Category Archives: Social Media

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.

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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.

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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

Social Media and the “Real World”

An overarching theme in this week’s reading was the use of social media in the “real world” of technical communication, and how that can be translated to students in technical communication programs. I think this is an excellent area to look at, to see both how social media are becoming increasingly utilized in the field and how introducing students to the professional use of such media is highly effective.

Social media tend to get a bad rap – many see the various popular social networking sites as encouraging narcissism and inflating individuals’ sense of importance. In a sense, this is true – they provide users with a “public” platform on which to display personal information and opinions openly. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing… I’ve seen social media bring people together and help others increase self-confidence. Often times social media can be a huge benefit.

This explains why it is also utilized by professionals, technical communicators in this case, though I’m sure most professions have similar usage. The ability that this media provides to collaborate and connect individuals has been immensely beneficial to many. Not only does it allow colleagues and people from the same or similar fields to connect, it also provides a way for (in the case of technical communicators) the writers/creators to communicate and interact with the consumer/user. This interaction can help strengthen technical communication in a way that was not possible prior to these technologies.

Incorporating social media and its myriad of professional uses into the classroom is an excellent way to help students learn to use these media and appreciate their strengths and shortcomings. Although many students are already utilizing at least some variety of social media in their private lives, providing a look at the professional use of such technologies can help shine a different light on them. Using such social media to provide a platform for students to connect and share their ideas in a “professional” way, helps to highlight the potential uses for these media in their future fields as well as drawing attention to the difficulties they may face with them. As Longo (2014) points out:

If lively and robust discussions result, all parties can learn from each other. But even in situations where discussions are fitful and sparse, classes can learn about the difficulties of establishing trusted and meaningful communication channels. (p. 31)

In this way, students will learn how to navigate social media in a productive and professional manner.

We are in the Curated Web Experience

Forget Web 2.0 for a moment. That was more than a decade ago. We’ve moved on from the world according to Andrew Keen and David Weinberger that we commonly know of that has “YouTube, the blogosphere, Wikipedia, MySpace or Facebook” (Wall Street Journal, 2007). For one, we still have a lot of Web 2.0 services surviving on the Internet these days, but their days are numbered. We live in the Curated Web Experience where content will be served up based on your interests, needs, and behavior. There is nothing you can do to escape the reach of what is being recorded every day on the Internet.

In the article by Keen and Weinberger, “what ‘matters’ in the world of Web 2.0 [is]:

  1. Engadget
  2. Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
  3. TechCrunch
  4. Gizmodo
  5. The Huffington Post
  6. Lifehacker, the Productivity and Software Guide”

Instead, this list should be updated to include the tools that matter the most in the world of the Curated Web Experience:

  1. Customer Relation Management Systems (such as SalesForce, Zoho, and Zendesk)
  2. Cloud-based Media Networks (such as Netflix and Spotify)
  3. Cloud-based Data Visualization Services (such as Tableau, Google Data Studio)
  4. Cloud-based Internet of Things (devices such as Google Nest and Amazon Echo)
  5. Apps that take care of you based on habits and events (automation systems like IFTTT, Microsoft Flow)

These tools and much more are what matter the most to get the best curated web experience out there and Web 2.0 is going to have to compete or work alongside these new systems. Right now, we have live with what we have and will slowly transition to the new sanity (or insanity) of the web.

Existing as a Zombie Social Media Networks

Right now, we are so overwhelmed with the fragmentation of social media networks that I wonder why so many still exist. I still have a MySpace account but I hardly check it. I still have a LiveJournal account and it only exists. Why hasn’t Flickr simply collapsed? Yahoo crippled the service for diehard fans like myself who actually had a paid account for years just to avoid advertisement and had worse service than the folks who didn’t pay for Flickr.

I hate to say it, but there are better services out there that have a different flavor of networking engagement than ever before. More and more, there are social networks that exist only in a mobile app environment, meaning you cannot engage in networking with people except within a smartphone or tablet. Examples of social networks on mobile apps that I have used are Tinder, YikYak, and Snapchat. I predict that the next phase of social media networks will fall into a category where you are going to have to have a portable devices to gain access to these services. Also, these social media networks will use various types of curation tactics to serve information to users. I’m curious if these apps will survive or experience fates similar to the countless networks that have closed down. The data shows we have passed the point where mobile usage is greater than desktop usage.

Web Curation Experience, Inc.

Getting back on topic, modern social media networks are curating content based on our interests. We tend to be our own curation system and not even know it. However, algorithms are out there to guide us where we want to go. Jonathan Zittrain says that “we have arrived in a world that is much more sophisticated and personalized algorithms and processes decide what we see.”

page-rank

Screenshot of Google’s Page Rank from Jonathan Zittrain’s presentation at 30m37s.

“For example in our Facebook news feed that at this moment decides that Argentina and the Falklands is more of what I want to see than a video of a cat” (Zittrain, 2015).

Even Facebook can figure out when you are going to be in a relationship. Funny how much of our lives are constantly recorded.

Privacy Concerns or Convenience over Privacy?

Most of what I see as the curated web experience will come from ourselves providing a firehose of data points. We are exchanging our information to gain access to using the Internet whether we like it or not. Somewhere hidden in all of the Terms of Service agreements we click or tap, we are signing contracts without thinking we are. According to Quartz, Apple fans have click-signed more than 100,000 words of legal contracts. In addition Christopher Groskoph says, “a heavy internet user could easily have agreed to a million or more words of contracts.” Yikes. On the other hand, this is great news for getting you the content you want!

For me, I prefer convenience over privacy. Who knows? I might be pregnant and not even know it! It’s how the world is going to run and I’m confident that people will overcome their fears of letting companies enter their sphere of privacy. I understand that you can change how you share your information and supposedly trick algorithms and it’s not as bad as it seems. The other end, by not sharing some information, you may not get the access you want.

read-story-wsj

Screenshot of an example where I have to provide some information to gain access to this Wall Street Journal article.

Right now at work, we are trying to figure out how to sort through tons of data that we have collected over the years and how to put that data to work. I honestly don’t know how we will interpret the data, but it will be useful to gain an edge in how people behave and we might be able to link events through various data points based on event timestamps. The end goal is to help us serve information and other services easier and identify trends as they happen.

Already, some companies use this type of data to serve tailored content or suggest people you might get along with. This is completely different than what Web 2.0 offered over a decade ago. We’re finally at a point where the framework of Web 2.0 is slowly reengineered to look and feel more comfortable and easier to use with amazing cloud-based tools and services.

Welcome to the Curated Web Experience. 

What is talent anyway?

In the Web 2.0 text debate between Andrew Keen (author of The Internet is NOT the Answer) and David Weinberger (author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A Unified Theory of the Web, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, and others), the authors discuss whether the Web is a Kafkaesque miasma of chaos and disorganization or a Cinderella story of a happy ending waiting to rise from an underrated medium (fortunately, they did specify Disney’s Cinderella — it would be a totally different debate if it was the Grimms’ version!). Keen was on Kafka’s side, while Weinberger was on Cinderella’s.

I willingly acknowledge my bias and optimism toward the Web and all it has to offer — ideas, communication, knowledge. With that said, Keen came off as a Luddite who is terrified of losing his precious status quo because of the newest technology on the scene. It seemed like every sentence of his gave me the desire to retort — yet Weinberger provided all the retort much more eloquently than I could have here. He his ultimate criticism of Keen’s views came early in the article, but sums up my thoughts perfectly: “Andrew, you join a long list of those who predict the decline of civilization and pin the blame on the latest popular medium, except this time it’s not comic books, TV, or shock jock radio. It’s the Web.”

Keen’s arguments shifted as Weinberger rebutted his arguments. Starting with the Web populated with nothing but monkeys (I assume drawn from the infinite monkeys theory) who just make and endless chaotic cacophony, to the threat to the livelihoods of those in traditional media (sad, but not like technology has never threatened whole industries before), to the fact that without traditional media, talented individuals will neither be discovered nor properly groomed. He even goes so far as saying that artists are useless without the industries that support them:

The issue of talent is the heart of the matter…. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.

These professional intermediaries are the arbiters of good taste and critical judgment. It we flatten media and allow it be determined exclusively by the market, then your friends Joe and Marie have even less chance of being rewarded for their talent. Not only will they be expected to produce high quality music, but — in the Web 2.0 long tail economy — they’ll be responsible for the distribution of their content…. Either they can produce music which has commercial value or they can’t. If they can’t, they should keep their day jobs.

While Weinberger addresses this handily:

It aims at moving units. It therefore does exactly what you complain the Web does: It panders to the market…. The question, therefore, is not whether the traditional media’s taste is better or worse than the Web’s. The Web doesn’t have taste, good or bad. The Web is not an institution, a business, or even a market, any more than the real world is. It’s us. We have lots of different tastes. On the Web we can better fulfill those tastes (because of the Long Tail you ridicule in your book), rather than simply relying on others to decide for us what is worth attending to.

However, I had more questions about Keen’s arguments about talent and commercial value. For instance, what is talent? Does talent equate to commercial value? Has the definition of talent changed with the advent of the Web and democratization of the arts?

From Keen’s remarks, is definition of talent would include being “discovered” by some media outlet (publisher for authors, recording label for musicians, agent for actors, etc.), groomed for success, and then made famous by that media outlet. As we have learned about the long tail, it is much more likely for somebody to make it big when their only competition is the limited to the amount of physical shelf space in a bookstore or music store. Thus talent does, indeed, equate to commercial value and marketability in his view.

But bookstores and music stores are dropping like flies (RIP Borders, Blockbuster, Sam Goody and countless others), and only those who adapt to the new media on the Web will succeed.

So the question still remains of what constitutes talent in a system where you might be successful if you are a skilled self-marketer… or you might not. Or when all it takes is one lucky viral video to make it big.

What even constitutes popularity and success? In traditional media, it was the number of books or CDs you sold. It was the number of awards your acting netted you. It was the ratings you got on your TV network during prime time. Yet some things inexplicably become extremely successful. Are the winners of reality TV shows successful or talented? By what measure? They gained popularity and wealth–they had tons of commercial value (so I guess they could quit their day jobs, according to Keen)–but is that truly success?

The Web is even more complicated. Are you judged by the number of Facebook friends your Famous Internet Cat has (Grumpy Cat has more than 8 million). The number of subscribers you have on YouTube, or the number of views your videos have. Pewdiepie has the most viewers and views, and few would call him an artist of any sort of merit — even a 17-year-old responded with disgust when I asked if Pewdiepie was relevant among teenagers: “Not to me anymore. I’m older than 12.”

Or maybe it’s your commercial value–both Grumpy Cat and Pewdiepie have made millions off of their respective branding. However, Grumpy Cat’s phenomenon was started by a viral photograph, while Pewdiepie’s fame was arguably due brilliant self-marketing. But much like the mega-stars of traditional media, Internet mega stars are uncommon. Yet, I would argue, not as uncommon as those in traditional media because there are no gatekeepers beyond luck and the fickleness of Internet democracy (and Facebook’s algorithms, but that’s another story).

It’s in the long tail where we see the main differentiators between the traditional and Web media. The long tail does not just fulfill our tastes, as Weinberger argues, but it also gives a chance of success to those who would otherwise not have it. In traditional media, you’re either a star or you’re not (for the most part). But on the Web, there is a wide spectrum of success. I follow a blog whose author makes $400,000 per year just on ad revenue. But I also have a friend who self-published a book and has sold fewer than 20 copies due to poor self-promotion. I have several artist friends somewhere between those two extremes–some survive exclusively on their art, while others struggle to break even. In a world of traditional media, it is unlikely that any of these people would be successful–there would be no spectrum.

I think the biggest talent when it comes to producing creative content for the Web (be it paintings, music, videos, video games–anything a person creates) is self-promotion. It is a vital literacy to “make it” on the Web. In fact, I’d say it is the content creator’s analogue to the content consumer’s “crap detection.”

Oh, and Grumpy Cat’s first book debuted on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardbacks. So, Keen, put that in your “I applaud the engineering of books about critically important subjects in politics, history and theology.” pipe and smoke it.

What Do We Expect from the Internet and Why Do We Expect that?

Thinking about how information is aggregated and shared online is a must, both as digital consumers and as technical communicators. But how do we make sense of it all?

We start by listening to Zittrain’s presentation. As he spoke on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel, there were definitely a lot of interesting ideas spoken. The one that I want to talk about at length is the idea of Google and other Search Engines as “information fiduciaries.”

By using the examples of searching for information about vaccines and Jew, he starts to develop ideas about how we use Google and how it should be formatted at the back end in order to act in a more responsible and sanitized way. Now, when he talks about the search algorithms and the reality of Facebook programmers having the power to influence events and attention by manipulating the way the News Feeds shares and loads information, there are definite causes for concern.

We know that there are people creating and managing the content and websites we traffic on a daily basis. As technical communicators, it may be in some of our job descriptions to act as the information gatekeepers and analytic experts. Even our work on the blog represents this fact when we get down to bare bones. Our job is to use our assigned readings and real life experiences to craft content and drive attention to this site.  But how much of a look behind the curtain do we need to have or be aware of in order to be truly effective as technical professions and savvy as consumers? The answer is…to be determined. Zattrain uses examples such as mugshot.com and Amazon sellers to talk about how information is not just manipulated by the technology we use to access it, but also affected and altered by the consumers as they access it and use it for their own needs.

Image result for analytic algorithms

Source: (http://openclassroom.stanford.edu/MainFolder/CoursePage.php?course=IntroToAlgorithms)

But he continues to talk about search engines and our thinking when we interact with them. “Are they just tools or are they our friends as well? In my mind, the idea of Google as a friend is ridiculous. It seems to just be another way to remove the impetus of the user and place all of the blame on the technology that exists.

The idea of “being mad at Google” as Zittrain posits seem like a useless endeavor to me. Google is not Siri. It is not Cortana. It is a method for us to learn information and get our questions answered. To demand, or even suggest that Google constantly alter its coding to be more sensitive to potential audiences and potential searches would hamstring the service and all of us who use the service.

It is up to us as users to learn how to navigate the digital arena we live in now. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. We should not be willing to give up the autonomy of a “clean” interface for the idea of a more politically correct atmosphere. Even if that were something a majority of users or providers could agree upon, when so many users dependent on Google for answers, someone is bound to be offended unless we act like other countries and give the government control over which sites we can visit.

In my work, I do not work directly with websites or search engines, but I do use them as a source when I perform my research. It is my job to weed through the articles, pages, and offerings of sites like Google and other search engines in order to produce the best-researched product for my supervisors and my audience. If I felt in any way limited in my choices, however much I may already be unconsciously, I would have a hard time depending on the service to meet my needs in the future.

Image result for manipulating content

Source: (http://www.giantfreakinrobot.com/sci/facebook-scientists-experimented-users-manipulating-content.html)

In terms of talking about learning, I definitely agree with his closing point about the change in thinking that needs to occur among academics. If you read my previous post, you can tell that I have had a bit of a mixed bag relationship with educational institutions. I know that there is still a place for professors and other experts to instruct students; I decided to enter this program because I know that there are things I don’t know and find interacting with other professionals and technical communicators as we learn skills, competencies, and how to frame the questions and perform the research to delve into the topics of social media, rhetorical theory, and project management. There does have to be the realization that expertise in a field is a lot harder now than in the past.

The information we all have access to does not make us PhDs, but it does put the onus on the educators to continue pushing themselves in their fields, ask questions, poll professionals, and yes be open to the idea that a student twenty years younger than them can be an authority they should listen to.

Overall, there were a lot of ideas working in the presentation. A lot of which connect to what we are doing in this class and in the workforce as technical communicators. In your opinion, should we expect Google and other search engines, like Bing, Yahoo, and DogPile (does anyone else remember this), to be more conscious of what the algorithm is spitting out? Or should it provide us with the raw output and leave the decision making process up to us?

Soap Box

Allow me to get up on a soap box for a minute.  The dialog between David Weinberger and Andrew Keen ignited a fire in me as it touched on a couple of things that really get my goat. 

I take issue with the reference and description of the lay web user as opposed to the almighty and wise journalists:

Yes, the people have finally spoken. And spoken. And spoken.

Now they won’t shut up. The problem is that YOU! have forgotten how to listen, how to read, how to watch.”

OK – while Keen’s overall opinion is quite distasteful to me, he has a point here.  In fact, I just watched 60 Minutes in which Mike Wallace narrated a piece that looked at our cultural climate during this election.  One person interviewed said, “We don’t listen.  We blast our opinions out on Facebook and we don’t pay attention to see what comes back.”  In other words – where’s the dialog.  No one can have a respectful conversation because all we do is throw out opinions and ignore anything that didn’t come out of our own mouths.  The piece went on to blame social media for the cultural climate during this election.  But they added that it is not just the fault of social media – that people also blame mainstream media, being the gatekeeper of our information, for feeding us all of the negativity and controversy.

While I, for the most part, agree with David Weinberger, I’m not pleased with how he describes us in his response.

“People chatter endlessly. They believe the most appalling things. They express prejudices that would peel the paint off a park bench. They waste their time watching endless hours of TV, wear jerseys as if they were members of the local sports team, are fooled by politicians who don’t even lie convincingly, can’t find Mexico on a map, and don’t believe humans once ran with the dinosaurs.”

Ouch!  Really?  I’d like a little clarification of exactly which people he means…all people?  Some people?

But Keen is quick with another blow to “ordinary people.”

“You see, to use this chaotic media efficaciously, we need to invent our own taxonomies — which isn’t realistic for the majority of ordinary people (seeking to understand the world) who think a “taxonomy” is something that drives us to the airport.”

For the record, I know exactly what taxonomy is.

Of course, Keen and Weinberger are intellectuals.  What you will see in this next Keen quote, is evidence that the web is changing things and Mr. Keen is not adjusting well to change.

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Weinberger gets it.  He understands that we can gain from the knowledge of others.  He gets that no one person has to be an expert in everything or have a singing voice that appeals to everyone.  Instead he knows that even an ordinary person may have a an area of expertise or a voice that appeals to someone:

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

Knowledge is generally not a game for one. It is and always has been a collaborative process…..

Consider how much more we know about the world because we have bloggers everywhere. They may not be journalists, but they are sources, and sometimes they are witnesses in the best sense. We know and understand more because of these voices than we did when we had to rely on a single professional reporting live at 7.”

He goes on to describe some people who give him great conversations, incorporate new ideas, reveal his own biases to him, and produce valuable content.  He later reveals who these people are…ordinary people.

Keen’s response? 

“The comments sections of most major website are littered with this trash. As is the blogosphere. So, yes, the Internet is great for experts to discover one another and conduct responsible conversation. It’s the monkey chorus on the democratized web that bother me.”

Ummm?  Did he just call us “monkey chorus?”

So Keen wants the riff raff off the web as it should be reserved only for those intellectuals who have been enlightened.  Content should be controlled and no one can make any comments.  He sees the Web as a threat to himself and other intellectuals and does not like that everyone can have a voice.  After all, people either have talent or not.

Weinberger, on the other hand sees the value of the Web.  He sees the conversations and the benefit of gaining insight from ordinary people.  Just because one does not have a platform, that doesn’t me he has nothing to contribute.

monkey holding cell phone clipart

Photo Credit: ClassroomClipArt.com

The Gatekeepers

That brings me to the second thing that caught my attention.  Keen calls for gatekeepers.  Gatekeepers are necessary to determine what is newsworthy, what should be reported and written about.  Gatekeepers determine who can do the writing, who has talent, who can get published, or get a recording contract, or get to record an album. These gatekeepers determine if a person has talent or not. They have it or they don’t. Keen says,

“But the problem is that gatekeepers — the agents, editors, recording engineers — these are the very engineers of talent. Web 2.0’s disintermediated media unstitches the ecosystem that has historically nurtured talent. Web 2.0 misunderstands and romanticizes talent. It’s not about the individual — it’s about the media ecosystem. Writers are only as good as their agents and editors. Movie directors are only as good as their studios and producers.”

He says that like it’s a bad thing.  May I respond that that?  Bologna (yes, I had to sing it to spell it).

For every person who got a recording contract, there are at least 10 who can sing better.  The adage, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is true.  Why do some people “make it” and others don’t?  There are many answers: luck, passion, people, coincidence, destiny……  I take issue with these so-called gatekeepers. Who are they?  And by what authority can they decide what I like?  Are they the ones who fired Oprah Winfrey because she was “unfit for TV?”  Or how about the MGM director that said Fred Astaire “Can’t act.  Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”  Lucille Ball’s drama instructors told her to find another profession.  Elvis was told by the Grand Ole Opry that he should go back to Memphis and be a truck driver. Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, and many more were told by gatekeepers to hang it up, give up, or move on because they don’t have talent.  I wonder how many were told the same thing and actually took that advice, gave up their dream, and kept their talent to themselves. Check this out to see who else was told they don’t have talent:  50 Famous People

My Final Beef

One last “issue” I would like to resolve here is my response to Keen’s need to have intellectuals explain the news to ordinary people.  Nothing gets me more than after a presidential debate when the news media take it upon themselves to tell us what we just heard.  Excuse me?  That’s why I watched it.  I know English.  Similarly, when they try to draw a news worthy event out and discuss at length everything we are watching.  I hate that the media thinks it is their job to tell me what I heard, what I saw, what to think, what to wear, what to eat…….. Keen says, 

“My concern is that this scarcity, the scarcity of the intellectual authority able to help people understand the world, is indeed endangered — particularly if the physical book goes the way of the physical CD and the physical newspaper. Are you convinced that Web 2.0 is of benefit to traditional intellectuals like yourself? Are you confident that, in a flattened media in which authors give away their books for free and collect their revenue on the back-end, the David Weinberger 2.0 of the future will flourish (or even survive)?”

Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to pronounce David Weinberger the winner of this debate.  I would also like to echo his words to Keen:

“Andrew, the mud you throw obscures the issues you raise. Porn sites, silly posts, monkeys, cockroaches, toilet seats. This rhetoric isn’t helpful.”

Ah hem.  Thank you. (Steps off of soap box.)


Reference

Keen, A & Weinberger, D. (2007). Keen Vs. Weinberger. The Wall Street Journal.  Dow Jones & Company. http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677

What the Heck is Bebo and Cyworld?

It’s amazing to me that since “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” (2008) was written, the world of social networking and Social Network Sites (SNS) have changed so dramatically.  And considering the sites that have come, seen their heydey, and gone since 1997, it’s amazing how irrelevant these topics can become less than a decade later.  For example, Boyd and Ellison’s illustration of the various Social Network Sites that have existed since 1997 looks like a list of irrelevant, outdated, and unknown sources of networking (Fig. 1, p.212).  Out of all of the SNS listed, I recognized only seven out of the (I think) forty-two examples on the timeline, and that list is not an exhaustive list of all of the past or present Social Network Sites.  It’s not wonder that the internet, social networking, and technical communication itself is so difficult to define:  this seemingly limitless word constantly ebbs and flows, more or less unchecked, and essentially anything is possible within it.

The section Bridging Online and Offline Social Networks (p. 221) goes into detail about a lot of what my class peers have been discussing in past posts.  As Boyd and Ellison point out, the beginning of Social Networking Sites created an online format for “real-life” friends to interact in a different way.  Today, people form and maintain friendships that live exclusively online without having begun in a more tradition, face-to-face manner.  As my colleagues have pointed out, there are online lives that occur independently from a person’s “real” life but that are considered just as qualifiable as their face-to-face or physical relationships.

While I have never experienced this phenomenon personally, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that they exist.  There is certainly enough evidence to suggest that virtual relationships can be just as meaningful as relationships and friendships that occur “in real life”.  I use these terms lightly because many people in my generation, the so-called Millennials, have grown up online and are accustomed to maintaining an online persona.

Importantly, Boyd and Ellison also touch on the fact that “phishing” does occur in what is supposed to be a friendly environment.  People take advantage of online users.

“In another study examining security issues and SNSs, Jagatic, Johnson, Jakobsson, and Menczer (2007) used freely accessible profile data from SNSs to craft a ‘‘phishing’’ scheme that appeared to originate from a friend on the network; their targets were much more likely to give away information to this ‘‘friend’’ than to a perceived stranger. Survey data offer a more optimistic perspective on the issue, suggesting that teens are aware of potential privacy threats online and that many are proactive about taking steps to minimize certain potential risks. Pew found that 55% of online teens have profiles, 66% of whom report that their profile is not visible to all Internet users (Lenhart & Madden, 2007). Of the teens with completely open profiles, 46% reported including at least some false information” (p. 222).

This evidence is troubling and it shows the risk involved is creating relationships online.  I’ve never watched the show Catfish (MTV) which is a documentary style reality show that follows people who have been “catfished.”  This happens when a person begins a romantic relationship online only to find out the person with whom they are virtually involved turns out to have lied about their identity.

I believe if Boyd and Ellison revisited their research they would find that many of the Social Network Sites visited are no longer in existence and come across as irrelevant to modern scholars.  At least that’s how their research came across to me.  While I appreciate their research and learning about the history of Social Networking according to them, I had a hard time relating to their subject matter since I’m unfamiliar with Cyworld, Bebo, Ryze, Fotoblog, Skyblog, Friendster, and the list goes on and on.

This point is important for scholars of technical communication.  It’s vital for us as students to understand how quickly this world evolves and how we must keep a finger on the pulse in order to keep up and remain relevant.

 

The “intent” of the internet

Of the assignments for this week, I found the video of Jonathan Zittrain’s talk on the “Is The Internet Taking Us Where We Want to Go?” panel to be the most intriguing. He brings up a good question about the responsibility of the internet – especially the more widely utilized social media like Facebook and search engines like Google. It is an interesting idea to think about – how much do we consider Google and Facebook and the like to be our “friend” and how much do we consider them “tools”, and should this arrangement change?

This dilemma reminded me of Rheingold’s chapter on “crap detection” in Net Smart.

Rheingold essentially argues that the internet is a tool (in Zittrain’s words) and it is the responsibility of the user to determine what is accurate and most serves his or her needs. I tend to agree with this stance. While Zittrain makes some excellent points about the potential benefits of such sites as Google and Facebook to become even more in-tune with each users’ preferences, and to cater to those along with the “absolute” truth. However, it is impossible for there to be one “absolute” truth. He mentions the fact that when searching “Jew” Google’s top results are anti-semitic sites and Google even acknowledges this fact but will not change their algorithm to prevent such results. While this is an extreme case and I certainly wish those were not the results at the top of Google’s list, I don’t really think that it is fair to stifle the freedom of speech and differences in opinion of internet users. If we start doing that in extreme cases of prejudice (where it is understandable and encouraged) where do we draw the line? And if each person receives different results in everything based on their prior behavior and opinions, how can anyone ever expand their knowledge or develop new and different opinions?

I think that a decent dose of “crap detection” is the right way to go. Let Google and other sites spit out what their “algorithm” thinks is right for all users and let each of us determine what we want to read or believe. It is an imperfect system, definitely, but it is one that allows for more freedom and free-will.

Mini case study of an online game guild

(I apologize for the length and tardiness–this ended up being much more than I intended to write. I could have written more, but I needed to end it somewhere!)

While most of the content in Net Smart has been both useful and relatable, none of it has resonated with me so much as Rheingold’s frustrated, “Don’t tell me that my life online isn’t real” (163). Partially because of introversion and partially due to being geographically dislocated from my support network, my “online life” is a very important part of my day-to-day. In fact, much of my former “real life” has become “online life” due to moving. Outside of my workplace, all of my social relationships (other than my husband) are based online, even if they didn’t begin there.

Rheingold’s discussion of virtual communities (guilds) formed in massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) was of particular interest to me because my husband and I ran one such guild in a game called Final Fantasy XI (FFXI), a precursor to World of Warcraft, which is mentioned in the book. Thus, I am providing a mini case study here to showcase Rheingold’s ideas.

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My original copy was on 6 CD-ROMs, back in 2005. via

The FFXI guild TEAMSeaSlug (or TSS—the name was derived from a Japanese anime popular at the time) began directly due to the building of social capital. My husband defeated a monster that only appears once per day and generally requires a small party (6 or more) of players to defeat. A player competing for the same monster requested my husband’s help the next day. My husband agreed to help this stranger, and they joined forces for several days. Over the course of these days, the stranger brought friends who also needed the monster, so my husband helped them out as well. Recognizing shared interests, a high skill level, and a shared need, my husband formed the guild with these new friends, with himself as the leader (and ultimate arbiter) and myself as second-in-command (serving a sort of “human resources” function for the group). Through this guild, my husband and I would benefit many times in excess of the original help he provided strangers who needed that monster—and we would help many others as well.

TSS was formed to solve a social dilemma. FFXI at the time was based very strongly on collaboration. Most high-end monsters and dungeons required large parties (12 or more players) to complete, so many well populated guilds (50 or more players) existed to conquer these challenges. However, with more people come more complexity, more opportunity for interpersonal conflict (I had recently left a guild due to such), and more chances of freeloaders (a particular pet peeve of mine). TSS solved this social dilemma by being a small (fewer than 20 players at its peak), tight-knit core group of highly skilled players who could take on much of the game’s content with much smaller parties. While there was still occasional conflict, the smaller group size meant it was worked out more quickly and cleanly.

This group was very successful for several years, likely because we fulfilled (completely by accident) many of the suggestions Rheingold lists for successful online social systems. For the sake of brevity, I am only providing two examples here:

“A small number of simple, clear rules, sparsely enforced, with an explicit expectation that the community’s own norms will emerge later” (166).

We only had two major rules: 1) Be respectful. 2) You get one “freebie,” (item, monster kill, etc.) after which, you are expected to reciprocate by continually helping other guild members. This rule built a large amount of general social capital (Rheingold, p. 221) between guild members, who were always helping each other out. It got to the point where if you mentioned you were frustrated by something, somebody would inevitably help you out without being asked, whether that meant they showed up to help you fight a monster or resources miraculously showed up in your in-game mailbox.

This rule also served to weed out free-loaders. Sure, many people showed up for the “freebie,” and were never heard from again–or they would stick around without reciprocating and get frustrated that they never got anything else—and were never heard from again. This suited us just well—we were only interested in those guild members who self-selected for reciprocity and generosity. While we preferred having highly skilled players, we would always make room for a generous person with room for improvement in their game skills.

More rules did sprout up as needed, but they were generally specific to certain dungeons—loot and resource distribution and the like.

“Social capital is also key to the power of online social networks, where individuals and groups can cultivate, grow, and benefit from it” (p. 218)

Rheingold contrasts networks and communities. If our guild was a community, then the rest of the guilds and individuals was a network. Our policy of reciprocity served us well, as it allowed us to build social capital on the network scale—our guild members self-selected for generosity, and they would rarely hesitate to help anyone in need, regardless of their guild affiliation.

Rheingold adds, “The same networks that foster norms of reciprocity also facilitate the flow of reputational information” (p. 221). As our guild members went around helping strangers and building their networks, word got around that TSS was a pretty good guild to work with—both highly skilled and generous. Each member was a bridge to another network, whose members could potentially reciprocate at any time. This helped us face our greatest weakness as a guild: our low member base.

The nature of FFXI was such that some challenges required higher numbers of players, no matter how skilled. In these cases, TSS was left behind, unable to muster the manpower on our own. However, because each member built their own networks based on reciprocity, we were able to call upon willing  outsiders to help us defeat these challenges—and they came because of the social capital we built as a guild. Sometimes, this even resulted in growing membership for our guild, as people who came to our call decided to stick around.

There were still certain challenges we could not face. The short term solution was to individually join specialized guilds specifically for those tasks (some of which required 24 or more players). However, our long-term plan was to begin teaming up with other guilds like ours: small, highly skilled, with high social capital. Sadly, that never came to be, as the game developers made some drastic changes that eventually led us to quit.

However, TSS lives on, and some of those core members are among our closest friends. Our paths have crossed in subsequent MMOGs, and we teamed up successfully in those, raising the TEAMSeaSlug banner each time. Our paths have crossed in real life, as well. We have been to each other’s (real life) weddings. We’ve commiserated with each other’s frustrations and celebrated life’s milestones.

So when anyone questions the validity of online communities, I react the same as Rheingold: Don’t tell me that my online life isn’t real!

Crowdsourcing: Your Friend

Lately, I’ve been having difficulty trying to figure out how to make the best decision for many things. I turn to digital technology to get the help I need from my friends and colleagues on a multitude of things.

It’s easy to get things done quickly online and get the feedback you need from your tribe.

I rely on the Internet for help. Someone will have the answer I need and I am always happy to provide the answer for them when they ask. As a kid, I was told I was to fear the Internet and it was not a great place to be in. However, I disagree because I feel it’s a place where I can get reliable and honest feedback. I also can find good software and advice and most of the time it’s free. The only thing I need to pay for is an Internet connection.

One of my favorite sites right now is Quora. If you are unfamiliar with Quora, it is a social network where people ask interesting questions and anyone has the opportunity to answer them. If you ever get a chance, go on there and find something interesting to discuss. This is where I can spend more of my day reading articles from

There are many more, but I believe you get the point that people have some awesome stories to tell where you can get some great information because people are willing to share their stories on this platform.

For me, I’ll put my two cents:

And then I can ask questions and hope people can provide a decent answer

Seriously, if you know why technical writers are introverts, I encourage you to answer it!

I enjoy having Quora around for this reason. According to Rheingold, we “collaborate publicly without requiring or expecting any direct reward” (p. 155). Quora will curate questions and answered based on my preferences, so I can enjoy reading people’s answers which I deem worthy and I get to upvote or downvote their answer based on my thoughts. Above all, I’m here to learn on this social network and have an open mind about anything because I see the human condition written by others who are like me.

Giving Away Something Helps Everyone

My first participation in crowdsourcing was downloading and installing SETI@Home. I would help crunch data in exchange for a pretty screensaver. Yes, I know it would eat up processing resources and electrical power, but I felt I was doing something helpful running the program and looking at my units that I completed. Rheingold noted that I was part of a group of people who would donate time and computing power for “mass collaboration in response to” science (p. 168). It’s a feel-good thing where I could directly help “scientists understand the universe or assisting biomedical researchers who are seeking to cure a disease…” (p. 169).

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SETI@home Classic screenshot from Berkeley.

One thing I missed was the Folding@home project where I could have helped in another way. By that time, I didn’t have the time and I moved on to using a laptop instead of a desktop and it would not be helpful for me to overheat my laptop. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t stop helping whenever I could on the Internet.

Occasionally I’d fix a problem a problem with grammar on Wikipedia, update a listing on Google Maps, or edit a manual on iFixIt. I love these kinds of websites because I’m invited to edit content to make it better. I actually enjoy the moment I can make a change on Wikipedia, which is kind of like a nice thing. At work, our content management system works in a similar fashion, except we have a few administrators (me and my co-workers) who approve content updates. What makes my job awesome is that I get to make those edits to the content updates before we get to click the publish button every time.

The Professional Network

Whenever I think of a social network that is helpful, it is my group of colleagues who are spread out across the world who know about technical communication and content strategy. Whenever I need help with a tool or understanding about a new concept, I can send them a message on any of the social networks I’m connected with. In a sense, Rheingold calls this a PLN, which is a “personally curated network of people I want to learn from and a network that learns together” (p. 228). What I try to do is maintain my network all of the time by following people I am interested in, ask questions whenever I can, and feed my network by providing answers. Somehow doing this for several years with my colleagues I’ve met at the Society for Technical Communication Annual Summits have earned me a place in the field. This year, I’ve presented a couple of times and am reviewing session proposals for the 2017 Summit. On the otherhand, I also have gained a couple of side gigs at another conference.

So far, maintaining and building that network online has taken me to places like Las Vegas, Portland, New Orleans, and Dublin. In fact, without this network I would not have had the opportunity to attend this class. I certainly attribute and appreciate these connections for giving opportunities at the right time. I have tried to return the favor by helping out with the Society for Technical Communication whenever I can.

I want to mention that Rheingold’s last chapter is a great summary of the book. In fact, during my conference I have had the opportunity to talk with a lot of colleagues about the books I’ve been reading in this class and a couple were considering to add them into their future reading lists. Let’s see where it goes from here! I may now have a new hobby to find books that are interesting that my colleagues would be interested in. No, I will not create a technical communicators book reading club (but I probably will).

The Long Tail…

When I read Chris Anderson’s presentation, The Long Tail, the first slides immediately made me think about Spotify and Netflix. They do such a great job of suggesting things based off of our interests because we have a nearly “unlimited selection” that “is revealing truths about
what (we) consumers want…” (Slide 4). One of the best things that has come to the world of consumer media is that I can get the media almost immediately instead of waiting for it to arrive.

Three Examples

  1. Movie date night with a girlfriend can be as easy as downloading a feature film in five minutes from Amazon.com.
  2. DJ song request instantly bought and downloaded to play within minutes even at the same dance event
  3. Class project which requires a book which can be downloaded instantly and read on any device

Lastly, I love how digital technologies are available on most devices. It’s not like I need to have a specific device to use my content. As long as I have a multi-use device, I can read, listen, or watch what I download. It’s not like the past where I need to buy a DVD player to play movies or a CD player to listen to music. However, I’m worried that our multi-use devices will become nostalgic. Tonight, I get to watch a movie on DVD, which required unpacking my DVD player from my box. Maybe next week for nostalgia-sale, I’ll find my VHS player stored at my parents, blow the dust off the VHS tapes and watch The Lion King.


References

Anderson, C. (2004, December). The Long Tail. [Presentation Slides]. Retrieved from http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/10.LongTail  

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA

The Power of Living Online

After reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, I was inspired to write about a recent experience of mine with my new job.  As all of you know by now, I’m not tech savvy nor do I have a great understanding of social media.  With my new job, I’m tied to my laptop and am VERY quickly learning all about managing Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, creating a WordPress blog, and I’m on Twitter a lot.

Chris Anderson discussed how Amazon users rated an unpopular book well and caused a second-coming of success for a book called Touching the Void.  Something similar happened to me after special event held by my company last Thursday.  TRUE Studio offers “pop-up” yoga events in the city of Janesville.  Over the summer, TRUE Studio held seven rooftop yoga events called Yogabrews.  Each event was three hours long–one hour to register, set up your mat, and socialize, followed by an hour of yoga, and then a social hour afterwards where participants could have a glass of local beer with the proceeds donated to a local charity.  The same has been done recently with additional Yogabrews events, but this time it was with a Halloween-esque twist.  The events featured “glow” yoga.  The set up with similar, an hour before to socialize, and hour of yoga, and a wine/beer social afterwards.  This time, however, the room was set up with black lights and dance lights so folks could “glow” during yoga.

The first event brought in 23 people and was considered successful.  The second event that took place a week later brought in almost 40 people and it was quite amazing to see that many people “glowing” under the black lights.  During the balance portion of the yoga practice, I went up to the balcony with my phone to do a Facebook Live feed from TRUE Studio Janesville’s Facebook page.  Not very many people saw the feed while it was live, and I was really disappointed.  By morning, the video had been seen by over 400 people.  Today, the video has been seen by 1,232 people.  While I don’t work over the weekend, I’m still checking in on all of our accounts and get updates about activity on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  Since Thursday, our Facebook has been visited by a heavy influx of people, TRUE Studio has been rated on Facebook 13 times by new members, classes are filling, and people are talking about us on social media.  I think the video I posted had an impact on this flurry of new activity.

At first I was leery about posting a Facebook Live feed.  The CEO and I recently had a phone conference with one of our consultants who said NEVER to post pictures or videos of classes because it could attract bad press and negative comments.  For example, yoga purists wouldn’t approve of the high-intensity music and light playing during yoga.  Many purists practice in total silence or just to a cello.  Our yoga philosophy is different, and I think it’s important for us to advertise all of the amazing new things we’re doing.  The new activity and positive things happening with TRUE Studio online is similar to Chris Anderson’s message in The Long Tail.

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What Was Once Out of Reach is Now in my House!

Chris Anderson, in his article, “The Long Tail,” discusses the availability of obscure, lesser known, and low-demand movies, books, and music.  While movie theaters choose to show only movies with predictably high turnouts, Netflix can offer any movie regardless of popularity.  While Barns & Noble is a huge bookstore and can offer 130,000 titles, Amazon can offer 2.3 million (Anderson, 2004). 

As the manager of a band, this is something that really resonated with me.  In the 1980s and earlier, recording original music was very expensive and very much out of reach for common people.  Hopeful artists would solicit labels for a contract in hopes that the label would spring for the recording of an album. Studio time was very expensive and sound engineers were highly skilled.  Unfortunately, the only way to record original music, if a contract wasn’t in the works, was to buy studio time and expect to pay upwards of $100,000 for an album. Often, the only affordable studio time was in the middle of the night. Even more difficult was that the recording studios were mainly located in the music hubs such as Nashville and L.A. (Sound City, 2013).  Watch Sound City

Sound City is a documentary of the recording experience in the 1970s and 80s.  The studio of yesterday is very different from the studio of today.  It also discusses the closing of some legendary studios.

Today technology and the internet make it much easier for local artists to record their music and get it out to the people.  Programs like ProTools bring hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of hi-tech studio equipment into a private home.  Experts and novices alike use ProTools to produce music.  Rhapsody, CD Baby, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube (to name a few) are tools that allow a small town band to be heard worldwide.  Unlike radio, these venues can host a much larger inventory of music simply because digital music doesn’t take up shelf space and the users can create their own playlists simultaneously. That means they aren’t confined by time (Anderson, 2013).  Not only do these venues suggest potential new music for a listener, but social networking allows listeners to spread their love of new music (Rheingold, 2014). 

How Does That Affect Little ‘Ole Us?

For the band that I manage, this new digital process and accessibility has allowed a group of high school kids with a ton of talent to record with a producer who has worked with Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Kesha, and more. Josh Stoll, from Northern Minnesota got a two year sound engineer degree from McNally Smith in Minneapolis.  As his internship, he worked under Dr. Luke in L.A. He returned to Minneapolis and started his own recording studio and his own band (Summertime Dropouts).  My son was recruited by Josh Stoll to be the lead guitarist for Summertime Dropouts.  Josh did all of their own tracking and sent the tracks via Dropbox to his friend in L.A. (Clint Gibbs) who is Dr. Luke’s assistant.  Gibbs acted as Executive Producer on the Summertime Dropouts CD’s.  The mixed tracks were then sent (again via Dropbox) to New York where Darren Vermaas mastered them.  Finally, Vermaas created a digital image of the CD and sent it out for replication.  Within two weeks, 1000 CD’s were delivered to Josh’s door.  Of course I bi-passed the creation of the artwork, but that was digital as well. Interestingly enough, the songs were tracked at my home in central Wisconsin rather than at a recording studio in a major city.  So, because of technology today, musicians in central Wisconsin were able to access the expertise of people on each coast to create their music. 

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The next step is promotion.  Using social media, bands can promote their music themselves without having to spend money on agents and promoters.  Because of the tech savvy skills of Summertime Dropouts, their music has been featured on MTV, Rich Kids of Beverly Hills, Portlandia, and much more. 

How has that affected the band I manage?  I met Josh Stoll through my son.  We were able to hire him (using a family-friend rate) to track our music.  Josh was our Executive Producer.  We then sent our music to New York for mastering and then submitted to digital retailers.  We get a check every couple of months for the online purchases of our music.  This is something that could not have happened to a young local band 25 or 30 years ago.  Technology has changed the music industry and likewise, it’s changed the movie and book industry as well.  I am attaching links to music by Summertime Dropouts and the band that I manage.  Since a recording studio can by housed in a computer tower, listen to see if you can hear a quality difference between these songs and something that would have been tracked in a major recording studio.  Songs must have a much higher demand to land radio airtime. However, due to the ability to get our music out globally using the internet, the band I manage is getting airplay all over the world and most recently was picked up by a radio station in California.  It’s simply amazing to see how our reach is much different today. The format of digital music is getting easier and more popular than ever.  I used to hold out and buy hard copy music from the music store simply because I wanted to see the photos and get the information that could only be found inside a CD.  Today, that information is rampant all over the internet.  Instead of listening to a new CD and browsing the pages of a CD insert, I can listen to new music while I sift through uploaded articles and photos of my favorite bands.

Summertime Dropouts

WithoutExcuse

It’s simply amazing to see how our reach is much different today. The format of digital music is getting easier and more popular than ever.  I used to hold out and buy hard copy music from the music store simply because I wanted to see the photos and get the information that could only be found inside a CD.  Today, that information is rampant all over the internet.  Instead of listening to a new CD and browsing the pages of a CD insert, I can listen to new music while I sift through uploaded articles and photos of my favorite bands.


References

Anderson, Chris. (2004). “The long tail.” Change This. Issue 10.01. Creative Commons. Stanford, CA.

Grohl, David. (2013). Sound City. Roswell Films.

Rheingold, Howard. (2014).  Net Smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Collective Intelligence: Content Curation + Social Collaboration

For all the negative criticism the internet receives, it has enabled us to bring together more minds, thoughts, and ideas in one collective space than we ever thought possible. Howard Rheingold’s (2012) examination of collective intelligence combines content curators and collaborators, essentially a digital “think tank” that is available for the masses. “If you tag, favorite, comment, wiki edit, curate, or blog, you are already part of the web’s collective intelligence” (Net Smart, p. 148)

I’m intrigued with “content curator” from Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on participation, the process of collecting, organizing, and sharing information. This filtering process not only narrows down information, but it also allows you to become a sort of expert. Once you become a seasoned curator, you’ll build trust with followers who will likely contribute more to the conversation. With this collection of content and knowledge, you can share with others to create a collective knowledge. Because we know that “two heads are better than one” to solve a problem.

Social network sites, not only limited to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or a blog, but also anywhere that you’re able to contribute via a comment or share feature is considered social collaboration. Rheingold says the important elements of collective intelligence is combining participation and collaboration skills from virtual communities (p. 161).

collaboration concept. Chart with keywords and icons

Elements of collaboration. Courtesy of PaperlessProposal.com

Social collaboration and collective intelligence is how we’re able to create and improve everything. Matt Ridley, author of the Rational Optimist, says “collective intelligence produce the items we use in our everyday lives” (Collective Intelligence, 2015, YouTube). For example, improving cell phone technology. I remember the first cell phone I had was about the size of a walkie talkie and I could only use it for calling and texting. Through collaboration and collective intelligence, cell phones became compact and added technology to take digital pictures, connect to the internet, send photos via text,  GPS mapping, and so much more. Ridley and others share their ideas about collective intelligence in the video Collective Intelligence (start at the 2:40 mark).

What I found most interesting about collective intelligence is how it has enabled more people to participate and contribute to sites such as Wikipedia, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding (GoFundMe.com).

Sources:

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

“Collective Intelligence.” (5 Jan. 2015). OnEnglish Online. Retrieved October 29, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7-CEDyoibQ

A Networked World

I found Howard Rheingold’s (2012) chapter on networks in Net Smart to be interesting and extremely applicable to the discussion of social media’s use in the professional world. While it seems obvious that social media (especially sites like LinkedIn) has been beneficial in extending and utilizing networks to obtain professional opportunities, what Rheingold makes clear is that social media can also be very effective in use by companies and organizations to communicate with their users/buyers.

Although he does not specifically mention the use of social media by organizations, his discussion of “social capital” clearly can be applied to such uses. Social capital is the trust and reliability one creates (in this case online) through acts of goodwill, reciprocity, compassion, etc. This could be an extremely useful tool for companies and organizations to use to improve their image and create a “network” of satisfied customers. By using social media to quickly and compassionately respond to concerns or criticisms, organizations can build “social capital” with the public, which will directly correlate to a better image and more revenue.

This has been my argument for the use of social media by businesses for a while; my paper for Rhetorical Theory last semester focused on utilizing social media in just this way. One way in which social media could become more of a hindrance for companies, however, is the idea of user-generated content. Some people are advocating for  the ability of users to create their own documents “on behalf” of the company – much like a wiki. The danger of this was examined a bit in Rheingold’s discussion of Wikipedia; there is a distinct possibility and danger of “trolls” and those who would (either on purpose or unintentionally) post incorrect or damaging content. This possibility has poses a bigger risk when discussing the documents for an organization versus Wikipedia. The incorrect or misleading information could end up decreasing their social capital, as the reader may not know where the information came from.

There are probably many people out there who would still advocate for such content, but in my opinion, social media should be used by businesses to create a conversation with their users/customers, not to let the public create for them. By creating social capital for themselves by promptly responding to their consumer base and maintaining a positive ethos for themselves, businesses (especially big companies) can certainly benefit from utilizing social media.

Using Social Media the RIGHT Way

Last night, my husband and I were out eating dinner before a concert we were attending. My husband was on his phone (as always). I’m giving him the stink-eye, he looks up at me, then back down at his phone – completely ignoring my blatant irritation at his phone use. In a fit of rage, I reach across the table and grab the phone away, hiding it beside me, much as a mother might have to do with an unruly child. 

This story is fairly typical of many of my interactions with, not only my husband, but many of my friends and family as well. I am one who avidly utilizes themti5otiwoda5mtc4nde3mtyy internet and my phone, but I have learned that there is a time and place for it. Sitting at dinner with your spouse or friend is not the time for it. When someone is trying to carry on a conversation with you, that is not the time for it. It has become an endless frustration that so many people seem unable to look away from their devices and connect with the real world – and I’m sure I am guilty of it as well. It can be hard to separate yourself from the nagging urge to check your texts/Facebook/email. I have experienced it as well, but much like Howard Rheingold (2012) outlines in “Net Smart” I have learned to focus my attention when necessary.

I am a huge advocate for the social abilities that technology has made possible. As someone who suffers from (at times debilitating) depression and social anxiety, the ability to “connect” while not being physically close to someone is something that has helped me tremendously. Additionally, there is such support out there (on the web) for people who suffer similar challenges, the communities that the internet and social media make possible can be endlessly beneficial. However, as Rheingold eloquently put it, “the same activity can be a lifeline for one person and a distracting compulsion to others” (2012, p. 8). This entirely sums up the differences in the evolution of use of social media between my husband and myself.

As a young adult I, like many other young adults, thought myself to be exceedingly important and felt the urge to post even the most mundane and uninteresting things to social media. As I learned to navigate these media, I began to see their propensity for good as well as their pitfalls. That was when I began to change the way I used such technologies, creating communities of trust and comfort while eliminating the more banal and unimportant posts from my profiles. This has helped me immensely in building a sense of belonging and allowing me to more easily cope with my circumstances.

My husband has a long history of becoming addicted to video-games, to the detriment of his academic and professional life at times. This is why, when he spends our dinner staring at his phone, I get afraid that it will become a compulsion he will not be able to stop. For the two of us, our technology and its social affordances creates two very different worlds.

This is why I think that Rheingold’s idea of “controlling attention” is so vital. While technology and social media can be extremely beneficial in connecting with others and creating/maintaining communities, if let run wild, they can be distractions that keep us from living our lives in the moment.

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Both photos courtesy of http://blazepress.com/2015/05/27-powerful-images-that-sum-up-how-smartphones-are-ruining-our-lives/ 

Thinking about thinking about thinking about…

In several of the readings we’ve encountered this semester, we’ve encountered sad stories of parents neglecting children on playgrounds in favor of their smart phones, of adolescents exhausted by the demands of social media, and people who have nearly died from information overload. The theme we are seeing over and over again seems to be that technology – and social media in particular – is a one-way train to the downfall of society. And we are riding it gleefully.

I’ve found myself quite frustration by these doomsayers. Sure, technology has its downsides, but it overall has a net positive if treated properly. The same can be said for other communication technologies that were heralded in their days of harbingers of the end of civilization. For instance, for Socrates, reading itself was a threat to society. In fact, in Net Smart, Howard Rheingold identifies a cycle wherein 1) a technology arises to massively increase communication efficiency, 2) that technology causes an information crisis and panic about the future of society, and 3) humans develop methods to handle the new technology and information it presents (p. 100). This cycle occurred for writing, books, the telegraph, the telephone, etc.

The question then becomes what tools do we need to develop to adjust to the current information crisis? The doomsayers argue that the only solution is an abstinence-only, zero-tolerance policy toward these technologies–quitting them cold turkey. To Rheingold, this is not the answer. “Human agency, not just technology is key,” he argues, “teaching people how to practice more mindful mediated communication seems the most feasible remedy” (p. 56-7).

Rheingold argues that the solution already lies within our own minds: metacognition (thinking about thinking) and mindfulness (paying attention to the way you pay attention) (36). By exercising these skills, we will be able to filter out all but the most essential information and focus our attention productively to complete goals.

Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is so powerful that, according to Rheingold, just thinking about thinking about thinking starts change the neural networks in the brain. It takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to teach the brain new tricks.

Mindfulness, or paying attention to the way you pay attention, allows us to develop control over our attentiveness such that we actively choose to perform activities relevant to our goals and intentions. It allows us to “attune to the part of [our] information environment that matters most, and tune out what is irrelevant, at least for the purpose of [our goals” (p. 42-3).

Getting started, Rheingold says, is as simple as breathing. Seriously, the first step in creating attention awareness is to pay attention to breathing (p. 45). From this humble starting point, “attention processes… can be strengthened through exercise” (p. 62). He argues that small steps, repeated at regular intervals become habit–in other words, repetition of mindful cognitive tasks start shaping the brain’s neural networks in ways we want. By the end of all this, we become capable of focusing only on information that helps us reach our goals, while filtering out all of the other “noise” that distracts us away from our intentions.

I am personally quite familiar with mindfulness. I’m still an amateur, but I have applied it to my life in a number of ways, including improving my eating and spending habits. I am more aware of my posture, and I even try to be mindful of the way I walk–I am trying to consciously correct a slight limp that I didn’t even notice I had until I started paying attention.

Mindfulness is a very powerful tool that enables you to make conscious decisions rather than moving through life on “autopilot.” However, after reading these chapters of Net Smart, I would like to pursue mindfulness further, perhaps even beginning meditation. I have a very active (i.e., disruptive) mind, and I would like to develop tools to quiet it or, even better, harness that activity to complete goals.

This is When Everything Changes: Cluetrain and the Technological Experience

If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The only thing that’s changed about this adage is that now we have the ability to Google the answer with the press of a few keys. Working in that atmosphere, where technology and the Internet have allowed us all to access an endless amount of information on a variety of subjects

Reading through the 95 theses from the Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual by Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger is an interesting little web page to look over. It’s full of a lot of sage advice and theses that I find to be completely obvious. Though there is power in making statements so I guess I can see the point in creating a very pointed guide for companies to read through.

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Source: (https://www.123rf.com/photo_33013224_middle-aged-man-with-puzzled-face-expression-and-question-marks-above-head-looking-up-isolated-grey-.html)

Let’s break some of it down, shall we! It starts out by stating:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

At first glance, this is all standard fare. Yes, we are now more of a global community. The Internet has allowed us to friend, follow, and tweet at anyone around with the world with WiFi and a digital social life.

More than that, we are discovering and inventing new ways to communicate and convey information. This idea is particularly important, to our greater class discussion and to the Manifesto. Outside of the limited amount of countries that actively limit the scope of the Internet for their citizens, surfing the Net is such an individual experience, mostly because no one can truly lay claim to it. We all have the ability to create blogs, websites, videos, music, and a variety of content, post it, and have it read 1,000 times before lunch. This freedom is something that is exclusive to the Web. As Americans, we live in a country where the Freedoms of Speech and Expression are protected, but as always, putting that into action inevitably causes friction with other people, groups, religious organizations, and/or the government.

The online space, as much as it is open to manipulation and abuse, is viewed as safer. We have the ability to hide behind screen names and anonymous messages, giving us the option of both utter honesty and utter depravity.

When the opening to the manifesto talks about relevant knowledge is where I drew up short. This might just be a personal opinion of mine, but what information can you not deem relevant? Yes, time period, setting, and other factors provide context. Your office job is not the place to talk about that rash you have, unless you work in a hospital or urgent care center. But that knowledge will come in handy eventually, like all knowledge.

What’s relevant to businesses is to understand that customers are people who cannot be neatly pressed into columns, lines, and graphs on a spreadsheet.

Image result for spreadsheet death

Source: (https://www.veeva.com/blog/death-by-spreadsheet-the-gremlins-paradox/)

As you have probably heard from a parent, professor, elderly person on the street, Turkle, the age of the Internet, mobile devices and social networking has brought about many detrimental changes to our society. We do not learn or retain information in the same way. We do not connect with friends and neighbors like we used to. We can’t understand how vital it is to connect with people face-to-face in order to be an actual human being.

They have done their part by creating a dialogue about this topic. It is now up to us, those of us working with technology now, and those of us who come later, reared in the cradle of mobile devices and online communities.

What’s relevant to us as content creators, digital consumers, and technical communicators, what we must all understand is that we do not live in binary opposition with technology. It is not either or. The human experience has to be allowed to evolve. Change comes when we’re placed into new situations. Technology has affected the way we relate to each other, yes. It has driven businesses to look online for customers. It has caused innumerable automobile accidents and driven progress in health care, defense, travel, and commerce.

Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger work to clarify the position of the audience as autonomous agents who do not need companies to tell them what to want anymore.

So where do you fall on the spectrum of this argument? Do you feel that the rise of texting, Facebook, Snapchat, and every other social networking site and digital communications tool has led to the simplification of meaning? How much does what you buy have to do with the method/medium you are exposed to it?

Critical Thoughts on Attention, Crap Detection and Participation in Digital Media

Attention Deficiency

As I begin to write this blog, I am already distracted by several tabs open on my browser, an audible ring of a new text message, and a calendar reminder that my favorite radio program begins in five minutes. Carr in Net Smart (Rheingold, 2012) explains these interruptions or distractions are causing us to lose “deep, sustained focus” (p. 52). These distractions or lack of attention are dissuading our intention to achieve a goal, in this case, write this blog.

Rheingold uses Sherry Turkle’s 15 years of research to amass ways to become more mindful of how we’re using digital media and participating in online activities. Although he cites research that our use of digital media is detrimental to society and weakens our capacity to think critically, he also provides solutions to increase our aptitude and critical thinking skills.

Learning how to be a Crap Detective 

Reading Rheingold’s (2012) chapter about deciphering websites’ credibility supports my pet peeve of friends believing and sharing fake news stories and Facebook privacy policies. The proliferation of false news stories promotes our own inability to think about the content’s truthfulness and impact to others. I refer to Snopes.com to determine whether a story is true or not and post the link online. I have recently read several posts about Facebook releasing all our personal information  and photos. This was crap four years ago and people are still sharing it. I re-shared the truth via Snopes.com and warned my friends that I would stop following their feeds if they continued to post the crap. 

Eight years ago I worked for an online media startup where we used SEO to get a website to rank authentically within the first three pages of Google, but Rheingold suggests that we look beyond the first 30 search results to find more credible websites. Does this mean the crappy spam sites are doing a better job of SEO than the credible counterparts? 

Other sites to determine the validity of digital content are FactCheck.org, and NewsTrust.net. Note the url extension as well this is one predictor of reliable information; however, any website can choose a .org or .net, but .edu or .gov. The latter two must be verified an educational institution or government entity. 

Participation Online

There are multiple levels of participatory engagement from reading content, sharing a link, interactive gaming sites, “likes” to clicking on a hypertext link. How we participate also contributes to how we curate content. Rheingold (2012) explained, “The voluntary curation contribution of every person who ever puts a link on a Web site, blog, or tweet is what enables Google to…rank the sites in order of popularity” (p.127). And with that popularity, we provide information that becomes a powerful dictator of knowledge or stupidity. 

Is the Internet a cesspool of folklore and truthiness?

Or The Internet is full of adventure and can we learn to love and live with it?

It takes time to understand the fluency of the Internet. The wool is never pulled over my eyes when it comes to the junk the Internet has to offer. However, how can you blame the Internet for tricking us? Anyone with a connection can post whatever they want to get our attention. In the book, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, Howard Rheingold says that “the web undermines authority (by enabling anybody to publish)” (p. 89). The amount of content waiting for our attention is enormous. Whenever I see dubious posts that talk about folklore or “truthy” on the social media, I do a quick search on Google to see if the content is real or fake.

Sometimes Google search results give me a Snopes.com article. I tend to believe the Snopes website because it has been around busting urban folkore and “truthiness” for over twenty years. If you think I made that up, check out Rob Walker’s profile on the person behind the most well-known website for clearing up the internet’s (dis)information. Because of the amount of information out there these days, “we need Snopes more than ever” (Walker, 2016).

In the Futurama episode, “Attack of the Killer App,” the characters get eyePhones installed in their eye sockets, which the device mimics features found on actual iPhones. Bender, the narcissistic robot, uses his eyePhone for the purpose of getting attention through the device. He posts on the social media site, Twitcher (a parody of Twitter), about his kayaking trip around the world while sitting comfortably at a pizzeria.

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Screenshots and captions from “Attack of the Killer App” from Futurama.

Bender then says, “Can you believe 50,000 idiots swallow that crap?” and he accidentally sends that message to his followers. This example is a great one to showcase that people will believe anything and somehow Bender amassed a following of people who believe he is an authoritative figure. In a sense, do we believe what people say online as true or do we need to step back and question the content we consume?

Working out that skepticism muscle

I think it’s time we start working on our skepticism muscle. I propose using this analogy: work out your skeptical muscle on the internet by critically thinking about the content you consume. You will get better exercising that skepticism muscle every time you get a chance to.

In my case, I research a lot of information and gauge the data by how well the website presents itself and if it is corroborated by other reputable sources. Rheingold says “journalists talk about ‘triangulating’ by checking three different, credible sources” (p. 79). I know whatever’s on the web should be taken with caution and I question everything before I believe it to be true. However, critical thinking should apply not only for the internet, but anything else posted elsewhere, such as the yellow and tabloid journalism peddled at checkout aisles in grocery stores.

During my earliest days using the Internet, I learned quickly how to tell what was true and fake. Rheingold says that “age can be a factor in crap-detection fluency, experience and engagement may be more important” (p. 84) I agree that it takes experience and years of reading online content to gather that kind of heuristic for detecting what is junk and what to believe. “The danger of … credulity is made possible by digital media” says Rheingold, and there is something we can do about it: “make skepticism [our] default” (p. 77).

Rheingold includes Dan Gillmor’s five “Principles of Media Consumption” (pp. 95-96) as a good guide for figuring out how to work that skepticism muscle in order to process information better and not take anything for granted.

  • Be Skeptical
  • Exercise Judgment
  • Open Your Mind
  • Keep Asking Questions
  • Learn Media Techniques

Gillmor says that we need everyone to understand that “we are doing a poor job of ensuring that consumers and producers of media in a digital age are equipped for these tasks [of consuming media appropriately].” Additionally, Gillmor and I agree that in order to build these skills, “this is a job for parents and schools” and unfortunately “a teacher who teaches critical thinking in much of the United States risks being attacked as a dangerous radical.” Luckily, in my educational upbringing, I was told to question and research everything before I decide to accept it.

Can we patch the human?

Lastly, I am fascinated how people could fall for most well-known digital scam: phishing. In my last job I worked with an information security team as a technical writer. One of the security measures the team would test for was phishing and my co-workers were good at hacking the human since most of the computer systems were already hardened with security patches. How easy it it to fall for the everyday phishing email? Very easy. You’d be surprised that despite all of the security efforts made to secure systems so hackers can’t get in, people always were the weakest chain.

It boggles me how anyone can be so trusting to give away passwords!

In essence how can we train ourselves to figure out scams or fake authoritative figures via email? Can we “social engineer-proof” the average person to catch subtle hints everywhere on the Internet to be aware of? I think it is possible to help everyone to detect these types of scams instead of relying on software to filter the scams out of our email.

We need to educate people early on how to detect these kinds of things on the Internet. I would hope that these days, not only parents, educators teach online literacy. That doesn’t mean scaring kids and teens away from the internet, but teach helpful skills in consuming media like using Gillmor’s five principles. Whenever a friend or family member posts a hoax on Facebook, I check it and decide if it’s worthy to explain to them that they posted junk information. I gently prod them by posting a link to Snopes.com, like what Rheingold mentions we do to debunk online rumors (p. 81) because it’s important to stop the junk from misinforming other unfortunate souls.

To me, I liken it to telling people Comic Sans and Papyrus are terrible fonts and you need to use something like Gothic or Perpetua or Cambria. You don’t need to suffer awful junk from the digital world. We can do better.


References

Gillmor, D. (2008, December 26). Principles of a new media literacy. [Web log message]. Retrieved from https://dangillmor.com/2008/12/26/principles-of-a-new-media-literacy/

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. The MIT Press. Cambridge, MA

Verrone, P. (Writer). (2010). Attack of the killer app. [Television series episode]. in Cohen, D. X. (Executive producer). Futurama. New York, NY: Comedy Central.

Walker, R. (2016, October 19). How the truth set Snopes free. Webby Awards. Retrieved from http://webbyawards.com/features/how-the-truth-set-snopes-free/

Information – It’s Not All That

The abundance of available information at our fingertips, simply a Google Search away, is changing the way we do things.  It changes the way we spend our time, the way we learn, the way we read, and the way we think.  Sherry Turkle, in Alone Together, states that because of this, the quality of information is suffering.  People get quick email answers, quick Google Search answers, quick trivia, and don’t take the time to write or read extended written works or books.

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Because information is abundant and fast, because anyone with a smartphone can upload video and details about an event taking place, journalists have new competition.  Turkle says that people are losing their respect for a long, in depth answers.  More than that, people lose their patience for quality information. I recently was drawn to a news article by a headline.  An event had taken place, and I wanted more information, so I clicked on the article and was taken to an online news website.  The article was poorly written, disjointed, and riddled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and sentence fragments.  It was literally painful to read and the event I was reading about took a backseat to my horror at the “news” article.  How could I trust the details if there was no effort put into the publishing of this article.  A simple read-through could have fixed a multitude of errors.  I commented on the article, expressing my disappointment that the author couldn’t proof read his own work before publishing his article.  I pointed out that the errors in the article distracted me from the content and I would not return to this particular website for news anymore.  The author replied to my comment.  He defended his article and said that he was on the scene when he posted it.  He wrote the article on a tablet, which made typing difficult.  He didn’t take time to proofread because someone else may have uploaded the article first.  He prides himself on being first to get the news out. 

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That incident was my first revelation that the quality of information was at stake because of the demand for instant knowledge.  I was reminded of this as I read Howard Rheingold’s response in Net Smart to Nicholas Carr’s assertion that we rely so heavily on internet searches, that we no longer have the capacity to “know.” It’s true.  I find myself less inclined to memorize information since I can pull it up in an instant.  Today, I was packing up books that I had had for years; books that I saved in case I ever needed to know about the topics.  As I was packing them to donate, I thought about what would happen if the internet went down for any amount of time.  The books about math, electricity, art, history, etc. are all waiting until I need to look something up, except I haven’t touched them in years.  We are very dependent on the internet for our knowledge.  On one hand, the internet can go with us everywhere.  Therefore, we have knowledge whenever and wherever we need it.  Frighteningly, we’re dependent on the internet for far more than information.  What if something happens that takes down the internet for a significant amount of time.  We won’t know anything.  Carr is right in this point – the internet is making us stupid.

In addition to poor quality information, we have to contend with inaccurate information and purposefully deceiving information.  Many colleges and universities do not recognize Wikipedia as a legitimate source because of the high risk of faulty information. It used to have an open policy which means that any person, even if they did not have a Wikipedia account, could edit, add, or change information, making that information unreliable.  They have changed that policy, however, limiting and approving edits (Wikipedia Editing Policy). Therefore, since we, as readers and users, have to be able to identify when we are getting solid, or destructive information, we can’t check our brains at the door. Memorizing and “knowing” might not be as prevalent as in the past, but using reason, verifying facts, cross referencing are all becoming new skills. Perhaps the internet is teaching us to develop out critical thinking skills. 


References

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

Turkle, Sherry. (2011).  Alone Together. Basic Books. New York, NY.

#92 Y2K… Wow, That Took Me Back

I found cluetrain’s 95 Theses an exhaustive list of pretty much any and all situations that could possibly be linked to how “the market” is changing because of technology.  I read along the list finding myself curious and in mostly agreement with the items on the list.  When I got to #92 it dawned on me that this list is outdated and I checked the publishing date.  Towards the bottom of the list, it says “Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.”  That made me think: How different would this list be if it were written seventeen years into the future?  Would many of these items remain the same or would the utter onslaught of burgeoning technology render the list useless?  Perhaps it wouldn’t be useless, but I think it would look a bit different.

I’d like to reflect on what technology and forms of media I was using during Y2K.  I was in sixth grade and twelve years old.  On New Year’s Eve 1999 I was at a hotel with my family and a lot of their friends we went camping with every summer plus all of their kids.  Luckily, many of us were around the same age so it was a very fun New Year’s Eve.  I don’t recall understanding exactly what Y2K was, but I knew that 2000 was going to be a big deal.  I was too young to understand the fear of the doomsday preppers and people’s concern that technology wouldn’t be able to comprehend the number 2000 and the world was going to blow up.  The technology I was using as a twelve year old sixth grader included a grey discman with stickers all over it, a Gateway home computer without internet, and a TV with a VCR.  I had never heard of e-mail let alone could I even contemplate social networking and what technology and emerging media looks like today.

Image result for discman

These days, my life is inundated with technology and the way it affects the market and business as a whole.  As I’ve been discussing during this semester, I just started a new position and am now the marketing and communications manager for a fitness company called TRUE Studio.  Being involved in so much technical communications has been very overwhelming this first week.  I have taken over not only the company’s three corporate Facebook accounts, but their Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, corporate e-mails, and am learning different platforms that I am totally unfamiliar with.  Hootsuite, MindBody, Constant Contact…just to name a few.  It’s amazing how much technology is required to remain viable as a business.

The one concept that did resonate with me from the cluetrain reading was the fact that they pointed out that end users and consumers should be viewed as human beings and not simply part of various demographic groups.  I think that’s important for a business person to consider.  The desired audience should be viewed as a collective of people with individual and unique experiences and not simply a cluster of folks who may or may not react similarly to marketing and communication techniques.

 

Culture + Communication + Humans + Design

Technology can go only so far as to connecting us together in a virtual way. Thanks to technology, we are separated further and further away from other humans. When was the last time that you spent more time talking with a person instead of communicating through a device? Bernadette Longo says that “[p]eople value human relations. We want to feel connected to other people” (Longo, p. 156). Yet it’s funny that more and more recently, we are interacting through electronic devices instead of face-to-face.

I love the idea of using technology to communicate quickly and easily. I admit that I spend more time making plans via text message with my friends instead of calling someone up or talking to them in person. As we speak, my friends and I are discussing travel plans for next weekend. Questions arise from: “Are we staying at an Airbnb?” to “Should we rent a car or use Uber?” It used to be we’d sit together and get everything planned out. These days, it’s a group text. What will it be in the future?

I think we’ve been sold on a bad bill of communication goods because, despite the way technology has made our entire world more and more connected and easier to reach. According to Barry Thatcher, “[e]mail seems to have the distance and isolation of individualistic cultures” because it can’t even substitute for the personal interactions between people occupying the same physical space (Thatcher, p. 181). Nothing compares to it and yet somehow technology substitutes parts of that communication but not entirely everything.

In a sense, we are developing a virtual world that mimics the real one that we’ve created for physical items. Take for instance the iconography within digital environments. I have to refer to a well-known graphic artist: Susan Kare. She “helped establish the paradigm of icons as a navigational tool in graphical user interfaces.” “Her icons are metaphors” (Hurst, 2013). It’s interesting how we use metaphors for objects in a digital environment and sometimes they work really well and are accepted. However, sometimes there’s a metaphor which causes issues like the confused and misunderstood hamburger button.

On Culture

I’m really interested in how much thought goes into culture and rhetoric. Longo points out that we “technical communicators can learn about cultural contexts by studying language and the social relationships embedded in how people use it” (Longo p. 149). My favorite examples come from color symbolism.

What Colors Mean in Different Cultures

Infographic from Visually.

Living in the western world, I believe we forget that “our cultural values and beliefs are ‘normal’ and we notice what is different about other cultures” (Longo, p. 149). I think there is nothing wrong that ideas, feelings, symbols, and communication is different in other cultures but if we were aware of these cultural contexts, we would be better technical communicators. I’m pretty thankful that I have family in South America and that helps me understand a bit better how others function in different countries. I theorize with my mom about the technology shifts and how Colombia may skip steps in technology that the United States has first experienced.

The world works differently elsewhere and I’m okay with that. We technical communicators (as well as all humans) need to recognize the environment we enter when working in a cross-cultural setting. What may be culturally acceptable will not work well elsewhere. Barry Thatcher learned that difficulty while working as a technical communication teacher in Ecuador. I even learned that difficulty trying to talk with my cousins in Colombia because of the way they prefer communication over what I preferred. Thatcher says that “digital media simply do not fit all communicative and cultural traditions the same way.” It’s true in my experience, in Thatcher’s words, I “assumed that another culture will simply use digital media the same way” as we would like (Thatcher, p. 170). For me to communicate with my cousins, I had to find another digital technology that worked for them as well as for me. After years of struggling to find a perfect communication system, we finally nailed it down to WhatsApp. Now I can communicate with them quickly and I’m not as disconnected in their daily lives either. Even the phone calls are free.

Going along with technological advances, I’m not okay that the technology have-nots may get stuck behind. I understand that Rheingold’s model of an “inclusive community relies on economic and cultural gatekeepers” (Longo, p. 151) but technology creeps everywhere. Also, I want to point out that prisoners who have not been released for decades can fall behind on technology too.

Lastly, here’s a question for the ages

What’s our ethical use of our line of work? Can we find ways to communicate ethically as technical communicators? It was interesting to find a reference to Nazi Germany and technical communication. Katz (1992) found the “ethos of expediency” in a well-written memo, I want to counter that technical communication was also considered by the Allied Powers. I wrote in my own blog that “during WWII, Winston Churchill wrote a memo which asked for simpler language when communicating within his team. He wanted short and crisp messages, include headers, and remove ‘wolly’ phrases because he felt it was merely padding. Why? He didn’t want his staff to waste time reading long reports when there is a war going on” (Renteria, 2016).

I understand that we “technical communicators attend only to the utility and expediency of our work, we risk falling into the ethical trap of rational inhumanity in the same of creating universal good,” (Longo, 155) but we don’t have to think that everything we do for the sake of quickness and efficiency will be for used for evil. We do have the right to question how our work will be used and I would hope what we create in any kind of media will be used for the greater good.


References

Hurst, N. (2013, April 24). Meet the woman who launched a billion clicks. Wired Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2013/04/susan-kare/

Longo, B. (2010). Human+Machine Culture. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 147-168). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Renteria (2016, March 20). Writing for the Web – Simplify Your Words! WriteTechie. Retrieved from https://writetechie.com/2016/03/20/writing-web-simplify-words/

Thatcher, B. (2010). Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 169-198). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Audience and the Boundaries It Makes

As Part III of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication explains, there are a number of factor key to the field, chief among them is audience. This is nothing new. The idea of audience driven content has ruled the world for ages, well before literacy, digital or otherwise, became the rule instead of the exception.

Audience is everything.

We are taught to think about audience almost as soon as we begin formal schooling, maybe even before that. It’s built into the very systems that sell us the houses we live in, food we eat, cars we drive, and classes we attend. Technical communicators have to look at audience from the other side of the glass. It is so important to us and what we do as content managers, translators, technical writers and edits, UX designers, and professors.

The question becomes, how does that information serves us, as technical communicators, as citizens, and as audience members?

A powerful point is made in Chapter 8 of Spilka when it states,

“She [Longo] contends that the ‘idea of a universal community … is as illogical as it is compelling.’ As she puts it, ‘In order to form a community, some people have to be included and others excluded … Without boundaries, the community ceases to exist” (p. 201)

I had to stop and reread this sentence a second time because it rings with so much truth. The idea of community has been expanded as a result of ever increasing technological advances. It’s not just about where you live anymore. Social media has changed the way we relate to one another by allowing us to relate to people we can never meet. Sharing and exchanging knowledge, culture, techniques, and even basic discourse has become the new normal. We all have opinions and technology has given us the platforms to disperse those as far and as wide as it reaches.

How has mass media accounted for this difference? The Internet is where it’s at in terms of advertising. Air time has been subsumed by streaming and working in the modern age means working online.

Companies who want to sell us things, government entities who want to be elected, professors who want to teach us lessons all have to follow a simple structure: meet the people where they live.

But conducting audience analysis and creating audience-driven content means figuring out who to target. Now, this may not be intended to be exclusive, but it does certainly create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Spreading yourself too thin means that your message is less likely to hit the mark. With the rise of the Internet and online culture, casting your dragnet without key targets means spending tens of thousands of dollars and battling Ad Blockers, Virtual Private Networks, and other measures users put into place to shield themselves.

When we are talking about pure marketing concepts, this divide cannot be so clear cut. Selling jewelry or cars or textbooks is based on a two-pronged attack: create and maintain a loyal customer base and attract new customers at the same time.

Do we do this as technical communicators? I’m not so sure. A lot of my work in the field is based on fulfilling established needs. As a government contractor, I work to fulfill the requirements established by the client. I am not involved in enticing new customers, just making the already established customer happy. This work does take place, in my case at a higher internal level. Freelancers of course do this automatically in order to keep afloat

On the other hand, on a personal level, this is what’s necessary for technical communicators, at least for me, as job seekers. Through practice, academics, networking, and general curiosity, we work to establish ourselves with steady work and paying clients, with coursework and portfolios. By nature of the field, we also have to keep an eye out for emerging trends and technologies to stay current and up to date.

So where do our boundaries lie? How do we decide what and who to keep and who to throw away? For us, this is an even bigger challenge. Our field is still in flux. There are so many professional titles, so many technical and soft skills, so many things that make up the “technical communications” spectrum. Do we even need to create boundaries then?

To my mind, they are created by companies and contract mandates. By others in our field conducting research and creating standards. By professional organizations like the Society for Technical Communication.

Image result for boundaries

Source: (http://www.ableseattle.com/boundaries.html)

Where do your boundaries lie?

Citation

Blakeslee, Ann M. (2010). Addressing Audience in a Digital Age. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp.199 – 2529). New York, NY. Routledge.

Digital Communication, Ethics, and Freedom of Speech

It’s common knowledge that people are on their best “verbal” behavior in certain social situations.  For example, when a person is at work, they know to be careful with how they talk, what they say, and how they present themselves to their supervisors and customers.  Yet, at home people can relax, be themselves, and share their feelings, thoughts, opinions, and beliefs with their close friends and family members.

Ethical lines can somehow get blurred when using other methods of communication. Steven B. Katz and Vicki W. Rhodes, in their article, Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations, as published in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy For Technical Communication, gave an example of how employees of a company refer to clients as “handicapped” or “disabled” when the company would never publicly refer to clients in that way, which it considers demeaning.  The employees are most likely not trying to demean the clients, rather, they use terms that are easier in a digital format. Often, email is used for it’s instant transfer of information.  A person can simply cast their thoughts into the keyboard and hit “send.”  Ethically, the companies publicists would frown. 

Let’s consider other forms of ethical violations.  Facebook users list their place of employment on their profile.  When the user’s face appears, often you can see who your mutual friends are and their place of employment without even going to their page.  Therefore, they are representatives of their employer in the digital world.  Should that person complain about work, or use derogatory language to describe customers, that could present ethical concerns.  Yet that user is simply using free speech to complain to their own “inner circle,” on their own time. Is it right or wrong?  If someone has a really bad day, a customer was rude and inconsiderate and the employee takes to Facebook to unload, does the company have an obligation to address it?  Do they have the right to address it?  After all, their name is associated.  I once read a thread of conversation about a controversial topic.  One particular individual was spewing hate, being vulgar and offensive.  I hovered the curser over his name and his place of employment came up.  Not once have I ever visited that business.  Very purposefully, I have avoided that business, simply because of what one employee posted on Facebook.  Does an employer have the right to limit a user’s content if they are employed at their company?

Facebook is becoming a popular business tool, but email tends to be a significant method of communication for businesses. One reason I like to use email and other forms of digital communication is for a “paper trail.”  I can look back and remember what I said, what I promised, or other important details.  I also have proof that I addressed a topic, followed through, or took action.  Often, if I talk on the phone about something important, I’ll follow up with an email that says, “As per our phone conversation, I wanted to recap our next steps…..”  That way I could always pull the email if there is ever a “he said – she said” type of situation.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

The authors, however, address a much deeper form of ethics in digital technology, and that is that our digital selves do not always resemble our real selves – our digital being (p. 238).  Email creates a relationship between a user and technology.  Interestingly, email is a popular form of workplace communication with which the users develop “relationships” using email, even if the recipient and the sender never actually speak, or the recipient is just a couple cubicles down (p. 243).  The authors ask if it’s possible to remove one’s self from the email communication, and to keep the message “neutral.”  They ask if that is a fair ethical standard for a company to expect of their employees (p. 250).  My answer is – not always.  Consider shooting emails back and forth, discussing important details of a project, and the other person has an alternate motivation or goal.  How can a person remove themselves from the content of the email when they evoke emotions.  What if you’re protective of your work, putting your whole self into the projects, and someone on the other end of the email isn’t as committed as you are? 

Another consideration is that person-less email can often be read as cold, impersonal, rude, or negative.  My rule of thumb is to always try to have my email communication take on a friendly, positive tone (which is not always easy to do if I’m frustrated).  I like to be somewhat personable, to make the recipient feel valued, important, or in the very least – not bothered. That means that I am not keeping my email impersonal and detaching myself from the communication.  At some companies, would that mean I am acting unethically?  I like to think that is professional and reflects well on the company, but that’s just my opinion.

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Reference

Katz, S. B. & Rhodes, V. W. (2010). Beyond ethical frames of technical relations. In R. Spilka (Ed.), Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp.230 – 256). New York, NY. Routledge.

The Importance of Culture

The grand focus in Chapters 6-9 in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (2010) was culture and considering audiences.  Culture is a very tricky subject to pin down and agree on, but I’ve always enjoyed discussing culture and what exactly that means.

As a foreign language student, I’ve had the opportunity to not only learn how to speak a second language, but I have also learned a lot about respecting other cultures and ways of life.  I’m competent in German, and throughout the many years since I began learning the language, I feel as though I’ve learned just as much about German culture.  It’s also been fascinating to me what is considered appropriate in one culture and offensive to others.  For example, certain American hand gestures are considered fine for us–like the peace sign and thumbs up–but in other cultures they can mean something completely different.  The peace sign for Japanese people is the Victory symbol.  For Americans, thumbs up usually means that something is “good.”  In other cultures, it means something more along the lines of “up yours.”  In India and other Asian countries, eating is always done with the right hand and never with the left because the left hand is used for personal hygiene purposes.  In Germany, it’s considered extremely rude to show the person the bottom of your shoe (also equated with “up yours” more or less).  Additionally, tipping a server in Germany is strictly verboten whereas in America stiffing your waiter or waitress is considered very rude.  While I was studying in Italy in 2010, I learned it perfectly culturally acceptable to imbibe whisky or other spirits in your morning espresso.  And business or academic meetings, even ones that occur at 9 a.m., often involve sharing a very strong drink of grappa before the talking starts.  One of the biggest discrepancies between Italian and American culture is the concept of time.  It only took me one day to learn that Italians are much less strict when it comes to punctuality.  My guide told me he would pick me up for dinner at 9 p.m., which is around the time Italians eat dinner, but didn’t show up until nearly ten.  Classes started at 9 in the morning,  but many of the teachers wouldn’t even show up until 9:30 or after and students would trickle in and out whenever.  Siesta is also largely practiced which includes having a long, leisurely lunch midday many times with wine and a long break before heading back to the office, school, wherever.  A practice I happen to have adored.  American business people would not be appreciative of business partners being almost an hour late and taking a two hour lunch, but in some cultures that’s just the way things are done.

What I’m getting at is that culture, even electronic culture, should be considered and respected just like it should be if one were to travel to a foreign country or enter the home of someone from a different background.  But the problem lies in that our digital culture is still being built and defined.  As technology itself and the many modes of communication that we use shift and change so does the overall culture.  In an allusion to not only digital culture but also to culture at its core, Bernadette Longo explains that “Communicators make choices that effect [sic] social relationships; the more aware we can be of the cultural implications of those choices, the wider the range of consequences we can see” (p. 156).  I believe Longo’s implication in this statement is important for everyone to consider rather than just communication students.

It’s important to continue to consider culture not only as a human race but digitally for those of us who might work interculturally in the future.  Barry Thatcher explains the difficulty in digital communication in regards to the differences between American and Mexican culture.  According to Thatcher, the system they used “work[ed] well in the United States because of its values of individualism, universalism, and specific orientation.  This cycle, however, did not work well in Mexico, which tends to have more hierarchical and interpersonal values, thus implying different uses of digital technologies” (p. 171).  Normally, when we think about traveling internationally, we think about language barriers, being able to get around, understanding their currency, and being able to ask where the bathroom is, but we now also have to consider protecting social relationships based on daily cultural life for the locals, whomever they may be, and how their culture is different not only from ours physically but digitally as well.

english-globish-difference

As an aside:  I got a Facebook this week.  THIS IS A SOCIAL AND ACADEMIC EXPERIMENT.

Honing in on Audience

In part III of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, the focus is on the relationship between technical communicators and their audience, taking a deeper look at ideas such as ethics and communicating between different cultures. The overarching theme is the emphasis that technical communicators must, and for the most part do, place on their audience.

Although I am not yet a technical communication (TC) professional, as a student of TC I have quickly learned the importance of considering one’s audience in the field of TC. It is one of the first and most highly emphasized points in many of the foundational courses for TC and it is not hard to see why – the purpose of a technical communicator is to advocate for the user/reader/audience and ensure that all associated documentation is easily accessible and understood. An important part of this user-advocate role, I believe, is understanding the rhetoric involved in communication of all kinds and attempting to write or design for the appropriate rhetorical situation. This, to me, is what sets technical communicators apart from other communicators (e.g. writers) – the emphasis placed on how the audience will perceive what is being communicated and utilizing that rhetoric in appropriate and ethical ways.

As I was reading this section, my mind kept wandering to one of the many “articles” I find linked on Facebook daily. With the uprising of so many “social news” sites (e.g. Buzzfeed), it is hard to get away from articles that use pop-psychology and serve no purpose other than entertainment. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I came upon this article:

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In case you want to read the article, it can be found here

Out of curiosity, I went to the page and read through it (though these sites are notoriously difficult to navigate with only one portion of the list on each page – known as “click bait”). In situations like these, I most often like to read the comments that other Facebook users have posted on these links. As usual, this post was littered with comments of offended women going on about how they don’t care what a man thinks about their hair, they will do what they want, etc. Other comments were in response to those negative ones, claiming that the article was not telling you how to style your hair, or even that you should base your hair choices on what men think, but that it was just a little bit of insight into what men’s opinions are.

Aside from the fact that I don’t trust or believe these type of “survey” articles, due to lack of substantial research or any reliable study methods, it struck me as interesting that the primary controversy of the article seemed to be (as is often the case) about what the authors were actually trying to say with this piece. While this type of controversy is probably encouraged in the “social news” world, it is exactly the opposite of what a technical communicator strives for.

This is what I believe sets technical communicators apart from other communicators. The goal in TC is to be clear, precise, understood and to approach the situation from an appropriate rhetorical perspective so as to convey exactly what he/she means. This is not as easy as it sounds – as was exemplified by the above article, each reader’s perception is different and is clearly colored by past experiences, current opinions, and overall personality. This makes the technical communicator’s job that much more difficult to attempt to find a way to unite all those differences in opinion to convey one message.

 

 

 

Designed by humans. Used by humans. Never perfect.

 

Gosh, where do I begin? I love creating technological things. Whether it’s designing a website, creating Word templates, or forms, nothing screams that loudly that I’m a technical communicator. But what I create is not exactly perfect and nothing will be. What surprises me is who uses it and where it shows up.

At my current position at the community college, I am intrigued at what happens to my work. Sometimes it gets mixed up and reused for other purposes. Sometimes I end up reusing my own ideas to base new ideas with. For example, I take photos for the social media channels and sometimes I find that my work is reused and remixed for other purposes. I’m not upset that it gets reused, but I’m fascinated that people look to me for coming up with the idea and design of these communication pieces.

Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski explains that “[w]e build spaces and then we cannot control how users interact with them, and that horrifies and excited the ‘designer’ and the ‘architect’ inside each technical communicator.” In a sense, I’m not horrified or excited, but amused when my work pops up in the least expected places.

Different Flavors of Communicating

Information design is something that I am passionate for and somehow it’s funny that whatever we create, we build upon that framework for the next thing that we use in the future. For example, Twitter is one of those funny social media networks that is an alternative to other full-service networks. Since it’s designed to be open, anyone can find what they are looking for. Twitter is like the Southwest Airlines to social media experience, but it’s not like the full-service experience you can get with Facebook. In either case, Twitter is designed for replacing some aspects of instant messaging and live broadcasting, which would have taken the life of a telephone call and email.

I do like that email is being replaced by many other tools. Much like email replaced the idea of paper-based genres that were internalized and naturalized (Salvo, Rosinski, p. 105). But can we go to the extreme and say no more email? Luis Suarez from IBM quit using email as a primary means of communication and decided to use internal social media tools to communicate with his co-workers (2008). Perhaps maybe going too far won’t be sustainable for most of us technical communicators, yet maybe using a chat system like Slack and a project management tool like Asana can reduce the amount of unnecessary email overhead.

Designing Forms for the Web

When it comes to frameworks, creating and using online forms comes to my mind. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but online forms are difficult to design and use. I say this because at work, I sometimes have to rebuild forms using a form generator and they are not exactly going to function the same as the paper-based counterparts. I don’t like to tell clients that the form is going to not look visually the same as the form they’ve built in Word, but it will serve the same purpose. Instead, I sell the benefits of using an online form, which sometimes helps them make the move to using a form. I always will say that technology make things easier, it just doesn’t always look pretty.

Writing for the Web

In addition to making things not look so pretty is writing for the web. One of my biggest requests at work is adding an FAQ. Instead of tacking on an FAQ to a website, my job went to great lengths to explain why we don’t use them. For the web, we emphasize writing in plain language, use headers, bullets, paragraphs, and short sentences. In a sense, this reinforces one aspect of technical communication because we ensure contextual orientation to design.

What I wish we could do is explain to everyone else that we are the experts in what we do and people around us could at least understand that we aren’t making things up and this is based on best practices that have been tried, tested, and verified.

Lastly, I think these readings were quite interesting, but mostly topics I’ve learned from since attending conferences and experience in the workplace. It’s interesting how much of the communication within technology applies to our field.


References

Salvo M.J. (2010). Information Design. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Suarez, L. (2008, June 29). I freed myself from e-mail’s grip. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/jobs/29pre.html

 

What Do We Learn? Skills. When Do We Learn Them? On the Job or Whatever!

Working as a technical communicator over the past two years without an undergraduate grounding in the skills, methods, and research tools has been enlightening. While it has given me a greater appreciation for the work being done by my coworkers and others in the field, it has also caused me to reach out to sources like the Society for Technical Communication and a master’s program in order to secure essential skills and new tricks to show off to supervisors and future employers.

What exactly am I looking for, you may ask? Social media, content management systems, Adobe Creative and Technical Communications Suite, User-Centered Design, and Project Management, to name but a few. Beyond the skills that I have a personal interest in or am curious about, I find that trolling through job descriptions to look for what will impress and keep me relevant in a community that is designing, defining, and streamlining what technical communications means and what is necessary to work in the field.

One of the key skills I am looking to pick up from the MSTPC program and put into practice is learning how to learn, and I have found that it is definitely a critical skill that I’ll need on my side moving forward.

Image result for technical toolkit

Source: (http://masstapp.edc.org/communications-toolkit)

As Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski (2010) said, “search and retrieval – or findability – as well as navigability become increasingly important as the information age produces more documents than ever. As the volume of information increases, designing for storage and retrieval becomes more important in the planning stages of writing. After all, information that cannot be easily retrieved when needed is useless” (103).

Now this makes sense when you’re talking about the basics of the technical communications field. Authoring, editing, designing, displaying, distributing, and analyzing all the content constantly put out by companies, universities, social networking sites, and academics takes a lot of time and effort by practitioners and academics under fire by Chief Financial Officers Wading through the amount of content that

When it comes to us as a class however, my mind starts thinking about how we as technical communicators work to gather, study, and disseminate information. Learning how to read, analyze, and write papers for my English undergrad along with internships for my Journalism minor made me an attractive, moldable candidate for the Technical Editor position I got shortly after graduating, but that position did not offer anything in the way of training documents or files.

It was entirely a mentor-based position. That was both a positive and a negative, I came to find as I delved into the world of technical editing. It was great to work side by side with practitioners who had years of experience in the field and in the government contracting sphere; I was exposed to a lot of insider information that no one bothered to write down because it was industry standard or specific. There were breakdowns in email content based on the office I was contacting and the military or civilian title in front of the person’s name.

Image result for mentorship

Source: (http://tweakyourbiz.com/finance/2015/03/16/top-online-business-mentorship-advice-resources/)

I learned quickly and started keeping my own folders and Word docs with acronyms, workflows, and Department-specific language no one would ever use (and I would get graded down for if I showed any of it to one of my professors).

The problem was that as soon as I was hired, the company started to lose employees. When I was hired I was told it was a stable contract with no turnover but everyone was leaving so all of the great mentors were jumping ship and it was up to those of us who were newer to train employees and help them learn the process.

So while we were learning we were also training new people, designing SharePoint sites, and teaching classes to government employees. Needless to say, the situation could have better. It was enjoyable to take more of a leadership role with incoming coworkers and I also got the chance to design a few training sites and standard operating procedures. Whatever problems I may have had with the company, it was clear that I had been allowed to really grow into a role and put on the different hats expected of me by the field.

My next job was a different story. I had walked into a great company with an understanding boss, but the work itself functioned on a sink or swim basis. I was expected to dive into the work and start working. No real oversight. Clear cut design and structural rules to follow but how I got there was all up to me. Yes, I was encouraged to reach out with any question but I wanted to make a great first impression so I just got my hands dirty with the research, writing, and designing of technical materials and documents for client approval.

The chapters talk about information design, content management, and the rhetoric of technology, but how do we use this in our full- or part-time job lives? For me, it’s become critical to seek the keys to staying up to date on information, technology, communication, and other trends essential to my work and moving forward in the field.

Citation

Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

A new breed of technical communicator

If Part I of Rachel Spilka’s 2009 anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was intended to frighten the reader of portents of being outsourced (and presumably destitute as a result), then Part II was meant to assuage some of those fears. In fact, my concerns about managers playing the “everyone can write” card was almost directly addressed by William Hart-Davidson in chapter 5, “Content Management”:

But managers do need to recognize the following: that writing needs to assume a high status in corporate work, and be viewed as a critical means to just about every organizational end. The lingering idea that writing is somehow a “basic skill” rather than an area of strategic activity for a whole enterprise sometimes causes managers to make poor choices…. Many see these as a chance to automate or, worse, eliminate the work that writing specialists do. I hope this chapter helps to dispel that myth and prevent such decisions. (pp. 141-2)

In other words the “writer” should be so much more than a writer. Hart-Davidson’s chapter describes how a technical communicator can pivot into any number of essential job roles related to the managing of content.

Similarly, in chapter 4, “Information Design,” Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski argue that to be truly digitally literate, technical communicators must understand information design and information architecture and by doing so, remain relevant and vital to their organizations. In fact, they state that technical communicators have always had a greater task than writing alone: “Effective technical communication has never been simply about writing clearly, but rather, about effectively organizing written communication for future reference and application” (p. 123).

Both chapters agree that although writing is still essential, the structure, high-level design, usability, findability, and reusability are all vital parts of content generation. Technical communicators are uniquely suited and situation ensuring all of these needs are met while anticipating potential future needs.

Salvo and Rosinski provide several reasons why technical communicators are ready to evolve from content production to information architecture and design. First, technical communicators have historically applied effective design principles regardless of context (p. 106). Second, technical communicators understand historical principles of user-centered, which can be built upon to innovate, yet still advocate for the user (p. 106).

Finally, technical communicators have ensured that good design remained a focus, even as the scope of documentation evolved from simple content writing to building full Web sites. One part of this was making sure that design was driven by context; that is, the designs developed were appropriate for the context in which they would be viewed (p. 108).

Taken together, these three points argue that technical communicators can either call upon past experience, genres, and conventions and apply them to new contexts or develop new practices and styles for these contexts, all while anticipating and meet the user’s needs. They are able to effectively straddle the documentation of the past and the information design and architecture of the future. However, Salvo and Rosinsky point out, this requires that technical communicators maintain an ever-increasing knowledge of publication contexts—in other words, they must be digitally literate and remain so.

Returning to chapter 5, Hart-Davidson tells us, “Today’s technical writer… is typically expected to… perform a host of other tasks that relate directly to the management of content and not necessarily to its creation” (p. 128). In addition to content-creation tasks like writing or designing templates, the technical communicator must also manage the documentation, how individual pieces of documentation are related, and the workflows and production models used to produce and publish content.

When considered together, Hart-Davidson and Salvo and Rosinsky’s advice offers two ways technical communicators can remain relevant in a world that—regrettably—no longer values traditional writing or editing skills. The first is to shift from creating content to developing new, modern ways of presenting information in never-before-seen contexts—or adapting preexisting genres and conventions to these contexts. Second is to manage the content in addition to creating it—and also manage all aspects of content creation.

Combined, these new modes of technical communication should lead to a new breed of technical communicators that become future proof by continually adding new value to their organizations.

Twitter and Classical Rhetoric?

Once again,  I found myself puzzled and intrigued by the weekly readings. In particular, I focused on David Clark’s (2009) Shaped and Shaping Tools (2010, Spilka).  Let it be noted by all that I am giving it my best to be academic and objective when it comes to reconsidering modern technology and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram because it seems like the audience isn’t interested in my disdain.  In fact, many of my peers are calling me out because I’m a 28 year old technical communications student going to graduate school exclusively online but all I can seem to do is bash technology.  I assure all of you, if going to school traditionally, face to face were a realistic option for me, you bet that’s what I’d be doing.  I don’t enjoy the online learning experience as much as others, but I also can’t fathom drawing my degree out over the course of several years.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m desperate to be finished and doing it online in a year works best for my life.  So, do I particularly like online schooling?  No, not particularly.  Am I grateful for this particular mode of technology?  Yes, very particularly.

But, alas, I digress.  Go figure.

Let’s talk about David Clark and his approach to the rhetoric of technology.  Specifically, Clark discusses Twitter at length.  I remember the first time I learned about Twitter.  It was around 2010 and I was watching sports highlights or the news maybe at the bar where I worked at the time.  I remember seeing a Twitter username, or “handle”, and something like a status update along with a hashtag for something.  My friend Chris and I were puzzled, and talked about the fact that we had no idea what that was all about.  I kept asking people, “What’s the deal with the pound sign on everything these days?”  At the time, I was 22 years old, so I was out of touch back then, too.  Clark, later in the chapter, goes on to use Twitter and classical rhetoric in the same paragraph.  He begins with “classical rhetoric as a means to argue that the ancients saw technologies as arts in which the end was the civic good to be produced by the product, not the design and making of the product” )p. 93).  I take this to mean that, even according to the classic rhetors of ancient times, Twitter could certainly be considered among creating rhetoric and art.  Of course, I have a serious problem with this when you compare Twitter feeds among the great epics and poetry of good ol’ yesteryear, but then I tried to think about it in another way.

One thing I have noticed about Twitter that makes it really quite unique compared to anything else is the fact that it makes celebrities and public figures so much more accessible to the public, fans, and followers.  Never before has the general public been able to instantly know what was on the mind of their favorite actor, comedian, or even the president.  It’s a second-by-second update of the people we look up to the most.  It allows artists and fans to interact with one another as though they were “everyday” friends.  I’ve learned by listening to the radio that a lot of singers these days have “fan armies” that identify themselves as  being mega-fanatics of that celebrity (i.e. Justin Bieber’s “Beliebers,” Taylor Swift’s “Swifties,” and Beyonce’s “Beyhive” (yikes, y’all)).  When I was a kid, I just “really loved” Hanson and the Spice Girls.  There wasn’t a name for it.

That made me think.  Maybe to the younger generation, Twitter is going to be their classification of rhetoric.  In hundreds of years from now, I suppose anthropologists will be looking back at our history and seeing Twitter as how people were documenting their lives.  And perhaps in the future rhetoric and technology will be even more mind-numbing and pervasive than now.  I remember writing a fan letter to Jonathan Taylor Thomas in elementary school and I got a signed postcard back from him.  (Swoon).  Maybe getting a tweet back from your idol is today’s version of receiving mass-produced autographed fanmail.

twitter

References

Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

My, How Things Have Changed

The best description of the term genre as applied to information design is the term “fluid.”  Michael J. Salvo and Paula Rosinski, in their article, Information Design: From Authoring Text to Architecting Virtual Space, explain how the evolution of print documents to digital documents represent the history if the genre of information design. Fluid is an accurate description as the presentation of information will change form depending on the vehicle being used.  As the vehicle advances, or changes, the way in which people receive and use the information also changes.

Years ago, when I planned my wedding, I bought a wedding planning kit that contained a book of check lists and reminders, a timeline and schedule, and a million different advertisements and pieces of valuable information.  I ordered invitations through the mail, from a print catalog.  I sent out RSVP cards with self addressed, stamped envelopes so my guests could easily, with no cost to them, let me know if they planned to attend.

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I kept my family and wedding party in the loop with constant phone calls.  I sent out (via the United States Postal Service) information packets containing a schedule, itinerary, and phone numbers & addresses to the dress and tux shop, venue, hotel, etc.  I did all of my shopping for decorations, favors, in person.  I found the most recommended DJ and cake lady by asking the event planner from the venue for referrals.  Because I worked at a newspaper, I had the luxury of designing and creating my own programs, using colored paper, art catalogs, a typewriter, and a photocopier.

Last year, I helped my son and his fiancé plan their wedding.  Kari (the bride-to-be) created a private wedding website for her to post her ideas, plans, thoughts, likes, etc.  That way, I could log in, see her ideas, and know her vision.  We used interactive spreadsheets to account for RSVP’s.  We designed the invitations using publishing software and ordered them online. We inserted small cards with RSVP instructions for text, email, and snail mail (for the technologically challenged).  We used Google to search for ideas, decorations, recipes, favors, or anything and everything we needed.  We used Facebook groups to keep family and wedding party members informed.  We found the best places to get a cake and entertainment by asking the Facebook world for suggestions.  The wedding party simply had to submit their measurements and payments via the shop website.  We used software to pre-plan the room layout. 

Salvo and Rosinski, in their article, discuss the evolution of communication in small changes.

“Over time, small changes accumulate and result in new emerging genres.  In the clearest example, memos have become email, but so too email has been altered quickly into instant messages, Twitter posts, and position papers and diaries rearticulated online as blogs” (p. 107).

As I realized the jump that RSVP’s took, from mailable cards with self addressed, stamped envelopes, to text and email, I began to consider how much the whole entire process of wedding planning has changed due to technology and information design. 

Likewise, I remember a day when I checked my email first thing every morning, and several times throughout the day, just to see if my friends or family sent me something.  Today, I check it out of obligation, knowing that I’ll find advertising or business notices, and nothing fun and exciting.  Instead, my friends and family use text or Messenger to contact me. 

Remember when voicemail was the best thing ever?  My dad had one of the very first answering machines, called the Code-a-phone.  Today, if I leave a voicemail for my son, he flips out.  “Mom, I can see that you called.  I’ll call you back,”  or “Mom, don’t leave a message.  Just text it to me.”  Apparently, it takes too much time and effort to dial voicemail and listen to the message. By the time I catch on, texting will be out and he’ll have a new message preference.


References

Spilka, Rachel. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication. “Information design: From authoring text to architecting virtual space. Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY.

New Knowledge in the Technical Communication Field

User-Centered Design and User Experience

The purpose of part II of Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was to provide insight into some new, foundational knowledge in the TPC world which all technical communicators should know about. As this book is from 2010, these ideas are likely a bit more understood now then they were at the time of publishing, but are still relevant. The overwhelming idea that I saw between the three chapters was the use of user-centered design and the importance of user experience in technical communication. Although most explicitly discussed in Chapter 4, Salvo and Rosinski’s “Information Design”, all three chapters discussed concepts that either directly or indirectly related to user experience.

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Components of User Experience, found here

Having taken a course last semester on user experience, I have studied in-depth its importance in technical communication and the use of user-centered design. All three chapters in part II of Spilka’s book emphasize the increasing importance of these ideas for technical communicators. As Salvo and Rosinski point out, when the internet first became commonly used, websites were often created without regard to traditional page design conventions, leading to websites that were difficult to navigate and unpleasant to use (poor user experience).

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Photo found here

We now know the importance of considering page design even when creating web pages. Additionally, we have to consider all aspects of documents (both online and in print) including the rhetorical situation, the user experience, accessibility, etc., when creating any documentation – these chapters emphasize the importance of the role of technical communicators as we are trained to examine documents in this way.

These chapters outline the importance of understanding and utilizing the technologies available to us as technical communicators to help readers and users in all tasks. I would argue that immersing oneself in these technologies and examining them from a critical standpoint would help all technical communicators become more effective.

Digital Literacy in the 21st Century

Working in 2016 as a technical communicator means that we have to stay on top of technology, but what I think is more specific is that we have to make sure to take a proper survey of technological advances, both personal and professional. What does this actually mean? Maybe your job doesn’t involve social media or other trends that fall outside of a cubicle. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use it in your job.

Digital literacy in the modern era is something that has to be cultivated and developed by current technical communicators. Professional organizations like the Society for Technical Communication do their best to connect practitioners, teach best practices and techniques, inform the public about the critical role of technical communicators, and establish a baseline for the field, a field that depends so much on who takes part and how technology will grow to meet the needs of users, those anticipated and those yet to be determined.

  digitalliteracy

Source: (https://writingforelectronicmedia.wikispaces.com/Digital+Literacy?responseToken=54ac9cf5a782233fc19c8f54d2a7a578)

Based on my personal journey, I can tell you that I had no idea what a technical communicator was before being approached by my previous employer for a Technical Editor position. I had worked as a writer and editor with work experience in magazine and newspaper publishing. The basic skills transferred, but there was a different way of thinking about the content and working with it that I had to learn on the job. My experience there was based on mentorship and learning as I went. We used technologically on a very basic level (working as a government contractor with technology years behind the times definitely did not contribute to my digital literacy) and had no digital tools for learning or analysis.

Working in this field means being willing and able to embrace change and build connections between disciplines and schools of thought that have their own unique structures. New technologies mean that any traditional idea of workspace, learning, businesses, and institutions have to evolve in order to continue competing and remaining relevant, especially to an audience that is being reared in an environment where technology is the new normal.

The schema of the modern world is such that information is deemed old within hours of its release and the news which may shock one individual does not phase the next because of the streaming coverage available to them practically wherever they happen to be at the time. The age in which verbal communication and oral storytelling were the be all and end all of knowledge gathering has long since passed and now, everything is shared at lightning speeds through shortened statements and improper sentences online and over the air. Literacy in this sense, means being able to access the forms of information sharing and collection that would permit a person to be active in their society and have awareness of the occurrences going on around them. And at this stage, the definition of literacy has already been ruptured beyond its basic level.

Personally, the advent of the Internet and emerging technology has made it easier than ever to communicate their thoughts, opinions, feelings, and ideas with a global audience. Given the fact that I work in the writing and editing field, I find it important to keep a close eye on how that has been affected by this trend. “Writing and editing will continue to be important activities for many technical communicators. However, they are increasingly being viewed as commodity activities that business considers questionable in adding value and that are candidates for being outsourced or offshored” (Pilka pg. 54). Working overseas, sending work out to freelancers and contract temps so that corporate can continue to meet its bottom line without investing too much in one of the critical areas in establishing and maintaining an appropriate presence.

It also matters a great deal to both me and to the field at large because of the ever increasing globalization effect that technology has. What worked in the past and what is working now to bind us together has made us more aware of our international partners. It has also made it more apparent that we have become reliant on the very technology that most take for granted nowadays. Utilizing technology at work and in the classroom is a prerequisite in the developed world and is looked on as lacking in third world countries and developing nations. Employees find themselves either without the latest and greatest technologies to draw upon or thrust into the deep end, developing content and creating standards for an evolving and shifting pool of apps, software, hardware, and devices most of which do not have any rules and regulations set in stone.

Death Sentence?

I have to say reading through the beginning of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was a little bit sobering for me as a technical communication student.  When I was researching graduate programs and schools, I found that the options were limited for what I was planning on doing.  I knew I wanted my Master’s degree in Communications, but was not interested in technical communication.  It just so happened the only graduate program available through any UW school that could be earned online is the MSTPC program at UW-Stout.  So I’m more or less incidentally a technical communication student.  But I suppose these days, communication is technical or digital regardless.  As Spilka points out, communication has evolved and “every aspect of our work has changed”. (2010, p. 7).

What was sobering for me during the reading was the realization that I am most definitely resisting becoming “digitally literate.”  As I’ve stated before, I’m not very keen on technology, computers, social networking, etc.  I’ve never been very technologically inclined and I tend to stay away from computers and other electronic devices except for when I’m at work.  And at work, I mostly use e-mail and the Microsoft Suite, so it’s very basic.  I have a smart phone that I use for texting, checking the weather, GPS, and scrolling through Pinterest when I’m bored.  That’s really the extent of it.  Right now I work at the Rock County Council on Aging and an elderly lady asked me last week to help her with her iPhone and I couldn’t!  I have never used one and I couldn’t figure out how to access her voicemail like she needed.  As technology has evolved, I’ve kept my head buried in the sand.  I figured if I avoided it, technology wouldn’t have an effect on my life.  Now I’m hoping that my ignorance doesn’t negatively affect my educational success.

Spilka mentions survival, evolving, and adapting or dying.  When did we take a right turn into The Hunger Games?  Spilka assures the audience that the purpose of the book is not to “alarm, scare, warn, or provide ultimatums” (p. 3) but I have to say it certainly felt like it.  Realizing how behind I am and how I fundamentally disagree with a lot that comes with the world of technology–the voyeurism of Facebook, the obsession created among children, the effect of blue screen on the body and mind–sort of makes me feel ill-equipped to take on the remainder of the MSTPC program.

At this point, I’m going to swallow my pride and look at digital literacy from an educational perspective rather than a personal one.  There is so much more to it than I had previously considered.  So much so that the experts are still trying to properly define it and agree on a single definition.  Heck, they’re still finding new terms to describe the practice itself (p. 7).  I’ve always approached technology with a place of disdain, but, like the book says, it might come down to “adapt or die”.  I’m still barely starting to create my professional self.  The last thing I want to do is “die professionally” before I even begin.

The Historical Documentation of Change in Technical Communication

Elissa Matulis Myers said in the March 2009 issue of Intercom that technical communicators “need to define their own opportunities and then move boldly forward” (2009) by adapting to the changes in their work environment or risk becoming irrelevant. This is true not only for technical communicators, but for everyone working in an environment where technology plays a significant role in their professional tasks.

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Cover graphic of Intercom, March 2009, Society for Technical Communication.

In that same issue of Intercom were two helpful articles about adapting to keep up with the changing business environment. One offered practical advice to recession-proof your career by taking actions to decrease the chance of being laid off such as “add[ing] value to your company, ensur[ing] management recognizes that you add value, and repeat as needed” (Molisani, 2009, p.14).

The second article compared and contrasted social media and technical communication “…to demonstrate how social media is changing the way we communicate, to engage our audience in a dialogue, to create a sense of community, and to better meet expectations” (Maggiani, 2009, p.19).

These articles reinforce the idea that we need to adapt to both the shift in technology and management.

When Myers published her article in 2009, I was a year away from graduating with my bachelors of science in Technical Communication and entering into a workforce that was in turmoil due to the economy. Yet, somehow and according to Meyers, I found my way to become visible and indispensable to my employers. In essence in order for me and many of my colleagues to become successful and stay on top of the business, we needed to “…adapt to the changes and become a valuable asset to a work environment…” (2009).

Documenting Our Past to Find Our Future

If we want to look to the future of technical communication, we must look back into history. When reading Saul Carliner and R. Stanley Dicks’ respective histories of technical communication, I was excited to see how the field of technical communication transformed in the last forty years. Many of the tools and processes that were used by technical communicators since the end of World War II are still around and others have completely disappeared. Carliner said that technology in the last thirty years has affected our profession and shows us the five phases in the development of technical communication. Besides technology making these transformations in our field, Dicks points out the changes in management and business economics profoundly affected technical communicators. Both authors show us the larger picture in which our field has been affected, once again, by technology and management.

I want to emphasize that our work is constantly shifting toward becoming the experts in content. We no longer are bound to being experts in a specific tool, instead we are experts in content, information, concepts, and ideas. Dicks shows how technical communicators have moved on from the fundamentals of technical communication and into the field of symbolic-analytic work, which “their primary products are ideas (e.g. assertions, recommendations, value judgements) delivered in reports, plans, proposals, and other genres.” (Dicks, 2010, p.55). Symbolic-analytic work sounds more like content strategy which is to manage content, analyze methods, and use effective processes for publishing it.

For me, at work, I’m more interested in finding ways a business can reduce cost, increase revenue, and use technology when creating and managing technical content. This is a mantra I share with many content strategists, of which Jack Molisani promotes these ideas every year with his LavaCon Content Strategy Conferences (2013). I think he and others like him have adapted to the current trends in the changes with technology and management.

I feel have made the move from being a traditional technical communicator when I first started in my college years. I imagined I would do more than just edit copy or document processes. I did a lot of fun things such as publish a newspaper and create websites. My focus was on using technology tools and how I can use them to publish faster, easier, and smarter. If I can make recommendations on using the tools, I can prove my value towards the company and remain gainfully employed.

Just Keep Going

In conclusion, in order to maintain relevancy, Myers points out that “[s]uccessful technical communicators need to be able to sell their skills and value independent of their industry or content, and they should not base their marketability on the expertise they have acquired in a specific field” (2009). More easily said: market your knowledge of concepts instead of expertise in the tools.


References

Dicks R.S. (2010). The effects of digital literacy. In Spilka, R. (2010). Digital literacy for technical communication: 21st century theory and practice. (pp. 51-81). Taylor & Francis. New York, NY.

Maggiani, R. (2009, March). Technical communication in a social media world. Intercom, 18-20.

Molisani, J. (2013). Building a business case for content initiatives. [Presentation Slides]. Retrieved from http://lavacon.org/business_case_for_content_initatives.pdf

Molisani, J. (2009, March). Recession-proof your career. Intercom, 14-17.

Myers, E. M. (2009, March). Adapt or die: Technical communicators of the twenty-first century. Intercom, 7-13.

Anybody can write.

This post’s title was inspired by the lament of technical communicators on discussion groups and message boards in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Frustrated writers and editors were being downsized because budget-crunched companies saw little reason to hire people just for writing. After all, everybody learns to write in school, so why not save money by having the engineers and programmers write the documentation? After all, they’re already more familiar with the product being documented.

It was clear from these posts and e-mailed discussions that employers no longer valued writing or editing ability, favoring instead technical ability. However, being anecdotal conversations in e-mails or message boards, perhaps these technical communicators’ observations and experiences are apocryphal.

Unfortunately, they may be correct. In Rachel Spilka’s 2010 anthology Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, two authors share their research and advice regarding the past and future of technical communicators. In “Computers and Technical Communication in the 21st Century,” Saul Carliner provides a perspective on the history of the field from the 1970s to the modern day. In “The Effects of Digital Literacy on the Nature of Technical Communication Work,” R. Stanley Dicks offers an assessment of the current technological landscape as it applies to technical communicators and makes recommendations for technical communicators who “worry about how they are perceived and evaluated and whether they might be likely sources for being reengineered and either eliminated or outsourced” (2010, p.64).

Carliner illustrates how technical communication has changed throughout the years, describing the audiences, tools, outputs, and skills of technical communicators throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. From his description, basic writing and editing skills were only truly valued during the late 1980s, when documentation was no longer written for expert audiences, and the lay user needed an advocates who “[supplied] their versatile base of skills (writing, editing, and illustration) to explain products.. to users” (Carliner, 2010, p. 26). Prior to and following this period, writing and editing skills were not valued by employers compared to product expertise in the 1970s (p. 23), interface and web design skills in the 1990s (p. 28), and expertise in publishing tools (DITA, XML, etc.) (p. 29) and Web 2.0 technologies (p. 41) in the 2000s. In other words, he says, “Hiring managers gave priority to applicants with technical skills” (p. 37).

In the modern of advanced publishing tools and easy access to spelling- and grammar-checkers, Carliner points out, “Those who develop and produce content has been facing dwindling work opportunities” (2010, p. 44).

Dicks (2010) also acknowledges that writing and editing are no longer sought-after skills in the Information Age:

Writing or editing will continue to be important activities for many technical communicators. However, they are increasingly being viewed as commodity activities that business considers questionable in adding value and that are candidates for being outsourced or offshored. (p. 54)

Dicks further quotes Moore and Kreth, who say, “…Today, technical communicators who add value to their organizations do not merely write or edit documents” (p. 54).

In short, because everyone (including offshore employees for whom English often is a second language) can write, technical communicators must demonstrate their value beyond mere writing and editing. In short, technical writers must “learn new talents and tools” (Dicks, 2010, p. 61).

While I do understand the need to stay relevant and maintain one’s relative level of digital literacy, it makes me sad that writing and editing are now largely unvalued. I have seen firsthand the emphasis on tools expertise over writing. While applying for jobs, I have been told several variations on, “Well your writing is great, but unfortunately, we need somebody with expertise in xyz.” With xyz being the publishing tool du jour or Agile or whatever.  It was disheartening.

Yet many other fields are having to modernize—old dogs learning new tricks to stay relevant and add value. Why should technical communicators be any different? In fact, I believe that the width and breadth of technical communication makes it much easier to adjust to these changes. We have to learn technology to document it, so learning technology to use it should not be a very large jump. And no matter what tools, systems, or work methodologies we are forced to learn, we will always be able to write and edit—and we care about that even if nobody else does.