Category Archives: Social Media

Access to Health Care Information for Non-English Speakers

My final paper was inspired by one of my recent blog posts about digital literacy across cultures.  Digital literacy plays an essential role in how groups of all types of people access information.  My paper explores how non-English speakers access to public health information compare to the homeless.  Both are sensitive groups in America that would benefit from increased digital literacy.  This paper compares and contrasts how they are able to receive information.  It also explores two ways technical communication can be used to improve non-English speakers access to public health communication.  The primary is the use of public libraries and the subsequent will be through the use of English speaking helpers who help the non-English speakers gain access to jobs and information.

I wanted to compare homeless and non-English speaking communities because they have similarities and differences.  Some non-English speakers may also be members of the homeless community. Both populations tend to be sensitive due to lack of access to medical care, access to technology and both face a variety of challenges in their daily lives.  Both groups lack traditional communication tools which can hinder their access to health care information.

My main finding was the best way to get non-English speakers access to public health related information was to help them help themselves.  Public libraries are a great free resource to information, computers and internet access. One tool I found very handle was Google’s translate tool.  You can either type or copy and paste in text and select the output language.  This could be an easy way for a non-English speaker to translate their own health information to their native language without having to rely on others or a simplified version.

7726B0F3-D73C-4B2E-A2E9-7466F100F25A.jpg

Figure 1. Translate.Google.com

What I remember from going into a public library as a child is that the computers were set up with the library website as the homepage.  I was interested in looking at different websites for different towns to see what type of language support if any was available.  I was pleasantly surprised by my hometown library website.  There was a orange button in the lower right hand corner that hovers as the page moves.  It is a link to translate the page.  This is a great resource for non-English speakers.  It makes it easy for them to learn where to click to have the information translated into their own language.

C2DA0BFA-C615-4C7C-90C3-B7F49A22E009.jpg

Figure 2. ecpubliclibrary.info

The conclusion I came to was the best way to help others would be to teach them to use technology, teach them where and when they can find access and help and encourage them to learn.  As non-English speakers become more comfortable with technology they will be able to find more resources on line for public health information but it will also improve other aspects of their life.  They could even learn English through a website in their native language making things much easier.  This could help them increase their job skills and potentially find a higher paying job as well which could also increase their access to health care information.

Advertisements

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.

Gatekeepers

This course has helped given me a different perspective on digital literacy. Looking at the speed at which technology is being created, I anticipate I will lose my touch if I were to even step away for a second. I can also imagine there will be much to talk about with the repeal of net neutrality in the next course.

For my final paper I chose to focus on social media and how it can be used to improve disaster relief situations. In my paper I started by revisiting the argument between Andrew and David, and looked their argument on Gatekeeping vs. Amateurs. I found that certain processes in disaster relief thrive better with amateurs and some better with gatekeepers.

In one paper I found, a crowdsourcing software implementation, similar to Uber, helped match people who were in need of help with people who needed help (Murali et al., 2016). This can be especially useful when disaster relief may not even be scheduled, but people are able to offer assistance to each other. The most interesting thing I found, though, was that in using crowdsourcing software, we mostly focus on people who are amateurs using the system, but the dynamic of a gatekeeper still does exist within the software. In the case I found the software punishes or rewards people who behave as expected. Additionally, people can be rated and this rating can be viewed by others. This is all to deter misuse and exploitation of the system. At this point we rely on whether or not the design and functionality actually work well enough to maintain a proper workflow so that as many victims get help from volunteers as possible.
I also tried to focus on how social media in the papers I looked at used different levels of communication as stated by Rheingold. I specifically looked at different levels of collective action and how certain applications may support networking, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration (Rheingold, 2014, pp. 153-154). I found that most applications these days are achieving a collaborative level of collective action.

I also wanted to quickly share some of the data from my case study. I did my case study on Equifax and used Twitter and Google’s Natural Language API to generate some meaningful data for my study. The Google API focuses on Sentiment which is basically how positive or negative the words used in a sentence are. I calculated average sentiment per tweet. I then used a free tool called Tableau to visualize tweets made by Equifax over time. I recommend Tableau for anyone who needs to make a chart and share it quickly, I found it about as good as any paid ones I have used in the past.

TwitterEquifax

Twitter Equifax Data

https://public.tableau.com/profile/miriam6169#!/vizhome/EquifaxData/Story1

References

Murali, S., Krishnapriya, V., Thomas, A. (2016). Crowdsourcing for disaster relief: A multi-platform model. 2016 IEEE Distributed Computing, VLSI, Electrical Circuits and Robotics (DISCOVER), pp. 264-268. doi: 10.1109/DISCOVER.2016.7806269

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Acceptance Leads to More Questions

In my evolution from Luddite to social media evangelist during this semester and thanks to the content and comments from Dr. Pignetti and fellow learners, I have found one part of social media that has continued to nag: the use of emojis/emoticons. From the ubiquitous “smiley face” and emoticons built of sequences of letters and punctuation. we now are bombarded with pictures and strings of emojis from ever-growing libraries in an Instant Message (IM) or email. Previously, I have dismissed these as something reserved for “ onna otaku” (she-geek or teenaged wired girl). I believe that I have previously posted that a good way to fail an assignment in my writing class is to employ emojis/emoticons.

Indeed, my 27-year-old niece consistently communicates only in shorthand condensations (“lol”), emojis and emoticons which, more often than not, baffle me. For example, what does a string containing an animated cat’s face, an evergreen tree, a red heart, and a blue lightning bolt mean? (No, I am not making that up.)

However, I now believe these constitute an emerging, valuable supplement to the words (even reduced to code like “yolo”) because they add an affective or emotional (duh) dimension. Indeed, as the entry for emoticon in urbandictionary.com states, it is “intended to represent a human facial expression and convey an emotion.”

We have all suffered through misunderstandings or perceived slights in emails or IMs that are “only” words. I see now that these problems are inevitable because, despite being hopelessly addicted to words and their appropriate, impactful use, I know they can’t convey sarcasm, a tone of voice, or other affective elements of conversation.

This suggests some very fruitful lines of academic inquiry:

  1. Tracing the history/evolution of the emoticon/emoji.
  2. Attempting to build a lexicon and/or grammar of emoticons/emojis.
  3. Cultural, national, racial, age, gender differences in the use of emoticons/emojis.

If nothing else, answers to these questions would help me to understand what my niece is trying to say.

 

Social Networks and the Changing Patterns of Communication

SocialNetwork

Image: wikipedia.org

My final paper for English 745 – Communication Strategies for Emerging Media builds on ideas I have been studying in multiple classes and in carrying out my work as a public affairs specialist for a large health care organization. My paper explores the ways in which networked communication afforded by social media platforms is changing the patterns of internal and external communication in the workplace. The study explores previously-published research to draw connections between practices that have been learned from consumer behavior on external social media and practices that have been applied to internal organizational communication. It also includes my own observations. In the paper, I analyze the ways in which top-down, or one-to-many communication is being replaced by a many-to-many, networked flow of information. A review of the literature finds that this restructuring of communication has led to a deemphasizing of hierarchical organizational models and a growing prevalence of peer-to-peer collaboration. With the growth of networked communication, this study finds that individuals who place themselves at the intersections of social networks have the most influence.

To highlight three of the sources that interested me most:

David Meerman Scott, in the book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, describes how social media, such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have afforded businesses new tools with which to reach potential customers and maintain relationships with existing customers, and how those businesses that use social media most effectively have had to adapt to a new communication power structure. In the not-so-distant past, marketing and public relations (PR) communications followed a one-to-many flow of information. Marketing and PR professionals created messages, which were then distributed to a mass audience via paid advertising and press releases (Scott, 2015). Scott describes how companies must adapt to the ways in which their customers now seek information: “…the evidence describing how people actually research products overwhelmingly suggests that companies must tell their stories and spread their ideas online, at the precise moment that potential buyers are searching for answers” (p.41). Social media, such as blogs that allow comments, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, have disrupted the previous one-way flow of information: “We also have the ability to interact and participate in conversations that other people begin on social media sites like Twitter, blogs, chat rooms and forums” (Scott, 2015, p. 41).

Mehra, Dixon, Brass, and Robertson, in the article, “The Social Network Ties of Group Leaders: Implications for Group Performance and Leader Reputation,” found that the social network ties of group leaders in a large insurance company were an indicator of leadership reputation and group success (2006). The study sought to measure the centrality of group leaders in internal and external social networks and to draw a connection to the group leaders’ reputations and the success of their groups, represented by sales and customer loyalty. Mehra et al. found that a group leader who was centrally placed in a network of his or her group members and/or a network of other group leaders did have an enhanced reputation for leadership among their group members and peers (2006). Perhaps more significantly, the study found that the groups led by those leaders were also more successful, both in overall sales performance and customer loyalty (Mehra et al., 2006).

Robert Berkman, in his article, “GE’s Colab Brings Good Things to the Company,” studied how GE is using an internal enterprise social network (ESN) called “GE Colab.” Interviewing GE’s chief information officer, Ron Utterbeck, Berkman found the organization was drawing on the same benefits offered by a external social networks such as Facebook to leverage existing connections and build new ones across the organization (2013). Utterbeck described the goals of using the platform: “…some of our challenges, as we’re global, is how do you connect people? How do you make it so that you can search and get the right skill sets very easily? How do you make GE a lot smaller of a place? How do you have a virtual water cooler?” (Berkman, 2013, p.2).

Utterbeck said the company is seeing real benefits to facilitating these network connections:

“We’re solving problems faster. When you belong to these groups and you can see how people are saying, ‘Hey, I got this problem,’ literally, within minutes, three or four people comment on it and say, ‘Have you tried this? What about this?’ People are connecting, finding the people they need.”

I also touch on the topics of crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. My favorite example of this is the novel The Martian., which author Andy Weir originally posted, chapter-by-chapter, for free on his blog. Scientists who read the chapter suggested technical corrections. Readers eventually urged Weir to make an ebook available for sale, which he did, on Amazon, for $0.99. The popularity of the download led to a hugely successful book and movie deal. You can read all about it here: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-andy-weirs-the-martian-became-so-successful-2015-6 

This research has been useful to me at work, where we use an enterprise social network called Yammer and other tools to collaborate across departmental and geographical boundaries. It has been interesting to study the ways in which personal connections, help get the job done, as I have definitely observed in my work. This is something I will continue to study throughout my master’s degree program.

 

 

 

Is Advertising, especially when integral to a company’s strategy, considered social media?

As I have been constructing my case study, this question has reared its ugly but intriguing head. Nancy Flynn’s definition (p. 332) emphasizes “user participation and user-generated content” which is maddeningly vague. Certainly, successful advertising includes user participation (purchase of a product or service) but “user-generated content”? Outside of a favorable product review or Yelp review, holding advertising to that definition means it probably doesn’t qualify as social media.

Yet my Subject Matter Expert for my case study easily moves back and forth from discussing “mainline” social media features (response time to Facebook posts, regularly scheduled updates, etc.) to discussing how advertising is placed and sucess metrics.

Thoughts?

 

Digital Literacy Across Cultures

This week I found an interesting connection between  Chapter 7: Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures in Spilka’s (2010) Digital Literacy for Technical Communication and the workplace. Spilka discusses that accessing and understanding digital media in some communication settings is one meaning of digital literacy. The chapter specifically focuses on the US EPA (EPA) and the Mexican Counterpart Semarnat.

I work for a state agency in the natural resources division.  Specifically  public dining water regulation.  This chapter made me think about the audience we had while regulating drinking water quality and how culture plays a part in who has access to the information and what information is available.

There are a few ways the public can receive heath information about possible contaminates in their drinking water.  They could initiate the gathering of information by accessing our website.  A significant amount of information is available and many  publications are available in PDF form to save or print.  The other way they could gather information is if they work at a business with drinking water issues and see postings in the break room and by faucets or fountains.  They also could go to a number of local businesses such as a church, bar or restaurant and find the same posted information.

Our publications have been created to include multiple versions for some of the hot topic issues such as lead and lead.  Both brochures are available in English, Spanish and Hmong.


Image: dnr.wi.gov

Another way we offer multi language support is through our customer service lines.  You can talk to someone on the phone, a chat through the website, or email in your questions.  All three of these services are available in English, Spanish or Hmong.

The main idea I had while thinking about this post was what happens when someone is no longer seeking this information out but a sensitive population that is unable to access this information due to cultural issues.  It is no secret that we have undocumented workers in Wisconsin.  If one of these undocumented workers work at a location with water contamination issues such as nitrates it may be difficult for them to understand they are at risk if the information is not given to them.

When there is a specific contaminate violation often times  businesses have to post a public notice that alerts the consumers to the public health risk.  While we do provide language in the violation that if they have 5% or more non English speaking consumers they also need to post in the most common language.  What percentage of these at risk non English speaking consumers will actually receive this information?

Further digging on our website came up with a number of resources specifically to translation and public notices.  These are great resources for businesses that need to public notice but I still feel like not all at risk consumes get the same amount of information as their English speaking counterparts.

Cross-Cultural Communication

Although we have built communication bridges across the ocean, the cultural differences in our adaptation remain unique in each cultural context.  Accommodating these barriers has proven to be one of the most difficult and complex tasks I have encountered.

I enjoyed looking at the different emails given by Barry Thatcher to the team in Mexico (Spilka, 2010, pp. 172-173).  It is evident that the emails are much more formal in Mexico than in the USA for business relations.  Beyond formalities, it is evident that the revised email follows some cultural process that just doesn’t exist in our culture.  Re-introducing myself in an email to someone would feel very awkward, especially if we’ve been communicating for a while.

world-map-large

Several times I have been in charge of managing an offshore team.  Many of the areas we have employed the teams from have very different “hierarchical and interpersonal values” (Spilka, 2010, p. 170).  Depending on the culture, the workers may be either too proud or too scared to communicate effectively.  When email is one of the main forms of communication, this can be very problematic.  The biggest issue I encounter is that questions that should be asked are not asked.  Sometimes I will need to take Barry Thatcher’s approach by formalizing an email that shows respect.  Other times I will need to show that I am approachable and accessible for them to communicate as a peer rather than a manager.  If we do have someone from the same cultural background locally we will sometimes employ them to help build the relationship.

I have travelled to meet the offshore team a few times.  It’s funny that even though technology has given us so much, travelling to meet and break some bread with offshore teams builds this relationship better than any email has ever done.  Even communicating with team mates across the USA is helped by being able to put a face to a name.  Bernadette Longo states that “People value human relations” (Spilka, 2010, p. 156).  This is evident in this case.

Barry Thatcher also examines cultural differences in layout and composition of a website.  Almost a decade ago I studied abroad in South Korea.  I remember trying to navigate the websites there and it was almost impossible.  Even if I was able to translate the page, the cultural differences in layout and process were much different.  I had also wanted to use the popular social media site, Cyworld, but was quickly denied because it required a Korean Social Security number.  Finding the correct websites were also difficult without the ability to read or write in Korean.  Although Google could bring up some results, the cultural knowledge was mostly inaccessible.

To try to accommodate communication gaps across cultures, my company has its own CMS specifically for different cultures.  Each user will have their own culture profile configured, and when they look up templates for documents, they will be specific to the region they are located in.  If they are creating a document to be distributed in a different country, they can retrieve the document for that specified culture.  This approach seems to embrace the fact that we all have different approaches to how we communicate digitally.  At the same time, I cannot imagine having to maintain that system.  Possibly, it may also create a sense of exclusion rather than inclusion for certain contexts.

Right now, the solution for cultural divides seem more human than machine.  I can’t really see this changing either, as cultural understanding requires empathy, and is a dynamic being.

 

11/16/2017 Edit:

Attaching some examples of emails from other cultures. The one on the left is an email to my husband from some Brazilian Vendors, and the one on the right is from Spanish vendors. It’s interesting to note the formality differences in the messages. 

Adding the elements of organizational / official constraints on social media

Hey Jennifer, Gotta love those Badgers. I was at Camp Randall yesterday evening and it was amazing. So UW-Madison sets a record for the school at 10-0. All the sweeter for beating Iowa. Go Badgers!

One more digression – My friend, who works with Latino families on the many challenges they face in adapting to a new culture, is reading Sherry Turkle’s “Reclaiming Conversation”. Her aim, just as the New York Times noted it in its review, is to respond to Turkle’s “call to arms” because “our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-reflection,  and the time has to reassert ourselves, behave like adults, and put technology in its place.”

Okay – now to the task at hand: As this week’s focus is culture and its’ at-times uncomfortable relationship to technology, I thought this email exchange to be informative.

Some background – Carol Ryczek, my wife and Volunteer Services Manager at Thedacare (healthcare system, forwarded this to me. “This is a request for a solution from an Appleton (Wisconsin) police admin who had an officer respond via personal email because the department email was not allowed onto the site.

“There are any number of issues here: Personal Facebook used for official purposes, albeit with good intent; the infant on the picture (obviously home email but an awful image to have attached to this exchange); nothing that the police department could find unless the officer said something. And yet, the officer, on his own time, wanted to respond to a sincere request for help and get some information out to the public.

“I am not active in this group anymore since my job changed—but this does express some of the issues in social media. What happens when they are no longer just ‘social’ but official? When these lines blur, what does it mean for the people involved?” (my emphasis)

I couldn’t ask any better questions based on this week’s readings.

Anne Blakeslee notes, “ … digital writing is increasingly social, collaborative, social, and fluid”. (Blakeslee, p. 220) and “ … digital audiences have very specific needs and that they function in complex rhetorical contexts.” (Blakeslee, p. 223) But, as this email underscores, what happens to the perception of audience and writing to an audience when there are technological and/or organizational barriers? The police example illuminates even the desire to do “the right thing” can be thwarted by rules dictated by a non-technologically oriented organization.

I appreciate that this set of questions and inclusion of technological / organizational barriers was outside of Bernadette Longo’s “Human+Machine Culture”. However, it would be instructive if she re-directed her question of “.. why do we accept the aspects of social agents (e.g. technological, institutional) that affect us negatively and over which we have limited power to affect change?” (Longo, p. 264) to a consideration of institutional influences on uses and utility of social media, especially when it affects “official” (police) functions (much as Carol asked in her email to me).

Siestas by the sea and the importance of empathy

This summer, I briefly worked with the captain of ARC Almirante Padilla FM-51 during a multi-national exercise. During some town time, he told us that Colombia’s coastal cities, like his hometown of Cartagena, take mid-day siestas and businesses are often closed. Unfortunately, the Colombian navy does not siesta during lunch. The captain said sometimes this is frustrating when he wants to use his lunch break to run errands but all the local businesses are closed. He also pointed out that Colombia’s inland cities, like its capital Bogota, don’t siesta either.

ARC Padilla

ARC Padilla FM-51

Others asked the ship captain about Colombian food and the weather. No one asked about business communication practices. I don’t know how much value the Colombians place on e-mail communication, but is likely not as high as Americans. In Barry Thatcher’s (2010) essay “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” he pointed out Colombia is the only Latin American country that considers e-mail as an “in-writing” agreement and only if the senders and receivers can be verified (p. 182).

This week’s readings in Rachel Spilka’s (2010) anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication reminded me of working with the Colombian captain for several reasons.

  • Bernadette Longo (2010) noted in her essay “Human + Machine Culture” that “people value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (p. 156). She also observed that “since the 1980s, our interactions with people have become more and more mediated by electronic devices” (p. 156). I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. After reading Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology & Less From Each Other, interpersonal communication skills are not something to take for granted.

 

  • Thatcher (2010) pointed out that Americans tend to assume the rest of the world operates the same way we do; however, many countries, especially Latin American ones, tend to value interpersonal values more than we do (pp. 170-171). Hearing that some countries still value siestas is a good reminder not to take everything so seriously.

I am glad my colleagues and I took the opportunity to learn more about Colombia because it added to my “empathy bank,” so to speak. Ann M. Blakeslee (2010) conducted case studies with five technical communicators for her essay “Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age.” She learned only half of the writers were actually able to communicate with their audiences to learn what their preferences are (p. 208). The other writers were prevented from having direct contact with their customers and only received second-hand information from other company employees (p. 208).

In addition to direct customer communication, the technical writers used personas, trouble call logs, and user reviews and feedback forums to perform audience analyses (Blakeslee, 2010, pp. 207-210). These practices also contribute to the overall empathy levels of the technical communicators Blakeslee (2010) surveyed. I think Steve Krug (2014), who wrote Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability said it best: “Empathy is virtually a professional requirement for usability work” (loc. 2,627).

So my goals this week are:

  1. Take opportunities to communicate face-to-face instead of through electronic means.
  2. Continue to use empathy in my decision making.
  3. Nap.

Genres and Metaphors: Following the Roadmaps

I like genres. I like to know where the boundaries are, even if they are flexible. If you ask me to create a document, I will want to see an example. If you ask me to create something new, I will probably try to find an outside example. How long can it be? Who is the audience and what kind of language are they comfortable with? What kind of tone is appropriate? What is the typical size of the chunks of information? It may sound unadventurous to some, but I want to know what the rules are, even if it’s okay to break a few for good reason.

In the chapter, “Human + Machine Culture,” Bernadette Longo discusses Spinuzzi’s concept of genre tracing, which combines activity theory and genre theory to look not only at a particular genre, but to examine how people interact with it—a genre’s life cycle as it passes through creation and use. This was especially interesting to me, as I am constantly navigating these paths in a large and complex health care organization.

Longo’s example of electronic medical records was particularly familiar to me, as my organization converted to a new medical record system over the summer. This was a

major undertaking, as it involved not just learning new software, but new workflows. The software company worked with the organization to create workflows that would, hopefully, get the job (many jobs, actually) done most easily and effectively. This involved getting different parts of the organization (which had at one time been separate organizations of their own) to agree on a standard set of tools and processes. This involved much negotiation and consideration of not just the technology, but also the institutional culture. Who creates a record? Who needs it later? What needs to be included? Who has authority to see records? Who can change them?

In developing the workflows, designers needed to understand how the various staff members would interact not only with the software, but also with each other. As Longo points out, power differentials between those staff members can either aid or impede the workflow. If employee A needs a set of information from employee B, does employee B have the necessary authority to make sure employee A provides that information? When the direction of work and the power structure are misaligned, it can lead to conflict.

Meeting my own deadlines sometimes depends on receiving timely information from someone who is much higher on the company flowchart than I am. If that person does not consider my request important enough to respond in a timely manner, the workflow is stalled.

I was also interested in the way Longo described the use of metaphor as a bridging technique to learn new technologies. When we work with something new, we sometimes give it an old name that we recognize. Take files and folders in Windows, for example. The concept helped computer novices adapt to PC technology as home computers became commonplace in the 1990s. Metaphor helped old school radio broadcasters like me bridge the gulf from analog to digital audio equipment. When digital systems were designed to store and play songs and radio commercials, the commercial files were identified by “cart numbers.” This is because commercials were previously recorded onto rectangular cartridge tapes—carts for short—which each had a number printed on an adhesive label. With digital systems, there were no more carts, but “file number” was too big of a mental leap. Similarly, we still referred to “tape,” as in “tape an interview,” or “edit the tape,” nearly two decades after the last reel-to-reel tape recorder was removed, leaving only servers loaded with .wav files.

The two topics are related, in my mind: genres and metaphor as bridging language. The conventions of a genre help me understand the framework in which I am working. The bridging language of metaphor helps me navigate new technology using a familiar road map (another metaphor!).

Fun fact: did you know that “computer” originally referred to a person? Check it out here.

From Stone Chopper to Content Management Strategy

There are a few framing thoughts before diving into the content of this week:

1. If you were wondering about Dave Clark’s use of “riverwest”, he is referring to a neighborhood in Milwaukee on the Milwaukee River’s West Bank. Milwaukee has justifiably prided itself on its neighborhood identities such as “Walker’s Point”, the “Historic Third Ward”, and where I lived directly across the river from Riverwest, Cambridge Woods. He is correct in describing it as “the ghetto” in 2009. However, it has experienced a stunning renaissance (some deride it as “yuppification”) in the past 10 years.
2. While not finding fault in the least with the choice of readings for this course, I can’t help but notice that 2009 was a long time ago when it comes to consideration of technology.
3. I have tweeted once in my life and that was at the request of a supervisor. This is not to further illustrate my recently-rejected Luddite approach to social media. It is a clear-eyed acknowledgement that my life is nowhere interesting enough to share constantly with the world in 140-character bursts.

I appreciated Clark’s examination of “What is Technology?” in prefacing his chapter. (Clark, p. 87-89). It seems we all make a lot of assumptions on technology’s definition and he demonstrates this is not a particularly good choice. What struck me in his tracing of technology through history is that he is correct: intent or the deliberate and conscious pursuit and application of a technology seems to be missing. In this respect, technology is as old as the first proto-human (Homo habilis? Australopithecus Garhi? “Lucy” – Australopithecus afarensis?) to flake a stone core to make a chopper. Given the current debate over “bump stocks”, his observation, “we cannot, as of today, buy a grenade launcher at WalMart” is apocryphal.

While the discovery of a technology may have resulted from a fortunate accident, it is the deliberate choice to apply and use that technology that is critical. (Clark, p. 88) This is where we, as technical communicators, live.

As he constantly noted that his constructs were tentative and intended to spur further research, it would be interesting to find any follow-ups.

Michael J. Salvo and Paul Rosinski amplify the ideas Clark outlined, particularly in filling in my perceived gap on the intent or deliberation. See p. 105 among others.

William Hart-Davidson then neatly “puts a bow” by integrating the needs of the individual technical communicator, the organization, and the larger practice of technical communication in Content Management (CM) based on an inclusive strategy. Given his set of parameters, I completely agree that CM must been seen in a broader perspective. As technical communicators, we are still sorting out the implications that Hart-Davidson elucidates. This article illustrates how far we have come in “naturalizing” CMS in our practice.

Content Management in Job Searches

It can be almost funny when you find connections between real life and content in your assigned coursework. After reading Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Digital Literacy I found myself in an ironic situation. My husband and I had to work together to create content. On Friday my husband came home from work and I asked him how his day was. He said it was fine and then I heard the real story. Corporate human resource represenatives came into the plant in our small town and said that all 40 employees would be laid off sometime between January 1 and April 1 2018. The company has a much larger plant about an hour and a 1/2 away that employees around 200 people. The employees were told they would be making 1/3 of the positions available in the larger plant but it would be open recruitment.

My husband hasn’t updated his resume since the last time he was job hunting 5+ years ago. Knowing there is such a high demand for these positions I stressed how important it would be for us to have a professional looking design with quality error free content.

My search for a new resume template started with Google search for free creative resume templates. Some pages I was afraid to click on because I was worried about the sources. Other pages had nothing but ads or still required payment. I spent a number of hours using a variety of search terms to find this content. There was very little if not zero content available that was professional, modern and clean designs.

My next search was to try to find content that was very low cost. I remembered seeing digital content such as clip art on ETSY and thought it was worth a shot.  I was able to find just what I was looking for using Etsy.com search for instant download resume templates that cost between $1 and $2

Screenshot_003.png

To my surprise all it took was paying $1 instead of looking for the content for free. The template I picked had three templates with it. One for the resume, one for a cover letter and one for references. It included instructions and templates in a variety of formats. Both for the Apple software Pages and for Microsoft Word.

I think this taught me a lot about the availability and cost of content. No one wants to give up content for free. Even if it is just a dollar per download that adds a lot to the professionalism and quality of the product.

Rhetoric around the house

Dave Clark (2010) had a hard time finding a good definition of “technology in his essay “Shaped and Shaping Tools.” I feel confident seven years later academia has caught up and crafted a definition of technology that includes rhetoric. Because around my house, the non-humans are more adept at persuasive discourse than the human. Here’s my list, starting from the top:

1. Socks. I learned watching the Canadian Broadcasting documentary The Lion in Your Living Rooma cat’s meow is the same frequency as a baby’s cry. So Socks uses pathos to express his desires. Here he is asking to go outside.

2. Roomba. My vacuuming robot would be a great example of rhetorical technology because she uses ethos, pathos, and logos to communication and she’s not nearly as demanding as the cat. I’ll tell you how she accomplishes this using actor-network theory.

Clark (2010) touched on actor-network theory toward the end of his essay. I think actor-network is important to the discussion of rhetoric and technology because the theory states that “almost all of our interactions with other people are mediated through objects of one kind or another” according to John Law (1992) in “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity (p. 381). In 1992, Law (1992) used an example of an overhead projector to make his point of how things mediate communication (p. 382). Today, Law (2010) would have several examples to chose from, including Twitter which was Clark’s (2010) “current techno-rhetorical obsession” in 2009 (p. 86).

I think Roomba shows some advancements in rhetorical technology because she communicates directly with the user; her communications are not mediated. Her ethical appeal is derived from the fact that she is capable cleaner. Some friends and recommended Roomba, but we were skeptical because of the $600 price tag, but she was worth the investment. Before Roomba joined us, the house needed to be vacuumed at least weekly to keep up with the dog’s shedding. I see Roomba’s logical appeal every time I empty her bin and dump out all the dog hair and cat litter she’s collected around the house. Roomba appeals to me emotionally, too,  because I associate her with positive experiences. After she completes a job, her associated cell phone app generates a map that shows me where she cleaned.

RoombaMap

Roomba’s success is due to the fact that her designers at iRobot did not just build a vacuuming robot, but they considered the other actors who would interact with the robot. In Roomba’s case, the other actors are people of varying technical backgrounds. The app offers written, photographic and video demonstrations on how to troubleshoot and conduct routine maintenance. And Roomba’s debris extractors are designed so the user cannot put them back in the wrong positions.

Hopefully, products like Roomba can help researchers like Clark (2010) better define technology and how products can use rhetoric to provide a better experience for consumers.

3. Husband. Does not use ethos, pathos, or logos, but still somehow manages to get his way … sometimes.

 

Navigating the Changing Waters of Technical Communication

 

In the chapter, “Information Design,” Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski draw repeatedly on the concept of “metis,” an ancient Greek term that refers to navigating change. The metaphor struck home for me. My family had a sailboat when I was in middle school, and I still take advantage of the chance to go sailing with others when it comes along. My wife and I had a great time on an evening charter sail in Bayfield, Wisconsin in October, and I took a turn steering for a while. I had to keep a number of factors in mind to navigate safely between the mainland and Madeline Island. There was the unchanging, but invisible hazard of the water depth. I had to follow our captain’s guidance and the feedback of the depth finder to avoid running aground. I had to be mindful of moving obstacles, such as other boats. And I had to be mindful of where the wind was blowing, so that I would not get trapped too close to a shoreline without enough sailing room to tack my way back out to safe water.

As I read the chapter, I thought that sailing was a good analogy for navigating the changing conditions of technical communication. There are obstacles we know about, like the depth of the water in a bay, which change slowly, and there are unexpected changes that happen more quickly, with less warning, such as the direction of the wind and movement of other boats.

The chapter includes a description of a futuristic, but not hard-to-imagine scenario. A father enters the word “broccoli” into a search engine. The search engine takes into account not only the word, but the searcher’s context: what room of the house he is in (the kitchen), what time it is, and what time the family usually eats dinner. The search engine determines that the searcher is looking for a recipe containing broccoli that can be made in an hour or less.

We currently use and allow some of these context-based tools. I will search “restaurants near me” in a new city, and let my phone tell the search engine exactly where I am. I know from the ads that pop up on my Facebook page that Facebook knows I occasionally search for clothes, kayaks, and musical instruments. But as developers are working to take marketing advantage of more and more of this data, and context-based results can be very useful, some of us are getting uncomfortable with the notion that somebody knows where we are and what we’re searching, reading, and buying. A previous borrower of my Digital Literacy for Technical Communication textbook wrote “****ing creepy!” in the margin of this section. Just like we are now able to mostly shut telemarketers out of our lives by signing up for no-call lists, many people will likely block access to personal data, and new rules are making it easier to do so.

This article from Marketingprofs.com outlines Europe’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). These rules will require any companies doing online business in Europe (regardless of where the company is located) to ask consent every time a piece of personal data is used; just allowing a user to opt out now and again won’t be enough. Companies also will need to provide users with a way to access and change their preferences at any time.

Continuing with the sailing/navigating reference, developers have been sailing toward an ideal to providing a personalized experience to users. Now they will need to sail around the obstacle of much stricter privacy rules.

Technical communicators will also need to make course changes career-wise to survive

DanSailing

The author

changing conditions. In the chapter, “Content Management,” William Hart-Davidson points out many changes to how communication work is accomplished, including the automation of some writing tasks. A few years ago, as a working journalist already watching the job market shrink dramatically, I was alarmed to learn that online news outlets were employing news-writing bots to create content. This is not limited to news aggregators and gossip and click-bait sites, but includes, as noted in this article in Wired, serious news organizations such as the Washington Post and Reuters.

Who knows where the wind will blow next? Our employers and our own careers will be best served if we learn to be navigators, ready to plot a new course when needed.

 

Digital Literacy in My Life

The theme of digital literacy is one that I find very interesting.  I am lucky to have grown up around technology at home and in school but I also find myself relating to digital literacy.  The older I get the larger gap I am finding from being up with current trends and technology.  Digital literacy is something that needs to be a constant in your life.  If you find yourself on the path to digital literacy and decide to stop learning you can fall behind very easily.  Even though I have a strong technical background, things change so fast that I need to actively try to keep up.  Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

In the workplace digital literacy has been moving forward rapidly in the past few years.  At the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources we are being pushed to be more transparent and to save money. This goes hand in hand with digital literacy.  We are now keeping digital files and utilizing software like SharePoint to share information within our agency and with outside partners.  Instead of sending hundreds of emails we are starting to store important documents in one central location.  This is also happening with the information we are sharing with our external partners.  In the past there have been instances where we give our County Health Department partners flash drives of documents they need to follow up on drinking water violations.  New this year we have set up an external SharePoint website that allows them to access this information.  This is also good for our agency because we can upload new information as needed and let the County Health Departments know it is available.  We can also make small changes to errors or typos.  This is much more efficient way to share information.  In the past we would need to send out a whole new set of flash drives to everyone.

In the academic world I don’t know if I have seen as much change as I have seen in the workplace. I started as an undergrad at UW-Stout in fall of 2003.  Stout had their Laptop Loan Program up and running. I believe I was one of the first few years where all undergrads got issued laptops as part of the tuition.  This was a wonderful idea.  During my undergrad years I took a number of online classes using the same software we are using today such as Learn@UW-Stout. The library had a number of online resources just like we do today as well.  Stout was very ahead of the game with the use of technology.  I am wondering what Stout is going to do now as to keep their high level of digital literacy and technology use among students and professors.  I hope this is a trend that continues and they always stay on the forefront of digital literacy in an academic setting.

In personal life it is much harder to keep up with digital literacy.  We often keep computers, cameras and cellphones longer than the technology is considered cutting edge which makes it hard to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.  In my family we keep cell phones until they break and then we will get a new one.  We don’t go buy the newest one every year.  As time goes on cell phone performance really declines.  It’s almost like they intentionally make performance awful to push you towards buying a new one.  Many things are not meant to last a long time anymore.  Products are being made cheaper and cheaper so when you replace what has broken you can upgrade to the next thing.

Another example of digital literacy being slower in personal life is my husband’s technology use. He had a very similar experience growing up with technology at home and at school.  He has an engineering degree and has always loved math.  For his 35th birthday a few years back I decided it was a big enough birthday to do something extra special so I bought him an IPad has always loved Apple products and I thought this was the perfect gift.  He opened it and said thanks but I didn’t get much of a reaction.  I asked if he didn’t like it but it turns out he didn’t know what a tablet was.  Fast forward a few years and this tablet has become his primary computer.  He doesn’t use a traditional computer at home anymore.  He uses his tablet for everything from bills, photography, music, mapping, spreadsheets to games.  We are no longer tied to a traditional computer plus the tablet can go anywhere we go from hotels to camping.  This advance in technology has been extremely useful in our lives.

Digital Literacy Embraced

Earlier this week I was chatting with one of my superiors who was visiting the regional campus from where I taught my IDL class that day. Of course, she asked me about my class (since I am required to take classes to keep my Speech certification). I told her what we have been discussing and told her about the case study I am doing on Western’s use of social media etc. She asked me what I thought of their Twitter posts. I mentioned that I enjoyed the content, but the spelling and grammar mistakes are plentiful. Her response was that in the more technical fields, grammar and spelling are second to content. I pointed out that the president of the college just tweeted and it contained an obvious error. She scoffed and said it was no big deal. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I told her that Western’s Twitter followers may not share her view about spelling and grammar since many would see that as lacking an eye for detail or incompetence. He expression changed and she proceeded to a back office. So, I revisited that conversation when I read Dicks’ article, “The Effects of Digital Literacy” and his quote of Moore and Kreth (2005) stating “The days of being grammar cops, wordsmiths, and software applications experts are not over for technical communicators, but those skills are diminishing in value. . . ” (2010, pg 54).

Perhaps the English instructor in me has difficulty with letting those skills fall into second. I imagine many technical communicators may feel the same way. However, with the changes in responsibilities for technical communicator’s, I can see having to let something go. . . perhaps one has to put away the grammar cop badge and focus on other areas.

So many changes have occurred over the last 30 years, but many significant changes in the last decade have really eliminated many responsibilities of what I perceived many technical communicators do. In fact, I recently changed a writing assignment in one of my classes to a website review. I figured it would give them more of a technical view of writing and also get them to see what is considered when devising and evaluating a website[ Audience, purpose and content (as is for other types of communication)] verses an essay. The students (typical college students at a UW school) are much more engaged on this assignment since most are more technology-minded.

Technical communication is changing so rapidly, I am not sure I can keep up. I can’t imagine how challenging it must be for someone who has been in the field for 30 years. Dicks’ states, “Technical communicators watched some people leave the profession because they chose not to change the way they worked and because they insisted that true writing involved writing for paper (2010, pg 76). I see the same happening in my field. Some instructors at Western refuse to teach Online or IDL classes and refuse to use Blackboard. I find that a bit ironic since it is a technical college; however, it benefited me since I don’t mind teaching in either mode. I was pleased to hear that the college is finally making all instructors at least use Blackboard next year. Also, in some disciplines, faculty will have to teach Online or IDL if needed. Some may see it as an infringement of their rights (which I don’t understand), but technology is changing the workplace, not just for technical communicators, but for those of us teaching people who need some or all the skills of that field.

 

 

Epiphany on Professional & Personal Evolution

I include “Their Brains Were Small and They Died”, a 1993 folk song from “Cows with Guns”, as a soundtrack for this week’s reflection. It’s intended to be humorous and a cautionary tale on what happens when there is no evolution. That’s a disclaimer as my intent is not insult anyone.

“You’re just a technical writer”.

This accusation from a co-worker (with dangerous presumptions of her own credibility and skills), as well as Rachel Spilka’s  choices for her Digital Literacy for Technical Communication  (2010) and conversations in the past week with my wife (also a professional communicator) and my students have led to an epiphany.

If I am to evolve as a professional, if I am to thrive as a teacher, it doesn’t matter what I think of social media. It doesn’t matter that I believe government-by-tweet is dangerous to democracy and that I continue to find Howard Rheingold and the work of Zuboff and Maxmin described in R. Stanley Dicks’ article to be “increasingly optimistic and even utopian revelries about the resulting world”. (R. Stanley Dicks (2010), “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” p. 57)

What matters is what I do to help my students be credible communicators and that I help Network Health Plan employees communicate more effectively and access information in channels and methods most comfortable to them. Being open to new facets of “digital literacy” is key. (I did appreciate Spilka’s analysis of how she settled on her use of the term.)

For example, because I’m enamored of American history, I tend to use Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy as touchpoints. (No, I don’t play Dion’s song from 1968.) My students, on average, not only don’t know the references but they tend to think that the world started 20 years ago. I have made a radical upgrade in references (including not mentioning how much I miss my abacus and slide rule).

Turning to the reading, the epiphany started with the very first page of Saul Carliner’s “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century”. Like Carliner, my career in technical communication started with software documentation and has seldom strayed from that industry. I, too, have experienced the same change in duties and expectations as did Carliner.

In 1983, when I started in business-industrial communications, my role was, indeed, “just a technical writer”. The job required accepting Subject Matter Expert’s inputs, nearly exclusively in hard copy. Then I was to “fill in the blanks” applying corporate styles of appearance and content. My first technology-based tool was the then-revolutionary IBM system (green screen where a “return” was the same as a typewriter carriage return).

Fast forwarding through the last two decades, ever-evolving technology has enabled any stakeholder in a communication project to contribute content in nearly ready-to-use format (if not coherence or relevance).
evolve or die1
While not as draconian as “Evolve or die”, I found, just as Carliner describes, that I needed to be more than “just a technical writer” especially if I wanted to earn more than the $15 per hour that was, at the time, pretty much the standard wage. I paralleled exactly what Carliner experienced and my role became closer to the traditional roles of Business Analyst, Project Manager, and Content Management Administrator. I achieved that diversification of skills through classwork, do-it-yourself learning, and volunteering to take on tasks outside of my prescribed job.

That evolution in roles continues today where one of my goals is to empower my colleagues to produce more original content so I can concentrate on the delivery.

TC: The Madonna of career fields

If Madonna had stayed a “Material Girl” and never made “Confessions on the Dance Floor,” she likely would not have an active 40-year entertainment career. Technical communication has also continued to evolve to stay relevant. The key to success for technical communication is not getting too hung up on the name.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the profession as “Technical writers, also called technical communicators, prepare instruction manuals, how-to guides, journal articles, and other supporting documents to communicate complex and technical information more easily. They also develop, gather, and disseminate technical information through an organization’s communications channels.” The Bureau of Labor also predicted the field will grow 11 percent–faster than the overall average–in the next 10 years because it will be “driven by the continuing expansion of scientific and technical products. An increase in Web-based product support should also increase demand for technical writers. Job opportunities, especially for applicants with technical skills, are expected to be good.”

In her anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, Rachel Spilka (2010) said her collection “points to the critical need for evolution” (p.3). And Saul Carliner’s (2010) essay “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century” illustrates how the field has been able to embrace new technologies to provide better support for customers. However, as the field continues to evolve, professionals in the field may not be called “technical writers” or “technical communicators.”

Eva Brumberger and Claire Lauer (2015) investigated the evolution of the field in their article “The Evolution of Technical Communication: An Analysis of Industry Job Posting,” which was published in November 2015’s issue of Technical Communication. The researchers analyzed 914 job postings from Monster.com over a 60-day period for a variety of jobs to include content designer, information architect, social media developer, technical editor, technical writer, UX researcher, and web writer (p.  The researchers only kept listings whose primary duties were rhetorical in nature, and divided the jobs into five fields: 1. content developer/manager; 2. grant/proposal writer; 3. medical writer; 4. social media; 5. technical writer/editor (pp. 228-229). In their analysis, Brumberger and Lauer (2015) discovered that all five fields place a strong emphasis on written communication [at least 70%] (p. 236).

According to Carliner (2010), technical writers in the 1970s were primarily producing written content to help customers understand their newly purchased mainframe computers (pp. 22-25). In current times, Carliner (2010) said, software engineers perform the roles of technical communicators (p. 25). Brumberger and Lauer (2015) reported almost 40 years later, technical communicators are expected to be strong in written communicators [75%] (p. 236).

While technical communicators first created books, most technical content today is found online, according to R. Stanley Dicks (2010) who wrote: “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work” (p. 51). So, while a lot in the field has changed over 40 years, the core competency of written communication has not wavered. The emerging media platforms have given the field an opportunity to produce more meaningful written content because it has better communication channels with its audience. Dicks (2010) wrote that companies cannot hide common product issues because they will show up on product reviews, blogs, and message boards (p. 57).

Madonna has remained relevant for 40 years because she was able to keep a pulse on what was current. Technical communication has performed a similar feat by evolving but also by keeping audience analysis at the forefront. As long as the field continues to perform audience analysis and adapt, it will be a viable career opportunity for years to come.

 

 

Digital Literacy: Survival Skills for the 21st Century

Unsettling? Challenging? Rewarding? How should we view the future of technical and professional communication? R. Stanley Dicks uses all of those words when wrapping up the chapter, “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work.” I would argue that these three adjectives must almost always go together, for if we are settled, we are not challenged, and without being challenged, I don’t know how often we can feel rewarded.

I’m not saying I’ve never felt overwhelmed by changing technology. It is hard to even define the field of technical communication due to its many emerging subsets, such as usability and information architecture. The various tools of social media, content management, and distributed work, seem too many to count, let alone learn. But that is also what makes the field exciting.

I remember thinking it was funny that my dad (now 83) could not figure out how to use a computer mouse. Now my grown daughters laugh at the way my brow furrows when I’m trying to figure out a new app on my smart phone. I may not be as quick to pick it up as they are, but I still feel the excitement of learning to use new technology.

When I was starting out in the working world, as a radio broadcaster and copywriter, the clack of the typewriter and the finished page were the symbols of work and accomplishment. But the convenience of word processors overruled my nostalgia. When I took a class in HTML in the mid-90s, I found myself glued to a desktop pc for 8 hours at a time, enthralled at the way my text and tags combined to create a whole new, dynamic medium. I have found great usefulness in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. Today’s easy-to-use web tools, such as the blogging site I’m using right now, can also make for some very satisfying work. I embraced e-learning in a big way, going back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, and now tackling a master’s program. I am excited to learn to put more tools to use. Just today I was wishing I had a real content management system to work with, as I found myself making the same revision to multiple documents.

It will not be enough, though, Dicks argues, to learn to use the tools. We will not be able to settle in to learning a set of skills and then turning out good work, year-after-year. But what fun would that be anyway? We will need to participate in developing new ways to use these tools. Workers who can produce the same results over and over will not have job security as the 21st century continues. Those jobs, as Dicks points out, can be outsourced. It’s hard to outsource ingenuity, though. Those of us who learn to undertake symbolic and analytic work will be valuable to our employers. As the support economy grows, allowing customers to drive service rather than rely on it, those of us who can devise better ways to serve them will prove our worth, and hopefully reap the rewards.

I gave considerable thought to trying some type of freelance or contractor work when I

TechCommimage

Image: University of California Irvine http://www.carsera.org

made a career change less than two years ago. I’m not sure I’m ready to work remotely just yet. I might not get out of my bathrobe. But I am getting used to collaborating with partners I have never met in person. That career change also led to a crash course in collaboration, as I find myself creating content that depends on subject matter experts to feed me the information I need and help me convey it accurately, designers to help mold it into a usable form, and social media experts to help get it distributed. Some days I find myself stretching further into one or all of these directions myself, as the need arises.

The best thing I can do to stay afloat in this flood of innovation is to keep stretching those skills, and, most importantly, keep developing the ability to work with these multi-disciplinary teams. I don’t have to be an expert in everything, but I hope, if I ever find myself in another job interview, to be able to confidently say I can work effectively on a team, manage widely varying projects, and contribute creative expertise that will help add to my employer’s bottom line, no matter what my job title is.

 

Not your mom’s Web 2.0

 

Although I felt I had a good grasp on using the web (and some forms of social media)  really did not understand its full potential, history and cultural influence until this class. This week’s particular readings engaged me into researching articles to learn even more. I feel like I discovered a new world, and at the same time, wonder how I could have limited my vision over the years.

First of all, although I find the web, social media etc. informative and entertaining, I never truly saw it for all it’s worth —  for its communication and collaborative abilities as discussed in Rheingold’s Net Smart. Now I understand and agree with Wayne Macphail’s statement, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (Rheingold, 2014, pg. 153). Himmelman’s Taxonomy of Networking, Coordination, Cooperation and Collaboration helps me understand how online communication works to bring people together, share ideas, learn, explore and more. e218_ol_fig7_01

(Partnerships and Network)

In fact, I immediately related it to my teaching pedagogy. My classes do incorporate  networking activities by chatting with other students; coordination activities by sharing resources helpful for class; cooperation by peer revision/editing and online class discussions; and collaboration by creating a group wiki or project.

From observing my kids’ (ages 16, 21 and 30) online interactions, I see they even use their social media in the same way. For example, my son uses his Facebook and Instagram to to network and meet other teenagers who share similar interests in music (jazz and rap) and sports (football and basketball). He has joined social groups to delve into those interests more. This has led him to collaborating with others he wouldn’t normally meet. He now has friends he creates music with and with whom he either physically meets to play a sport or plays fantasy football with or even plays with on Xbox. He may not socialize the way I did as a teenager, but he is definitely communicating with others on a variety of levels through differing modes of communication.

These communication skills are essential in today’s world, for it can lead to innovation as

a result of collective intelligence. Yes, the idea of collective intelligence is not new. In Harnessing Crowds: Mapping the Genome Collective Intelligence article, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence not only reviews basic Web enabled collective intelligence, but also examines more modern examples and the structure that leads to their success. Although MIT’s “map” gives a  clear picture of how collective intelligence works, it does coincide with Rheingold’s useful tool’s discussed in chapter 4 of Net Smart.

On another note, in the article above, MIT Center for Collective Intelligence discusses examples of collective intelligence such as having a YouTube channel:”In YouTube, every user is associated with a “channel.” On these channels, users can upload their own videos and/or link to selections of other users’ videos, via a favorites option. Users can subscribe to other users’ channels and receive notifications when their favorite channels have been updated. Users thus form social networks that affect their choices of what videos to watch.” In this way, You Tube can help expand the knowledge of a group. However, in “DIY Videos on You Tube: Identity and Possibility in the Age of Algorithms, ” Christine T. Wolf examines “. . . how the social and material aspects of YouTube are entangled in search practices, we can see how these experiences might work to narrow, rather than widen, individuals’ information worlds.” Nonetheless, I imagine that this is not the case with most modern forms of web-based collective intelligence.

The use of collective intelligence and crowdsourcing has been quite prevalent (unbeknownst to me) in the business world. I have found several blogs and articles online about  how “In today’s marketing community crowdsourcing is often seen as a modern marketing technique due to its technological influences” ( Mateika).

Kaytie Zimmerman says, “The idea of crowdsourcing is fairly new, with the term only being coined within the last decade. Because it is so cutting edge, millennials have comfortably taken on the idea as part of their daily lives” ( Zimmerman). So, since my students (many going into business) consists largely of millenials, I am interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and how I can incorporate this new knowledge into my classes.

 

Read only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0

Scott Kushner discusses the contradiction of social media being fueled by participation when in reality most people virtually stand back and don’t participate in his article Read Only: The persistence of lurking in Web 2.0. I found an interesting connection between Kushner’s article about lurking and Rheinhold’s piece titled What’s a Parent to do? What’s a Parent to know? on page 245 of the Net Smart text.

As a parent of a five year old daughter my husband and I have had to think a lot about what and how much we post about our daughter. When we were growing up the idea of oversharing about children never existed. Now I have to worry about posting where she goes to school or where we are. I also worry about posting if my husband is gone for a work trip. I don’t want it to be public knowledge that my daughter and I are home alone.

Lurking plays a big role in online safety for families because you never know who read or saw information and didn’t acknowledge it. Without acknowledging it with a comment or reaction I have no way of knowing who has seen this information. Lurking is dangerous because as hard as we try to make sure our privacy is protected others may share our posts or post things about our families without our knowledge. Its like lurkers can easily gain significant facts and information without having to try. It makes it much more available to them and it also ties in the gray area of privacy. Just because you know its wrong to keep checking back on peoples posts and pages doesn’t mean that will stop them.

In general I feel that lurking isn’t always a bad thing. My husband rarely posts. Usually if he does its because he did something neat or noteworthy when his family wasn’t with. This doesn’t happen very often. Usually I am the one to post things. He also guards the number of likes or comments he makes. He believes that if you constantly like or comment on things they have way less meaning then if you hold back and only comment on things that are really neat. If you lurk in a healthy way it be a positive thing but it can be pretty easy to tip the scale and create an unhealthy habit.

I think most lurkers out there are harmless but unfortunately in 2017 the web has evolved to allow this practice to take place easily and discreetly in most cases.

Ajax: Real Time Collective Action

A big buzzword in my field is “Real-Time”.  Every company wants real time applications with automatically updating interfaces for increased usability.  Real-time allows users to think less and do more.  People don’t have to request for the latest statuses when they are already using a web application, the application will tell them there is an update.

Jack Jameison discusses Ajax’s role in the Web 2.0 world in his article Many (to platform) to many: Web 2.0 application infrastructures.  Ajax is simply a combination of technologies that allows user interfaces to be updated automatically when the server tells it to.  An application that uses this technology allows interfaces to automatically send or receive messages from a server without provocation from the user.  This has drastically changed how use the internet, and what we expect from it.

Jameison voices his skepticism about web technologies such as Ajax because this revokes control from users, giving less visibility into how they are really interacting with the web application.  One example might be that you receive a message you don’t want to respond to from someone online.  Now they have a status to tell the other user that you read that message just from you being online and it popping up on your screen.  Now the situation may be awkward, and can definitely be an unintended behaviour.

While real-time applications do come with unintended behaviours, they have also opened up new doors for how we communicate with each other online.  Rheingold discusses and divides “collective action” in the online world as three different categories: cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (p. 153).  Collective action has been empowered by real time capabilities of the web. Automatically updating interfaces helps provide a more active feeling to participation when you know that someone has read or replied to your comments online.  Collective action has become much easier, especially with the development of smart phones.  Most people in my city use Facebook to communicate and arrange meetings.  Too many times I’ll be notified that the location of the meetup has changed or people have had to change the time.  This helps encourage a level of trust between people who are trying to coordinate meetups.  I do not miss the days when I was stood up because nobody could tell me that the plans had changed.

Real-time applications give the ability to broadcast messages to users of a system, whether it’s an amber alert or your current location.  Sharla Stone discusses in her article Real-Time Disaster Relief how applications were developed just for tracking people who needed help in disastrous situations.  The applications provided the ability to track rescue requests in real time, find resources for people who needed help, and help in information sharing where it was previously difficult to do without the help of technology.

Applications and movements like this always inspire me and make me want to join.  Hopefully I will be able to participate in something as meaningful as this in the future.

Activism in Web 2.0

Are the Internet and social media good or bad? Do they represent an advancement of our society, or the beginning of its collapse? As Howard Rheingold points out in “Net Smart,” the better way to frame the question is to look at what are the good ways to use these tools, and how can we encourage them?

While the increased reach afforded by social media is obvious, Mathias Klang and Nora Madison, in their article, “The Domestication of Online Activism,” argue that various social media platforms impose limits on their use that dilute the effectiveness of online activism. Some of these limits are due to community standards rules set by the platforms. Facebook, for instance, will delete a post promoting breastfeeding if a nipple is visible.

There is also the issue of what will get noticed. Those who post social awareness messages are competing for attention with cute cat videos. I was intrigued enough to watch a video designed to illustrate white privilege yesterday. Half an hour later, I watched a video showing a chubby cat trying to climb into a tiny box (I am not proud of this). The creator of the white privilege post had to fashion the message in an attention-getting way. This struggle is not new, nor is it confined to social media. The only way to prevent this would be to distribute activist messages on dedicated activism channels, which would then not reach a general audience. Preaching activism to an activist audience would defeat the purpose.

I find myself focusing on how to fashion my messages to take advantage of the strengths of social media, rather than lamenting their limits, as Klang and Madison seem to be doing.

Changing media and messages are nothing new. As Rheingold points out, Socrates believed verbal communication was superior to written language. He feared written language would lead to superficial understanding. Written communications have been getting shorter and shorter over the centuries, from books to articles to posts to tweets. We should not forget, though, that through much of human history, few people could read at all. If you’re looking for an ideal period of history where all people took it upon themselves to be fully and accurately informed, I don’t think you’ll find it.

The question is, how much can we expect of the audience? Rheingold outlines the skills we need to cultivate to be good online citizens. The hope is that people will make the effort. Every day in my Facebook feed, I see posts shared by old high school classmates that indicate they have no interest in crap detection. I am engaging in crap detection by checking out their sources, controlling my attention by ignoring certain posts, and tuning my network by unfriending those who continually waste my time. On occasion, I see one of these folks apologize for sharing a piece of fake news after someone has called them out on it. Maybe they’ll be more thorough next time.

Klang and Madison are right to point out that the platforms themselves have power to block or shape messages, and activists should continue to challenge policies that are barriers to certain viewpoints. However, they may be overstating the weaknesses of online activism. While it is true that it does not take much effort to like a post or tweet, or even to share one, each person who does so is investing some social capital. As I watch the posts that my connections like and share, I am continually evaluating their credibility as a filter. I will ignore junk news, whether it is shared by a person I rarely agree with or by a like-minded friend. If someone shares an opposing viewpoint from a reputable source, I’ll give it my time. I don’t want to trap myself in an echo chamber of one-sided discussion.

It is up to me, as a consumer, to engage in this crap detection and tuning of my network. While the term “fake news” has become a crutch to dismiss any opposing viewpoints, at least it brings the need for crap detection to public awareness. I agree with Rheingold that students need to be taught to consider online sources critically. I recently read an article in the American Federation of Teachers magazine outlining these very concepts.

We have a ways to go, but I think we are slowly learning that participating in web 2.0 requires us to become our own fact checkers.

Once again, it’s the overall message

As I’ve read Rheingold, especially the chapters for this week’s blog posting, his level of optimism and confidence in the strength, viability, and “trustiness” (which sounds like a word from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) of “the Web’s collective intelligence” and the ever-evolving means of interacting continue to pique my attention.
Is that optimism warranted? (Disclaimer: I was voted “most likely to become cynical” in high school. I told my class it was already too late.) For example, he posits on p. 249, “Social media can amplify collective action” and on p. 250, “Collaboration requires agreement on shared goals. Everyone can look after their own interests but communication and negotiation are required for sharing goals.” This was demonstrated as true during the uprisings called the “Arab Spring” mostly notably in Tunisia and Egypt.
I suggest that Rheingold needs to re-assess at least some of that optimism in light of the current public discourse, at least in politics. Aside from responding in kind or in a juvenile ever-escalating stream of insults, there seems to be very little listening, much less collaboration, among prominent legislators and the President. Witness the recent “Twitter war” with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and the President.
This would be in line with the somewhat more somber assessment in Proferes’ article in which he asserts that easy availability and ease of participation is NOT the same as empowerment or true collaboration.
Equally chilling to Rheingold’s optimism is the ongoing collection of user information on behavior and habits as Proferes outlines in the two examples of Twitter (Library of Congress Archives and Occupy Wall Street). The same data collection processes and storage, while now mostly confined to determining what ice cream ad should be shown on your Facebook page, can be used against individuals and groups advocating political positions or actions deemed “subversive” by authorities or, even worse, deemed unacceptable under the “laws, economics, culture and social norms of the platform providers” to use Klang and Madison’s phrase.
This dovetails with their observation that while, “The acts of everyday activism seem to be faring the best as the reach of the individual has never been as great”, there are issues of technology limitations, interference from the same platform providers and government, and self-censorship.

Web 2.0: collaboration and oversharing

Sailors in the information warfare community, such as information systems technicians, intelligence specialists, or cryptologic technicians, generally live with the “nerd” stereotype, and most of us live up to it in different ways. My nerd outlets are academics and fitness tech. Others like anime and several of these Sailors play video games, especially World of Warcraft. (Although, I’m told the game isn’t as cool anymore and many have moved on to other games. Don’t ask me what’s cool now.)

So imagine my surprise when Howard Rheingold wrote in his book 2014 Net Smart: How to Thrive Online that World of Warcraft was cool. He said, “World of Warcraft is the new golf [in Silicon Valley]” (p. 158). Rheingold said World of Warcraft, as an interactive, multi-player game is a great example of collaboration online because players must form teams to complete quests (p. 158). He also cited a researcher who said it’s been estimated gamers have spent 5.93 million years playing World of Warcraft (p. 158). In some ways, I’m not surprised. My husband, feeling some nostalgia, spent the last year playing an older version of World of Warcraft on a Czech server. All I know is his “raid” schedule definitely cut into our social life. While annoying then, after reading Rheingold, I can appreciate the amount of collaboration it took to assemble 30-plus gamers (I think) from across the globe to play at a certain time.

Collaboration is important, according to Rheingold because it leads to “collective intelligence,” which is “a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request …” according to Henry Jenkins in his article “Collective Intelligence vs. the Wisdom of the World,” published in 2006 and cited by Rheingold (p.159). Collaborative efforts and crowdsourcing have created some of the web’s best resources including Wikipedia and the Linux operating system.

Rheingold says updating Wikipedia is a simple process: “All anybody has to do is click the ‘edit this page; link at the top of every Wikipedia page” (p. 181). Rheingold also wrote that Wikipedia’s founder’s first project, Nupedia, was a failure because the volunteer-written articles had to be vetted by an expert, which proved to be costly and time-consuming (p. 180). Wales dropped the expert vetting and Wikipedia took off (pp. 180-181).

However, Nicholas Proferes, author of “Web 2.0 user knowledge and the limits of individual and collective power,” published in 2016, argues Wikipedia isn’t the collaborative platform it claims to be because “only a small number of elite editors … contribute a significant amount of content to the platform.” Proferes added that “Getting new Wikipedia users to contribute has been a significant challenge” because the new users need training.”

To see who was right, I decided to make a small change to my alma mater’s Wikipedia page. I added the link to The Times-DelphicDrake’s student newspaper, and it was almost as easy as adding a link to WordPress. The “link” icons were the same in Wikipedia’s visual editor. I opted to create an account, and when I did, I was given tips on a username. After I added the link, I was asked to describe my changes and enter a string of letters to let Wikipedia know I’m a person and not a bot, then I hit “save changes.”

While Rheingold and Proferes disagree on the ease of Wikipedia, they both agree that Facebook’s privacy settings are difficult to navigate through. Proferes cited Lorrie Cranor (2003), who said “read-ability experts have found that comprehending privacy policies typically requires college-level reading skills.” Rheingold cautioned Facebook users “it is crucial to always keep in mind that your control of what Facebook technology can do with, as well as to your information … is limited, plus subject to change at any minute” (p. 234).

Overall, Rheingold sticks to the positive sides of Web 2.0 technologies while Proferes explores some of their pitfalls, but men caution users that regardless of what platform they are using (especially Facebook), it is important to know how the service works and what information it is collecting and sharing about you. So, be a good citizen on the Web, share your insights, just don’t share your whole life.

Torn from Today’s Headlines

The power of social media is shown in stark relief today. I’m not taking sides here (much) but it is fascinating how social media has become not just the medium but the message (to echo the now-quaint Marshall McLuhan).

Just from the Washington Post’s afternoon update of its Web site:
Jemele Hill suspended two weeks by ESPN after tweet about Cowboys owner Jerry Jones
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/10/09/jemele-hill-suspended-two-weeks-by-espn-after-tweet-about-cowboys-owner-jerry-jones/?utm_term=.d4562c1f20da

‘This is about systemic oppression’: Eric Reid becomes the voice of 49ers’ protest with criticism of Pence
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2017/10/09/this-is-about-systemic-oppression-eric-reid-becomes-the-voice-of-49ers-protest-with-criticism-of-pence/?tid=pm_sports_pop&utm_term=.96bf3f8d2f68

It’s not the cost of Pence’s trip that was galling. It was the preparation for it.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/10/09/its-not-the-cost-of-pences-trip-that-was-galling-it-was-the-preparation-for-it/?hpid=hp_hp-more-top-stories_penceanalysis-857am%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.193a679e0e4e

While Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder, finds even more ominous signs:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2017/10/09/pierre-omidyar-6-ways-social-media-has-become-a-direct-threat-to-democracy/?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-b%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.ec91cb851862

Amazon Sharing Information at Incredible Speed

I was inspired by Jennifer’s blog post and also the Cluetrain’s “95 Theses” this week.  Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger discuss that through the internet people are inventing new ways to share information with incredible speed. I was amazed during the month of September at the amount of awareness Amazon.com brought to a very important issue in my family life.  Childhood cancer awareness.  Jennifer also blogged this week about another event that helped promote awareness for childhood cancer awareness.  Originally I had a different topic in mind for my blog but after seeing Jennifer’s post I realized that I wanted to share more to this story.

I first learned that Amazon was partnering with the American Childhood Cancer Organization ( https://www.acco.org/amazon/ ) through some of the cancer family groups I am a member of.  It took everything I had to not order something and waste money just to see a box.  Little did I know our iguana needed a new heat lamp and my husband made the purchase not knowing what the box would look like. Amazon sent out 10 million boxes with the following message on it:

IMG_5589

The marketing for this campaign is smart. 10 million boxes arriving at homes within a day or a few days to all types of people the make purchases from Amazon.com.  Amazon.com’s decisions can relate a number of ways to the Cluetrain Manifesto “95 Theses”. These #1 is Markets are conversations. These special boxes could have created new conversations anywhere from the fulfillment area, the shipping process, the delivery location and the recipient.

These #2 is that Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.  This fact really helped spread this message to all groups of people and quickly. Human beings that may not been originally “targeted” to receive this message now have the opportunity to learn about this important cause.

Did anyone else receive or see a childhood cancer awareness box from Amazon in September?

 

Get a Clue: Join the Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail,” made it clear why online businesses/services are more successful than brick-and-mortar businesses services. Granted, I presumed much of the success had to do with instantly receiving the product or service and the lower costs due to the lack of physical space required. However, when I consider myself as a consumer, I realize that I tend to purchase items/services that don’t just “talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies” (Levine, Locke, Searles & Weinberger ,2001).

For example, I tend to use Amazon to purchase easily-shipped items to my rural home (an hour at least from any city with shopping choices other than Walmart). I used to purchase my clothes at a small local JCPenny. However, in the past few years, the internet has become available to almost all in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, so most of us have chosen to shop online, thus leading to the closing of stores like our local (at least 20 miles away from me) JCPenney in a town of 4,000 people. I imagine delivery/trucking companies are thriving though since packages are not being sent by truckloads to large brick-and-mortar businesses, but are being shipped to homes. This must me true in my area, for I see a UPS  or Spee-dee delivery truck on my road at least twice a day!

In addition to shopping online, I also listen to a local radio station which plays music “on the long tail.” WKPO 105.9 is a local station which claims to play a variety of music and it does! Each DJ chooses what they want to play, so it isn’t a pre-recorded list of hits. I imagine it is for some (based on my listening experience), but some DJs (on-line personalities) really pull from the long tail. For example, Tim Eddy cranks out the obscure music he loves which is a combination of rock, blue grass, funk, folk etc. He doesn’t just play hits, but plays music he enjoys and since he is well-known in the communities he serves, he tries to play what he feels his audience may enjoy, even if not popular elsewhere. Do I turn to another station when he gets on a roll of playing folk? Yes. Do I return? Yes, for I find more new songs/artists I enjoy by listening to his show.  “You can find everything out there on the Long Tail,” and Tim Eddy knows that (Anderson, pg 11)!

Although I do have cable television, I choose to use Netflix and Hulu for my entertainment instead. Like my choice in music, my film interests may be those from the Long Tail. Yes, I enjoy foreign films, independent movies, British television dramas and documentaries in addition to the popular choices such as Shameless etc. Anderson points out that “Netflix has made a good business out of what’s unprofitable fare in movie theaters. . .because it can aggregate dispersed audience,” much like what Amazon and other online businesses are doing. Both Nexflix and Hulu also follow Anderson’s “Rule 3: Help Me Find It,” by making suggestions based on my previous viewing. So, far the suggestions have been very good, so I often go to suggestions instead of searching for new titles to watch. This saves me time and broadens/deepens my interest in film.

Overall, the digital world has broadened my view with diverse options. In addition, it has also enhanced my physical world by allowing me to enjoy life on my hobby farm in rural Southwest Wisconsin and have shopping and services, not normally available here, available to me. In essence, it has saved me time and energy in my physical world, so I can enjoy what that world has to offer: a summer breeze, frolicking goats, changing leaves and golden sunrises.

What they’re NOT saying

Economic theorists, going back to the “Invisible Hand” of Adam Smith, have required that (paraphrased) a capitalist marketplace must have free and unfettered information shared by all participants to function “successfully”.
Clearly this requirement is rarely met in the “real world” or we wouldn’t need anti-insider trading rules and laws, anti-trust laws, anti-predatory lending laws, ad infinitum and we would not experience scandals such as Enron and Global Crossing.
I offer this perhaps tortured scenario in responding to this week’s readings. It seems that, without exception, the assumption is made that all participants in the “infosphere” as Rheingold calls it have free and unfettered (A/K/A fast or “turbo” or “extreme” or whatever today’s preferred adjective happens to be) access to, and USE of, the Internet. The Cluetrain Manifesto echos this assumption throughout its 95 theses by not even acknowledging there are huge infrastructure and social/political/economic barriers to realizing its “People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products”.
Let me quickly distinguish between “use” and “access”. While cellphone companies and government agencies claim that some large percentage (75% – 96% depending on the source) of Americans have “access” to the Internet, that is not the same as effective “use” of the Internet.
This has been dubbed the “Digital Divide” and affects large numbers of low-income (regardless of residence) and rural(regardless of income) Americans.
Indeed, even the research now available, such as from the Pew Research Center and the federal National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)in the Department of Commerce, usually fails to make this distinction.
NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program promotes innovation and economic growth by supporting efforts to expand broadband access and meaningful use (my addition) across America.
To make it personal – as I am writing this, I see my download speed is a scintillating 256 kps. This comes from the best option we have found in Shawano County (rural, northern Wisconsin); DSL from Frontier Communications. Although we are provisioned for a minimum of 3 mps, Frontier oversold its network capabilities and capacity. Now routinely, in the name of “fairness to all subscribers”, Frontier throttles our usage to these very low levels.
Frontier representatives have told we should be “grateful” for even this level of usage. New residents of our township or residents seeking Internet access cannot even get Frontier “service” due to its lack of capability, leaving satellite providers as their only option. Shawano County also shares the fate of many rural areas in having large sections where Internet access is flatly not available.
Clearly, until the issue of infrastructure is addressed across the country, we will not realize the benefits of online life such as Rheingold notes in his Chapter 3, “In the world of digitally networked publics (there’s that rhetoric concept again), online participation – if you know how to do it – can translate into real power”.

The Fridge is Full and There is Nothing to Eat!

I can go to the store and buy $300 worth of groceries, but when I look at the fridge after doing chores all day the last thing I want is to figure out what to make for dinner. There are just too many choices. This same phenomenon seems to happen with any other bountiful option of choices, whether it’s Netflix, or Spotify, it feels like I have even less options than when I had a collection of entertainment that could fit on half a bookshelf. With the bountiful amount of content and information available online, how are we getting anything done?

Metadata

Rheingold reminds us that this is not the first time an overabundance of information was made available to us. Rheingold reiterates that the printing press influenced scholars to “sharpen disciplines” and “define genres” to handle “the information overload of the 16th century” (p. 54). Genres and disciplines in this case are just metadata to help sift through the overload of data. And we are handling the internet in much of the same way. We use tagging online to help categorize and organize knowledge. The difference is that tagging is done by a large population of the internet rather than a few scholars.

The online entertainment businesses help consumers figure out what they want using categorization as well as recommendations. Anderson notes that recommendations for related content helped fuel book sales for content that may not have been previously considered (p. 2). Online entertainment has drastically helped increase the supply in business by the very nature of the delivery platform. Companies no longer have to worry about having enough popular content on their shelves since their shelves are just disk space and network constraints. Anderson also notes that the profitability of niche content is now more evident than ever. This means markets for niche content are much less risky than when we were limited to time slots on TV and in movie theaters.  But again, the overabundance of content is hard to sift through as a consumer. Meta-services like CanIStream.It have come around just to help people try to find if they are already paying for the service that hosts content they want to watch. Additionally, services like Netflix and Amazon both have recommended content and user generated ratings for every movie or episode that you can view to get a feeling for the level of quality.

Quality

The internet has given humans a greater voice on the internet, whether it is Yelp, online reviews, or online content from “amateurs.” And this is great, because we can potentially find better representations of public opinions.  The Cluetrain Manifesto highlights the new voice that people have been handed now that the internet can help us stand up to big corporations.

Unfortunately, this voice also leads to a large amount of bad content from uneducated and ill-willed people. This creates the need to have a level of skepticism when trying to find good information sources. Rheingold’s chapter on Crap Detection looks at some heuristics for finding trustworthy information. Services that help debunk bad information or review bad services can help us navigate these problems, but sometimes even that is not enough.  The level of internet security for a lot of this online content is not upheld to the same PCI compliance standards as banking, and we’ve seen how well that has gone. But that’s not to say we should no longer use it. Any channel of communication, whether it is the internet, phones, letters, books, or person-to-person communication, can be exploited. As such we should remain skeptical, critical, and keep up with where we get our information from, and where we put it.

This brings up the desire for content filtering and governance for these very reasons. Rheingold brings up Socrates’ skepticism of the written word, highlighting how without scholars to guide knowledge exchange there can be dangerous consequences (pp. 60-61). There appears to be an on-going trend throughout history to put governances and restrictions on knowledge. I fear that this option will set us back and make the internet unusable. Like I said before, everything can be exploited.

Conclusion

With more information than ever before, we are finding ways to manage and organize information into smaller amounts of information until it is exactly what we need. We are even creating services to help discover which services we should use.  With all the dangers that the amount of information being generated can impose, we must be careful about governances and restrictions, there is a fine line in protecting people’s minds and censorship.

 

Chasing the Long Tail

Chris Anderson’s article, “The Long Tail,” had special resonance for me. I spent about half of my 28 years in radio doing music “disc jockey” shifts (we called ourselves “air personalities,” as we stopped jockeying any kind of discs in the mid to late 90s). I understand all too well Anderson’s diagram showing the anatomy of the long tail, with a small number of major hits clustered on one end, and the long tail of lesser-appeal material trailing off into infinity. Our limitation on the radio was time, just as the limitation in (now scarce) music stores is shelf space.

We could only play one song at a time on the airwaves. If you selected a song from the “hits” end of the spectrum, you stood the best chance of holding a large share of your audience. If you selected one of your girlfriend’s personal favorites from the obscure end of the spectrum, most of your audience would tune over to one of your many competitors and would not come back until they screwed up and played something the listeners did not care for. For this reason, the choice was taken completely away from the djs and the playlists were programmed based on research, music testing, and safe hits. Hence the repetition and general lack of adventure of most stations. Many a radio programmer learned the hard way that while everyone says they want to hear more songs, they really want to hear more songs they like. Hit a clunker, and they’re off to someone who gives them what they want. Fewer listeners means lower ratings, lower advertising revenue, and lost jobs for those who steered their employers’ multi-million-dollar broadcast facilities in the wrong musical direction.

I know, of course, that there are many off-the-beaten-path songs that are beloved by a smaller, widely dispersed audience. Still, I was stunned at the statistics Anderson shared about how well those lesser known songs perform on digital music platforms, which can afford to offer up hundreds of thousands of songs for listeners to choose on their own time from anywhere in the world. Some of the radio stations I once worked for played around 300 songs, total. Current hits were played several times a day, while older nuggets might turn up once a month. The digital jukebox company, Ecast, offers up 150,000 songs on their barroom music service. Astonishingly, 99 percent of them are selected for at least some play each month. Some are played more than others, obviously, but digital storage and worldwide distribution make it possible for music and entertainment services like Rhapsody, Pandora, Netflix, and Amazon Prime to make money off the obscure works, too.

I’m delighted when one of these services offers up something I would never have had access to under the media limitations of my youth. When a movie about early 1960s folk musicians called “Inside Llewyn Davis” came out a few years ago, I could not find it in a local theater, despite a supporting role played by Justin Timberlake. On signing up for Amazon Prime a couple of months ago, I was finally able to see it. That prompted me to look for the soundtrack. It was readily available via digital download, and a few cd copies were available as imports or used. I doubt I ever would have found that in a local record store.

There is still room for hits. Part of the appeal of a hit is the shared experience of enjoying it together. Crank Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” in a room full of children of the 80s like myself and you will find everyone singing along. But, as Anderson points out, “Everyone’s taste departs from the mainstream sometime” (7). Now we can find those songs, too.

Sure, you’ll find a lot of junk as the barriers to publishing music and movies come down, but when the cost is low, I don’t mind stopping the weird indie movie I was watching and trying something else. And, as Howard Rheingold outlines in chapter three of his book, “Net Smart,” this makes room for globe-spanning communities of like-minded movie, book, and music fans to sift through the rabble, pick out the gems, and share their favorites with one another.

I still make time for my radio friends, especially in the car, but I’m glad that as I bang out my blog, I can listen to the late 80s Minneapolis alternative rock band “Trip Shakespeare,” even though I only know two people who remember them. Maybe I’ll find some more now!

The Kinnick Wave, Roku, and reviews

I dare you to keep a dry eye after watching College GameDay‘s feature on the Kinnick Wave. (Links to the video and to a segment created by Fox Sports can be found here.) When University of Iowa Children’s Hospital completed its new building, it included a “press box” on the top floor that overlooks Kinnick Stadium. During football games, patients and their families can go up there to watch the games.

A fan page called Hawkeye Heaven engaged in the participatory culture that Howard Rheingold (2012) discussed in Net Smart: How To Thrive Online. It posted this on Facebook because, like Rheingold described, “they believed they had some degree of power” to create a change (p. 115). After being “liked” over 5,000 times and “shared” more than 3,000 times, the word got out.

And resulted in this:

When Iowa played Iowa State the following week, ESPN delayed the commercial break after the first quarter to air “the wave” live.  And about a month later, ESPN featured this on College GameDay (same video from the link in intro paragraph):

This is my favorite response to the ESPN feature. Fran’s Red Face is a spoof account for Iowa’s occasionally emotional men’s basketball coach.

This is just one example of how social media can effect positive changes, which was one of the themes for this week’s readings. In addition to Iowa fans, football fans at College GameDay’s live broadcast at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., did the wave as well as fans in East Lansing, Mich., who were hosting Iowa against Michigan State.

But movements don’t always need large followings, they just need a platform, said “The Long Tail” author Chris Anderson. In his Wired featured, he explained major entertainment companies invest the majority of their money in big names and big productions, which is ill-advised because “‘misses’ usually make money, too. And because there are so many more of them, that money can add up quickly to a huge new market. Or in my case, a big jump in morale in the workplace.

When I first started working for Ingersoll Wine Merchants, we listened to an adult contemporary station on the radio. At first, it wasn’t bad, but it did not take long for the station to become repetitive. Then, shortly after Christmas and all of its song, my boss purchased a Roku box, and we started listening to Radio Paradise, which is a wonderful listener-supported station that plays a wide variety of music. It introduced me to a lot of new artists, including Jill Barber, a Candian jazz singer, who I saw live in New York in 2014.

While it is good to follow the road less traveled for music and entertainment, it is not always recommended for consumer goods. I learned Cluetrain’s No. 11 on its “95 Theses” the hard way shortly after I graduated college. (Author’s note: This story from 10 years ago is a little embarrassing, but I think it illustrates my point. … Don’t judge too harshly.)  I was looking to expand my exercise video library, and Carmen Electra’s Aerobic Striptease sounded like fun. When I looked into it, the video series had a lot of negative reviews for not being long enough or challenging enough. Despite the bad reviews, I purchased it anyway and saw for myself it wasn’t a good buy. When I moved from Des Moines, all those DVDs made the “donation” box. Now when products on Amazon have many negative reviews, especially regarding customer service, I find an alternative product.

Like Rheingold said, social media provides a lot of positives, as long as we use our BS filters and don’t let it take over our lives.

Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making

I enjoyed reading the article by Bernadette Longo titled Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical Communication between the global north and south (2014).  Longo discusses that technology has made it easy for anyone to create their own content and share their stories across a variety of technology.  For example much of the footage of civil uprisings in Egypt have been created using smart phones.  In areas that may not have the media availability, consumers have found that they can create their own content and don’t have to wait for others to share their stories.  This created content by the general public has helped provide government and police officials inside information that has helped change history.

The idea that anyone can create content which can create knowledge is pretty mind-blowing.  Technology has really allowed us to help ourselves and others.  Without in the field reporters many areas of the world could be limited in the amount of information coming in and going out.  While not all content created on social media is sharing credible knowledge it feels like we are on the right track.

Longo discusses that social media can create open lines of communication and enable collaboration.  This is also a very important concept.  Not only are we able to view and respond to communication from areas and populations of the world that were once inaccessible, we now have lines of open communication for collaboration.  Populations that never had their own voice can now create their own content and collaborate with other areas of the world.

Another concept that Longo brings up is that with all of this collaboration ideas can become a little muddled or blurred due to multiple owners, however the content can become much richer and more useful.  I can see how this could be an issue.  The more hands we have in content the more points of view are being expressed.

I feel that social media is creating a positive environment for knowledgeable content design especially in areas that previously didn’t have the ability to communicate or collaborate.

 

Finding the Common Ground: Using social media for content production versus community support

In synthesizing the themes and conclusions of this week’s readings, I was first struck with a personal revelation. The readings and research indicate the integration of social media into “everyday” activities and work tasks of communicators. As Pigg noted on p. 84, “Social media facilitate activities that are deeply important to invention: accessing or creating networks of relationships, building and maintaining a presence that can interact with them, and then leveraging them toward future action.”

Diverging from the knowledge workers characterized in Ferro and Zachry, I realized that I have regarded social media more as a reference source, a sounding board, or a job-hunting resource for work in those instances when I have considered social media at all.

A recent example highlights this. I was challenged by a co-worker on the use of numbered lists. Disclaimer: I love numbered lists in technical writing. The vast majority of my work writing are instructions where you bloody well have to do things in order.

This co-worker insisted that numbers were irrelevant and a distraction. She reasoned that we hire smart people and they don’t have to be coddled or treated as children. (Her solution is to use bulleted lists and indenting to indicate order and importance.)

Rather than get confrontational, I thought I might have missed something new or forgetten some fundamental principle. With that in mind, I went out to social media and the Internet at large to reality-check my position. (I was correct, by the way.)

This is, no doubt, generational to some degree and reflects my own reluctance and suspicion about the self-revelation and personal exposure on social media.

In the case of Dave, along with what Pigg called his “assembled social and technological resources to sustain and create his current project”, he has the very strong incentive to be visible and interactive as a freelancer is always looking for his next gig. (I know as a former independent contractor.) I was surprised that she, along with Ferro and Zachry and Longo, did not explore or emphasize this aspect more. Although to be fair, this would have been somewhat outside of Longo’s study.

Blurring Physical and Digital Lines

 

 

Instructor

In response to an earlier blog, Dr. Pignetti commented about being interested in how I will incorporate what I learn from this course into my own pedagogy. Of course, I have had this on my mind as I re-evaluate my audience, revise old lesson plans, create new activities on Blackboard and strive to be student-centered instructor.  As I read Longo’s “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making,,” I struggled with the assumption that all students participate in social media, especially since much the research etc. was from over five years ago. However, I do realize, he is assuming students are traditional university students age 18-23, and most likely students from urban, not rural, environments. However, I do recognize the “participatory culture” of this generation even in a rural area where I teach. Prior to this reading though, I had not equated this culture with social-media. Nonetheless, I realize without making that connection, my pedagogy does include “this participatory approach to teaching and learning based on the idea that most students learn more effectively through the incorporation of experiential activities” ( Longo, 2014, pg 30). Perhaps my high school teaching experience has influenced teaching style of my college classes. Usually the traditional lecture sets the stage and provides background and then students join in the teaching/learning.

Longo acknowledges “the balancing act that becomes acute in active learning environments,” where students learn collaboratively, yet the professor is still the authority of the class content. When my students work in groups online, I am included in the forum and have access to their chat room. I do not dominate the conversation or guide them to certain conclusions per se, but do check that they are on task and ask questions to further their collaboration.  I have used the tools in Blackboard to do this, such as Blackboard Collaborate, Blogs, Wikis, discussion rooms and chat. I haven’t included forms of social media like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. since there is such an age gap and technological skill gap among students. In addition, there is no time available in the curriculum to teach how to use social media.

Student

Many of my younger students reflect the participatory culture and desire to share on the first day of classes. For example, they often immediately share their phone numbers, snapchat id, and full names in order to connect on Facebook. My older students are less likely to welcome this technological communication or enter that community. However, since my classes all have an online component, even these students quickly adjust to participating in the online community of our class and classmates and their lives. However, I still find that it is imperative for many of my returning adult students to actually meet me face-to-face. Therefore, I travel to the five regional locations. Since Blackboard now can include our picture with our posts etc., that desire doesn’t seem as prominent. It could also be because I have been including more video with clips of me in them, perhaps helping blur the lines between physically space and digital space.

Colleagues

Although my communication with present students is either face-to-face, on a screen due to IDL or online via Blackboard, my communication with my colleagues at the main campus in LaCrosse includes social media. Because my position requires me to travel to various regional learning centers or work from home, my communication with my colleagues does extend outside formal settings. We do communicate via email, blogs, Sharepoint, Skype, Facebook, Instagram etc., and I do move “across textual and social resources during one work session” (Pigg, 2014, pg. 75). Since we have been doing this, I do feel more included since I am only physically with my department two times a year.

 

No, really, I’m working

Kudos to Dave, the professional communicator featured in “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work,” who ensured the author understood he wasn’t just blogging. He was working. Although Stacey Pigg dedicated a lot of time studying freelance writers, it seemed she also had a hard time associating social media with work. While the technology and the money are present to allow entrepreneurs and freelance writers to make a livelihood with social media, our mindsets are not.

And who can blame us? I’m as guilty as Pigg in that regard. If I see FaceBook or YouTube open on a co-worker’s screen, my first thought is “slacker.” Pigg cited five authors who said, “social Internet use in work contexts is more frequently constructed as ‘cyberslacking'” (Pigg, 2014, p. 73). However, whenever I use social media at work, it is usually for work purposes. I’ve used Facebook to either contact a co-worker or to check the calendar of events at the base gym. I’ve used YouTube to learn how to accomplish tasks in Excel or how to change the combo on a lock.

I understand some of the technical limitations that prevent companies from utilizing social media, but I wonder if that is the whole story or if managers are hesitant to implement these tools due to the stigma of “cyberslacking.” In her article, “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication between the Global North and South,” Bernadette Longo (2014) wrote “one area of expertise technical communicators that have traditionally claimed is that of audience analysis and user accommodation” (p. 23). I think most companies try to accommodate their users, but it seems they are slacking in accommodating their employees.

Pigg (2014) could have used the City of Jacksonville as an example of an organization that blocks employees’ use of social media that has “largely negative effects on employees” (p. 73). Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry (2014) also found that 21 percent of all their study participants “reported that their company blocks the use of specific web sites” (p. 13) in their article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices.” Jacksonville’s animal shelter uses Facebook as the primary means to communicate with volunteers and fosters. Therefore, the employees have to utilize their smartphones and often their personal accounts to communicate on behalf of the city. This also makes their personal Facebook accounts subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

I am happy to report that the Department of Defense has recognized the potential of social media platforms and has replicated some of them with the appropriate security considerations. For example, my command uses its Intellipeda page to post our intelligence products. We also use chat/instant messaging, secure VOIPs, and secure video teleconferences to collaborate. For an exercise, we used SharePoint to collaborate, and it worked really well for multiple people to be able to edit products. However, we haven’t transitioned to SharePoint for our daily products. During a different exercise, Bleater (think Twitter), played a large role because all the “players” used it: good guys, bad guys, and bystanders.

Ferro and Zachry (2014) concluded their paper by suggesting teaching students about “services rather than on the sites that now dominate the popular imagination about social media. Students need to learn to communicate effectively through services, not only to operate the sites that are currently most popular in their network” (p. 20). I agree that focusing on what services a particular site can offer, we can help remove the stigma that social media is just a time-waster, when in fact, it can make us more productive.

Distributed Work and Collective Knowledge-making

Social media have spurred changes in communication­—technical and otherwise—far beyond expanding its reach and speeding its delivery. Stacey Pigg, in the article, “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work,” points out that communicators use social media not only to distribute their work, but also to collaborate with contributors and to build their careers.

I have a little experience with the first and third examples listed there. As a broadcast journalist, I used social media to distribute news stories beyond the traditional, set-time radio newscasts, and also to create relationships with more followers (for lack of a better term), in the hope that some of them would become listeners. I have not had much experience with using social media as a collaborative workspace, but this may be the biggest development of all.

Bernadette Longo, in her article, “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South,” points out just what a leap this idea of collective knowledge making is. When a work is put out online and others can contribute to it, through feedback, comments, or even direct additions, such as in a wiki, the line of authorship becomes blurred. The creator becomes as much a moderator as an author, and the product continues to evolve long after is published (if that’s even the right word anymore). The resulting product is “richer, deeper, and more useful” (Longo, 2013, p. 23). The idea of inviting readers to be contributors to the finished product takes the concept of audience-centered content to the extreme. The audience is, in fact, invited to help craft the final product until they find it most useful.

The social aspect of social media is well illustrated in Pigg’s article, which traces the work activities of a freelance communicator she calls Dave. During the course of a work session at a coffee shop, Dave reads other bloggers’ work while he composes his own blog. He and these other bloggers comment on each other’s work and link to one another’s blogs, helping to grow their audience together. Pigg points out the temporary alliance bloggers form as they build their community. Dave is also deliberately building his online persona as he creates his work and seeks out communities to join. He hopes the name recognition and credibility he establishes will attract more freelance work. To stay engaged in the online community, Dave constantly monitors social media, such as Twitter, and participates in the conversation.

As I mentioned, I have not collaborated much via social media or publicly available online services, though I have done considerable collaboration by email. In my current job, working for a large, national health care organization, I collaborate via email and Skype with people far away, some of whom I have never met in person. Some materials require input and approval from multiple departments in various regions across the country, so we email drafts back and forth (I know, it seems like this would be easier with Google Docs, but security and virus concerns make these forbidden). When we need a quick answer on something and we don’t want to get lost in the clogged email inbox, we instant message one another through Skype. We also share sample documents and discuss larger issues—enterprise style standards, best practices, etc.—through Yammer, a business-oriented internal social media platform.

Longo argues that social media is more effective in maintaining real-world interpersonal relationships that in creating new, virtual ones. I have to agree, as I am much more likely to interact with people I know in some other context. My most frequent social media interaction is with my own family. We have found social media to be very useful in keeping in touch. Back when I first went to college in the dark ages (the 1980s), our parents were lucky if we called home once a week. These days, my wife and I are able to exchange daily updates and even inside jokes with our grown daughters, one on the east coast and the other studying abroad. Depending on what we want to share—a quick comment, a picture, a video—these interactions might take place via Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, or WhatsApp. Whatever tool we’re using, it helps us feel closer together.

Pigg’s real-life example, “Dave,” can’t even articulate all of these different tasks he’s accomplishing with social media. We are developing new techniques and approaches before we know what to call them. Technical communication education must constantly evolve to understand, describe, and teach these concepts. The constant change creates challenges, but it should also be exhilarating. There’s no time to get bored with the same old same old. Communication is not static. There is always room for experimentation, looking for a better way to produce a better product and reach a broader, more interested audience.

Where is the internet taking us?

I was very intrigued by the YouTube video posted by the Apsen Institute titled “Is the internet taking us where we want to go?”  The host discussed that last summer there were two big news stories; Ferguson and the ice bucket challenge.  It was noticed that the frequency of the stories varied dramatically depending on the website.  Twitter covered Ferguson heavily while you were much more likely to see an ice bucket challenge video on Facebook.

We all know the algorithms behind search engines and social media are different depending on the site you prefer.  The host posed an interesting question.  Can we use social media and its algorithms to sway users reactions and habits?

The host gave a good example showing how social media did make a difference in trackable situations.  In the last presidential election Facebook selected 60 million users which is just a portion of their total number of users and added election content to the top of the Facebook page.  They put a notice saying that it was election day and gave a link to find your local polling location.  It was determined that this created a measurable increase in polling turn out.

The big question that was posed was is it ethical for social media to use its algorithms and content to control peoples choices and access to information.  Would it be ethical to change the algorithms during the Ferguson riots to show more pictures of cats or any humorous content and reducing the amount of news stories and videos of burning buildings.

I don’t think enough social media users understand how the social media sites have the ability to control information.  While I do think there is the potential to really reduce violence in the case of the riots.  There are a significant number of social media users that use Facebook and its variety of reliable and not so reliable news sources as their only source for information.  It is a very common occurrence to see one of my friends on Facebook like a clearly fake news article.

The last significant issue with control of algorithms is control of information and censorship.  It is a very delicate and complicated issue.  While some censorship can be beneficial to a groups general wellbeing, it is not in everyones best interest to not hear both sides to every story.  It is scary that social media sites can make decisions to sway things like politics.  We need to remember that many social media sites are businesses.  While most users don’t have to pay for their services, many businesses do and this generates significant income for the company.  I am not implying that all social media sites would take money to sway voters etc but it is within the realm of possibility.

Takeaways for a Technical Writer in a Web 2.0 World

One of the strongest responses from the boyd and Ellison article was the alignment of its age (nine years old) with the social network sites featured. When I asked my 34-year-old son (who happens to be visiting from Denver), “Is Myspace even still around?”, I received a string of dismissive invective that translated roughly as, “Why are you even talking about Myspace? Myspace hasn’t been a thing for years.” (He is a devout and frequent Facebook user / consumer.)

I hadn’t looked for Myspace.com in years but, yes, it still exists. My point, as underscored in boyd and Ellison’s further evaluation in the article, is that social network sites are subject to the same relentless attrition as other Web categories. What seems archaic is dissecting Friendster’s rise and fall.

My second response is one of chagrin. While I pride myself on a global outlook, I am nearly completely ignorant of social network sites popular in other countries. (On the other hand, as an EXTREMELY casual consumer of social media, that shouldn’t be surprising to me.)

My takeaway for communicators from this article is to constantly be on the alert for trends and the ebb and flow of social network sites. The tactic is to be an “early adoptor” of new sites and new features within existing sites.

The Keen vs. Weinberger debate (Thank you, Daisy, for the .pdf. Yes, the WSJ went all-subscription roughly a year ago.) extends a welcome cautionary note to my urging of communicators to be on the alert: “There is, indeed, a lot of ‘digital narcissism'” and even more flat-out lies, misinformation, and ideologically-driven nonsense. A savvy communicator needs to find and/or develop what Weinberg called “a wide range of trust mechanisms” because “They are the rule … because from the beginning the Web has been about inventing ways to make its own massness — its miscellaneousness — useful”.

Even more snarky, Keen rejoins (and supports a healthy skepticism): “Web 2.0 tells us that we all have something interesting to say and that we should broadcast it to the world … Web 2.0 transforms us into monkeys.  That’s the new abundancy, the long tail, if you like. Infinite primates with infinite messages on infinite channels. The only good news is that broadband is still pathetically slow. But what happens when fiber-to-the-home becomes a reality for all of us? … What happens with the monkeys have the technology of the Gods at their paw tips? Media will be transformed into ubiquitous chatter — into an audio-video version of Twitter.”

It was revealing to me to compare Keen and Weinberger’s debate with the “cold” numbers of the Blythe, Lauer, and Curran. While I carry the job title of “technical writer” and was, in fact, dismissed recently as “only a technical writer”, I was gratified to read “The notion of a ‘Technical Writer’’ seems dated, because maintaining a career in this field now involves blogging, editing, information management, UI=UX design, Usability, QA, training, API documentation, Persona development, etc. And that’s just in the software industry. . . . you must branch out and be a master of many skills and tools.”. While the pair sparred over  the “technology of the Gods”, what was not gratifying was the survey results showing  working professional and technical communicators continue have a somewhat lower usage level of sophisticated technology, exemplified by Adobe’s Technical Suite, Captivate, and Articulate’s Storyline.

As noted, I am a Technical Writer at Network Health Plan, a smallish health insurance company in Wisconsin. My primary tools are the Office 365 suite – Word, Visio. Excel, and (shudder) PowerPoint. I have PhotoShop Elements or PhotoShop “Lite” for graphic manipulation. I am also an administrator of the knowledge bases in ServiceNow.

For this content management system, have been a principal architect of the templates used for articles, processes for creating, reviewing, and approving articles, and coaching other team members in Information Services (IS) on how to use ServiceNow.

In addition, I am highly sought after as a Business Process Architect. This stems from an innate ability to condense, compile, and sort through a meeting’s palaver to deliver a coherent Visio diagram of a team’s task or process.

This recitation leaves out social media. Aside from Skype used as an internal messaging service, I do not routinely use social media and there are no supervisory or corporate expectations for interacting with blogs, Facebook, linkedin, etc. I’m not sure if forums built around solving problems in software programs counts as social media but I regularly haunt the ServiceNow forums in the usually futile quest to find answers for questions.

 

My point about a technical communicator’s need to be aware of social media, its evolution or de-evolution and the appearance of new “hot” outlets was acknowledging a wake-up call for me.

Social media in the Navy

In their article, “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul G. Curran (2014) wrote that “the availability of digital and mobile technologies has blurred the lines between personal and professional purposes, and has implications for how we characterize even seemingly inconsequential writing acts such as texing” (p. 282). As social media use evolves, the Navy has implemented policy changes to adapt. Here is my rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the Navy’s and Sailors’ uses of social media platforms.

The Good: Social media platforms have expanded the reach of the Navy’s public affairs offices. For example, here is the link to my command’s Facebook page. It shows pictures of ships providing humanitarian aid following Hurricane Maria and recently promoted Sailors. Commands’ social media pages are invaluable to family members of deployed Sailors so they can see some of the missions their loved ones are doing. Many Sailors prefer to use Facebook Messenger to contact loved ones while deployed or just stuck in a secure space. I have one particular Sailor who will more likely respond to a Facebook message than a phone call.

Many Sailors who are “sponsoring” a prospective gain to the command usually first turn to Facebook to find the new Sailor’s contact information. Danah M. Boyd and Nicole B. Ellison (2008) learned in their research “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” that many people don’t use social media to find new friends (p. 211), but in the Navy it is common practice to “Facebook stalk” incoming members to the command.

Group texting apps such as WhatsApp also help facilitate communication. During Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the base was evacuated. My chain of command did a poor job creating group text phone trees, so information flow was spotty. During Hurricane Irma, we created WhatsApp groups and the communication flow was greatly improved.

The bad: Boyd and Ellison (2014) cited Acquisti and Gross (2006), who said “there is often a disconnect between students’ desire to protect privacy and their behaviors” (p. 222). This is true in the Navy as Sailors have been disciplined for documenting their misbehaviors. The most recent case involved two corpsmen (these junior Sailors were misidentified as nurses in some media reports). who used SnapChat to share videos of them making newborns rap and pictures of their middle fingers with the infants. The caption read, “This is how I feel about these mini Satans.” What was likely just a stupid post to blow off some work steam will likely cost these Sailors their careers due to the outrage on social media. The commander of Navy medicine also implemented a new policy prohibiting the use of cell phones in patient care areas.

The ugly: Boyd and Ellison (2008) also discovered that homogeneous populations tend to associate on social media as well (p. 214). In the military, a group of likeminded servicemembers created a site to exchange nude photos of their fellow military members. It prompted the Chief of Naval Operations to make online harassment punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to include sharing intimate photos.

Moving forward, I hope more Sailors, especially the junior ones, can learn from the mistakes of their peers and only use social media for positive purposes.

How is Social Media Evolving?

Social Media has evolved and adapted to accommodate the way we as humans want to communicate with each other.  The boom of social media has triggered an ongoing cycle of refinement as we find new ways we want, or don’t want, to use social media.  A corrective behavioural pattern can be observed over time based on demands and problems.

Many social media sites have evolved into frameworks for people to use the application as they need. This is to accommodate users so they don’t have to have accounts with a new service for every group they have.  Boyd et al. closely review the history and refinement of Social Network Sites, and highlights the demand for niche online connections.  These types of sites give smaller groups a sense of community that they could get without having to physically find people. These days many network sites have designed themselves to support these niche sets of people in the form of Facebook Groups and Subreddits.  Boyd et al. also bring up the rise of user-generated content sites.  Sharing videos, music or photos no longer requires your own hosted website.  This is another version of adaptation to address a social media problem.

Social media evolution has successfully brought more users to a few very popular sites.  Consequently, this evolution of digital media is creating a level of data that we never had before.  Jonathan Zittrain brings up how we can observe when two people are going to be in a relationship by looking at their data on Facebook.  This type of pattern can only be observed by comparing many data sets in order to identify patterns.  This level of intelligence is opening up a variety of jobs such as Data Scientists and Analytics, which are symptoms of the boom in social media usage.

This level of information has also brought up less desired symptoms.  Privacy being one of the big issues.   What does social media owe us in terms of privacy and are they allowed to profit off of it?  Uber could be an example of taking it one step too far by tracking the location of a user even when they’ve been dropped off.  But if Uber had disclosed that they tracked passengers would that be okay?  Theoretically speaking, Uber could have disclosed the information and most of their users could have jumped ship.  Alternatively, they could have become the cheaper option to Lift because of the extra money being made by openly selling or publishing the data.

Using data for profit can also be seen in the rise of targeted advertisements.  There is a lot of controversy over targeted advertisements because users feel violated.  This is still an ongoing debate on whether or not this is ethical.  This is another form of social media evolution to accommodate users, but not necessarily with the user’s interest in mind.

Jonathan Zittrain also discusses the algorithms behind digital media and how they can influence a user’s perception.  This brings up the ethics on changing algorithms to accurately portray current events.  This entire discussion is a grey area.   For example, when you look at “Popular” articles on a social media site, what does that mean?  Who determines what is popular? Many user-generated content sites use an algorithm for determining this, is this ethical?  And if a site profits by altering the algorithm, should there be consequences?  There appears to be a demand for some kind of governance but it is unclear what it should be.

Problems like privacy and governance will open up new ways for certain social media sites to either thrive or fail.  In the end, we should see new adaptations of social media for every new problem or demand that comes up.

Who are we online?

Who are we when we are online? Are we really ourselves, or do we take advantage of the technological filter of the Internet to create a slightly (or greatly) more idealized version of ourselves for public consumption? In the article, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” danah boyd and Nicole Ellison outline many of the aspects of social networks that have attracted the interest of researchers. Two of those aspects, which are related to each other, are impression management and friendship performance. So what kind of impression are we trying to make?

There are three main ways to make an impression on a social media site that I can think of. Ellison and boyd point out research that explores how people’s profiles and friend lists make an impression. I would say that what you choose to post adds to the impression people get when they connect with you online.

Let’s start with the profile. When you are building a social network profile, you are deliberately deciding what you want people to know about you. Let’s set aside privacy concerns for now—my brother, for instance, won’t post his true birthdate, not because he doesn’t want people to know he’s the oldest, but so it’s harder for an identity thief to impersonate him—and focus on what we do and don’t want people to know about us.

On my Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, I allow people to see my age. I’m not ashamed. Maybe next year when I’m 50, I’ll feel differently, but I doubt it. I include all of the jobs I have held as an adult. My Facebook profile includes all of my education, including high school, to help me connect with past classmates. My LinkedIn profile only includes my post-high-school education. It also includes my resume, professional awards, and links to some articles I have had published.

This information is factual, but mainly designed to make me look good, I guess. However, if you pay attention to the education section, you’ll see that at one point I began a college career and then abandoned it. It took me many years to finally accomplish that task.

Secondly, let’s look at the Facebook friend list and LinkedIn connections. According to boyd and Ellison, research indicates that who your friends are make up part of your online identity. I would add that the number of friends might also affect the impression people have of you. I have 476 Facebook friends and 326 LinkedIn connections. That seems respectable to me. I do not work very hard to increase those numbers. But I just noticed I have a friend who has over 1,100 Facebook friends and somewhere over 500 connections on LinkedIn. My impression of this is that she is more popular than I am! My self–worth is slightly diminished.

As far as who my friends are, I’m not sure what that says about me. There are some wonderful people on the list and some I would not choose to hang out with in person. I have not made a point of courting influential social media friends, though I do seek out influential professional connections on LinkedIn.

I think that what we choose to post on social media also makes an impression. Some people brag about themselves or their kids, others complain about their jobs or spouses, some make political statements, and some post amazingly uninteresting minutia. I like to post pictures of myself kayaking and playing guitar, because I think that’s the closest I come to looking cool. I have bragged about my daughters; that shows what a great parent I have been. I have posted pictures of awards I have won, brag brag. Other than that, though, I like to make people laugh, so I am much more likely to post about something stupid I have done than something that makes me look good. I would not likely post about a successful day on the job, but I did post a story about getting lost in the back hallways of the hospital where I work. The impression I probably made there? Funny, but stupid. Maybe I gain a few points for humility.

I have a feeling that after reading some of this research, I will have the urge to polish up my online self!

Relationship between technical communication and social media

There is a strong relationship between technical communication and social media. In the article Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing students for Technical Communication in the age of social media the authors discuss that link between social media and technical communication is heightened due to the number of internet users and increased availability of social media. They also discuss that 247 million Americans have internet access. The new found access to social media in recent years has increased the amount of internet users who are exposed to technical communication. However I think a significant amount of the original content found on social media doesn’t follow the implied rules of technical communication. Many posts are not clear or to the point. Many posts are not original content to begin with. A lot of writers of social media content don’t consider the audience either. The content may just be for themselves. A lot of the content of social media has nothing to do with anything technical. There is a clear connection between social media and technical writing. But there are many examples that show how some social media doesn’t follow the definition of technical communication.

Be professional

In their article, “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” Hurley and Hea (2013) discussed their students a fear of “illegitimacy about social media,” which is reasonable considering their introduction of Social Media Gone Wrong: Greatest Hits (p. 56). However, I’ve found the easiest way to counter the illegitimacy fear is to be professional.

Kitten Lady’s Hannah Shaw is a perfect example. She is an animal advocate and on her website, she provides resources — mainly YouTube videos — on how to take care of kittens. As she says on her website, http://www.kittenlady.org, she started to create resources when she tried to find information on caring for neonatal kittens and came up empty-handed.

Whenever I have a question about kitten care, my first stop is her YouTube channel. Hannah isn’t a vet or vet tech but that does not dimish her credibility in her videos because they are beautifully produced. They look professional therefore her audience associates her with being a credible professional. Even her kitten rap videos, which are made just for fun, follow suit with her instructional pieces.

Hurley and Hea (2013) also mentioned their students were leery about social media because there’s so much noise, it can be difficult to be heard (p. 60). Thank goodness the internet loves cats. Hannah recently hit 500,000 followers on Instagram mostly because her feed is adorable kittens. She uses the kittens as a draw and links to her other media in the caption.

My friend Megan, a registered dietitian who runs http://www.thenutritionaddiction.com, recently posted on Instagram that taking professional-looking photos was a major key to building her business and attracting new clients.

Neither one of these ladies are technical communicators, but they are both using social media to instruct their audiences. Hurley and Hea (2013) had their students complete similar projects for technical communication classes (p. 63).

While social media can reveal negative personal information about people, it can also convey positive personal information as well, which makes social media personalities like Hannah and Megan seem more relatable. Hannah reveals that she takes vacations, so she doesn’t burn out from neonatal kitten care. She also recently broke down crying on a live post because of all the mean comments she was receiving. Most of them suggested she needed to take care of all the orphaned kittens. She used the video to stress “You are someone and you can help, too.”

On her Instagram, Megan confesses that her favorite foods are chips and salsa and she has a penchant for vodka. Again, it’s that “real talk” that adds to her credibility on social media.

Technical communicators who want to use social media should do so professionally and with a human touch. It shows empathy, which I think is the epitome of social media. Think of it as wearing a tuxedo T-shirt. It says “I want to be formal, but I’m here to party” (Cal Naughton Jr. from Talledaga Nights). 

Technical and Professional Communication: One tweet at a time

I’ll admit it. There was a time I never though I would tweet, or snap, or instagram (apparently that can be used as a verb). As a broadcast journalist at the time, I already complained that some of my newscasts were only a minute long. What on earth could I say in 140 characters? Eventually I saw Twitter as a way to parcel out bits of breaking news, stay engaged with my audience when I could not break into programming, and develop an interactive relationship with them. Now that I work on the public relations side of media, I am continuing to learn how social media can be used in a professional way, allowing me to reach an interested audience, form relationships, establish credibility, and collect useful feedback.

The article, “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media,” by Hurley and Hea, illustrates many of these points in arguing that technical and professional communication students should take seriously the study of social media for professional use. I am lucky that, after a long break from school, I completed my undergraduate work recently, and my coursework included study and practice in social media.

I now work for a large and very credible health care organization that uses social media for many of the purposes outlined by Hurley and Hea. My organization distributes helpful and interesting health and wellness content, written by doctors, nurse practitioners, nutrition educators, and others, in order to establish a relationship with patients (and potential patients) and to establish credibility.

We do not solicit readers to provide their own helpful insights on how to perform cardiovascular surgery, so crowdsourcing is not really part of what we do, but I have seen it in action. I first became aware of online crowdsourcing way back in 2000, when I was experimenting with home music recording. I was trying to pick out the best combination of equipment to make reasonably professional-sounding recordings in my spare bedroom. I discovered the online community at homerecording.com, where I could search for answers and post my own questions about specific microphones, multi-track recorders, and other gear, as well as how to use them. It didn’t matter to me that those answering were not employees of a company, or even trained experts. It was like calling up a friend who knew about the subject and asking what they would do, except it was a total stranger.

The examples Hurley and Hea use, such as Instructibles.com, show how a user can use such a platform to not only reach an audience, but to obtain free feedback, serving as market research and consulting help. While many comments may be inane and unhelpful, some will help the producer create even better content.

Social media analytic tools can help a content creator evaluate what kinds of content will be most widely read, though I have see the concept of the “economy of likes” at work. We were recently discussing how an article about potential health benefits to allowing your pets to sleep in your bedroom was being widely shared, much more so than articles containing more “hard hitting” health information. The students in Hurley and Hea’s classes were right to point out that just because something is more widely read and shared does not indicate it is of the highest informational value. Still, this is nothing new. Traditional media are driven by ratings and readership. TV programs that rate the highest aren’t necessarily of the highest value; they simply catch the attention of the most people.

Having worked in traditional media through the rise of the worldwide web and social media, I watched my peers first sneer at, and then embrace platforms such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, gradually learning how to use them effectively to maintain a relationship with their audience. Not that I had tremendous foresight. I had to be coaxed along, just like everyone else.

I’m a believer now. The technical and professional communicator who dismisses any channel that they think only their children will ever use will miss huge opportunities to reach and engage an audience, but he or she should take the time to evaluate how and why they will use a particular channel for a particular purpose.

Reached

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Prior to this course, I saw social media like blogging and Facebook as a tool for communicating with friends and family; Whereas, LinkedIn was more professional.  I never understood how to use Twitter, so I paid no mind to it, and especially chose to dislike it as social media when tweets by celebrities and politicians cause an uproar and divisiveness within our communities.  Perhaps I am a bit “old school,” for I saw these forms of communicating to be more social and not to be used in an academic sense. Generally, I teach my students that blogs are not to be cited in academic papers, unless you research the author and can show that the individual is an expert in his or her field. In essence then, I taught them to see social media to be “illegitimate.”

Bridges of Technical Communication

I realize I need to change my perception and teaching methods to “encourage students to adopt a critical stance to disrupt dominant constructions of social media as either wholly illegitimate or entirely beneficial” (Verzosa, Hurley & Kimme Hea, 2014). Since I do teach for a technical college, many of my students may work for a company in which they have to create blogs, manage a Facebook page, Tweet clients and more. All become a form of technical writing and are not merely one’s musings of the days events or shout outs to a friend. These forms of communication are important and can truly help as a bridge of communication between a business and its’ customers.

P.S.

I was just chatting with my son about class and what we are discussing this week. He shared with me some musicians songs–one in particular called “Erase Your Social” by Lil Uzi Vert–Warning though..some may find the language offensive. My son confirmed that there are mixed emotions regarding social media with his generation (he is a Junior in high school).

 

Third-time blogger

This is not my first go at blogging. Having completed my undergraduate degree fairly recently, I was required to blog regularly for a couple of classes. My first blog was a random collection of posts about communication in general. It was a chance to practice the mechanics of blogging, including embedding images, video, and other media, and it served the secondary purpose of forcing me to research a new communication topic each week. However, I can’t imagine anyone following that blog of their own accord.

My second blog project allowed me to pursue any subject I chose. I decided to do an interview format focused on community theatre entitled, “Dan the Theatre Man: On Enjoying and Excelling in Community Theatre.” In choosing a subject I had an interest in, I was able to apply some of the concepts outlined by Alex Reid in the article, “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web.” I focused on a subject in which I had a strong personal interest and could speak about with reasonable authority, having participated in the craft for 35 years. I’m not sure my blog fulfilled the mission of showing an urgency to the subject matter or fulfilling an important and reasonable purpose, but I definitely achieved the “state of flow” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as I got lost in the writing. I aimed for 500 words, but often found myself wanting to write three times that length. My enthusiasm for the subject matter made for a readable blog. Thanks to shares from some of my interview subjects, I was able to reach as many as 500 readers for my top post.

I agree with Reid’s belief that having an outlet with complete freedom of choice makes writing more enjoyable, and the more students write, the better they will get. Creating your own blog is also a good exercise in defining a target audience.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of creating my own blog and the exercise helped me hone my efficient writing skills, even after I had been writing broadcast materials for more than 25 years.

Continuous Integration

There are very specific digital cultures that people need to understand when approaching certain social media platforms. For example, I should not talk about my personal life on LinkedIn, and I should not share company information over Facebook messenger. “The Rhetoric of Reach” suggests that understanding this culture is necessary before even approaching social media as a means of technical communication. The paper also suggests that these cultural boundaries are becoming looser. What the executive of a company says on Twitter can change the stock of the company in addition to their public image and employment.

My company recently became active in social media and made a huge deal out of it. Multiple emails and were given on how to publicly present ourselves when interacting as a member of the company on social media. The purpose of the social media was purely business driven. And I really don’t blame them after all the social media mishaps that have occurred online. When an employee posts the public often sums up that one user’s comment with the entire company’s world view. This level of scepticism is unfortunately a new standard.
On a more positive note, the understanding of digital cultures can help influence and “reach” more people. A couple of my friends worked at a company called Klout. Klout specialises in helping improve social media using scores and metrics for a user trying to get more viewers, or “reach.” It kind of seems like a credit bureau but for your social media. Of course, services like this cost money so it may not be in scope for a group of students doing a class project. For the more serious people trying to monetize and influence the world, however, this may be a great option. The fact that a company like this even exists is commentary on the quickly increasing trend and power that social media has.
Another form of “reach” I’ve noticed is the trend in monetary crowdsourcing sites, such as GoFundMe. The number of shares for each campaign are often in the thousands to promote more donations I actually did a small project this summer and observed how the sentiment metric of Tweets and stories influenced the overall success of a GoFundMe campaign. From the small amount of data, I had it appeared that positive stories and Tweets tended to be associated with successful campaigns.
The reasons people use social media are growing beyond entertainment. And in return social media is having more influence over things like money and our jobs. Staying literate in technology and the culture that surrounds it seems to more necessary than ever.

Blogging Literacy, Trends, and Journalism

Back in the days of LiveJournal and MySpace I got into the groove of writing blogs for everyone to see.  I would primarily write about emotionally driven subjects that nobody would ever listen to in person.  There was some fun in waiting to see if anyone would comment or view the posts that I made.  I especially loved DeviantArt because I could get public feedback over artistic pieces I posted online.  Over time the concept of privacy and permissions became more popular so I stayed with social media platforms that only displayed content to people I knew.  Additionally, the culture of blogging changed as well.

 

These days I use blogs for sourcing a lot of my information for work.  I read technology blogs often to get first hand experiences of how to create things with certain technologies.  They often give new perspectives that you cannot find from any book. You can also publicly solve problems online with groups of people you would not be able to find locally.  This aspect of technology blogs is a great way for engineers to network or get hired with new companies.  Technology blogging gives a great feeling of community and inspiration.

 

This article highlights the trends in blogging in today’s digital world.  Blogs are bringing more graphical inspiration, less comments, more content, and more inspiration.  Many blogs don’t even have one dedicated blogger, but a collaboration of many influential writers.  In regards to graphical inspiration, you can observe the new, or not so new, trend of food blogging.  Rather than a lengthy post about one topic, food blogs have a specific graphical standard they are upheld to. Many food bloggers benefit from a great camera to take pictures of the food.  I will find myself choosing recipes specifically for the beautiful pictures, regardless of whether or not the recipe seems to make sense.  I find myself actually trusting visual aids more than the content of the articles. And I can’t seem to stop myself.

 

Upon reading many of the articles on blogging literacy, I find myself wondering what the real difference between a blog and a news outlet is.  I suppose at this point they seem to be the same, as many examples listed, like Huffington Post, are treated like news outlets.   Now that everything has a digital version it is hard to differentiate between the two, especially when the content is the same.  Additionally, certain goals seem the same, more content and more viewers.  Unfortunately, the concept of journalism does not seem like a shared goal.  With the emerging technology, trusted sources of news may not be so easy to find.