Category Archives: Social Media

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 this 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.

 

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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.

Breaking mindset

This is my first course for my certificate requirements. I wasn’t totally sure I would “fit” into the MSTPC program since my background is literature, and I have limited experience with technical writing and media. I saw it as a challenge of my boundaries of knowledge. However, as a reader of some of the class material, I felt I was not part of the target audience since I am not familiar with technical writer jargon etc. Of course, if a reader cannot relate to the material, it is a struggle to maintain interest and focus. Nonetheless, I kept on reading. As I was reading Blythe, Lauer and Curran’s “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World,” I began to relate, to focus and to reflect.

I teach mainly composition at a technical college, yet we still devise our composition classes as if they were for a four-year college. I have had some of my students complain about having to take one writing class since they felt it didn’t pertain to their program. Of course, in the end they understand that any writing genre (mainly essays) will help them communicate more effectively in their careers. However, the set curriculum may not be sufficient if many of my technological-minded students are going into careers where more technical writing would be the norm.

A student who graduates from a technical school is more apt to be required to write similar forms of communication as mentioned in Blyth, Lauer and Curran’s report. Figure 1 (Blythe, Lauer and Curran, 2014, p. 273) lists research papers only on the bottom of the type most valued column; whereas, emails, instruction manuals, websites, presentations and blogs are at the top of both the list of most often used and most valued. So, perhaps I can begin making changes in my courses to meet the future needs of my students.

 

I am not discounting the value of essay writing and the objectives of our mandatory writing courses, for it does require the skills needed to do many of the more technical forms of writing. However, perhaps exposing students to other genres of writing would be beneficial in that it may attract the interest of a more tech-savvy (or interested) audience and may lead students to feel like they are getting more out of their course that they can apply directly to their programs and future careers.

 

Perhaps being a student again (not originally by choice) has reminded me of how my students feel when entering my required classes. Plus, this class is broadening my understanding of writing and the value of different forms of communicating in today’s technical world. Hopefully, my students will feel the same.

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.

Jennifer’s blogging experience

As I mentioned in my introduction, I first started blogging for an undergrad class. During that time, I was also the web editor of my college newspaper, The Times-Delphic. So, I also created a blog for the newspaper. Reporters blogging was all the rage at Gannett, so I thought I should mimic the tactic.

I don’t recall a lot of people reading either blog. I usually blogged after I posted an issue so I could highlight it. I also blogged when there was breaking news that I posted to the Web site. I honestly don’t remember what I had to blog about for my class. How sad is that? In my defense, it was over 10 years ago.

Despite my limited recollection of what I actually wrote, I remember thoroughly enjoying the experience. Alex Ried’s article “Why Blog? Searching for Writing on the Web” explained that school assignments are just that — assigned. Whereas blogging “is an excellent opportunity for exploring and developing intrinsic motivations for writing” (p. 303).

During one of my performance reviews, I mentioned starting a health and fitness blog for The Des Moines Register. I never followed through with it, but I wanted to create it because it was a subject I was interested in and wanted to learn more about. Again, 10 years later, I still haven’t blogged about the topic, but I did create a PowerPoint on it for training. I included pictures of RuPaul, cheese, and booze, so you know it’s not boring.

I am looking forward to reacquainting myself with this medium.

 

Blog on blogging

Blog, blog, blog. . .

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

The Writing Process

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

Audience, Tone & Context

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

Ta Da!

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

 

Blogging Experience and Literacy

I haven’t had a lot of experience working with blogs. When I was in high school in a web design class we designed the graphic side of a blog. We had to make a blog but it was really focused on design and presentation not in the content of the blog. That was the only experience I’ve had with writing a blog.

I have read a number of blogs on a variety of topics. I feel that blogging is a balance of content and design. Both aspects are equally important in my eyes. It can be hard to hold a readers attention without an eye catching and easy to read design.

The article I have picked to react to is the 16 Top Tips from Blogging Experts for Beginners article. Overall I have a positive reaction to the article. It does seem like it is focused more on blogs that are meant to make a profit or for a business instead of ones for educational content.

Some of the tips given in the article that I found valuable were being consistent, giving away your knowledge and being true to your voice. All three of these ideas help develop the blogs value and increase the reliability of your content.

Some of the tips that I didn’t find to be helpful in an educational blogging setting were give give away stuff, give your email list priority, and keep it short. These tips may work in some situations but may have less value in an educational setting. Especially keep it short. Being consistent and concise is important but after reading the description of our blogging prompts for the rest of the semester we will need more than a minute or two of reading which was the recommendation in the article.

What I Did on My Previous Blogging Efforts

First off, Word Press, stop helping me. If I want your help, I will ask for it. Until then, take your little Clippit knockoff somewhere else.

Sheesh. That is nearly as obnoxious as Microsoft’s programs constantly offering to “help”.

I have started blogs but, like journaling or other desirable permanent endeavors, they all faded away in time. I have also contributed to blogs over time. The longest tenure in that area was about two years in a science fiction interactive fiction effort.

As the tone of this post’s beginning suggests, I see blogs as usually pretty loose, free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness personal expressions. I get that is likely not the case here for the next 15 or so weeks.

Thank you for a great semester!

 

Finally! Done!

It has been a wonderful semester learning about emerging technologies and how they relate to technical communication. Below is the abstract for my final paper. Sorry, it’s late to posting.

I enjoyed meeting you and seeing a lot of different ideas and perspectives. It’s been a while since attending classes in academia, so most of my communication with technical communicators have been with practitioners, which is a different conversation than college. Money is a motivating factor with practitioners.

Using Content Management and Social Media for a Unified Content Strategy

Anyone inside of an organization can create content. Many organizations struggle to develop a sustainable and flexible content strategy to meet the needs of all stakeholders. There are many content management and social media tools available to help manage content.

Throughout my research, I found a bunch of resources that were valuable for this paper from the peer-reviewed articles. One of the surprising items was reading Behles’ work in online collaborative writing tools (2013). She discovered some of the tools practitioners in TC use and that related well with Ferro & Zachry’s article we read for class. (To be quite honest, how I found Ferro & Zachry’s article was via research databases and it didn’t occur to me that I was rereading the same article we discussed in class until I put together my bibliography).

I wanted to find out what some of the aspects that my organization is handling content strategy and ways we are identifying it from the perspective I have. I know that I have worked at other parts of the organization, however content strategy is a wide-reaching topic that covers everything from content creation, content management systems, organizational culture, internal politics, and much more. To narrow this down, my paper investigates content strategy as a means to manage content within a workplace environment, current approaches to collaborative and social tools, and trends where technology and business culture can take us to.  I related this discussion to include experiences at my workplace and suggest ways to adopt certain aspects of content strategy.

To give you context about content strategy, I looked at Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web as a starting point. However, there are many others who have chimed in the matter, such as Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper, who wrote, Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy. However, we don’t necessarily have to look at these two books to set the tone and follow their guidance. There are many more resources to pull from and there is so much more that can be researched. Such as, how social media tools can be used for content strategy besides research gathering, feelings about people using a melding of social media tools within a business environment, and and what kinds of new technologies that haven’t been invented (or reinvented) that can be used.

Conclusion

This paper really kicked me. But I believe that using the blog and writing the annotated bibliography and speaking via Skype helped out. I wished I could have put my work’s project on hold for a bit longer, but as with any higher education institution, the rush time is usually at the end of the semester and especially so before we take off for winter break.

Lastly, I believe content strategy = future job security.

I’d suggest attending the LavaCon Content Strategy Conference, either in Dublin, IE or Portland, OR in 2017. You can see the perspective of technology tools, business process, and technical communication put into practice.


Bibliography

Behles, J. (2013). The use of online collaborative writing tools by technical communication practitioners and students. Technical Communication, 60(1), 28-44.

Ferro, T., & Zachry, M. (2014). Technical communication unbound: Knowledge work, social media, and emergent communicative practices. Technical Communication Quarterly, 23(1), 6-21.

Halvorson, K., & Rach, M. (2012). Content strategy for the web. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Rockley, A. & Cooper C. (2012). Managing enterprise content : A unified content strategy (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Is technical communication ready for the crowd?

Way back in 2010, I was involved with a platform similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, but for editors. A program would break a long document, such as a novel or somebody’s thesis, into 300-400 word chunks. Then a pool of editors (I among them) would edit however many of those chunks they felt like until all were edited, at which point the program would reassemble. The edits were peer-reviewed–having an edit rejected hurt your credibility score, and if your score dropped too low, you lost the ability to edit.

I was (and still am) fascinated by crowdsourcing, especially wikis. When it came time to write my capstone paper for my BS in TechComm, I desperately wanted to write about crowdsourcing in TC, but there was just no literature on it. As Andy Oram states in the Foreword of Anne Gentle’s Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation, “A few years ago this book could not have been written, because the phenomena it describes were just poking their heads out of the sea, and no one could predict what form their evolution would take. A few years from now this book will be unnecessary, because we’ll all be participating so fully in the phenomena that newcomers will take to them like ducks to water.”

I wanted to know if the latter was true–is TC, as a field, moving toward crowdsourcing and user-generated content? To determine this, I am performing a review of the literature in TC to see who is writing about it and what they’re saying. The preliminary results say that, yeah the field knows all about it, but academia still hasn’t caught up. Blog post after blog post discusses using wikis, forums, and other Web 2.0 tools to build and feed a community of content-generating users, with the technical communicator acting as a facilitator, moderator, and editor-in-chief. StackExhange and FLOSS manuals are almost entirely written and curated by the crowd. From the practitioner standpoint, crowdsourcing is here, and it’s working.

Yet academia is strangely silent. While there is a seemingly endless supply of books and articles about crowdsourcing, there is very little relating to our field. Only a single book exists dedicated to the topic as it pertains specifically to TC (Anne Gentle’s from above), and a few others (many of them readings from this course) mention crowdsourcing in passing, but don’t focus on it. Precious few articles from scholarly sources mention it, and only one article (from a non-scholarly source) actually uses the term crowdsourcing.

Is academia lagging behind industry, as it is inclined to do at times in this field? Is academia, with its more conservative approach, less open to the reinvention of the field? I don’t know the answer, but it is clear that there is a need for more scholarly discussion and research into crowdsourcing and user-generated content, because they are alive and well in the field. As they become more widely embraced, practitioners will start to search for guidance and best practices–if they don’t find them in scholarly sources, they will turn to blogs more and more, perhaps leading to the extinction of our field’s journals.

Can’t Believe I Made It

Well, we’ve reached the end of this semester and, honestly, in these last couple weeks I wasn’t sure I was going to get everything done! But, I did and I’m so excited to have the next couple weeks to spend not thinking about school 😉

Overall, I’m really glad I took this course, as it has been an excellent addition to my previous knowledge on social media and its uses in TPC. Here is a look at my final project for the course (which ended up being way longer than I anticipated):

Social Media’s Use in Employment

The topic I wanted to research  for this project(all uses of social media in employment decisions) ended up being far to broad to fit into the scope of this paper, so I had to narrow my focus a bit. I ended up focusing my paper on the use of social media in employee selection (screening) decisions – looking at the advantages and disadvantages for both the employer and the applicant.

This topic is of interest to me because, as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, I currently work for a pre-employment screening firm so the area of screening applicants is somewhat familiar to me (although we do not use any information we obtain from social media profiles in our reports, we often look at them). Additionally, as I was finishing up my undergraduate career (when social media was blowing up), I was constantly told horror stories of how social media profiles could prevent you from getting jobs, and the strange and seemingly inappropriate methods for gaining access to profiles (for example, requiring applicants to provide login information so employers could look at all aspects of a profile, even that which is password protected). These two areas, along with the fact that social media use is often delegated to the technical communicator in an organization, led me to choose about this topic.

What I found is essentially common sense (at least to me) – don’t post inappropriate things on the internet, carefully monitor privacy settings and what other people post about you, etc. Additionally, organizations should create specific procedures if they are using social media profiles for decisions to deny employment to an applicant, to avoid discrimination and bias. Some of the legal cases I read about were exceedingly interesting, but too long and complicated to retell in this format (though I did talk my husband’s ear off about them on several occasions).

Conclusions

This course was extremely interesting and provided me with a great deal of experience in creating quite a lengthy report and a case study (which I really enjoyed creating). Though quite challenging, I think I am leaving this course with not only a wider base of knowledge on the use of social media and its connections to technical communication, but also a better grasp of creating different kinds of documents (blog posts, case study, etc.) that will no doubt be useful to me in the future.

Where Social Media Brand Communities and Technical Writing Meet

I’ve been intrigued by both this class’s use of social media and readings about social media, as well as the changing role of technical communicators. It made me start to wonder — what if technical documentation was a social media platform?

Companies are already investing heavily in social media brand communities where they create their own internal social media sites so that customers can connect with each other and provide direct feedback to the company. Earlier research has shown that strong social media brand communities have a sense of connectedness, rituals and traditions in the form of storytelling, and a moral responsibility where users want to contribute. All of these seem like a natural fit for technical documentation.

The company where I work has a vibrant social media brand community based on a discussion forum that is accessible to customers only. Customers use it to post questions and offer support for each other. We’ve begun to integrate it with our repository of published technical documentation through shared searching and allowing for commenting directly on documents.

Using my company’s site as the primary case study, my final paper focused on pushing the boundaries of where we can go next. The idea of social media brand communities creating technical documentation fits with the trend toward user-generated content (a la Wikipedia) and would certainly change the face of technical communications. However, it might be premature to begin publishing both company-created content and customer generated content alongside each other and without distinction without a way to validate what customers write. Users need a way to know which of their peers are credible and to identify trustworthy documentation.

Until we tackle those questions of developing a trust system and a way to maintain the quality of technical documentation, there are some baby steps that both my company and other organizations can take to begin leveraging the power of the user community in technical writing. These include:

  • Integrating social media features such as commenting and “likes” with technical documentation.
  • Using viewer data to organize content and help users find what others similar to them have read.
  • Creating collaborative documents where the company partners with a customer in creating a new guide.

I think the big takeaway for me from this course and from the final paper has been how rapidly technical communication is changing. It’s an exciting time to think about all the new tools that are available, and we’ll also have to be agile and aggressive as we redefine our role in a new age of documentation.

open road horizon

Cultural Honesty in a Digital Reality

Hi ENGL 745 compatriots!

We have reached the end of the semester and it has been a long time coming. Looking at the web, digital literacy, and the effect of technology on society and relationships has caused me to ask a lot of questions.

Chief among them, how much of an effect does the ease of online and transnational communication have on intercultural communication and discourse?

icc

Source: (https://www.dal.ca/dept/interculturalcommunication.html)

Does it matter to anyone? Is it in any way our job to question the short-term and long-term effects our digital reality has brought?

Yes, of course it is. As technical communicators, we work in a field that runs on our ability to analyze trends in technology, craft content that has a global audience, and manage communications (social media, technical writing, editing, translation, etc) that represents both ourselves, our companies and clients, and our audience.

As audience members, we must also be aware of what we are taking part in, what we are allowing with the continued subsistence on technology and digital communications.

It is more important than ever that digital literacy become a focal point for study and reflection. Not just for those of us choosing this career. Not just for the audience members who have an interest in the cause-and-effect relationship society now plays with technology. But for every man, woman, and child to take an active part in educating themselves.

You also have to ask yourself: is this really a problem? It is a fact that in order to get something – a job, a car, a house, an education, security, we have to sacrifice something else – manpower, time, money, even more money, free will. It is the nature of the beast.

So in order to have almost worldwide communication, it makes sense that we would have to sacrifice the cultural minutiae, beliefs, axioms, concepts, ideas, and linguistic foibles that speak to a greater identity and connection to history, race, gender, nationality in order to be widely understood. In order to take part in the conversations that are taking place around us (anyone with an Internet connection and the ability to communicate is instantly apart of a greater whole), how we interact with content as consumers, creators, managers, and technical communicators comes from being able to understand and be understood in turn.

So what does this mean for us and for a world of people constantly online?

There are methods to become more culturally sensitive. Professionally, there are training sessions and programs and a gaggle of Human Resources personnel ready and willing to stamp their workforce as “actively seeking diverse candidates and new ideas.”

Academically, there are courses and programs designed around international and intercultural communication like the one at the University of Denver. Our program has two classes along these lines though they are not mandatory and have not been taught in a few years.

We used to be content with our letters. Reading and writing meant power and opportunity. That is no longer the case. Literacy is still not at 100% but digital literacy has become just as important for us all to learn.

web_iicpaintedface

Source: http://www.du.edu/ahss/mfjs/programs/graduate/iic.html)

If there is one other thing I have taken away from this class it’s that I am definitely going to be starting a blog for the new year. This medium is so flexible and a great mix of text and visuals.

It’s been an adventure these past few weeks. I hope everyone has a great end of the semester and rings out the rest of 2016 in style. Happy Holidays to everyone!

Web 2.0 vs Health 2.0

I’m relieved to put an end to this semester; taking 6 credit hours and a full-time workload has taken a toll on my health and social life.

Web 2.0

Whether you grew up without internet access and mobile technology or you can’t imagine life without it, Web 2.0 has enabled all of us to contribute, share, participate, respond, and connect to much more information than the last 2000 years put together (I read this somewhere). Emerging media continues to connect more people across the world and disconnect them from the person sitting next to you or across the table. Of all the texts we read in this course, I was most influenced by Sherry Turkle. Yes, it took 15 years to write Alone Together, but it was worth the wait. Because if she had published the book after a year or two, she wouldn’t have made such a dramatic impact. This was a turning point for me; I took a break from Web 2.0 for a couple weeks (except for contributing to this class) to examine how my attention was keeping me away from what was really important – relationships with people.

 

health-20-patient-empowerment-through-innovative-technologies-3-728

SlideShare.net by Sean Mirk

Health 2.0

As Web 2.0 continues to change and evolve faster than ever before, health 2.0 is slowly gaining web presence and connecting with consumers and patients. Health 2.0, as defined by Jane Sarasohn-Kahn (2008), is “the use of social software and its ability to promote collaboration between patients, their caregivers, medical professionals, and other stakeholders in health” (p. 2). I researched the quality of health information found through social media and evaluated whether health information influenced health behaviors. The following is an excerpt from my final research paper. This will also contribute to my final thesis for this program.

Introduction

Where can millions of people access free health information? The answer  – online social media, health communities and health websites. Healthcare has the potential of reaching millions of people to disseminate information about disease prevention, public health awareness campaigns, nutrition and exercise promotion, dietary supplements, new prescription drugs and other health-related information. According to the Pew Research Center (Greenwood, Perrin, and Duggan, 2016), nearly 80% of all adult Americans online use Facebook for news while adults over the age of 65 and women comprise the majority of all social network users. Web technology has enabled more consumers to have direct communication with businesses, medical/health websites, and online health communities to find health information they need for themselves or family members; however, health 2.0 technology has been slow to reach Web 2.0’s capabilities. A study conducted by Jha, Lin and Savoia (2016) analyzed 34 U. S. state health departments’ social media postings on Facebook and found there was very little interaction between the Facebook page and the audience; social networks were only being utilized as a one-way communication tool and oftentimes the information was not relevant to the audience (p. 177).

Problem

As healthcare and health insurance costs increase and research about new procedures and medicine become readily available, more people are becoming their own health advocates and searching for health and medical answers online. People are searching for information about ailments, illnesses such as cold or flu, natural and herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and side effects of prescription drugs. However, with the abundance of health information online it is often difficult to determine its credibility, relevance, and accuracy. The accuracy of information is neither consistent nor reliable across health websites, so how do people know what to believe to make informed decisions about their health or when to seek advice from a physician? Social networks also promote unethical and inaccurate news sites through advertising and social sharing, which reduces the authority and reliability of health information online.

Furthermore, medical professionals, health officials and government entities are not effectively using social networks to disseminate health information for targeted audiences. Thus, online users are not receiving accurate or timely health information to make informed decisions that could be detrimental to themselves or family members.

… the research continues with this topic, I found more articles of interest as I was writing this post, internet sources elude me; however, I hope you have learned to navigate the ever-changing technology during this course.

Happy Holidays and  Congratulations if you are graduating! Fair winds and following seas, as we say in the Navy.

 

 

DONE DONE DONE DONE

Finals are horrible.  This really nice girl from one of my classes sent a super nice note this morning to congratulate everyone on being done with the semester and I’m like, “Dude, ouch.  Not even close.”  Because today was only day one of the brutality.  Three papers in two days is so mean.  I don’t recommend 9 credits to anyone.  EVER.  Under ANY circumstances.

Anyway!  Here’s a summary of my paper:

TRUE Studio, Yoga Branding, Marketing, and Advertising: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Introduction

As many people may know, the practice of yoga dates back thousands of years to ancient Asia and specifically to India.  The art of yoga itself contains more than just the postures many of us are familiar with today; yoga includes the mental practice including meditation, a spiritual philosophy, a particular lifestyle, using essential oils, and many other “arms” of the practice.  Many yoga practitioners believe that doing yoga, such as going through the postures and poses, is the least important part of yoga and in fact was developed to help young Indian scholars use their energy while in meditation so as to be less distracting to the mental practice.

Yoga was introduced to western society as early as the 1800’s, but gained popularity more throughout the latter half of the 20th century, enjoying a more drastic uptick in popularity since the 1980’s and again in the first part of the 21st century.  While some yoga “essentialists” or “fundamentalists” might disagree with using yoga as simply a form of physical exercise, it is increasingly being used as such and is continually made popular by well-known fitness coaches and professionals, as well as celebrities.  Some “famous yogis” include: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Christy Turlington, Jessica Biel, Hilaria Thomas Baldwin, Reese Witherspoon, Kaley Cuoco, and Miley Cyrus.

In Western culture, the focus tends to be on the yoga poses and postures, also called asanas, themselves rather than yoga and its additional “arms.”  For this reason, yoga fundamentalists disregard modern yoga in western society as true yoga.  But the practice continues to gain speed regardless.

From a technical and professional communication standpoint, it is of interest to communication scholars to study how branding, marketing, and communication is being used to bolster the business of yoga and boost its popularity in this part of the world.  I drew from published research material to bolster my research.  For example, in Branding Yoga: The Cases of Iyengar Yoga, Siddha Yoga and Anusara Yoga (2012), author Andrea Jain attempts to discover why the style Anusara Yoga, developed by an American named John Friend, became so popular in Western culture.  Anusara Yoga is a more modern, contemporary style of yoga than compared to yoga styles that have prevailed in Asia for hundreds of years or more.  In Jain’s study, she “evaluates the context in which yoga became subject to a sequential branding process: selection, introduction, elaboration, and fortification” (p. 4).  She focuses on Friend’s ability to not only brand his style of yoga, but also how he used himself as part of the branding process.

As with many or most businesses in America today, many yoga and fitness studios use a plethora of social media platforms, electronic communication, and other modes of mass communication including, but not limited to, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  While we study the constant onslaught of new means and modes to communicate digitally, on the internet, or with smartphones, businesses must understand and anticipate that onslaught and be ready when it arrives.  The question I would like to answer in my final paper is the following:  When it comes to branding, marketing, and advertising for yoga studios, what works and what doesn’t?  I intend to study different forms of digital and electronic communications for yoga studios in the Janesville and Verona, Wisconsin areas to best understand their methods.  I will observe and record their methods and also observe their online communities and how they interact respectively.  The utility for this topic is to determine the effectiveness of social media in the field of technical communication.  There is also a vast amount of professional research on the subject that have aided me in my research and observation.

TRUE Studio Background

In order to provide a better understanding of the purpose of this research project, it is important to illustrate the type of business TRUE Studio.  This information outlines key elements of True Studio, a unique group-exercise, multi-functional studio featuring indoor cycling (Spinning®), yoga (heated), and core strength (TRX) classes.  This specialized niche business will be conveniently located in a vibrant, active area with optimal population density and high household income.  TRUE Studio will be the first boutique of its kind in the area and will provide classes taught by superior instructors, iconic design, intimacy, convenience and exceptional customer service.  TRUE Studio will also feature a café for nutrition-conscious consumers, childcare, and a friendly, community-oriented environment.

Over the past 3 years, the appeal of boutique fitness studios has increased dramatically as evidenced by the rapid spread of independent group exercise studio businesses across North

America and around the world. Planning to launch in early 2017, TRUE Studio will target cycling

and fitness consumers seeking to improve physical fitness, reduce stress, lower blood pressure,

lose weight, and live a healthier, more abundant lifestyle.  Clients will be largely repeat

customers who develop a regular workout routine.

The health and fitness industry in the United States and globally is growing as a whole.  In Wisconsin, the majority of people exercise at large, franchised gyms/health clubs.  However, there is a demand for a premium boutique experience that is not currently being met.  TRUE Studio looks to capitalize on this growth with its unique health and wellness offering.  Indoor Cycling is a popular and effective group exercise that has been around in various forms since 1987.  Participants pedal sophisticated stationary cycles and are coached by an instructor who leads various “rides” set to motivational music.  Today, roughly 5 million people participate in indoor cycling in North America making it one of the most popular group exercises of all time.  This low-impact, high cardio exercise is recommended for people of all ages and fitness levels because the student controls the speed and intensity.  This is an increase of 74% in the past 5 years. (2016, IHRSA).  An increasing percentage of riders cycle at dedicated studios such Soul Cycle and Flywheel, two high-profile New York-based studios.  Reality TV shows have featured indoor cycling instructors, and Hollywood Cycle airs each Tuesday night on E! Channel.

TRX Strength The TRX Suspension Trainer was developed by former US Navy SEAL Randy Hetrick, as he and his fellow SEALS searched for ways to stay in peak physical condition with limited access to training implements and/or space. Starting as parachute webbing, it has developed into a well-made, portable training system that is affordable and user friendly. It’s harness system allows you to use your own body weight for strength training. It allows for the explosive movement of plyometrics without the same stress upon landing. The exercises performed on the TRX are multiplaner, which more closely mimics real life situations that require strength. By adjusting body position, the level of difficulty of a particular exercise changes as well, making it appropriate for people at all fitness levels.

TRUE Studio’s hot yoga class is an invigorating sequence of postures that works the entire body and is appropriate for all levels of experience. The class is led in a heated room with 40% humidity. The heat warms and opens the body, enhances flexibility, releases toxins, and naturally focuses the mind to a single point of concentration.  Within this environment, a truly complete sequence of postures is practiced at a deliberate pace and with thorough instruction from the teacher.  Modifications and advanced variations will be introduced.  With the aid of the heat, the postures will gradually optimize every facet of the body and mind.  Traditional yoga classes including Vinyasa Flow, Meditative, Ashtanga, and Yin will also be offered.

truestudio1

Differentiation

                The idea of a dedicated boutique studio model is not new.  It has thrived for years unique to exercise activities such as yoga, Pilates, and boot camp, even though those activities are widely available in large gym settings.  TRUE Studio offers 3 unique studio environments under one luxurious roof.  Below are 7 keys that will differentiate the business:

Dedicated boutique: By definition, a studio with niche offerings is more focused on the quality of that service than a large gym providing dozens.

Complementary workouts: Indoor cycling is an extremely effective cardio workout and participants can complement that exercise with a strength or yoga class.

Expert instruction: High energy, charismatic instructors will be selected and trained for their ability to attract and retain class attendees.

Pricing convenience and flexibility: Contract memberships or “pay-per-class” options will be available. Pre-paid ride card fees, or monthly passes are purchased online and class credits are debited as customers attend.

Online scheduling: The studio will deploy a unique online sales and scheduling system that users can also access via mobile device. The system vastly simplifies class dynamics for the studio and is a major convenience for customers.

Intimacy and community: The studio atmosphere is markedly different from the feeling at “big box” gyms. Instructors and class attendees interact more directly and the vibe is fun, friendly and supportive. Appeals to all ages, fitness levels.

Convenience and amenities: Clients can get in and out quickly for an efficient workout. Amenities will include towels, filtered water, spa-grade shower products, hair styling tools, lockers with USB charging stations, cycling shoes, environment-friendly yoga mats, complimentary wi-fi, childcare and expansive social area.

That’s the set up.  Essentially what I did afterwards was break down my findings based on my observations of each company I targeted.

Facebook: Anytime Fitness, Capital Fitness, Cyc Fitness, Dragonfly, Fit Moms Transformation Center, Flyght Cycle, Harbor Wellness, Orange Shoe, Orange Theory, Planet Fitness, Princeton Club

Instagram: Anytime Fitness, Capital Fitness, Cyc Fitness, Dragonfly, Harbor Wellness, iGo, Orange Shoe, Orange Theory, Planet Fitness, Princeton Club

Twitter: Anytime Fitness, Capital Fitness, Cyc Fitness, Dragonfly, Harbor Wellness, Orange Shoe, Orange Theory, Planet Fitness, Princeton Club

The commonplace of these organizations having social media platforms go by how they are listed:  Every target studio has one or more Facebook accounts.  The second most was Instagram, followed by Twitter, LinkedIn, and lastly was newsletters.  It was noticed that many organizations also had Pinterest accounts, but my research did not include information about Pinterest.  I observed how often each company posted on each respective platform noting content and consistency.

Planet Fitness: Facebook—at least once a day to every other day; Instagram—approximately four times a week; Twitter—at least once every two days.

Orange Theory Fitness:  Facebook—once a day; Instagram—at least three times a week; Twitter—one to three times a day.

Orange Shoe: Facebook—few times a month, three times a year; Twitter—once a month to a few times a year

iGo Fitness: Facebook—once since July 2016; Instagram—one post 94 weeks ago.

Harbor Wellness Studios:  Facebook—at least twice a week; Instagram—once per week; Twitter—up to three times a day.

Flyght Cycle Fitness:  Facebook—once a day; Instagram—three times a week.

Fit Moms Transformation Center: Facebook—approximately twice a week

Dragonfly Hot Yoga:  Facebook—up to twice a day; Instagram—once or twice a day; Twitter—up to three times a day.

Cyc Fitness:  Facebook—up to three times a week; Instagram—up to three times a week; Twitter—approximately once a day.

Capital Fitness:  Facebook—up to four times a day; Instagram—once a day; Twitter—up to three times a day.

Anytime Fitness:  Facebook—up to twice a day; Instagram—several times a year; Twitter—up to four times a day.

Princeton Club:  Facebook—once a day; Instagram—once a week; Twitter—up to twice a month.

From these observations, and in combination with the scholarly articles I researched, I tried to analyze what was most commonplace and what TRUE Studio could take from that.

Conclusion

Contemporary versus ancient views of yoga branding absolutely stress the importance of understanding the audience and considering which content and imagery to use to send a certain message.  It’s also important to be cognizant of the appropriate amount of posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Lastly, it’s highly important to consider brand consistency among posts on Facebook in addition to how consistent posts are across all social media platforms.  Considering all of these items creates content that consistently meets the needs of each respective audience. As mentioned before, businesses have to understand what technology exists, how to best use that existing technology and appropriately capitalize on that technology, and anticipate up and coming technology and modes of communication.

As modes of communication and technology evolve at an exponential rate, people and companies, fitness or otherwise, would do well to anticipate such changes as quickly as they come.  TRUE Studio anticipates doing just that to create an advantage and improve the potential for success.

Good luck to you all the rest of this semester and into the next.  It was nice to work with all of you this year.  Cheers and Happy Holidays.  I’ma go find a glass of wine.

I’m a Digital Immigrant, Raising Digital Natives

My dad used to tell me that when he was young he had to walk to school, up hill both ways, and carry his lunch.  I know, we’ve all heard stories of the good ‘ole days and how hard our parents had it as compared to our own formative years.  However, when I think of the differences between my own childhood and my children today, I think my dad’s generation saw the greatest amount of change.

mountain-299002_640

When my parents grew up, they remember getting the first black and white television set.  I remember clunking away on manual typewriters, praying that I wouldn’t make too many mistakes and have to start all over.  The teachers only allowed so much erased and typed over content.  We shared a party-line telephone with all of our neighbors.  Technology tended to come to us in the north woods a lot slower than to the rest of the world.

My husband and I entered the age of technology together.  I embraced it and he avoided it.  But technology won and he eventually ended up having to adapt (except he still won’t carry a cell phone). I never thought of us as digital immigrants, however, my research over the last several weeks has given me a new perspective on the differences in generations; and it’s more than simply having to walk to school, uphill, both ways. 

My kids are members of the digital native population.  According to Marc Prensky, in his article, “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” digital natives learn, think, and process information differently.  In addition to having a different way of thinking, they also tend to have shorter attention spans and are constantly multi-tasking. It would follow, then, that new teaching tools and methods should be incorporated. A two hour classroom lecture and note-taking will not be effective. 

My 17 year-old son is taking a couple of college level IT classes.  His instructors utilize the “flipped classroom” method.  He is given links and resources to learn on his own.  He watches videos, reads books and articles, contributes to discussions, emails his instructors, researches, and dabbles in the topic of the week prior to attending class.  Once in class, he works on his projects and participates in groups and learning activities.  It’s similar to having the instructor at home with him as he does his homework.  He learns the information on his own (using the resources provided by the instructor) and in class he does the “homework.” 

How many times do students begin homework only to find out they don’t quite understand.  The result is often word done wrong or poorly, handed in, and graded.  With the teacher present while the work is being done, students can find out right away what mistakes they’re making and learn the correct way before completing the work. A teacher once told me that it never made sense to her that we grade students while they learn rather than after they learn (on what they accomplish). 

The flipped classroom is a great way to incorporate social and digital media – which in turn allows the digital immigrant teachers to speak the language of the digital native students.


Resource

Prensky, Marc. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5). MCB University Press. Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf.

What about internal social media?

In their 2014 Technical Communication Quarterly article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry discuss “knowledge workers engaging in communicative processes outside the bounds of their workplaces by using public available online services (PAOSs)” (p. 6). That is, non-proprietary social media services “that are often not available through enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6). However, I wonder if they focused on non-proprietary services because most companies don’t provide non-employees access to their proprietary systems. Therefore, I would like to discuss my company’s internal proprietary social networking system and how it relates to my work as a technical communicator.

My company is a Fortune 300 financial services provider (credit cards, banking, and loans) with about 15,000 employees. Much like 1/3 of the participants who participated in Ferro and Zachry’s study (p. 13), my company blocks access to many PAOSs (as well as personal e-mail sites like Gmail and Hotmail) for cybersecurity and regulatory (rather than productivity) reasons. Instead, my company has an extremely comprehensive enterprise intranet system, built on the Jive platform, that combines most of the features found on the most popular PAOSs.

jive-n_prod_feat_str2bus

A sample Jive team page, not unlike my team’s intranet page. via

Here are some of the features available:

  • User profiles for all employees (auto-populated with their title, team name, manager, department, contact info, building location, etc., with the ability to customize with additional information such as work experience or profile photos)
  • The ability to “follow” other employees and receive updates on their activity
  • The ability to see who has followed you and whom other people have followed
  • The ability to view any employee’s reporting chain
  • Microblogging in the form of Facebook-esque updates
  • Public (i.e., anyone in the company can view) and private (i.e., only designated employees can view) sites, pages, and subcommunities
  • Wiki-ing
  • Blogging
  • Announcements and articles
  • Photo and video sharing
  • Ability to create surveys or polls
  • Ability to upload documents and request feedback (or disable feedback)
    • Version control
    • Approval process
  • Ability to follow any of the above
    • Notifications of changes/updates
    • Customized “news feed” of changes/updates
  • Calendars and events
  • Discussion boards
  • Private messaging
  • Tagging (topics or users)

The first three bullets fulfill the definition of social network sites provided by dana m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison in their Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2013, p. 211). The others are familiar features from PAOSs like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Wikipedia, Instagram, and many others. Additionally, team sites on the intranet can be linked to a team’s SharePoint, which opens up features like synchronous document editing similar to that offered by Google Docs.

In addition to the obvious benefits for team collaboration, the company’s intranet fulfills many functions that are vital for a large company with a worldwide user-base and many silos. Although speaking about PAOSs, Ferro and Zachry’s words hold true for my company’s intranet:

Social media provide knowledge workers new avenues to find and leverage resources, enabling work that is increasingly important in the new economy such as developing and strengthening connections, finding and leveraging information, and participating in a professional community consisting of a vast and varied array of people and resources. Recent studies of social media use in business illustrate the important role specific types of social media services (e.g., blogs, microblogs, online forums, wikis) play in supporting knowledge work. (p. 9)

I also find it breaks down silos. I can communicate with anyone in the company, whether in my own department or any other. If I need a particular resource from outside my own silo, it is fairly easy to figure out who to contact to find it.  Here are some examples of how I use the social media features of the company intranet to carry out my work as a technical communicator (“public” in this context means available to all employees within the company):

  • Our documents, which are relevant to large populations within the company, are available on our subsite. I use the wiki feature (with me set as the only editor) to link to the documents and additional resources. I use the announcement feature to announce changes. Finally, I use the blog feature as a publicly available changelog.
  • When I needed to find the most recent version of a style guide, I posted a comment on the outdated version. The person who uploaded it was able to direct me to the owner, who provided the updated version.
  • I administer my team’s SharePoint site. As such, I frequently visit the SharePoint Team’s page to read or comment their documentation, ask a question, or help other users who post questions. They also host monthly “user groups” where people share their experiences and projects–these are coordinated via the intranet’s event and calendar functions.
  • I participate in non-work related discussions and surveys with employees from all over the company (and all over the world). I created a survey about how green/yellow/speckled people prefer their bananas. I have perused our local classifieds page. I participated in philosophical discussions and asked for advice about good laptops to buy. The company allows and this behavior despite it being unrelated to work. I suspect this is because the company is very focused on the company as a united community. And, as Rheingold observes in Net Smart, “small talk” such as this builds trust among community members–it is, as he puts it, collaboration lubricant (2012, p. 155).

These are just a few of the ways that I use our social media-esque intranet in the course of my job duties (and non-job duties), but I think it illustrates how an enterprise-sanctioned proprietary social media platform can serve many of the same functions as the PAOSs in Ferro and Zachry’s study.

My (dream) office: Starbucks!

Apologies on this being late. It’s been a trying week with elections, social media feeling the crush, and mental digital exhaustion.

My thought of Starbucks: meh, but they have two things going great for them:

  1. Coffee and food to keep you going throughout the day
  2. Fast internet and a high-paced environment you can drown in to get your work done

 

I remember for two years, my job was mostly telework. Instead of sitting around inside of my house, I explored the country a little bit because all I needed was an internet connection and a power outlet. Starbucks was a consistent place to work in. One of those years, I spent about three months away from home. I’d hop on a plane, spend about a week somewhere, do work at a coffee shop and move to my next stop.

I became one of those people, a knowledge worker that was “disconnected from desk and office spaces” (Pigg, p. 69) using a technology “outside traditional spaces” (p. 74) such as a coffeehouse. Unfortunately, this teleworking position prohibited the use of social media and as such, I kept a quiet lid on my opinionated social media posts for fear that someone might use it against me. Also my work thought that social networking sites were ‘‘productivity killers’’ (Skeels and Grudin, 2009 in Ferro and Zachry, p. 18) and they blocked those sites on the network.

Fast forward two years later at my current job, I’m encouraged to use social media because I happen to manage the brand of the community college I work at. I think it has been extra special that I have that responsibility as well as being a technical communicator. I agree with Bernadette Longo that as a technical communicator, my “practices for making and sharing information [has] effectively redefined [my] work” (p. 23).  I write in ways that I never imagined I would write and I’ve transformed myself into a technical marketing communicator (that’s a mouthful to say).

For example, when we rolled out our fall enrollment campaign, we had to change the way we marketed online because it was different than what we did in the past and we learned new skills. Rich Maggiani says it best: “in a social media setting, the skill set of the technical communicator grows” (Maggiani in Longo, p. 23). I couldn’t agree with him any more! I had to learn the ways of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram advertisement, understand the reporting tools to get data from our advertisement campaigns, and coordinate with multiple divisions in our department to prepare the ad slots. A lot of work and planning went into the campaign and my part was just a small subset of a larger marketing effort.

In retrospect, will it be too much for me to handle and take care of developing all of these new skill sets? My tool belt is quickly filling up with too many skill sets that I’m afraid I may have to drop a few and focus on specific ones. Perhaps I can find a couple of them that are of interest to me and I’ll put my best effort into skilling myself in that domain. I am quite lucky our work provides us with that type of opportunity frequently.

Moving on to learning using new tools. I was intrigued that to know my sentiments are the same as “knowledge workers who do not have access to enterprise-sponsored, proprietary systems (e.g., freelancers), but they are also used by many who—for various reasons—choose to use services not sponsored by their employers” (Ferro and Zachry, p. 6).

Perhaps I can share some insight on the reasons why we choose to use alternative services:

  • Tools are often faster and feel modern
  • Services are available on many devices instead of one
  • Systems are more reliable
  • Rules on how to use services are less strict
  • Free to use

I’m sure I’ve made every single IT worker in the world cringe at my reasons. But it’s true, I’ve dealt with email that doesn’t work, clunky tools that waste my time, and the need to have a mobile version for my on-the-go lifestyle. Lastly, if services are free to use–you can’t beat free (unless a software company paid you). I know my latest experience with Office 365 has made me consider using it more often than Google Docs at work. There’s much more IT can improve to change my reasons and get me back to using tools sponsored by my employer.

In conclusion, we have so much power in front of our computers that it’s unbelievable. I wish one day we can reflect on this and see that we have it very good right now. I’m not sure what the future will bring us. I predict it will be a melding of technologies that look like one huge amalgamated blob of technology that we hook up to.

Maybe I’ll grab a Pumpkin Spiced Latte and work from the virtual office for a change of pace and ponder more about the scary future of our technical communication tools.

Spooky. #Halloween #coffee.

A post shared by Roger Renteria (@roger.renteria) on

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

TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION, SOCIAL MEDIA, AND TRANSNATIONAL REALITIES

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

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

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

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

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

Large Man Looking At Co-Worker With A Magnifying Glass

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

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

COLLECTIVE KNOWLEDGE AND TECHNICAL COMMUNICATION

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

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

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

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

stc

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

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

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

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

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

 

Social Media as a Tool

In Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South (2013), Bernadette Longo discusses the necessity of considering social media as a tool to use as a technical communicator.

When It Could Work

It wasn’t until I changed jobs that I realized the reality of this concept.  Working for an antiquated government agency that prohibited departments and employees from using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for both personal and professional use, I did not see the merit in using social media to promote and advertise business.  In the case of my prior employer, Facebook would have been very beneficial for many of the departments and agencies.  For example, I worked for an Aging Unit and specialized in the coordination of transportation and mobility options for older adults and people with disabilities.  I taught people how to ride the bus, I taught AARP Smart Driver courses, and did a lot with the community such as social events, senior fairs, and educational events at the local libraries.  I also taught Dementia Awareness among businesses in the county.
If the county would have allowed its employees to embrace and use social media as a communicative tool, the county would have the ability to reach a much greater audience by advertising these positive community events and public programs to internet users.  According to the Pew Research Center, “46 percent of senior citizen Internet users access Facebook and other social networks, compared with 73 percent of all adult Internet users. Factoring in non-Internet users, just 27 percent of adults 65 and older use social networks, compared with 63 percent of all adults, and 27 percent of adults 80 and older use the internet” (2014).  There is certainly a market of older adults on Facebook.  If the aging unit advertise its smart driver courses and the fact that by taking the course you could save 10-20% on your insurance rate, I believe seniors would find that very appealing and the advertisement would be effective.

When It Does Work

It’s vital to be able to reach your audience; without capturing an audience, a business venture–whatever it may be–has a very slim chance of succeeding.  I work for a fitness company now, and our audience is the 25-55 year old woman who has an interest in health, wellness, and personal improvement.  We know that our client is online, using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, is a blog reader, on Snapchat, uses apps, in any combination.  So when I develop a marketing campaign, I have to consider my audience, the social media usage, and how to best reach them via those communicative avenues.
social-media-communication
Longo speaks directly to technical communicators in her essay:
“Incorporating social media into our technical communication toolset for audience accommodation promises that we can design documents that are more explicitly responsive to audience needs and that are more directly inclusive of a range of perspectives across global communities. These media do help us play the role of a moderator who manages information flows from many sources. But when we think that technological tools can help us make decisions that are true, we need to more deeply explore this utopian desire for inclusion, asking to what extent it is possible” (2013, p. 24).
I heed this advice quite seriously now that I understand how absolutely essential an online presence is.  I know as a marketer and professional communicator that I could have the most incredible message to send to my audience.  But if I don’t use the correct channel, it won’t reach them, thus negating the purpose of my message in the first place.

Bernadette Longo (2014) Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making:
Technical Communication Between the Global North and South, Technical Communication Quarterly, 23:1, 23-34

Social Media Collaboration and Symbolic Work

This week’s articles evaluated and iterated social media’s convergence of collaborative, collective knowledge and symbolic analytic work for business and personal purposes.

social-media-analytics-to-be-used-in-conjunction-with-the-iot1

Mobile Social Media Apps. Image courtesy of OnCloudOne.com

Symbolic and Distribution

Stacey Pigg’s (2014) “Coordinating Constant Invention: Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work” analyzed how one freelance blogger used several social media sites to draft a blog and maintain relationships and conversations with other networks. The symbolic analyst, according to Reich (as cited in Pigg, 2014) “involves creative and critical thinking and managing information” from different sites/places. Writing these weekly blogs are an example of symbolic work according to Reich’s definition and if I shared this blog on other social media sites, it would be “distributed” to other audiences. However, distribution is also important to maintain conversations with other social media sites. For example, monitoring sites where one has posted or commented previously to check if others have continued the conversation. Often found on blog sites and LinkedIn, these conversations not only further conversation, but they also provide collective knowledge and can lead to collaboration. Pigg (2014) states, “Social media are common  places not only for creating ideas and texts but identify and professional trajectory are continually invented…” (p. 84). Specifically, where personal and professional interactions meet online but also contribute to symbolic work.

Collective Knowledge and Collaboration

Bernadette Longo (2014), Toni Ferro and Mark Zachary (2014) examined collective knowledge through the use of social media by following the theory of “one to many” shared ideas and experiences contribute to greater knowledge as a whole. Longo (2014) begins with “New technologies for making and sharing information in a variety of media have made it easy for users to tell their own stories and share their knowledge across media” (p. 22). This holds true for both crap detection and authentic collaboration. We’ve seen the string of comments after a blog post or hastily shared news article that piques our interest. However, collaborative spaces like LinkedIn and Facebook groups also contribute to specific knowledge-making goals for its members. This knowledge is then shared outside the group and invites further conversation and knowledge-making. Ferro and Zachary (2014) affirm,

“Understanding the ways in which knowledge workers are employing social software can help technical communicator scholars understand the changes taking place in knowledge work in general as well as in workplace communication” (p. 9).

Ferro and Zachary (2014) also propose, “What are we teaching students and what do they need to learn for post grad job positions?” and How can we help them (students) engage in critical thinking when using social media – as contributors, collaborators, and users? (p. 19). Longo (2014) attempts to answer these questions, but it’s not without similar regards for recognizing the shared learning experiences from both instructor and student. Longo (2014) says as educators, we create a culture for learning in listening to our students experience and knowledge of social media and our own experiences that contributes to knowledge as a whole (p. 31).

Separate Worlds

My 17 year-old son has friends from school that he like to hang out with.  They go bowling and go to the movies.  They play online video games and go out to eat.  They do all the things you would expect a group of teenagers to do. They are all within 4 or 5 years of each other.

My son also has a group of cousins.  The cousins get together every couple of months, mainly because of a family get together or some sort.  They hang together because they all have to be in the same place together on occasion.  They like to do things like video games, bowling, movies – basically, they like the same things that my son does with his school friends.

Once, his school friends wanted to go bowling, but the cousins were over.  I suggested that he take the cousins bowling with his friends.  Oh my goodness!  Apparently that wasn’t acceptable at all.  It was as though I expected him to walk on a tightrope between two buildings, 100 feet in the air.  His explanation?  “My worlds can’t mix.” 

Bernadette Longo, in her article “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and Global South” discusses the expectations of students to utilize social media and technologies from their real lives in their student lives. Outside of school, students create and share content. Longo asserts that professors struggle to incorporate this outside learning interaction while still maintaining their position of knowledge in the classroom. The problem is that if educators don’t address the technological expectations of students, students “may tune out of their academic lives” (p. 30).

screen-shot-2016-11-13-at-9-31-43-am

My son was very successful at keeping his worlds separate.  Social media is the place where he couldn’t do that.  Things he posted, things he shared, and content he created opened up dialog between him and his friends, him and his cousins, and his cousins and his friends.  In addition to social media, technology in general helped meld his worlds.  My son created a server in our home in which he ran a Minecraft game.  Only those he invited in could access it.  He would play Minecraft with friends.  When friends weren’t available, he invited in his cousins.  Before he knew it, friends and cousins were logging on at the same time.  He even found that they played together even when he wasn’t live.  After playing Minecraft together, they recognized each other’s names on Facebook and Instagram.  They began to interact outside of Minecraft. The worlds have met and they like each other.

When they came together in real life, they all knew each other.  My son had to go to a wedding where all of the cousins would also be.  Since it was my other son’s wedding, I hired some of the friends to help “work” the wedding.  It all went well at first, but since the cousins and friends began to figure out who each other were, I ended up paying a bunch of kids to dance, hang out, and have fun. 

I understand the two worlds idea.  Once upon a time I used to be much more verbal and active on my Facebook page.  Now that I am “friends” with colleagues, co-workers, family, promoters, various bands, and other “worlds,” I am very careful not to make political posts, emotional posts, overly personal posts, and the like.

Longo says, “For technical communication teachers, establishing learning environments in which students learn from each other — as well as from people outside the classroom — provided opportunities for authentic learning that can prepare students for the workplaces practitioners now encounter.  Using social media in classrooms, teachers can recreate professional settings in which technical communicators learn about users directly.”

Using blogs and discussion boards bring social media to the classroom.  The fine line in my eyes is incorporating more public venues of social media into the classroom.  I like to keep my academic world separate from my personal world.  I also keep my professional world separate from my personal world.  Although, I utilize social media as though my world were mixed.  Although, I want my personal world skills be be usable in my academic world. 


Reference

Longo, Bernadette. (2013). Using social media for collective knowledge-making: Technical communication between the global North and South. Technical communication quarterly. DOI: 10.1080/10572252.2014. 850846.

Doing What at Work?

Bringing it all together, this week’s readings get right at the heart of where technical communications and social media meets. It seems to me that they connect on three levels: personal, professional, and in principle.

Personal Use of Social Media

We began the course discussing our personal experiences and affinity or hesitations with using social media. In Alone Together, Turkle largely focused on the personal space and how we develop online identities and communities as we navigate social media in our discretionary time. I think it’s telling that our exposure and familiarity with social media tools comes increasingly from our personal use before crossing over to the professional realm. This will certainly be true for the upcoming generation of “digital natives,” who learn Facebook and blogging long before they need to use it for work.

I’ll also note that in my experience, there is a brick wall between using social media for personal reasons and for professional reasons. I have a “home” laptop and a “work” laptop, and the two worlds don’t mix, not even in social media. However, as the research from Ferro and Zachry shows, many people don’t experience this separation and the line is a lot more blurred.

Professional Use of Social Media

At this point of intersection, social media is directly used toward professional work — whether advancing your own career or the goals of your employer. Ferro and Zachry put a number on it with participants using social media for 20-27% of their workweek. In Pigg’s example of “Dave” the fatherhood blogger, using social media literally is his work. This is a fascinating trend and a major change from a decade ago. Rocky Mountain Media presents several interesting statistics about this, including the graph below, but the major theme is that everyone predicts professional uses of social media growing.

professional-use-of-social-media

Rocky Mountain Media Group: http://rm2g.com/blog/2012/09/21/social-media-at-work-infographic/

Social media strategy is now a job position and a conversation in many boardrooms. In the resumes that I review, social media literacy and experience with particular websites are nearly always listed as skills and reasons to hire.

Again, in my personal experience, this is a tough concept because we’re a very insulated company with concerns about intellectual property and proprietary information that causes us to ignore social media channels for outreach. Instead, we wait until customers are signed with us, and then bring them into our own social media community that we’ve formed, rather than using social media to connect with a wider audience.

social-media-and-workplace

Graphic courtesy of Bradon Gaille Marketing (note that the study is from 2013) http://brandongaille.com/21-great-social-media-at-work-statistics-and-trends/

Applying Lessons Learned from Social Media to a Professional Workspace

This is the aspect I find the most exciting. How can we take what we’ve learned from the social media phenomenon and use it to improve traditional technical communications? I see it in two major categories:

Managing Content

We’ve discussed this at length in earlier weeks and I don’t want to continue to harp on it, but this comes back to being symbolic analytic workers who are redefining technical communications in a new world. Technical communications is no longer just typesetting and publishing or even producing content, but rather thinking critically about what information an audience needs and the best way to deliver it. We’ve talked about the importance of filtering and navigating to help the audience find the content they need. Pigg discusses this as moving past “textual coordination” to “social coordination,” where we’re not only arranging information but also leveraging the contexts of social media tools and personal careers. Web 2.0 has shown us both the wonders and the pitfalls of mass amounts of content and what types of tools we can provide to help people navigate it.

Managing Communities

We can also take the lessons learned online about relationships and interaction and apply them to technical communication. Longo’s discussion of his “Practicing Science, Technology, and Rhetoric” colloquium hits on two major lessons — the power of collaboration and the ability to cross geographic lines. Lofstedt and Holmberg further expand on this and emphasize how there is opportunity to expand user participation in technical communication today. They write, “SM [social media] make it possible to move TC [technical communication] from the current one way broadcast and producer controlled model into an interactive co-generating model. In this way the problem with passive users and narrow feedback may be overcome.” They also suggest forming user communities and leveraging existing social media platforms for technical communication. Social media has demonstrated the huge potential for forming communities and encouraging user-generated content, and the field of technical communications can begin tapping into this.

References

Abel, J. Social media at work. Rocky Mountain Media Group. Accessed 12 Nov 2016 http://rm2g.com/blog/2012/09/21/social-media-at-work-infographic/

Löfstedt, U. & Holmberg, S.C. Social media as a mean for improved technical communication. Syst Pract Action Res (2016) 29: 297. doi:10.1007/s11213-016-9373-8