capturing our attention these days has become an increasingly difficult task. Regardless of where we go or what we do, media presents itself to people at all times and in all places. While many of us try to multitask to accommodate this rapid flow of information, oftentimes this technique fails. With so much going on, no wonder it’s difficult to focus, let alone be productive. Thus, we need to transition from managing time to managing attention in order to help us achieve our goals. In other words, there are ways that we can pay attention to our inattention and increase productivity.

Mindfulness

One example is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Numerous studies have found that the practice of mindfulness can have physical, social and psychological benefits. In today’s digital world, exercising mindfulness is an especially important task. In his book Net Smart, Howard Rhinegold states, “Deliberately exercised, continually strengthened, and judiciously applied, mindfulness is the most important practice for anyone who is trying to swim through the info stream instead of being swept away by it.” Thus, mindfulness can help us tune out distractions and improve our attention as we try to reach our goals.

Rhinegold’s emphasis on mindfulness and the need to incorporate it in our lives made me curious about my own attention to media and how I allot my time. While I certainly have experienced times where I have been swept way surfing the web, I never gave much thought to where my attention was focused or how I interacted with these forms of media.

Pomodoro in Action

Thus, in an effort to increase mindfulness of my own I decided to try the “Pomodoro Technique” that Rheingold references. Developed by Francesco Cirillo this technique uses twenty five minute intervals, or pomodoros, of work separated by five minute breaks to increase productivity. Every four pomodoros and you take a longer break. With nothing to lose, armed with a mountain of work and my egg timer I decided to give it a shot. The timer started and my mind began to race. How much could I accomplish in this little span? Could I make it to the end of the chapter? If I start researching, how far will I get? In other words, I found the twenty-five minute spurts or uninterrupted work to be a race to beat the clock.

Break

Likewise, I found that the five-minute breaks go faster than I thought they would. The first break I did a few light chores around the house but just as I started to get into things, the timer went off. Back to work. The next few breaks I found myself texting and shortly after the timer chirped again. Even though I easily found ways to distract myself for five minutes, the Pomodoro site offers several suggestions of things to do. Most importantly, being active or physically creating distance between you and your work is best. As a result, going for a short walk, getting a glass of water or even simple desk exercises or office yoga are recommended.

Critique

Overall, I think the Pomodoro Technique with its short bursts of work helped me hone in at the task at hand. Knowing that after periods of work I had a five-minute incentive of free time helped me stay focused. Additionally, thinking about unrelated things for a few moments oddly helped keep me on track. While the fourth twenty five minute stretch was the longest, it also was the most rewarding because of the longer break.

However, one criticism is the application of this technique in different contexts. When I tried it I was at home and was able to have my timer go off without being a nuisance to others. In contrast, if I were to try this technique at work, having a timer constantly chirp may be an annoyance to other co-workers who may not be as receptive to my attention management strategies. Additionally, it was frustrating to become absorbed in a task and have to stop simply because the timer buzzed. In a few instances, I would have preferred to keep working and stop at my own pace. Yet, for the sake of the experiment I followed suit.

Closing Thoughts

In sum, even though my stint with the Pomodoro Technique was brief, I found it helpful nonetheless. While experts agree that you can to notice a difference in your work or study process within a day or two, true mastery of the technique takes from seven to twenty days of constant use.That being said, I believe mindfulness would be a great technique for anyone, including myself to cultivate in order to help achieve goals. Thus, with more time and practice I should be able to realign my attention habits and train myself to be more present and aware.

More Sound Advice for Spending Time Online

Breathe

In the last blog entry, I wrote that I agreed with Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together, that a great way to spend more time with people was to avoid social media and texting during certain parts of the day. This is still a good idea so that people can actually face-to-face connect with others, and to have time to allow yourself to think, but in Howard Rheingold’s booked titled, Net Smart, he gives additional ways to take control over technology’s pull. I was amazed by how simple his advice is.

Just like Turlke, Rheingold says that people need to spend some time away from technology and learn how to meditate and to breathe. By focusing on your breathing, you are focusing your attention onto one thing. By learning how to focus your attention on a singular thing, you can re-teach your brain to focus on one thing and let the distractions drop away. By being able to focus on one thing while online, you will be able to focus on your intent – your exact reason for being online – so that you can solely work on that one thing that you need to get done, instead of being distracted by random emails, instant messages, Facebook, or other things lurking to steal your attention away.

Meditation

My husband would agree with Rheingold about meditation, but I never would have thought that one could apply it to thriving online. Thinking back to my husband and about him meditating, I realize that he is a lot more focused on various things than I am. He tells me that I get distracted too easily, and that I need to learn to be more disciplined, which I believe could come from meditation. After reading Rheingold’s chapter on “Attention,” I may have to tell my husband that I will join him on his next meditation journey.

Results are Power

Now, if what Rheingold says is true that meditation helps with focusing attention, which in turn helps with “crap detection” (using your focus to research things on line to see if they are actually credible or not) and “participation power” (participate online by creating content such as photos, videos, news stories; sharing content; or editing Wikipedia or other community-based informational websites), then many people who want to success may want to do this too. I believe that I have had a good start in both crap detection and participation already, as I often create photos, video clips, and share links to other photos, video clips, and news stories on my blog and Facebook page. Just as Rheingold suggests, when I find something on the internet to share, I look at the url of the website, check for the author, and etc. to see if the content is from a place that I can trust. I do this because if I provide crap to my readers, my readers may complain or stop following or unfriend me. I want to keep my authority role as a trusted content provider.

Conclusion

For the most part, I found Rheingold to be providing common sense information and very helpful tips, in regards to thriving online – how to use your intentional attention to focus on what actually matters, which is having some downtime from technology, and being able to detect the credibility of internet content. By being able to do both, I can be a great participator online by creating and sharing trustworthy content on social media websites. But the one thing that spoke out the most was meditating. My sweet husband; he has been telling me to meditate for years, but it took a book to finally do it. I will just tell him that I finally came to my senses.

Form and Function in a Cyber Environment

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A major theme that resounded through the readings was the need for the organization, understanding and usability of content online. Through the use of creative design, implementation and use, technical communicators can work in conjunction with designers and help find solutions to these problems. Above all, usability and ease are the two most important factors in web design.

The famous phrase “form follows function” was coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in his 1924 book Autobiography of an Idea. There are two ways this phrase can be interpreted:

1). Aesthetics should be secondary to function

2). Beauty results from the purity in form.

Modernist architecture was based around this idea, as ornaments or decorative elements to a building were considered superfluous. In other words, the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose. With this purpose, this movement became the guiding force for numerous architectural movements and schools of design.

However, one can ask, does this same principle hold true in a cyber environment?

In the early years of web design, oftentimes there was no rhyme or reason to the designs used by untrained technical communicators. Oftentimes, they would disregard principles of effective page design in an attempt to differentiate document design for print from online. In the wild west of web design, an innovative form took precedent over function. However, as time progressed, these freedoms gave way to a new wave of design fueled by purpose, content and user needs.

Today, we take these things for granted and expect certain standards for orienting ourselves in virtual space. Because there isn’t a one size fits all approach, the way in which designers create these spaces is intriguing.

Should they follow Sullivan’s advice of “form follows function”? Or would some creative flair benefit a site and make it more usable? This poses a challenge for designers because while usability is key, it is discouraged to gravitate towards either extreme.

On one end of the spectrum you have your very basic, bland web design. It presents the users with the usable components without any frills. An example of this is the Craigslist site with its basic blue links on a blank white page. It is clear that function is the most important aspect of this site, and little concern is given to aesthetics.

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On the other hand, a site that either has too much going on also renders itself unusable. In the example for Yvette’s Fashion it is clear that the overwhelming amount of information, flashy colors, images and tiny text make it almost impossible to navigate, let alone read.

terrible-website

Gentlemen bear with me, but in a way this analogy of design and usability could be compared to women’s footwear. On end you have your very basic and ubiquitous white tennis shoes. While they may not look fancy, they are comfortable, provide the right amount of support and quickly can accomplish the job of getting the user from one place to the next. They are simple and style plays little role in its usability.

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In contrast, there is the glammed up eight-inch stiletto. While they aren’t practical, the over the top nature of them definitely catches your attention. Additionally, while they also will enable the wearer to navigate from one place to the next, it is at a much slower and cumbersome pace. While both forms of footwear are aimed toward different users and server similar functions, the usability differs. In other words, usability is impacted by design.

Likewise, design elements contribute to the ambience of web sites and help prepare the user to understand the context for its use. In Digital Literacy for Technical Communications, Slavo states,“Readers recognize designed elements of the document before interpreting the context”. In other words, visual design carries its message in its physical presentation.

For instance, even a simple change in the web design can make a difference and affect usability. In Louis Lazar’s article, Design is Only as Deep as it is Usable, he examines the homepage for Facebook with a simple omission of color:

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While the plain version is still functional, it is less inviting. Additionally, the contrast between the blue and white makes the boxes easier to find and therefore use. Overall, this example  proves that design can aid in the function of a web site.

In sum, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to the design and organization of web content. Because there is no hard and fast rule, function can’t overlook aesthetics and vice versa. “Eye candy is important, but it isn’t everything, and that for a design to be truly beautiful, it has to be functional, have purpose and contribute in some way to the website’s intuitiveness, usefulness and branding” (Smash Magazine). Rather, a balance of the two is needed as they work hand in hand to produce content that is both intuitive and appropriate for the audience. Through this, both ease and usability can be accomplished and good web design can prevail.

Relying on Heuristics in Digital Communication

I spend nearly every work day reviewing science and engineering reports and memos. Virtually every one of them follow the same structure: introduction, methods, results, and discussion or IMRAD as it is sometimes called. IMRAD is a viable heuristic for what is historically a paper-based, long-form argument. (If it weren’t, it would likely not be so prevalent.)

I’m also asked frequently by the marketing department to review content for online distribution. To help them along and save myself significant substantive editing time, I’ve attempted to provide that department—some of whom are trained technical writers—with heuristics (what I call writing prompts or an outline of sorts) which they can use to author within the various information types they are responsible for. So far, I’ve developed heuristics for blog posts, social media posts, brochures, flyers, and so on.

They’ve come to rely on these heuristics, essentially canonizing them, which was never my intention. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this has happened and its appropriateness. I’m beginning to be cautious about developing heuristics especially for digital communication.

Paper-Based and Digital Communication Are Different

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski wrote in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p. 105) touched on this dilemma:

“One difference between paper-based and electronic communication is that the forms and designs of older analog media have been internalized and naturalized…Use, familiarity, and comfort within these newer information spaces are therefore, to some extent, generational, and technical communicators must now consider how to bridge these generational boundaries that are likely to express themselves as technological preferences.”

I suppose what I’m saying is that the bridge between paper-based (with their traditional heuristics) and digital communication (which lets admit can be a free-for-all) is not heuristics.

Moving Away from Heuristics

What I’ve come to realize is, when it comes to digital communication, heuristics are effective starting points, but should never take the place of authentic communication. By authentic communication, I mean communication conceived of and designed to serve its particular audience and the content itself. This is the opposite of content designed to meet a preset structure (such as IMRAD).

In other words, instead of developing heuristics for digital communication (e.g. “A blog post has these five components” or “The services page on your website should cover three things”), what if we simply approach each rhetorically? Dave Clark in Digital Literacy discusses the “rhetoric of technology” which he contrasts against IMRAD without using that concept specifically.

So, the next time the marketing team wants some help structuring digital communication in particular, instead of writing up a heuristic they can use over and over again, I’m going to write a set of rhetorical questions they can rely on.

I do not always play well with others, but I will evolve.

While Spilka and her contributors for Digital Literary for Technical Communication drove me crazy by repetition large chucks of text ( see pages 11, 13, 16 regarding who the target audience for her book is) and having a chapter summarizing all the other chapters, there are a couple of things that I learned, besides understanding that if I have to read any more of this book, I will either need a couple of aspirins or a bottle of vodka. These two things that I found most important were evolving and that technical writers must play well with others.

 

            Evolve.

 

Yes, everyone should already know that technology is constantly evolving, and so its delivery methods and how technical communicators craft their messages need to evolve too. Without evolving, technical writers will fail to gain all the skills necessary for the latest publishing tools, such as FrameMaker and RoboHelp, to help their users and to continue building a positive reputation for whatever company is providing the products and resources. An example of this need for evolving ones skills is in the chapter titled, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work,” Dicks writes,

 

                        The nature of work for many technical communicators is changing so

                        rapidly that many now perform an entire task set that they did not even

                        know about five years ago (p. 51).

 

But evolving to keep up with the changing technology should be common sense, and Saul Carliner provides a chapter on history (just to show how fast technology has changed when companies, seeking higher profits use user input to create the desires of the customer – custom corporate software, better online help, easier desktop publishing, etc. By evolving, companies and people have saved money and time, which is usually one of the main goals of nearly everyone. And as for me, my goals are to learn FrameMaker, RoboHelp, and Illustrator, because I missed out on getting my resume read by hiring managers in the technical communications field because I did not have experience in those tools. I, too, must evolve.

 

            Must play well with others.

 

Life would be great if everyone played nice and worked well together, and working well with others is an important soft skill that many people lack, especially for those technical communicators who have been working alone for so long. But in today’s technical communicators’ work places, it is necessary to work with others to gather information and for review. As Spilka states,

 

                        [W]hat seems most critical and meaningful is how we can contribute to

                        social, team, or collaborative efforts toward the greater good of large

                        scale projects…Our work is also more like than before to be

                        international scope (p. 5).

 

Thus, to be a desirable technical communicator, one of the main skills is knowing how to work in a team. By helping co-workers in a timely manner, work can be fun, enjoyable, and a success. As a valued part of the team, the technical writer may learn additional skills and be wanted for further projects, which new skills may be needed, so it would be a great opportunity to evolve again. That is why I would suggest to anyone in this field to always take a chance to learn something new. Take on a more challenging project to increase your knowledge and skills.

 

All in all, so far, I learned from this book that one must not be afraid of the latest technologies, and they should evolve by trying to learn how the latest technologies can benefit themselves and their work places. Besides learning the forever-changing technology tools, methods, theories, and etc., it is also important to know how to work with others, as most projects will involve many people who will be working on the same project, and the technical communicator will need to gather information, and give and receive feedback on the project, so that the project is a success. And if the project turns out not to be successful, have a drink, think about what could have been done to have made it successful, and then try it again next time. With that, you are evolving. Start your evolution now.

 

 

Resources:

Dicks, R. (2010). The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 51). New York, NY: Routledge.

Carliner, S. (2010). Computers and Technical Communication (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.

Spilka, R. (2010). Introduction In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital Literacy For Technical Communication (p. 5). New York, NY: Routledge.

 

To Blog or Not To Blog

Blogging concept

Sometime in the late 80s, I was watching one of those daytime talk shows. I don’t remember the hosts or much about the guests. But, I do remember an exchange between two of the guests that bothered me then and still does. The exchange wouldn’t happen today, but I do think it message is relevant to blogging: No matter who you are, if you can blog, you can be heard.

“But, who are you?”

At some point during the talk show, the first guest, an everyday person, sat beside a second guest who had achieved a certain level of celebrity. The host commented about a book being promoted on the show to which the first guest commented “I would like to write a book someday.”

The second guest was perturbed and retorted “But, who are you? And, why would anyone want to read what you have to say.” The first guest was visibly hurt.

As I said, the exchange wouldn’t happen today—it couldn’t. The Internet has made it possible for virtually anyone to build an audience.

Audience Pull vs. Audience Push

What the second guest couldn’t fathom is that an everyday person could possibly draw an audience, let alone have something important to say.

Blogging has enabled us mere mortals to pull an audience, unlike traditional media channels that require pushing content (like books) out to audiences.

David Weinberger in his exchange with Andrew Keen on Web 2.0 (http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677) put it this way:

“So, traditional distribution makes it look like talent is a you-got-it-or-you-don’t proposition—you’re an artist or you’re a monkey. …With the Web, we can still listen to the world’s greatest, but we can find others who touch us even though their technique isn’t perfect.”

In other words, traditional media channels push content out to the market for a known, established audience. Blogging lets you pull audience in by providing content the audience is interested in.

Three Types of Content

In my estimation, audiences are interested three types of content (from bloggers):

  • Content that says something. You have an opinion and you want to express it. Blogging can help you do that.
  • Content that shares something. A colleague asked me recently to help him plan a keynote address. He showed me some significant research he had done on his topic. At one moment while we were pouring over the data and he was becoming quite excited about its implications to his field, I blurted out “Yes, but none of this means anything until you communicate it.” We both sat stunned by what I had just said. We literally didn’t move or say anything for a few moments; we were both thinking it through. Blogging is a great place to share your ideas.
  • Content that explores something. Not unlike this post, you have a topic that you want to explore. Blogging can provide a way for you explore such a topic. Through commenting, you readers can help you explore too.

What’s in a Name?

Okay, okay, that’s one too many Shakespearian references. Contrary to the talk show guest who criticized the other guest for wanting to write book, you don’t need a name (celebrity) to say, share, or explore something.

Blogs give you the opportunity to pull an audience and readers seem to care little who you are—at first. If you do happen to build a name for yourself, then readers seem to care very much: http://www.therichest.com/rich-list/world/worlds-10-top-earning-bloggers/. Until then, keep in mind these words from David Weinberger:

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

Bonus Content: Two Alternatives to Blogging

Maybe you have something to say, share, or explore, but it’s limited—you have no interest in committing to your own blog. Here are two alternatives to consider:

  • Comment on blogs of interest. As you read posts of interest, take time to comment. Well-crafted comments can generate as much interest as the original post.
  • Post on an existing blog as a guest. If you build rapport with a bloggers (say, by thoughtfully commenting on their blogs), consider asking if you can write a guest post. Pitch something that fits in with their editorial needs.

Balancing truth and a positive image online

What is our responsibility to the truth when we post online? When representing a business/institution online and on social media, must we always represent it with 100 percent accuracy? What is the truth anyways?

At first glance this question seems pretty straightforward. Always tell the truth. Anything other than the truth is misleading and therefore wrong. How could it be otherwise?

The same straightforwardness seems apparent in Jonathan Zittrain’s talk when considering the ethics of interfering with Facebook or google’s algorithms. He uses as an example the potential power that Facebook would have to sway an election by just leaving a reminder to vote off of a person’s newsfeed who shows a preference that is unfavorable to the powers-that-be at Facebook. It would be unfair for these online giants to use their influence to sway something that is as fair and unbiased as a math-based algorithm to anyone’s benefit.

Screen shot of Facebook's reminder to vote.

Screen shot of Facebook’s reminder to vote. Source: TechPresident, Facebook’s Voting Reminder Message Isn’t Working, 2012

But his next example makes the issue a little murkier by explaining how google has removed from its top search results a company that blackmails people by ensuring that their mugshot photos would be prominent when their name was searched unless they paid a steep fee. This seems like justice, even though Google is stepping in to use its power against the cosmic fairness of a mathematically-powered search algorithm.

So when we create a presence for a public institution online – possibly a social network site where we create a public profile, make connections in the community, and gain access to their connections (D. Boyd, Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, p. 211) – what is our responsibility to the public to represent the institution truthfully?

I’ll use photography as an example that I come up against as a graphic designer in the marketing department of a technical college. Let’s say that we’re posting a picture to facebook of our college’s president smiling next to a student at a college event.

  • The lighting is too bad to post this picture without adjusting it in Photoshop. Do I correct it? Yes.
  • While I’m here, in this portrait the president clearly has lipstick on her front teeth. Would I remove it? Absolutely.
  • How about a couple zits on the student’s face? I would remove most of them or at least lighten them.
  • What if the student has a permanent wart or a birthmark? Those stay. That’s part of what the student looks like, and it would be crossing a line to remove that.

But isn’t the student’s zits also part of what he/she looks like on this particular day? Isn’t it the truth that on this day the President attended the event with lipstick on her teeth? Isn’t it also the truth that the lighting in the room was horrible?

In a conversation about Web 2.0 between Andrew Keen and David Weinberger, Keen likens the story of the Internet to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, where the Internet is the mirror that reveals ourselves to be cockroaches. He compares the multitude of contributors of online content to mindless monkeys. This strikes me as counterintuitive when most of us spend our efforts consciously making ourselves look as good or better than we are in real life.

In our office, amongst the graphic designers, the social media administrator, the copywriter and anyone who is creating content to represent the College, our mantra is to represent our community (students, staff, instructors, even the campus) in a way would be recognized by them as having a “good day.” We choose our content and edits with empathy and compassion. We don’t strive to mislead, and we always maintain what participants would recognize as the reality of the moment. The camera is often cruel, picking up details that we would overlook in person. The candy wrapper on the sidewalk in a picture of the facade of the school does not represent how we see the building. It just happens to be there when the information is flattened into a photograph. No one noticed the white specks all over the shoulders of your shirt, but that dandruff sure does shine in the lighting of the photo. To remove these details doesn’t change the reality experienced by the individual in the moment, it just shows it off at its best.

Would you rather that I not clean up your shirt? Lighten the blemish? Subtract the trash? Am I being kind, or deceitful? Is my responsibility to tell the truth of how you experienced the moment, or the truth of the photograph?

The Illusion of Privacy in a Public Space

online privacy

While we all are vaguely aware of the risks that can occur when we post personal information to social media sites, we still do it. Unfortunately, many of us fall prey to the“Privacy Paradox” that occurs when we are not aware of the public nature of the internet. Oftentimes this is because we believe in the illusion of boundaries, and that these sites will protect us.

Yet, posting to social network sites not only concerns privacy, but can have legal consequences as well. In Boyd and Ellison’s article “Social Networking Sites: Definition, History and Scholarship” they state “The legality of this hinges on users’ expectation of privacy and whether or not Facebook profiles are considered public or private” (p.222). In other words, the uncertain boundaries between whats public and private on social networking sites are forcing us to challenge the legal conception of privacy.

To illustrate, in Wausau Wisconsin, DC Everest High School suspended a group of students from their sports seasons after photos of the students drinking from red solo cups surfaced on Facebook. While school officials couldn’t prove the teens had been drinking, they believed the correlation between the iconic red cups and a beer bash was enough grounds for suspension. As a way “to kind of make fun of the school”, the teens decided to throw a root-beer kegger.

Once the party was in full swing, its no surprise that a noise complaint was called in to the police. At first glance, it looked like an underage party with mobs of teenagers, booming music, drinking games and of course-red solo cups. However, when the cops came to bust what they believed to be a group of underage drinkers, not a drop of alcohol was to be found. Instead, they found a quarter keg containing 1919 Classic American Draft Root Beer. Infuriated, they breathalized nearly 90 teens and every single one blew a 0.0%. As a result, the students were able to prove their point that you can have a party and drink non-alcoholic beverages from red cups.

Needless to say, the story created a buzz and soon made local and national news. Did the school have a right to interject? Or is underage drinking something that should be between students and police? What are our rights concerning online privacy? And how does the law play into all of this?

Stepping away from the light hearted nature of the story above, personal content posted to social media sites can oftentimes have more more serious, threatening ramifications to users. Identify theft, stalking and even murder are all real consequences that can and have occurred. Despite hearing these stories, we continue to make it easy for anyone, including hackers, to access our personal information because it is readily available to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

Consequently, the boundaries between whats public and whats private on social media sites are ambiguous. Even more, “…there often is a disconnect between our desire for privacy and our behaviors” (p.222). So, the real question of how to resolve this issue remains. Would more restrictive settings on these sites help us? Or, as Jonathan Zittrain’s talk suggests, do these sites have a duty to look out for us and minimize potential risks?

While the answers to these questions are uncertain- the need for a more educated and proactive public is. If we are able to fully understand the extent of our actions, perhaps we would take more precautions. Knowledge is the solution to protecting our online privacy and minimizing potential risks. Now it is just up to us to use it.

I am a happy go-lucky monkey cockroach.

Why is it when people want to relax after a hard day at work that some self-appointed authority figures want to try to ruin it for the majority? These uptight authority figures are scholars who found the treasure trove of social media, and have decided that the best way to keep their paychecks rolling is to argue and complain about how social media is not being used to the scholars’ intelligence standards. Well, I cannot argue about them making money with their complaining about social media, as making money from social media is one reason that social media exists.

Most of the people who are posting their thoughts and experiences in social media are using a wide variety of media, such as texts, photos, videos, and etc. Most people are posting for their friends and family; they are not doing it to establish an audience. While some people believe that if you do not like a posting, just move on or post a complaint, or, even better, just block that person, scholars such as Andrew Keen decided write nasty opinions about social media websites’ users. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s article “Full Text: Keen vs Weinberger” (2007), Keen claims that social medias websites’ users are “monkeys” and “cockroaches,” and that our postings are “infantilized self-stimulation rather than serious media for adults.” Furthermore, he states that users’ copy and pasting media (such as YouTube videos, Pinterest, etc.) is “creating a generation of media illiterates.”

Interesting theory, but Keen is wrong. If Keen wants serious adult time on social media, he could create his own online group, or stay at work. When most people need a break from adulthood, they turn to social media, so what? The medical field has stated that we need a work/life balance, so relaxing with a cat video that someone copied and pasted from a social media website is perfect. And from someone whose mother is learning how to use the Internet, copying and pasting anything online is a skill, thus I cannot believe that any generation is media illiterate. Many social media websites were created for connecting with others and allowing users to show off their personality, so social media was created for entertainment, not specifically for intellectual debate, although there could be groups created on these websites for such discussions.

So, how are these scholars finding all of our postings, which are leading to a “digital abundance …to intellectual poverty” (WSJ)? It turns out that what many scholars find disgusting about our postings, they cannot wait to read and analyze. boyd and Ellison, in their article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” stated that scholars gather information from users’ profiles, forums, and discussion groups for research, and that this information “offers unprecedented opportunities for researchers” (2008, p. 224). I find this very disturbing, that some stranger may be taking much of a user’s posts, friendship connections, and etc. and then analyzing this information for a paper. (Should not the user first be contacted, asked for permission, and receive compensation?) I believe that other people who know about these scholars’ plans do not like this as well, because of the following message that can be found posted on a great number of profiles on FetLife:

fl

I had often wondered why people would have this message posted on their profile page. Who would research people’s profiles? I had never thought to ask, but after reading bodyd and Ellison’s article, I understand that users’ posted information is indeed being used for many purposes. Besides one purpose to tear social media websites down for users’ “digital narcissism” (WSJ), another purpose may be to shape how we see the world, done by website companies themselves.

Now, in Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” (Aspen Institute, 2015) panel, Zittrain states that websites like Google and FaceBook use algorithms, that can control what a user sees in a search or in their news feed. For example, he reports that these companies have altered searches (Google can remove people’s history, among other things) and change what appears in a news feed (not letting certain news stories to go viral). In these cases, I do not mind companies not allowing us information because these are free websites, and they have to make their money somehow to pay for all the bandwidth that users burn through. However, if users were paying to use these websites, then whether these companies liked users’ postings, content, etc. or not, users should be able to see everything, and the companies should not be able to force their opinions on the users of how they think the world should be.

Thus, for some social media websites, many users may not be aware that the social websites that they are using for enjoyment and staying connected to others are using their information in way that the user may have never wanted. Because many of these social websites are free to use, some users would be fine with having their information used for marketing, but not for research and analysis. For those who do know what the scholars are doing with their information, some users have posted messages telling people not to use their information for research purposes. If having one’s information used as research was not bad enough, there are scholars complaining how we are using the social media websites for play and not for intellectual discussions. For those scholars, I believe that they need stop forcing a false doomsday on people and enjoy what was meant to be enjoyed. If these scholars feel that they really do not like a path that social media is taking, then they need to stop complaining and find a way to make it better. If they cannot, they can always build something for people like themselves. The Internet is large; there is plenty of space for them, the cockroaches, and the monkeys too.

 

References

Aspen Institute. (2015, July 4). The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go? [Video File]. Retrieved from YouTube https://youtu.be/rGUvi5qv6BU?t=29m34s

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 224.

The Wall Street Journal. (2007, July 18). Full Text: Keen vs Weinberger [Web log  comments]. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Network Blog

In Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship (2007), Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison catalog the history and rise of social network sites (SNS). They describe and timeline. Social networks emerged, declined; Facebook learned from others mistakes and then took over the world. Boyd and Ellison differentiate that “network emphasizes relationship initiation” whereas “social network sites…enable users to articulate and make visible their social networks” (p.211). Boyd and Ellison show us the “science;” Andrew Keen and David Weinberger argue exposure, fault, privacy – cockroach.

 

The giant cockroach; I didn’t need that visualization. That’s what The Internet Is Not the Answer (2015) author Andrew Keen calls social media “authors-formerly-known-as-the-audience” in a web 2.0 woe and pro point/counterpoint with David Weinberger. I admit I’m on team Keen and slide more so into negativity as he laments the chattering “digital narcissism,” lack of art, and death of objectivity as more amateurs become authors on the web full of “lost truth.” His point is “the Web is us…a mirror rather than a medium” (214). What happened to us?

 

Weinberger and Keen bait each other, make good points, and I found myself checking the New York Times (NYT) bestsellers list: http://www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/combined-print-and-e-book-nonfiction/list.html and the Top 40 hits for today: http://www.at40.com/top-40/chart/38049. Not sure what I thought I could tell from that since I don’t recognize any of the music. But I see Weinberger’s point that the Web is meant to reach far and it’s far-reaching. He sees the good; Keen doesn’t.

 

This is killing me. Six hours in, numerous edits, and I still haven’t produced anything worthy of a blog. So I throw in a RedBox movie on teens and social media. For someone looking for a ray of sunshine in the cloud of crap online, this choice was a big mistake. Has anyone seen Men, Women, and Children (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHMqpwnUazY) with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Garner?

Men, Women and Children

It’s a worst-case, but probably all-to-real look at what’s going on with our families, and kids constantly exposed to, and numbed by social media. I want to scream. Kids can’t socialize without a device, families can’t communicate, and every tool leads to porn. Mom preaches Internet and social media safety to neighborhood groups, installs cameras in her kid’s rooms, keystroke loggers on computers, and insists her daughter take her phone everywhere “so I can track you.” One girl intent on becoming a Kardashian-ism makes a selfies site so modeling agencies can see her gift. Then Mom adds provocative photos of her in an effort to get her noticed. Oh, it does. Dad laments the missed “rite of passage” of finding his son’s porn magazines – it’s all on the web. So he does what any Dad would; checks it often – and orders an escort. Helicopter Mom psycho-checks daughter’s FB, MySpace, Twitter, and email. She’s safe, right? Except in gym where her friend nonchalantly shares her latest cell phone captured sex act. Everyone is desensitized, devoid of common sense and self-worth, and addicted to technology. Do I have to be that Mom?

 

I know there’s good stuff out there. TED Talks (https://www.ted.com/talks) amaze me; speakers people are brilliant, inspired, informed, and show me a new way to think. My kids take Udemy (https://www.udemy.com) and Kahn Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org) courses, and I wouldn’t have found this program without the Internet. But I just learned that once you put something on the Web it’s out there forever. Don’t laugh at me. I just realize why I haven’t seen classmate blogs; I’m on the UWStout720 site. Sigh. My kids are on social network sites, but not Facebook (http://facebook.com) since us “old people” took it over. But they tweet, YouTube (https://www.youtube.com), and visit places I don’t know about. I better show them that movie. Right after I install cameras and recording devices on everything. Thank God, they don’t have cell phones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natasha’s Test Blog 1

As the “Why We Blog” study by Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz highlighted, the most common motivations for creating/ participating in blogs are to document one’s life, blogging as commentary, blogging as catharsis, blogging as a muse, and blogging in a community forum. I typically stick to the community forum style blogging in both academic, and non-academic settings.

Prior to this class I’ve had very general experiences with personal blogging, nothing too involved. Earlier classes I’ve taken in the MSTPC program as well as courses in my undergraduate education included an online “blog as a community forum”. I would actively participate in message boards, and engage in discussions by responding to my classmate’s threads. These were very functional blogs, and I obviously only participated because I was required to.

As mentioned in this article, the motivations for blogging “are not mutually exclusive and might come into play simultaneously”; this is the case in my non-academic community forum blogging. I’m a very private person, and don’t trust the people around me to completely confide my personal problems. I am incredibly dependent on advice forums like enotalone.com where I can anonymously pour my heart out and receive multitudes of responses from complete strangers.

What I love most about enotalone.com is that people of all ages, from all over the world, with entirely different backgrounds can give me raw, unapologetic advice. It can’t offend me because they’re only a name with a smiley face avatar, and I realize they’re also more comfortable sharing things about their lives that may help me. In this situation, I’m getting the help I need, and they’re getting some sort of fulfillment by helping me. I don’t have to worry about gossip or people holding my mistakes against me because these people can hardly determine what country I live in.

A few years ago I created a blog on Tumblr, and used it to journal my personal life. Again, I’m very private so I did not invite my friends and relatives, but I accumulated a decent following of international strangers. This was a bit cathartic for me, as it was another outlet to ramble on about things that were bothering me. However, I eventually lost interest in my Tumblr page and haven’t posted in years. The most enjoyable part of having a Tumblr blog was designing it; I spent more time perfecting its appearance than substantial writing.

In conclusion, I’m not much of a blogger unless it’s required for academic purposes, or I’m going through personal challenges I’m uncomfortable bringing to my friends and family. I have enjoyed the bit of blogging I’ve done so far, but I can think of a million other things I’d rather do.

anonymous3

The Relationship Between Technical Communication and Social Media

Chelsea’s Test Blog 2

The relationship between technical communication, social media, and even the use of Technology is becoming more and more apparent in our everyday lives.   As I was reading through the article The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media, it dawned on me how why this very topic is so important.

Software companies (like Microsoft) are incorporating in their new software releases, the capability to participate in social media much easier and without having to know how to write HTML5 code and still publish to the Web.  Let’s look at Microsoft Office.  As I draft this blog article, I now have the option to publish this article as a blog post right to my blog site.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 - Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Snapshot of Microsoft Word 2010 – Save and Send Features, Taken by Chelsea Dowling.

Moreover, as Hurley and Hea demonstrated the impact of social media and technology is becoming even more prevalent within the medical field, where they provided an example of a 48-year-old individual who was punished for providing enough information about a patient that their identity was eventually revealed.   Might this explain the increasing Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations?   Just the other day, a friend’s mother who works as a dental hygienist was explaining the increased HIPAA training they are required to take each year.  In fact, EHR 2.0 published a presentation on Social Media Compliance for Healthcare Professionals.

But overall, one of the most striking points that Hurley and Hea eluded to in their article, was the importance of educating students and communication professionals around the critical theory aspects of social media.   While it is important to deploy social media in our own efforts / initiatives and to debunk the negative assumptions around the use of social media (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58), we also need to understand how / where these assumptions fit within our own situations.

Overall, I think this is one of the most important factors that we need to keep in mind.  For example, in my current social setting, I would say there is a large difference in how people of all ages use social media.  For example, being in such a rural area of Wisconsin, many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers  are limited to the amount of exposure they have to social media as well as limited to the desire to access that type of channel.   Therefore, as we begin to understand how we reach out to our stakeholders, we can use critical theory to allow us to “consider how social media fits into our professional lives” and be able to evaluate and use social media responsibly (Hurley & Hea, pg. 58).

Generational Technology Gap

Image from: How does social media as a technology affect sleeping patterns?
Posted on April 26, 2013 by insomnicacs

Hurley, E.V. and Hea, A.C.K. (2014).  The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media.  Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), pp. 55-68.

Aligning Social Media to Organizational Professional Communication

(Chelsea’s Test Blog 1)

Prior to beginning my master’s program at UW Stout, one of the initiatives I began in 2014 was researching and proposing the development of an internal blog for our department.  At Organic Valley, our Information Technology department is comprised of approximately 79 employees, ranging anywhere in age from 21 to 61-years-old.  As a part of my role, three years ago I developed an internal departmental newsletter which I transformed to be accessible via e-mail (condensed version), a full online version, and a supported printed version.

Someone who has previously developed a newsletter might appreciate the work that goes into, but in case you haven’t done a newsletter here is the tedious process I had to endure each month in order to share the recent happenings with our employees.

Newsletter Process

The process of creating a printed newsletter.

Needless to say, I missed a few months (since I am the only one who does what I do within my department).  In an effort to spread the workload, I begin researching into available options that might not only improve / address the workload that I was dealing with, but to provide an accessible and online platform for our staff to have immediate access to our department and Cooperative news.

Believe it or not but there is actually little research on the use of social media within organizations as a tool to communicate with their own staff (at least it’s not published).  So in 2014 I began the effort to have an internal departmental blog established and to have this be an opportunity to develop a new communication channel within our organization and begin moving us away from just communicating via e-mail and an archaic 15-year-old intranet.

Nonetheless, I am sure you can imagine that one of the articles that was tucked away in our Blog Literacy folder on D2L, really grabbed my attention.  While The Social Media Release as a Corporate Communications Tool for Bloggers article, written by Pitt, Parent, Steyn, Berthon, and Money, did not specifically articulate this article to be meant for internal communication purposes, there were a number of points that truly resonate with the issues that internal organization often deals with.  Pitt et al., found that an increasing number of blogs are becoming a more formalized tool within organizations and, are in fact, being used to keep their stakeholders apprised of the current activities (2011).  “Professional business communicators will need to give increased attention to their use of social media release,” (Pitt et al., pg. 7).

As a professional communicator, it is interesting that this became such a natural tendency for me to move towards and begin researching for internal communication purposes.  One of the thing we often struggle with, is out do we best manage to spread our information across an organization that reaching almost 1000 employees – especially when face-to-face communication is the most effective way of sending and receiving messages.  Notably, this was one point that Pitt et al. addressed in the article in that social media channels are beginning to emulate that face-to-face model (pg. 3), which seemingly matches the growing need for business to use this as a communication tool.

But where is my blog and how is it matching up with this theory of using social media for internal communication purposes?  Well… needless to say you will be able to find a number of articles that will give you pointers on writing a great post, how to manage contributors – I even purchased a book called Born to Blog by Mark Schaefer (an excellent read and highly recommended).  Unfortunately what these resources don’t tell you is how to maneuver the muddy waters of internal organizational politics to move something along quickly (but that is for the next article).

Let’s just say, when it comes to establishing a brand new “tool”, it’s amazing the amount of push back and stops people go to.  Fortunately, as our company is looking at implementing Microsoft SharePoint (which I am told has many blogging capabilities), I am on the road to redemption.  Almost.  Now the holdup will be the design of the blog, which will lead you to one of my upcoming blog articles on the value of information design.

Pitt, L.F., Parent, M., Steyn, P.G., Berthon, P., and Money, A. (2011).  The Social Media Release as a Corporate Communications Tool for Bloggers.  IEEE Transactions Professional Communication, 54(2), pp. 1-11.

Writers, writiN & d NXT gnr8n n social media :P

text slang, emojis

In their article “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Tech Comm in the Age of Social Media” Hurley and Hea asked college student to reflect on the extent that social media influences writers and writing. As a whole, students were able to identity social media’s positive aspects such as staying connected to family and friends and its ability to generate hype over new products. On the other hand, students also agreed that social media generally influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished.

While I was not an English major, I do have an appreciation for good writing. Seeing postings with no particular point that incorporate emojis and shorthand slang make me cringe. Despite this, I agree with the article in that a thoughtful and active presence on social media can be beneficial and bolster careers. However, it made me question what implications will this type of writing have on our younger generations who have grown up with these types of communications?  

Besides proper spelling and grammar, penmanship is a concern of mine. I distinctly remember learning cursive in elementary school and laboring over a capital “Z” so I could write my crushes initials next to mine in the margins of my notebook. (For all of you who are wondering it would be SKJ + ZBS). While I eventually was able to master this skill and fill every space I could with our initials surrounded by a bubbly heart, it took time and perseverance.

Largely due to the excessive nature of my “doodling”, one of my friends told Zach and soon everybody in the class knew. To my disappointment, Zach did not share my feelings and that was the end of my third grade crush. While the love between us didn’t pan out, my love of cursive and penmanship did. My handwriting, (most of which is cursive) is something I pride myself on to this day. After a quick Google search, I discovered that many states are no longer are teaching cursive in elementary schools. While its not completely shocking, it is slightly disappointing to learn that good handwriting is no longer a vital form of commutation.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that computers and our use of social media are entirely to blame. I simply find it interesting how communication has progressed and the effects it has and will have on writers of future generations. The digital landscape is evolving, and if we want to survive we have to keep up– emojis, shrt& & aL 🙂

You’re New Strategy: Technical Social Communication Media

I have noticed for several years that technical communication and social media are becoming close knit—as the title of this post suggests. Dozens of examples likely exist, but here are four technical communication strategies, in particular, you should be thinking about.

Provide User Assistance

Years ago before social media came along, I put together an annual user conference for the high-tech firm where I was working. My experience the first year, gave me an idea: What if our power-users did most of the talking next year? In essence, I was hoping to get users sharing what they knew and what they wanted to know.

Granted this user-driven training (i.e. training users develop) wasn’t what you might call “user assistance” in that it wasn’t necessarily about performing specific tasks. Rather it was about developing and executing strategies around the technology my company had created.

It worked! Users flocked to hear other users.

Since that time I’ve noted how much easier the Internet and social media have made fostering user-driven training. Users seem to like helping other users—at least they seem to engage in a quid pro quo. Hurley and Hea (p. 57) identify this as one aspect of reach that enables technical communicators to address user interests.

Share Knowledge

Akin to providing user assistance is knowledge sharing. Specifically, uninitiated knowledge sharing. This is knowledge one puts out into the world even though it wasn’t specifically requested by someone. But, the creators of this content know someone wants it somewhere likely because they wanted it at some point themselves.

Examples where this type technical social communication takes place is on sites like Quora, Slideshare, and, uh, blogs.

Gather Research

Hurley and Hea (p. 57) call this crowd sourcing or “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.”

Those of us of a certain age remember the importance of building personal networks (sans social media). We went to conferences, joined local interest clubs, read trade journals, and sometimes wrote questions to the authors of articles from those journals. It’s how we got our careers going.

This research gathering—usually engaged in to access group think to solve a problem or gain an insight—is nothing new. It just happens so much easier thanks to new technologies like social media.

Develop Visible Expertise

“Students need to be able to deploy social media as part of their own efforts to create online personas…” (Hurley and Hea, p. 58). Not just students but everyone.

Books and books have been written on developing visible expertise, which is far easier to initiate than it used to be; however, there’s still the problem of being lost in a sea of so called experts.

Fortunately, technical communicators have something everyone needs: content. You can have all the best technology on the planet, the coolest science, and totally wow engineering, but if you can’t communicate about it effectively, well, you end up like Tesla not Bell.

Now, more than ever before thanks to social media, technical communicators can talk not only about communication but about the stuff they are making usable. That is they are becoming visible experts just like the scientists and engineers they work with.

A Means to an End

You may have noted I’ve been reminiscing how these four strategies used to be done. If so, then I made my point.

Social media is becoming integrated into technical communication. The point not to miss is this is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself, as they say.

Engaging in social media for social media sake is, well, useless. But, understanding the end game will certainly make “technical social communicators” far more valuable right now and better prepared down the road when the next thing comes along.

Reference: The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media by Elise Verzosa Hurley and Amy C. Kimme Hea

Willing But Wanting: Starting Blogs Is Easy, But…

Keeping up with blogging is difficult.

Oh I want to blog to be sure. Mostly for the reasons Justin Mann points out in Press ‘Publish’: Start an Academic Blog. It’s easy right? All you need to do is “press publish” and you can, according to Mann:

  • Spread the knowledge you’ve developed in your field
  • Build an audience
  • Connect with people with similar interests
  • Develop professionally and advance your career
  • Get some free stuff and cash

This is all good stuff and Mann is right. But, it’s not easy. I should know. I’ve started around five different blogs. None of which exist today and most of which never went beyond a handful of posts.

Why? As Alex Reid puts it in Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web, to get good at doing something you have to spend time doing it.

Okay, that’s one reason at least. After working a more than full-time job that includes frequent travel throughout North America, I find it difficult to lift my toothbrush most days let alone write a well-researched blog post.

Ah! And, you’ve discovered my other reason for not blogging (even though I really, really, really want to). I’m a persnickety writer. Nothing I have ever written is good enough. It’s an awful habit and an even worse state of existence. (Melodrama fully intended.)

If you liked this post, you won’t find me on Squarespace, TypePad, WordPress, LiveJournal, or Blogger.

Test Blog #1: Good, Better, Best.

good-better-best

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best.”― Tim Duncan

My only experience blogging was during college while I was a marketing intern at RNR Realty. Among other things, I was responsible for doing a bi-weekly blog post using WordPress to promote their business and generate leads. The majority of posts pertained to real estate, home buying or home improvement, and the content was largely up to me to decide. Additionally, each month, I would pick an area around the Twin Cities to use as our “Neighborhood Feature” and write about the areas highlights, attractions and housing markets. Unknowingly at the time, I incorporated several of Belle Beth Cooper’s “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners” into my work.

Despite being short lived, my foray into blogging was beneficial in that with practice and over time I was able to improve and my “good” and become “better”. The question now is how can my prior experiences coupled with the readings from this class enable my “better” to become “best”?

Good

When I first began my internship I was largely writing for myself and wrote to topics that were of interest to me. However, a few weeks in I discovered my audience and I did not share similar interests. While I found sustainable housing, up-cycled furniture and Frank Lloyd Wright homes intriguing, my audience clearly felt otherwise. Eventually, I realized I wasn’t writing for myself; I was writing for RNR Realty, and if I wanted my numbers up, I needed to re-vamp my strategy. As a result, I had to dig a little deeper and try to get a better handle on my audience.

Better

To that end, I started to run the analytical reports at the end of each week so I was able to see my viewers and where they came from. Because RNR Realty represented residential, commercial and international buyers and sellers, the audience stemmed from a diverse background. Yet, when I ran the demographics of past customers as well as people who followed the company on social media, certain patterns began to emerge. I discovered that most of them were first time homebuyers with credit issues- many of whom had young children or pets. With this deeper understanding of my audience I was able to tailor my posts to these specific interests and increase my numbers. While my internship and subsequent blogging for RNR Realty came to an end, a new chapter of blogging through the MSTPC program with UW Stout has just begun.

Best

In Alex Reid’s “Why we blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” he recalls Malcom Gladwell’s observation that “it takes over some 10,000 hours of dedication to a craft or profession to become an ‘expert’”. Thus, expert status of anything, including blogging, takes an immense amount of time, repetition and perseverance. However time isn’t all that it takes to become a good blogger. Moreover, the supplemental articles point to other areas of interest that can improve bloggers including Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow, the appropriate length for a blog post and finding the perfect balance between academic and conversational tone.

Obviously there is more to good blogging than the points mentioned above, however I think these are great additions that can aid my own (or any blogger’s) “better” to become their “best.

Test blog #1 – What not to do. Van Beusekom

As a favor to my brother, I write a small blog to promote his business’s products: food industry-related items like cuptake towers and cake pop holders. I call it a “small” blog because I don’t follow many of the blogging best practices, mainly because neither one of us is very serious about it, we don’t have a lot of extra time and I don’t do it for pay. I write a blog post every quarter, which I guess is consistent, according to “16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners.” But it certainly isn’t often enough to maintain any followers.

Problem No. 2 is that I’m no expert on the subjects of which I write about: fancy cupcakes and cake pops. Since our audience is people who are experts on fancy cupcakes and cake pops, we should have an expert voice. I did try recruiting top bakers in the field to write blog posts about their businesses, favorite recipes, etc., but although some agreed to do it, no one ever followed through–despite my nagging. So, while I know who are audience members are (Tip No. 2), and I did try to get ideas from the audience (Tip No. 1), it didn’t happen as I envisioned it. That’s how I ended up writing the blog myself, and I don’t think I sound very authentic.

I have to mention that our audience is made up largely of very busy small-business owners (bakeries, cake makers), so I’m not sure how much time they have to peruse a blog when they’re trying to order a cupcake tree for an upcoming event.

And that brings me to Problem No. 1: I don’t really write very much at all. Basically, I asked some baker bloggers if I could repost some content from their own blogs, and one or two agreed as long as I give them credit and link to their site, which I always do. Sometimes I find a cool recipe or project online and link to it. I write a nice, creative, enthusiastic introduction, but I don’t bring a lot of added value to the content. I am not writing for myself (Tip No. 3).

The blog is part of the business’s Web site, which is connected to a Facebook account, but that’s the only marketing we do (vs. Tip No. 4). We’re hoping to use lots of keywords to help us get found online, and I do have to say that our Facebook page is getting more and more likes and views than ever. However, I’m not sure how much the two are related, if at all, because we haven’t looked at the blog analytics for awhile. We also didn’t want to bother monitoring comments, so it’s not interactive at all (so many comments now are from spambots, etc.).

So that’s the status of my small blog and why it’s not thriving but simply existing. I learned a few things from the Top 16 tips, though. For example, I’m going to start issuing a call to action, something I’d never done before except on Facebook (Tip. No. 6). Seems obvious, but I’d never thought of it.

Actually, I think a lot of blogs are like mine: poorly maintained and underperforming due to benign neglect. I can’t tell you the number of blogs I’ve seen in which the writer obviously started with enthusiasm but then just couldn’t maintain the momentum–either due to lack of time or lack of engaging content. One of them I saw was for a deck-maintenance business. The owner started out writing things like “Just did another deck,” but that got pretty repetitious, and apparently, he couldn’t think of anything else to say. He stopped writing after a few weeks. That blog should obviously be taken down.

One other problem I’ve seen with a lot of blogs is that the writer just does not have a unique voice or anything new to say about a topic covered by tons of other blogs. How many blogs about wedding dresses with pictures of elegantly dressed people in front of old barns and decrepit cars does one need?

I also think that many bloggers just aren’t very well informed, nor good writers. Not just anyone can write a good blog; you have to have something to say and the ability to say it in a compelling way. Now, I’m not talking about the guy who wrote a blog to document his wife’s health, as in the article, “Why We Blog.” Like CaringBridge entries, that blog probably saved that guy a lot of time and helped keep people connected with what’s going on. I’m talking about poor writers who could accomplish their goals just as well on Facebook. Blogs have their place, but I don’t think everyone has the skills to write a good one.

My post was about a lot of things not to do–but, in my experience,  the most valuable advice comes from one who’s been there and learned a few things. These things likely won’t save my blog because I just don’t have a strong motivator to do it. But I do know that, going forward, if I’m going to write a blog, I’ll be more ready to step up to the plate.

Test Blog # 1

Blogging: I Don’t Get –

In the course of my graduate studies I’ve posted on WordPress twice. Both were called blogs, but they were actually literature reviews. That’s the extent of my experience participating in this medium. So it was very helpful to review Belle Beth Cooper’s 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners. Turns out I have been implementing a few of the top tips, such as knowing and understanding my audience, and sharing my knowledge, all within my own blogo-spheres: email, Messenger, and Words with Friends. Or am I just posting? Is that what’s done on Facebook and if posted somewhere else it’s a blog? Well, I checked out Sue Waters’ 2008 blog, Differences between Blog Pages and Posts. I’m going to need more information. Maybe I’m too old to blog; what would I say?

Who Blogs and Why?

So I was interested in the survey results of Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht, and Swartz’s (2004) article Why We Blog. The authors searched Google’s Stanford portal for “blog” and “weblog” to categorize blogs and explore motivations. Oh no, emotional catharsis; I don’t do that in public. With a pool of 23 people aged 19 to 60, I’d hoped to see a breakdown of motivations by age. Had the 20-somethings expressed feelings, the 30-somethings rallied to a movement, or had the 50-somethings realized the changes and chances they started thirty years earlier? They didn’t say.

But I do know that when I ran my own Google Stanford search (https://itservices.stanford.edu/search?q_as=blog) that “weblog” no longer produced results, and that Stanford’s political blog of 2004, “The Cardinal Collective” died. But INSTAPUNDIT is still alive, and today was skewing Stephen Colbert for his all-white writing team of 17 men and 2 women. Yikes, he’s in trouble.
Is Anything Off Limits?

What’s off limits for a blog or post? Are medical procedures of a sick-or-soon-to-be-departed-loved-one appropriate for online? How come? If medical information requires a written release, why do people think they can splash it out for everyone? And I won’t even get into the “well-meaning” friends with their “tributes” after my brother died. Stop it! What happened to crying on a friend’s shoulder or visiting a therapist? And if they aren’t emotional outlets, blogs let the anonymous spew vitriol. Didn’t blogs start as factual journalism? So I Googled “topics to avoid in blogs” and guess what I got. Books and CD’s to buy and subscriber-ready advice columns on creating perfect blogs. OK – blogs sell things!

Sell me On It –

Kristi Hines’s “build your email list” and Jeff Bullas declaration that you must “give stuff away” (as cited in Cooper, 2013) makes sense. Could there be a more cost-efficient and effective way to lure online shoppers than with a blog? Can’t a well-said, well-read blog accomplish what thousands of dollars in marketing funds aims to? It looks exhausting. Trying to make everything “grab” the reader. Heck is what I’m saying here with reading? I live by: Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said now? Will it help or harm? How I’ll mesh view of blogs with the actual tasking of writing something that I hope is interesting to someone, anyone, remains to be seen.

For now I’m just keeping copies of these articles as a guidebook, and to share. They’ll stay in actual folders in my desk where I can reach for the papers. All I have to do is print them out…
So imagine my annoyance when I saw that I could share these articles via a half dozen social media platforms – but there wasn’t a printer icon anywhere on the page. Copy and paste? Really? Maybe I should blog about that.

 

Dana Livesay is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Foreign to all things social media, she is determined to dive into Emerging Media and come out a better blogger.

My Experiences – Paid vs Free Blogs & How My Customers Reacted

I have had a few blogs over the years. The first couple of blogs were owned by the blogging website, and since I did not want to pay for a blog, the blogging website had advertisements everywhere. I used these blogs until people started to complain about the advertisements, so I paid a blogging website (LiveJournal) a fee to never have advertising on my blog again. I still use this blog today, maybe once or twice a month.

A few years later, WordPress became wildly popular because of how easily you can customize it with themes and widgets. I believe that people can also sell things with a merchant shopping cart on there too. For this WordPress blog, I paid someone to set it up so that it was on my own server. I had even purchased a new domain url for it. Sadly, the WordPress theme that I was using was retired, rendering my website useless. Since I did not have time to find a new tech person to update my website, my website currently sits defunct online.

So, what did I do with my blogs? My blogs were to promote my business and gather a loyal customer base. I would post photos and videos of my products, as well as cartoons and news about my industry. These postings automatically fed into my Facebook news feed. I found that when I posted stories of my adventures with my business, I would get the most replies on those postings. When I would post a video of my product, I would get the most sales. Photos were a hit or a miss. With photos, I would get the most criticism – positive and negative – responses. When I posted news or cartoons, people really did not respond much.

However, when I shared content links from others, my customers enjoyed those and would share those with others. This made me take a look at how other companies were engaging their customers with their Facebook news feeds. I began taking screen shots of things that I found to be quite clever and fun, so that I could do something similar later. Unfortunately, with what little time I have now, I have not tried anything of these ideas, but I hope to test the ideas out maybe next year or two. This should give me plenty of time to create nice content that will be ready when I want to use it.

Now that I have touched upon my experience with my own blogs, I will talk about my experience with other blogs. The only other blogs that interest me are those that give me ideas to make my business more successful. I personally do not care if there are photos or not, I just want good information that I can put to use right away. I do not want filler or fluff. That stuff does have its place, and I have done it for my own blogs once in awhile, but when I want answers, I want answers immediately.

So what have I learned through all my experiences? I learned that blogging is a lot of work, so if I was going to blog, I wanted to make it count and send sales my way, as paying my bills was the goal instead of writing just to write. Thus, I did not spend any time reading blogs that could not help me with my goal. My goal was to succeed with my customers and my business. It still is.

 

Grammar Girl

Pigg (2013) uses a case example to explain how one writer, Dave, was able to successfully use social media for employment. In my career, I’ve spent four years as a contractor for different projects and corporations. While I enjoyed reading about Dave, I was slightly jealous of the fact that he is able to use a coffee shop as his office. As a contractor, I was never allowed to work remotely. In fact, even the full-time employees were discouraged from working from home. It would be awesome to get paid to work at a coffee shop, just like Dave did in “Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work.” My most important takeaway from reading Dave’ case study on using social media for employment is that he used social media at two levels: project or task work and an ongoing professional trajectory to network with others for future work (p. 82-83).

As a contractor, most of Dave’s writing assignments are short-term, and I find it interesting that he uses social media as a way to find future writing opportunities. Because he works hard to get a large following on his popular blog, he is able to find additional work. I live in Austin and since it is the capital of Texas, there are a lot of technical writing contracts available at the various state agencies. I think it’s cool that I too could use social media (Twitter, Facebook, and blogs) to find employment.

Dave’s story reminds me of Grammar Girl. I have “liked” Grammar Girl on Facebook for several years. Grammar Girl posts frequently on Facebook; uses a cute avatar; and posts videos, links, and hashtags to promote her books. Several of her posts appear to be well thought-out ways to link back to her book –her background photo indicates that she has seven books. With almost 500,000 likes, she too has been able to successfully use social media to network and find employment opportunities. Can you imagine how long it took her (and how many hours at a coffee shop) to get that many likes?

This article taught me that to be a great technical communicator, I must also be a bit of an entrepreneur. Hence, if I am passionate about something, am willing to invest time, and treat social media as a project/task and plan long-term goals on how to use it to professionally network for future employment, I too can be successful. Dave had an idea to blog about fatherhood and Grammar Girl had an idea to provide tips on tricks on language and grammar. Both have used social media to generate income. I am passionate about running and CrossFit. Maybe I should start blogging about it and one day I could have a following. And in my wildest dreams I could get advertisers or sponsors one day. What about you, what ideas do you have to use social media for profit?

 

What’s The End Goal?

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

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

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

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

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

Managing information overload

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe in magic?

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

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

Magic, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

People as Products

People gather around a common idea. This is why, according to Boyd and Ellison, social sites thrive among smaller groups and communities dedicated to a similar interest. When reading their work, it immediately made sense as to why Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm changes continually. In order to best service their primary customers (companies advertising via Facebook) and consumers, Facebook’s primary goal must be to study consumers first. Where people gather to share, ingest and produce ideas depends on what each group prefers and finds passionate. This kid of digital narcissism (Keen and Weignberger, 2007), is precisely why similar patterns of behavior are studied in order to utilize the underlying beliefs of niche groups.

The brilliance behind this kind of marketing is, I feel, that individuals feel specialized when, in actuality, they are part of a mass product. If individuals do not have to pay for a product, I would suggest that they are the actual product. In the case of social media, individuals are the product, and their behaviors are analyzed to deliver best marketing information to the shareholders (i.e. companies).

Always a Blogger

Growing up as a digital native, blogs were ubiquitous with self expression. Whether the short-lived Xanga bubble, MySpace catastrophe or the matured Blogspot and Blogger platforms, the form of blogging as always lived within my own social sphere. In a sense, digital natives have lived in a world where self expression lends itself to some form of microblogging. Thus, digital natives may associate themselves as a perpetual blogger.

Professionally, blogs have also been integrated in my life. As the managing editor for a university, I oversaw organic and non-printed copy development for online usage. This meant blogs, specifically hosted on CMS platforms for branding control, were part of the editorial and content calendar. Apart from blogs hosted on a privately developed CMS, I’ve worked with other third-party sites and currently have my own WordPress cite. Although I am still developing my coding skills, I am interested in WordPress themes which allow me to access and change the CSS so that I can customize the cite to meet my needs.