Category Archives: Trust

Am I an Important Cultural Worker?

In Ch. 6 “Human + Machine Culture” by Bernadette Longo in Spilka’s text Digital Literacy, the definition of culture is easily broken into acts that include and exclude (p. 148). In order to feel part of a culture, whether that’s a college campus, a church, an ethnicity, or a city, one must draw borders and agree upon the boundaries of that community. This seemingly innocuous task is exclusionary. While it’s pleasant to believe in the democratizing force of the internet, we have learned in previous readings that the barriers to inclusion still exist, for rural areas, low-income areas, elderly populations, etc. From these last chapters of Spilka’s book we’ve also learned that cultural differences can exacerbate communication problems. Yet, we connect online despite these boundaries, contradictions, and limitations. Longo asks, “Can virtual social connections established within a human + machine culture satisfy our human need to connect with other people?” (p. 148). The answer seems to be no, not entirely, but they can alleviate some of those exclusionary tensions and we can work to draw a wider net around our culture(s).

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Cultural Communication Differences, courtesy of meetus@US

 

Longo also makes clear that as technical communicators or anyone who works with language, we have the “power to invite people in” because we are “important cultural workers” (p. 151-52). Because Longo deconstructs the idea that the online culture is universal or homogenous, she forces us to question how to make the communication tools we produce accessible to all in order to extend the cultural boundaries. As producers, we have the privilege and responsibility of deciding whose culture and knowledge will prevail, and historically we have erred on the side of science and logic do the effect of decimating other histories and cultures (p. 153). We prioritize the rational, the technique while subverting the imagination, nature, art, and pathos (p. 158). I went into the liberal arts because of those subversions, but I’ve immersed myself in logic, technique, and intent. Just as our society has evolved to prize the extrovert, the loudest, and most gregarious, it doesn’t mean that those people always have the best ideas. Does the same mentality apply to technical communication? Do we fall into the fallacy of doing things the same way because that’s the way we’ve always done them? I buck against the notion of free-flowing and “flowery’ help design menus but I’m basing that mostly on my own cultural training and preferences.

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Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous, courtesy of Thesaurus.plus

I know I have been guilty of the worker (or user) as victim trope when designing technical documents in my early years (p. 159), but Longo illustrates that try as we might users will figure out their own ways to use our documentation, oftentimes not in the way we intended. People are ingenious and impatient. Doesn’t it behoove us to give them the benefit of the doubt, ask for their input, and design with their usability in mind rather than assume we know better than they do because we know more about the product than they (presumably) do? As usual, I will apply this to my current position as an educator. When I started teaching, I was terrified that students would ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to and that I would have to admit that I didn’t know. I shake my head at how naive and pompous that now feels. Of course I don’t know everything, and my students’ experiences enable them to see content from entirely different perspectives than my own. Isn’t that richer? The more I’ve let myself stop being the primary keeper-of-knowledge and made my classroom collaborative and interactive, the more engaging it has become for all of us in the room.

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What it feels like during many mandatory professional development meetings (sitting and getting), courtesy of techlearning.com

 

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Control freaks unit!, courtesy of Psychology Today

I’m a planner and a bit of a control freak. I like to know what’s coming and I like to steer, but sometimes I learn more (and my students learn more) when we put the planner down and see where we end up. In Chapter 7: “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures,” author Barry Thatcher asks technical communicators to return to the tenets of purpose, audience, and information needs, but also to organizational strategies and style preferences (p. 190). Perhaps that means that we have multiple forms of the same content but tailored to the audience. Maybe that means audiences can design the best content solution to fit their needs (though I don’t know how that’s engineered or executed well)? I am very much for examining our own cultural biases and ethnocentrism, but I acknowledge that it’s hard, dirty work. Just as jurors can never be completely objective (nor can any human being), it’s hard to set aside our own inherent cultural upbringing and fully understand or appreciate that another culture does it completely differently. Even as a I read the case study of the US vs. Mexican communication differences, I found myself automatically preferring the Western style. To me, it just made more sense.

Perhaps we start there. We stop to analyze why and to realize that people from other cultures feel equally justified in finding their way the “right way.” If communicating effectively came easy, we wouldn’t have to keep teaching ourselves how to do it. It doesn’t. Human beings are complex. Digital audiences are complex (p. 221). Blakeslee (Ch. 8) recommends we keep researching and applying what we learn, and we keep asking ourselves the hard, uncomfortable questions. That’s where the growth lies. As one of my favorite poets and late-great songwriters wrote,

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” (Leonard Cohen).

The Power of Online Activism

I began an internship/volunteer role with a county-level political party this week.  My role is to build reach and produce content for their social media platforms.  I expect to experience the extremes of all online activism in the next few weeks.  My interest in online activism began a few years ago when I realized impact of quick spreading information.  As much negativity that comes with it, it is also does help to educate and rally people together.  I am now calling it digital canvassing.  I thought I was clever creating the term, but it actually does exist and has become widely used, especially leading up to the 2016 election.  The power of social media tools for facilitating political participation and protest also open the door to use social media as surveillance, repression, censorship, and trolling. Since the introduction to Web 2.0 into our political climate, we’ve seen a rise in issues related to cyberbullying and trolling. (Preface: A decade of Web 2.0 – Reflections, critical perspectives, and beyond). The more volatile our political climate becomes, the more we see how the internet, especially social media, enables individuals to show the cruelest versions of themselves.  However, we also get to see the best by stories and communications of support, cooperation, and collaboration.

 Embed from Getty Images

Howard Rheingold, in Net Smart, discusses convergence culture depends upon what Pierre Lévy calls “collective intelligence”, in reference to Wikipedia.  This idea “refers to a situation where nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and what any given member knows is accessible to any other member upon request on an ad hoc base.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 159) This type of collaboration goes well beyond Wikipedia and has been studied in many different social situations.  In an interview with Lévy, Rheingold asked about “the skills needed to participate in and instigate collective intelligence activity.”  The answer exhibits the way we interact on social media platforms or through blogging. It is a creating a “synergy between personal knowledge and collective knowledge management.” (Rheingold, 2014, p. 160). Our collective intelligence is used in online activism.  It may be part of its foundation.  The positive desired outcome is the sharing information to create a likeminded group and to gain members.  However, we’ve also witnessed the ability to troll each other in these interactions which then becomes divisive.

Many users see social media as an especially negative venue for political discussions, but others see it as simply “more of the same”

Merriam-Webster defines power as (entry one of three), “1a(1): ability to act of produce an effect, 1a(2): ability to get extra-base hits, or 1a(3): capacity for being acted upon or undergoing an effect.” (Power)  Understanding that by definition, power is capacity to elicit effect, conveys that power should not necessarily be considered a positive thing.  The power of online activism is its capacity for producing effect, positive and negative.  Since our immersion into Web 2.0, online activism, especially political, has become a daily, sometimes hourly bombardment.  Before the Web, especially, Web 2.0, we were able to limit our political driven activism exposure to television commercials (usually only aired near elections), some print materials, or door-to-door canvassers. Now, we can’t run away from it. Now, is the power of the online activism encouraging our political engagement and encouraging us to vote, or is it deteriorating our moral so severely that we chose to not engage at all?

 37% of social media users are worn out by political content

Is freedom of speech, in coordination with online activism, creating a healthy functioning collective intelligence?  While this could be argued to great lengths and we still wouldn’t all agree, is that the point? The opening line in an article in Forbes discussing the internet and activism states, “How we choose to act in extreme circumstances helps to define our character.”  The article goes on to easily explain how quickly we can find our own collective in the digital world.  From joining Green Peace to save the world or to join a terrorist organization, it is easy to find your own collective. (The internet and the next generation of activism) We’ve had conversations resulting from blogs this semester surrounding the idea, ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at all.” At what point are our words creating divisive online activism and actually causing great harm?  I anticipate this question only becoming more difficult to simply answer as our interaction with online activism grows. I think it is better to kind and if you can’t be kind, be silent.

 

Put the Phone Down, Filter the CRAP, and Hit it Big!

Social Media is more than just a distraction to some.  The reading this week made me really step back and evaluate myself with regard to my own level of distraction caused by my response to the notifications from social media and e-mail.  I spent and entire day being acutely aware of my habits in a way that I had not previously, and here is what I discovered:  I am a social media addict with unchecked OCD!

Each morning, my alarm sounds (on my phone) 15 minutes before I have to get out of bed.  This is purposeful because it allows me to silence the alarm and spend those 15 minutes waking up while scrolling through my e-mail, text messages, missed calls, and of course my Facebook business page/messages.  I have been known to stay in bed doing this for 30-45 minutes, often missing my opportunity to shower and beginning my day with a coating of dry shampoo and body spray.  On days when I do have time for my  shower, I take the phone into the bathroom with me and will often prop it against the wall at the top of the shower so that I can be sure to not miss any important messages or phone calls.

When I am out of the shower, I check my phone again for the temperature and the daily weather so that I can get dressed accordingly.  By then, it is usually time for me to wake up my youngest son to begin his day (we home school).  I often Face Time him as his wake up call, you know, to save those 10 steps I would make to his bedroom.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon as a slave to the pings and bings of notifications.  If I am waiting on an important call or email, I find my (actually diagnosed) OCD pattern of checking every few minutes rears its ugly head.  I will admit that, often, this pattern does not change when I am in the car driving.  In his book, “Net Smart,” author Howard Rheingold notes that, “Texting while driving kills…(and) the fact that anyone would risk life and limb for an LOL is a clue that something about texting hooks into the human propensity to repeat pleasurable behaviors to the point of compulsion” (p. 45).  ACK!  He is right!  Try as I may over the years of driving with my son’s in the car and teaching the boys to drive, I still can’t say that I am 100% cell phone free while driving.

texting and driving

Image from quickmeme.com

My brain knows I need to be, but something almost uncontrollable begs me to check that phone at every ping.  And, turning the volume off doesn’t change that desire to check.  In fact, it almost sends it into hyper-drive as I worry that I have missed something imperative!

Most evenings I work my business by doing online Facebook parties to open oysters and sell jewelry.  During this time I am totally plugged in – working while checking a barrage of private messages, keeping up my online presence, and reading/responding to live comments as they come through my feed.

To finish my day, I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook or read articles online that interest me until I get tired enough to fall asleep.  I can’t even speak to how many times I will be reading through an article or a friend’s Facebook timeline only to find myself in the circle of links and clicks that lead me to chase a white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole.  If you aren’t sure what I mean about the rabbit hole, here is a great article I read recently after a night of chasing that rabbit for about 3 hours:  Following the White Rabbit Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole

Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector

In Chapter 2, Rhinegold points out that, in order to be smart in our use of the internet, we must learn to filter out what is true and what is false.  Rhinegold says, “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing.  Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer.  Chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter” (p. 78).  I am going to take a second here and get really personal in an attempt to give an example of a broken “CRAP detector” (p. 89) and the toll it took on my quality of life for over a year.  I mentioned above that I battle OCD.  My OCD doesn’t come in the form of counting or repeating steps for fear that something bad will happen.  My OCD presents itself with health anxiety – I am a hypochondriac when I allow my mind to take off in whatever direction it chooses.  Rheingold assures us by saying, “What person doesn’t search online about their disease after they are diagnosed?”  After my youngest son was born (15 years ago), I went through a severe bout with my OCD/hypochondria where I determined from Dr. Google that I was dying from a brain tumor.  I lost a good year of my life with worry and anxiety, but I was too afraid to see a doctor or mention these concerns because I just knew I could not handle a horrible diagnosis in my fragile mental state.  According to the internet, I had every symptom.  I was dizzy, I felt my speech was stumbling and slurred at times (even though friends and relatives had no idea what I meant and had not seen/heard any issues when speaking to me), occasionally my vision was blurry and I was experiencing flashes and floaters.  I was feeling like I was in a memory fog and often felt clumsy and off balance.  I often would run to a mirror and stick my tongue out to see if it went straight down or off to the side -Google told me to try that.  Unfortunately, Dr. Internet failed to tell me that brain tumors generally affect one area of the brain at a time.  So, if I had blurry vision caused by a tumor in my brain, it would be located behind my eyes (most likely) and symptoms would all be related to that one tumor in that one place.  A tumor behind my eye would not cause me to have slurred speech, a foggy memory, or to lose my balance unless, of course, it was metastatic.  It took me a year and a Lexapro prescription to tune my crap detector enough to realize that I had been feeding my unfounded fears by seeking worst case scenario CRAP on the internet.  I am happy to report that I continued with that Lexapro prescription and I no longer live my life in fear of dying from whatever Google diagnosed illness I may have.

dr google

Image from me.me

Working to “Hit It Big”

In Chapter 3, Rheingold begins to discuss meaningful ways that we can participate in social media.  Because social media is such a great tool in my business as a network marketer, I can’t just decide to unplug completely.  Instead, I can make small changes to the way I operate on social media (perhaps beginning with locking my phone in the glove box when I drive).  My inital interest in this graduate course came from my desire to learn how to better present myself online and how to be intentional in my participation on social media.  Reingold reminds us that, “The good news is that learning to participate effectively online (like learning attention and crap detecting skills) is a matter of mindset and practice – and the payoff can be big.  Knowledgeable online participation can help you land a job, find a mate, organize a movement, or sell a product or service.  As citizens, professionals, and consumers, we hit it big, manage to get by, or fail utterly in large part because of our ability to connect and converse with others by way of digital networks…” (p. 114).  I am ready to do what it takes to “hit it big!”

 

 

 

“This Change Isn’t Minor, and It Isn’t Optional”: Becoming Multi-textual

Several years ago, my co-worker invited me to watch Daniel Simons’ “gorilla basketball” clip that Rheingold references in his book NetSmart (p. 45), a clip on selective attention that asks viewers to count the number of passes between basketball players. I watched the brief clip and didn’t noticed the gorilla. I was intent on the task I was given; I was selective with my attention. The same co-worker uses this clip in her College Success course to illustrate how we can tune into and out of the items we deem most important.

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Gorilla Basketball, courtesy of https://gorillabasketballvideoaln.wordpress.com/

We’re Being Augmented, not Damaged

The thesis of Rheingold’s first three chapters from NetSmart is that we can train and improve our attention, a task that will be necessary to thrive in this technology-drenched era. As someone who practices yoga regularly, I was eager to read more about how paying attention to my breath (something we do all the time in yoga) could help me  hone my attention even more. I also felt validated to read about “email apnea” because it’s something I have seen my husband do when answering work email from home; he momentarily stops breathing (p. 45). Mostly though, I was heartened to read that rather than harming us, digital media could simply be augmenting us (p. 40). The past several weeks’ readings have made me worried, but Rheingold’s book offers some concrete steps for us to facilitate the augmentation that is happening to our brains already–hopefully for the better. 

A Digitally Literate Democracy

These chapters offer copious opportunities for noteworthy catch phrases that describe our new world: “volume control,” “attention-deficit culture,” and “artificial sense of constant crisis” (pp. 55, 56, 57). We recognize these symptoms and look wearily at the repercussions they have on our ability to communication and connect. However, what made me the most hopeful was how Rheingold compared digital citizenry to literacy. We are not born readers, and even the great philosophers Socrates and Plato both feared “the written word and its effect on us”, particularly for its loss of control over knowledge (p. 60).

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Socrates & Plato

They feared that just because more knowledge would become available to more people that did not mean that the people would understood that knowledge. The owners of that information also lose their ability to translate the knowledge to suit their purposes. We see this today with our plethora of media options, cries of fake news, and echo chamber preferences. We know now that literacy was a democratizing development; I am hopeful that digital literacy will be, too.

Pay Attention: A How-To

We touch on the methods that Rheingold lists in Chapter One in classes I teach, and I’m happy to use the suggested toolkit in future classes and help students understand that there is a connection between mindfulness and improved grades (Hall Study, p. 68).

pay-attention

  1. Be mindful by “paying attention on purpose” (p. 65).
  2. Ask, ‘Have I drifted?” (p. 73)
  3. Meditate (or at least focus on breathing) 10-15 minutes a day (p. 71)
  4. Give yourself meaningful chunks of time to focus on one task, uninterrupted. Turn off technology during that time (p. 75)
  5. Decide what types of tech tools you use at home, where and when, such as “no screens at the dinner table”)

Crap Detection, AKA Information Literacy

In my classes, I ask my students to be skeptical, not cynical. When they do research, I ask them to use a worksheet titled “CRAP,” which is an acronym for currency (how recent), reliability, authority, and purpose/point of view, which is precisely what Rheingold deals with in NetSmart’s Chapter 2. I’m happy to integrate the triangulation technique (find three sources that agree) to their researched assignments as well as some of the websites he recommends: https://www.snopes.com/, FairSpin, and FactCheck.org. He writes, “Information literacy is the answer to growing information pollution” (p. 89). This is a helpful metaphor to use, especially when he frankly asks, “How much work is it to check three links before believing or passing along information” (p. 91). It’s not, Mr. Rheingold. You’re absolutely right.

Participation Points

Susan Cain, author of the book Quiet about the power of introversion, admonishes educators who promote participation points that often go to the loudest students, not the most knowledgeable or most thoughtful. She must be excited by the potential that digital participation has for the quiet kids. Rheingold reminds us that “young people are using digital participation tools for learning and creating” not just socializing (p. 117). Need to learn how to fix your specific brand of toilet? There’s a YouTube video for that. Have a question about the Civil War? Google it. In the scant few decades that the internet has been alive, we have created an unimaginably large database of knowledge, accessible now and for free (mostly).

I’ve taught literature for several years, and it wasn’t until teaching it online that I fully got *almost* all of the students to contribute to the conversations about the texts. It’s entirely too easy to stay quiet in a face-to-face class. It’s pretty easy to let the loud or the smart (or in some cases both) kids who’ve read all the material do all the talking. The participatory culture of the digital world, while scattered and sometimes shallow, allows for instant depth and connectivity. Rather than read an article in the newspaper, drink my coffee, and forget about it, I can read the article, read about the author, click to find out where Azerbaijan is, and understand more fully why there are tensions there.

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Where is azerbaijan? Courtesy of Google Maps

Rheingold ends the chapter with, “Attention literacy is reflection. Crap detection is analytic. Participation is deliberate” (p. 145).  Understanding the intention behind his NetSmarts will help us evolve into this more digital world and become better citizens for it.

When technology is a tool versus our friend

Tool or friend?

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

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

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

The human-machine relationship

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

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

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

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

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

Overwhelmed or Emboldened? I Choose Emboldened

Frankenstein

Courtesy of Amazon

This fall I’m teaching an online Introduction to Literature course. The first piece of fiction my students read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a 200-year-old Gothic novel that asks the same question that Mary Chayko does in Chapter 10 of her 2018 book Superconnected: “what does it mean, really, to be human” (214). In a discussion board post, my students agreed on three major requirements:

  1. the desire for knowledge and learning;
  2. the ability to form connections with other human beings and show empathy for them; and
  3. the ability to feel intense feelings like love, faithfulness, rage, and vengeance.

Some critics believe Shelley wrote Frankenstein as a warning against the ever-reaching power of man. Essentially, they claim it is a treatise against the notion of “playing God.”  I ask my students to think about how Shelley’s monstrous creature relates to today’s modern advancements like cloning and artificial intelligence. Much of the content throughout Chapters 8, 9, and 10 of Chayko’s text made me feel anxious, hand-wringy. Then I came upon media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s quote:

“Living in modern technologized times can be a shock to the system [. . .] the more we become aware of these challenges—economic troubles, climate change, wars, any of a host of social problems—the more we can become overwhelmed with the prospect of actually solving them” (Chayko, p. 215).

Yes! That’s how I felt while reading this week’s content. That’s how it feels right now when I go online or turn on the radio. A recent New York Times article, “It’s Not Just You: 2017 Was Rough for Humanity, Study Finds,” shared that reported negative feelings were at an all-time low across the globe (Chokshi, 2018). Quite frankly, worrying about internet surveillance is the last issue many people (including me), already tired, stress, and overwhelmed, want to add to their worry list.

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Kim Jong Un and President Trump, Source: Time Magazine

However, like many other big issues (greenhouse gases, suicide prevention, North Korea) that we individually can only do so much about, individually we can educate ourselves on these issues and talk about them with friends and family, or blog about them on platforms like this. We can pay more attention when headlines about “net neutrality” pop up in our Facebook newsfeed. We can read works like Chayko’s and try to answer the questions she asks. As people privileged to live in a technologically-adept and responsive society, we have an obligation to make sure these new advances that make our lives easier and more efficient aren’t thwarting the human rights of others, that they don’t do so already.

Mary Shelley warns of “playing God,” but we know since Frankenstein’s publication in 2018, we have seen advancements that would frighten and mystify her. “As science writer James Gleick looks at it, ‘We can be overwhelmed or we can be emboldened’ (2011, p. 419)” (Chayko p. 215).  I choose emboldened, with the knowledge that liberty isn’t free. As Sam Cooke puts it: “A change is gonna come.” We have to be ready for it.

Superconnected: The ownership of ideas and information security

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

Ownership of ideas

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

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

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

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

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

Secure communication and information

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

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.

final-fantasy-xi-megjelenes-dobozkep-414de532f9396ae3f7ce-large

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!

An Ornery Answer

I’ve generally agreed with most of the readings so far this semester, but this week I found myself skeptical on a few points (perhaps my “crap detector” was overly sensitive this week).

Closeness in Online Communities

Rheingold enthusiastically presents the benefits of online communities, but most of his examples of truly strong communities had non-digital aspects. He talks about having dinner with people he met online, having a picnic for 150 people in an online group, and raising money to support families going through cancer. Interestingly, this actually fits with the first definition given by Merriam-Webster for community: “a unified body of individuals, such as people with common interests living in a particular area.” This understanding of community has a physical and even geographic dimension.

To be clear, Rheingold does distinguish between networks of “weak ties” and communities. He writes, “To me, the difference between an online social network and a community has to do with the quality, continuity, and degree of commitment in the relationships between members” (pg. 163). I agree that there is a difference between your broad social network and your actual community; however, I’m still not sure how to reconcile the physical/geographic aspect of community included in Webster’s definition and in Rheingold’s examples with a solely online group. I think it is certainly valid to develop online relationships and strong groups that support each other without ever meeting in person. Turkle has numerous examples of this as she discusses people absorbed in Second Life, online games, or other digital worlds. Yet as Rheingold’s own examples prove, his most meaningful online relationships also have an offline connection.

community-words

Herriman Community Newsletter. http://www.herriman.org/community-newsletters/

Managing Your Network

Rheingold’s point about social capital and cultivating your network certainly resonates with most professional development advice today. He discusses reciprocity and doing things for others as an investment for when you later need help yourself. I approach networking a little skeptically because I don’t just want to be using people for my own gain. According to this Forbes article, I’m not alone, and studies have shown that networking leaves some people, especially those lower in the power hierarchy, feeling “physically dirty and morally impure” (Morin).

I think networking is effective when people are bound by a common goal, have a more nuanced  relationship, or have a mutually beneficial situation. Rheingold argues for the return on investment for “weak ties,” but it seems to me that most weak ties never produce tangible outcomes (although arguably it takes only that single “weak tie” to help you land your dream job). A professor once advised me to connect with people on LinkedIn only who I knew well enough that I would be comfortable introducing them to someone else. In the sprawl of friends-of-friends, that’s a tough line to maintain, but I think it’s a good standard. Unlike Rheingold’s approach of collecting contacts even beyond Dunbar’s rule of 150, I think we can embrace the age of networking without just ballooning our friends list or using others.

The Power of “The Long Tail”

Rheingold introduces the concept of the “long tail,” and Chris Anderson adds as the first rule of the long tail to make everything available. This assumes that both the “trash” and the “hits” maintain their individual value independently of each other. However, I think that making more available can actually detract from the value of the “hits” by making them harder to find and decreasing overall usability. Anderson hints at this in his third rule and with the example of MP3.com, but he comes at it from the angle of leveraging the hits that people like to filter and identify obscure music that they might also like.

I think this approach misses the heart of the issue. People don’t want to wade through the long tail — they want to jump right to the best. The current economic model of elevating the hits and ignoring the long tail serves as an initial filter to identify what people are most likely to want. Yes, there are casualties as high-quality things are undervalued and fall into obscurity because of outside factors, such as marketing and promotional money, instead of based on their own merit. However, limiting the number of options instead of making all available helps cut through potential choice paralysis. As in the famous jam experiment, people buy more when they have fewer options (Tugend). This returns to the idea that we discussed earlier this semester, where technical writers serve as mapmakers or navigators. Consumers are looking not just for everything possible, but for direction toward what is best. An overwhelming number of options can actually make it harder to find the greatest hits and detract from the overall experience.  

choice-paraylsis

Behavioural Econcomics. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/behavioural-economics-ideas-that-you-can-use-in-ux-design

 

References:

Behavioural economics ideas that you can use in UX design. Retrieved from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/behavioural-economics-ideas-that-you-can-use-in-ux-design

Community. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/community

Morin, A. (2014, Sept. 11). How to network without feeling dirty. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/09/11/how-to-network-without-feeling-dirty/#10341b202ca3

Tugend, A. (2010, Feb. 26). Too many choices: A problem that can paralyze. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/your-money/27shortcuts.html

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/

Organizational Ethos in Crises Management

Crises Management in the Shadows of Self-Promotion

Melody Bowden’s Tweeting an Ethos:  Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication focused on the ethos that organizations encourage through their social media posting.  Her viewpoint that such groups have a duty to put their audience’s needs first was eye opening.  Meeting the reader’s expectations contributes to the organizational ethos, but Bowden also suggested that organizations have some responsibility in facilitating an informed community.

I think that most of us anticipate that an organization or corporation, when communicating via non-cyber media, will put their own agenda first.  Oh, sure… We expect them to spin their message so there is the appearance of truly caring about the audience; but, we still notice the shameless plugs, the product placement, or the solicitation for a donation.  We get glimpses of what the organization is really after and usually it isn’t just to be helpful, devoid of an ulterior motive.

Bowden’s study revealed that in a time of crises the Twitter posts by both CNN and the American Red Cross had the highest concentration of tweets fall into the category of “self-referential posts designed to promote the organizations’ programming and accomplishments” (P. 46).  I am not surprised.   But reading about Bowden and her student’s surprise, made me reexamine how I think technical communicators and the groups they represent should present themselves in social media and why social media is different.

Questioning How Social Media is Different 

She suggests that, for the sake of ethos, organizations should not focus so heavily on self-promotion.  She explains, “Technical communication scholars need to continue to study…how these forums can be used to promote a safe and informed citizenry as well as the objectives of corporations, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies” (P. 50).  I find it interesting that she mentions “a safe and informed citizenry.”  This statement seems to be referencing the internet as a community.   This “community” concept has been a subject of controversy in many of our readings.  So, if we accept the internet as a type of “community” does this really make these groups responsible for fostering it?  Or, is she only referring to the specific real world citizens of the community where the crises is occurring?

Additionally, if she is saying that organizations should abandon self-promotion to focus on the needs of an actual non-digital community in crises, then why don’t we have those expectations of the communication that occurs in those communities offline?  Why is this study about the organizational ethos as it applies to social media and not championing organizational ethos as it pertain to all media?  For instance, I lived in Florida for the last 28 years.  I am no stranger to hurricane season.  The television stations, newspapers, radio stations, local organizations and even home improvement stores, grocery stores and convenience stores would get involved in storm preparedness outreaches.  And when disaster struck, they had a plan for reaching out to the community, but you could always see the company promoting itself alongside those efforts.  It was expected.

I am also wondering how an organization can afford to not take advantage of these situations. Perhaps they should not be so overt in their self-promotion, but they may not have this exact audience in front of them except in times of crises.  If they don’t get their message to them now, when will they?  The audience is using the organization for something they need.  Why can’t the organization saturate it in their own message?  Annoying?  Yes.  A bit uncouth?  Probably.  But expected?  Understandable? Kind of.

An Inspiring Future

Before anyone misunderstands my Devil’s advocate type thought process, I am not disparaging or arguing her ideas.  Bowden opened my eyes to a whole set of possibilities.  I actually like the idea of a technical communicator as a facilitator of community who provides a service-oriented message to the reader.  The questions about how to go about it and how to preserve ethos are fascinating.  I think serving the community while somehow satisfying the objectives of an organization sounds both challenging and inspiring.  The questions that I have shared are ones that I continue to play around with in my head.  I rather like this new vision of where technical writing can go and I look forward to seeing how these concepts evolve.

A Roadmap to Social Media Success for Your Organization

treasure-map_zJHThaiu_L

Of the readings this week, the one that stood out to me the most was Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication by Melody A. Bowdon. Although all the readings* influenced to the contents of this post in some way, Tweeting an Ethos made me think specifically about the roadmap that is needed for ensuring success of an organization’s social media efforts.

The guidelines I offer here are not exhaustive; they are meant to provide a thought framework that can be applied when preparing social media content and subsequently distributing it. This is especially true if, like me, you are being increasingly asked to participate—either developmentally or editorially—in your organization’s social media program.

Here are the guidelines for developing and distributing social media content:

Account for your organization’s core values. Some organizations have documented core values and some do not. If yours is in the former, they should be a core input into your social media editorial calendar (i.e. planned content). If yours is in the latter, your communication team should spend some time assessing what your organization’s core values are and document them. Even if these are not considered formal (i.e. have buy-in from executive leadership) that’s okay. Core values help you know what to write about and what not to, even before you put pen to paper.

Interpret the message. Once you’ve written your social media content, ask yourself three questions: What does this mean? What does this mean to our supporters? What does this mean to our detractors? The answers to these questions should inform the final draft of your content.

For example, you may have had one purpose and intended meaning for your content before you started writing. Is it evident in the file copy? If not, are its purpose and meaning acceptable to you?

Your supporters and detractors will interpret (or seek to interpret) your content in different ways. You should attempt to craft a message that encourages your supporters and discourages your detractors. But, recognize achieving both is not always possible, which is why I recommend the next guideline.

Assess future impact. Remember, at this point your social media content has not been published. It’s a good idea to assess the benefits and risks associated with how the message could be interpreted. This applies to supporters as well as to detractors.

You don’t want supporters to be unhappy and you want detractors to come to your side. Of course, ethics may preclude ameliorating either of those results, but it is better to be fully informed going into a public communication scenario.

Test. Before posting, test content. Big budgets may be available to you to do this with more accuracy. More likely, you will need to take advantage of lower budget, less reliable options. These include running content by objective individuals within the organization (which is why I think I’m getting asked), approaching trusted clients, and following organizations whose social media platforms reflect your own. For the latter case, note responses to content similar to what you intend to post.

Pause before publishing. We’re technical communicators, so this is probably second nature to most of use. We pause and come back to our writing. I once set a “rule” that a 24 hour moratorium on distributing content was in effect, unless an item was time sensitive. I can’t tell you how many times within that 24 hours something changed that either impacted the content, caused a delay in distribution, or cancelled the content all together.

Wrap-up

If I stop to think about it, these five guidelines are really social media inputs into an organization’s ethos. (Bowdon recognizes the idea of ethos is defined in a variety of ways including organizational identity, credibility, or Aristotle’s good sense, good moral character, and goodwill (p. 36).) It’s a circular construct. Organizational ethos drives social media content and distribution. In turn, response based on the content influences organizational ethos—or at least the perception of it.

What have I missed in the guidelines?

*The other readings were Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices by Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry and Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making: Technical Communication Between the Global North and South by Bernadette Longo.

How to run a business as a technical communicator

Reading through various articles in the Technical Communication Quarterly, I am finding good nuggets of information on how to run my business on social media, as a technical communicator. Of course, the information that I found can be applied to one’s personal life, but since technical communicators are hoping to make a career with their writing, I will reiterate these points below, focusing solely on the business aspects.

Keep busy with social media

According to Ferro and Zachry’s article, “Technical Communication Unbound: Knowledge Work, Social Media, and Emergent Communicative Practices,” when using social media platforms for your business, there needs to be a “real-time monitoring of texts” and that you should be “monitor[ing] the technological landscape and be ready to integrate emergent types of online services” (p 7). Customers today expect a business to respond immediately to their messages or posts online, and if they do not get that, some of them will use social media to say how horrible the company’s customer service is. Depending on the business, responding to customers can be a full-time job.

Now, from analyzing other businesses’ social media platforms, I saw how they tried out new social media platforms, which they sometimes abandoned when either the company decided that they were not getting enough traffic from it, or they did not fully understand how to use that new platform to extend their business persona. It is always a good idea to try new technologies, as you never know which one will suit your business best. Once you try a new platform, even if you abandoned it, never take it down. I would suggest putting that abandoned platform on your website as a link and naming it an archive. While the content may be old to most, for those who are just coming across it now, it will be new to them.

Stay positive and audience-centered

Always keep your postings and messages positive. This way your company seems like a happy place and people will feel good reading the posts. There is already so much negative things on social media and elsewhere that reading something positive can boost someone’s day. Additionally, when a company posts a positive post, people are more likely to respond to it, as people want to continue this positive feeling. Ferro and Zachry wrote that “contributors…are motivated by the positive feelings associated with participating in a larger community” (p 9). I have certainly noticed in my business postings that if I write something positive, I receive more likes and more comments. (And if I post a positive video clip, I receive more sales).

By staying positive in posts, you are more likely to have “good sense, good moral character, and goodwill,” which Bowdon explained in her article, “Tweeting an Ethos: Emergency Messaging, Social Media, and Teaching Technical Communication,” is what you need to do to write good posts on social media (p 35). By focusing on these ideas, it makes sense that your posts will then be audience-centered, because you want to help your audience with whatever information that you think that they actually need, instead of just your company’s self-promotion.

If you can always put your customer first, thinking about what information that they are seeking, your company will come across positively by being helpful and customer-driven. I know that this is something I will have to work on too, as several of my own business postings are of self-promotion instead of being customer-centered.

Conclusion

Technical communicators can find jobs within a company or use their skills for their own businesses to ensure that their customers are happy because of the positive message that they read, their questions and concerns are addressed promptly, and that they always find audience-centered postings with the information that they are seeking instead of just a company’s self-promotion. On any social media platform, you can provide a link to your website, so there really is no need for self-promotion anyway. Many businesses, including my own, should always evaluate their own postings periodically to make sure that their messages are coming across positive and audience-centered. Moreover, we should continue to look new ways to interact and gain new customers through new technologies, as not everyone joins the same social media platforms, so it is good for business to try them all to see what works best for them.

Where’s All of This Going?

Puppets

Chapter 6 of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication was pretty alarming. The title of the chapter, “Human + Machine Culture: Where We Work” by Bernadette Longo is almost misleading considering where this chapter took me.

The concept of this “all-inclusive” community where there’s a general understanding of “normal discourse” that crosses cultures seemed a lot like most social media/networking platforms I’m familiar with. Longo went on to aruge that any community being all-inclusive defies reason, as exclusions are what define a community.

I believe that even the rejects remain part of the community because upon their exclusion, their existence and identity is still defined by the community they are not part of. As Jameson pointed out (pg. 157) regarding traditional “misfits” such as the homeless, “No longer solitary freaks and eccentrics, they are henceforth recognized and accredited sociological category, the object of scrutiny and concern of the appropriate experts, and clearly potentially oraganizable.”

Relating this concept to the virtual community, Longo mentioned Rheingold’s model of inclusive community (pg. 151) excluding people who can’t afford computers, the technological illiterate, and the “uncool”. I partially agree with this, but I also see Jameson’s point that the members of these three categories are still relevant to mainstream virtual culture.

There’s an abundance of philanthropic organizations dedicated to providing the needy with computers and the training they’ll need to use them such as Connecting for Good, Computers with Causes and Angie’s Angel Help Network. They consider themselves to be “closing the digital divide” and not allowing poverty to prevent people from being connected. These people are very important in digital culture, and helping them become part of it is seemingly paramount.

The “uncool” individuals that have gotten themselves isolated are typically those who spew hateful, and indecent comments/information online. They’re not as relevant as the needy that can’t afford to buy or learn to use a computer, but they’re often the subject of criticism, mockery, and cautionary tales.

For example, I remember the rising reality TV star Tila Tequila who ruined her career with a series of blog posts sympathizing with Adolf Hitler calling him “a man of compassion”. She started out as a MySpace celebrity, and starred on a dating show called “A Shot at Love”. She released an album as a recording musician, and began appearing on reality TV shows more frequently.

In 2013, she began her Hitler blog and was immediately kicked off “Celebrity Big Brother”. I haven’t seen her on any show since, and the word “crazy” follows the only references I hear of her name. She is still part of the virtual world, she’s simply in an unfavorable category with her own following.

Aside from all of this, the “techno scientific categories of legitimated knowledge” Longo equated to the word of God in Western society is what shook me up. Katz’ example of the role technical communication played in Nazi Germany (pg. 155) really opened my eyes to the power technical communicator’s actually have.

He elaborated, “expediency is the only technical ethic, perhaps the only ethic that pure rationality knows”. On page 157, Longo elaborated on Jameson’s argument that, “We find ourselves—a situation in which the ethos of multinational corporations and technoscience profoundly shapes our lived experiences and therefore what we will find persuasive.” They even go as far as helping us relate it to nostalgic concepts we may or may not have even experienced.

As a member of this “all-inclusive virtual community” I do feel the control of the multinational corporations and technoscience influences. There are times I wonder if the options and information presented to me as acceptable are actually the best, but as Longo stated (pg. 164), “We [accept this] because we desire the benefits we derive from these positive aspects more than we reject the negative effects”. I agree with this completely.

My concern is how this situation will evolve. Who are the elitists running this puppet show, and what’s their ultimate goal? Technical communicators do as they’re told, they’re creating the content, but they’re following instructions. It seems as if this super elitist group has immeasurable power, and it will only get stronger through time. Who is holding this super power accountable? More importantly, who are they? The multi-cultural, all-inclusive community is real, and we’re at the mercy of these faceless puppet masters.

The Un-Networked: A Story About App Development in a Bubble

evernote_logo_4c-lrg

In early 2008, I signed up for Evernote® and became a premium subscriber. It quickly became my digital brain and I used it daily. In 2012, Evernote acquired Penultimate, a note taking app for iPad that allows you take handwritten notes. In 2014, Evernote launched a new version of Penultimate that led to their having to issue an apology to their users.

But, despite their claims of listening to feedback, many Evernote users suggest otherwise in the app’s forums. I believe this “development in a bubble” has led to the company’s CEO, Phil Libin, having to step down and to the company’s having some serious trouble with public relations if not finances, as reported by BusinessInsider.com: The inside story of how $1 billion Evernote went from Silicon Valley darling to deep trouble.

But, why?

I’m no business analyst so I’ll skip the charts and graphs. But, I can tell you why I left Evernote last year as a premium subscriber and active user in favor of another app. I believe the following are some of the main reasons Evernote is struggling—all of which have to do with Evernote being un-networked to its user base.

We’re Listening But Not Really

Howard Rheingold, Author of Net Smart: How to Thrive Online, says “The aggregated by-products of digital participation add up to a marketable commodity…” (p. 135). In theory, yes, but only if the company is listening.

In Evernote’s case, I and other users called for certain features or feature tweaks for years in the user forums. What we got were new apps that eventually died (e.g. Hello and Food), features no one seemed to be asking for (e.g. Work Chat), or redesigns that turned long-standing workflows on their heads or made them impossible.

The net effect went something like this over and over again: “We didn’t get to that fix or feature you wanted, but look! We created a food app because Phil, our CEO is a foodie, and, well, food app!”

We Know What’s Best for You

At the front of the online book, the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual list the 95 theses found within it. Number 25 is “Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.”

Evernote boasts over 50 million users worldwide. It’s my feeling this gave them so much confidence in what they were doing, they became dismissive of what users were saying.

Go to the forums—virtually any forum. I’ll bet you won’t have to scroll long before you find an Evernote team member effectively saying “Let them eat cake!” In other words, they indicate they understand the concerns, but they know what’s best. Whether or not a feature request is in the development pipeline or not is not the business of end-users. At least, that’s how many of us felt.

Drink the Kool-Aid or Else!

Power-user bullying of everyday users is rampant on the forums. Evernote is silent. I’ve read dozens of comments from self-identified power-users in reply to average users’ concerns that leave me speechless.

Effectively, these power-users seemingly become defensive on Evernote’s behalf and will shut-off whiney users: “Evernote is great. I use it 1,000 of times a day and have for 50 years. You just don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve given you two work-arounds, a life raft, and a helicopter! If you don’t like the way Evernote is set up or don’t like my work-around. Leave!” They don’t actually say this, but it does effectively represent their intent and tone.

The fascinating thing is that Evernote lets it go on. And, the next thing you know, that power-user bully has published a post on Evernote’s blog. You start to really feel hopeless as an average user.

A Note from the New CEO

A month ago, Evernote’s new CEO wrote to the user base explaining why the company was laying off talent and closing offices globally. He said some important stuff that may represent the bubble is being popped and Evernote will begin focusing on its user network (and hopefully employee network, if you read the Business Insider article):

“I believe that a smaller, more focused team today will set us up for growth and expansion tomorrow. Here are two things that you can expect from us over the next several months: we will launch major foundational product improvements around the core features that you care about most, and we will pull back on initiatives that fail to support our mission.”

He’s saying the company is going to focus on improving its core product THAT USERS CARE ABOUT MOST. I hope that means the same thing users have been telling Evernote all along: “Great product, but we need it do to A, B, and C, and by the way this needs fixed.”

I’m not going back to Evernote. Not yet. Maybe never. But, I’ll watch from afar to see what happens.

Manifesto

“If you’re not part of the future than get out of the way” (Mellencamp, 2001, Peaceful World)

 

When I started The Cluetrain Manifesto and 95 Theses I wasn’t sure if it was forward thinking or silliness. Granted, I hadn’t gotten to the “meat,” because I almost stopped reading after this enthusiastic bit: “The sky is open to the stars. Clouds roll over us night and day. Oceans rise and fall. Whatever you may have heard, this is our world, our place to be. Whatever you’ve been told, our flags fly free. Our heart goes on forever. People of Earth, remember” (p. 5). Okay. But you can be over-the-top when you’ve written a corporate wake up call the equivalent of the Ten Commandments.

 

It’s pretty bold to imply the customer is always correct; it’s more so to state that businesses are completely wrong. Yet, that’s exactly what authors, Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger proclaim. Their Cluetrain Manifesto warns corporations to speak our ”human” language, include us in their discussions, realize conversations are online, outside, in-house, and that it’s no longer business as usual. We matter! We want a place at the table, we want to be heard, and we want them to change how they deal with us. “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention” (78, p. 7). Good stuff.

 

Going for the corporate jugular, the Manifesto mocks how companies communicate not only with their customers, but also with their own employees. Having just received another company email explaining an administrator-approved, attorney-reviewed, HR-established procedure that strips away more employee soul, I particularly liked 44: “Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore” (p. 5). Yep. And let’s not forget command and control. I work in higher education; I get it.

 

There’s some over-reaching with the truisms. We “get far better information…from one another than vendors” and “There are no secrets” (11-12, p. 6). Not necessarily, or we’d know the secret recipe for Coke and when Apple’s introducing the iOffice (I made that up). And the authors skipped over the fact that plenty of businesses have adapted, and adopted business practices that meet our needs. Many businesses do “talk” to their customer and market honestly. In my observation it’s the larger, often disconnection corporations that “do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations” (Locke et al., 2014, p.5). Where I live we have many small stores and franchises, both on the ground and online that engage in marketing strategies with a “human voice.”

 

Ernest Hemingway stated, “Every man should have a built in automatic crap detector operating inside him” (as cited in Rheingold, 2014, p. 77). In a lesson with his daughter, Rheingold delved into crap detection and the difficulty of knowing what’s credible in the online environment. Following his steps with his daughter was a bit frustrating (I wrote down the links to try), and yes, the Internet is full of companies that either missed the Manifesto, don’t know how to transition their hard-sell marketing techniques, or simply don’t care. Blaring banners, eye bleeding colors, tricky links, and less than truthful claims seem to be regular marketing practices today. (Could it be our culture of increasing acceptance of misinformation in politics that makes it okay?). You want to talk to us? Learn our language. You want to sell to us? Your old tactics won’t work. You want to reach us? We’re on the brave new ‘web of a world’. And when Rheingold’s daughter asks, “How can I tell if anything I find on the web is real “ (Rheingold, 2014, p. 78), that, dear child, is a great question.

More Sound Advice for Spending Time Online

Breathe

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

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

Meditation

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

Results are Power

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

Conclusion

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

Balancing truth and a positive image online

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

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

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

Screen shot of Facebook's reminder to vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re New Strategy: Technical Social Communication Media

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

Provide User Assistance

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

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

It worked! Users flocked to hear other users.

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

Share Knowledge

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

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

Gather Research

Hurley and Hea (p. 57) call this crowd sourcing or “the practice of tapping into the collective public intelligence to complete a task or gain insights that would traditionally have been assigned to a member of or consultant for an organization.”

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

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

Develop Visible Expertise

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

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

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

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

A Means to an End

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

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

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

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

Crowdfunding

Rheingold discusses three terms in great detail in chapter 4, “Social-Digital Know How: The Arts and Sciences of Collective Intelligence”: coordination, cooperation, and collaboration. To understand the differences between these components, Rheingold provides a great analogy, “You need coordination to dance, cooperation to dance with a partner, and collaboration to dance with a flash mob” (p. 153).

However, Rheingold provides a lot of rules and best practices (almost too many to categorize and remember) to understand the social digital know-how, including:

  • Four understandings needed to effectively deliver Web collaboration skills (p.149).
  • Eight design principles that successful groups use to organize and govern behavior (p.152).
  • Four descriptions of the related components of collaboration (p. 153-154).
  • Seven rules on what cooperation theory teaches us (p.155).
  • Five different ways that we can learn from collaboration theory (p. 155).
  • Three things needed in a model of how collaboration superpowers work (p.157).
  • Four collective intelligence tips (p.162).
  • Four “netiquette” norms (p.163-165).
  • Ten ways be a good virtual community organizer (p.165).
  • Six critical success factors for crowdsourcing/crowdfunding projects (p. 172-173). These factors are: vision and strategy, human capital, infrastructure, linkages and trust, external environments, and motive alignment of the crowd. 
  • Three factors for social production to work (p. 175).
  • Eight general principles that capture the essence of the open source process (p.176).
  • Five things needed to understand Wikipedia (p. 185).
  • Four steps on how to contribute to Wikipedia (p. 185-186).
  • Thirteen words of advice about wiki collaboration in general (p.186-187).

I don’t know where to begin or what to write for this week’s blog – I am overwhelmed. I’m interested in gamification and what it can do, but my manager is more interested in augmented reality. While I enjoy using Wikipedia, I have never contributed or edited a topic. And I have never played World of Warcraft. In flipping through the pages in the chapter again, crowdfunding grabs my attention.

Rheingold provides 5 examples of crowdfunding; each is described below.

Spot.us “allows journalists to pitch stories they would like to pursue and enables individuals to pledge financial support; pledges are held in escrow until the journalist’s goal is reached” (p.172). However, they are no longer accepting new pitches or donations. They claim to be reassessing their business model and that the evaluation will be completed by June 1, 2014, but they provide no additional information on the results of their evaluation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kickstarter.com “permits anyone to define a project in need of funding, set the rewards […] for different funding levels, and establish a monetary and time goal” (p.172). From here, you can search for projects according these categories: art, comics, crafts, dance, design, fashion, film & video, food, games, journalism, music, photography, publishing, technology, and theater. I’m drawn to the journalism project, and am excited that it is a project in my great state of Texas. The Rio Grande Rift – Print Issue #1

Kiva.org “matches microbusinesses in the developing world with microlenders” for as little as $25 (p.172). There are four steps in this process: choose a borrower; make a loan; get repaid; repeat. I search for Austin, but there are no requests. There are 59 requests in the United States. The other country that jumped out at me is the Phillippines with 1,296 requests.

Inuka.org “enables lenders to microfinance projects by women in sub-Saharan Africa” (p. 172). This is a dead link. I was able to find it on crowdsourcing.org, but even the link the link listed under URL does not work.

DonorsChoose.org “allows classroom teachers to post requests” (p.172). From here you can search from the following things that teachers need for students: art, books, math, science, field trips, match offers, project of the day, and projects near me. I’m curious to see what the schools located in Austin need (if any are listed), and am surprised to see that my younger son’s elementary school has two requests listed–one from his former kindergarten teacher. I had no idea this site existed and plan on making a donation.

I’m happy that looked up the examples that Rheingold provided in the chapter as I was able to find some crowdfunding opportunities in my city. I challenge you to also visit these sites and see what opportunities are available in your geographic location.

 

Crap Detection 101: Vaccines and Autism

While reading chapter 2, “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide If It’s True,” of Net Smart, I was waiting with bated breath for Rheingold to bring up the controversial subject that has caused great debate, disagreements, and “unfriending” in my social media circle in recent years: vaccines and autism in children. But, he didn’t.

As a parent, do I have concerns that autism might be linked to the vaccines my children receive? Absolutely. Do I vaccinate my children? Absolutely. Do I worry that I might be making the wrong choice after each vaccine? Absolutely. (To date, my sons–fifteen and eight–do not have autism).

So, what are we as parents to do? Rheingold recommends to “chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter.” To chase the story, the first thing to do is to search for information online. But what words do I search for and which link(s) do I click? Rheingold also states that “when you get the results from a Web search engine and click on a link, you can’t be sure that what you get is accurate or inaccurate information, misinformation, or totally bogus.”

I Googled “vaccines and autism” and then clicked the “Images” link. From here, the search results were already conveniently categorized for me by “chart”, “don’t cause”, and “for children”. The results also showed screaming babies and needles—scary stuff for any parent. Mixed in with these images, were other cartoons and infographics that were pro-vaccine, one even had support from Bill Gates.

 

How can I tell if any of it is real? Which side of this controversial debate do I take? Rheingold suggests to “think skeptically, look for an author, and then see what others say about the author.”

But how is this possible when even doctors, nurses, and government agencies—all have credentials and are highly regarded as experts—can’t even agree?

Rheingold also states that “digital media and information abundance may complicate people’s confidence in and knowledge of who is in authority” and that the “social aspects of critical evaluation can be powerfully useful, but they also can be misleading.”

Just because a link displays at the top of a search engine, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best source of information. Nor does seeing disturbing photos of needles sticking into babies convince me that vaccines are harmful.

To complicate things even further, Rheingold states that when searching online, we “write the answer you want to get when formulating your search query.” So if I enter “vaccines cause autism”, I will probably get rhetoric on how vaccines are bad; and if I enter “vaccines do not cause autism”, I will get information on how the two are not related. This is also referred to as the “echo chamber effect.” We are all guilty of focusing our attention to only things that align or reinforce our own beliefs or behaviors. Is this why AutismOne has 14,000 Twitter followers?

Or why there are now children’s books that urge children to get vaccinated against Measles? Would a parent who refuses to give their child vaccines allow that child to read a bedtime story on the importance of being vaccinated? Probably not.

With this abundance (overload) of information, this is where my “well-tuned internal crap detector comes in handy.” However, he then cautions that “people who bet their health on online medical information […] the stakes in this detective game are high.” To get my answer on vaccines and autism, I could triangulate–check an author’s name, enter the URL of a site into a productivity index or hoax site, and type “criticism” or “background” in a search–to get at least three things that indicate whether an online link is credible.

Yet, this is not enough as Rheingold claims “well-intentioned yet dangerously misinformed people, quacks who sincerely believe that their ineffective cures will save the world […] abound online. It’s not just that uninformed consumers of bad medical information can harm themselves; people who link and forward without checking closely are part of the problem. When it comes to medical information […] believing or forwarding bad info can be unhealthy or fatal.”

If you believe some of the stories online, there are large portions of elementary schools with unvaccinated children in California. Other stories cite celebrity Jenny McCarthy as a dangerous advocate of anti-vaccines. There are blogs written by people who grew up without vaccines but are now reformed and many social media pages and groups that are anti-vaccine that it becomes difficult to figure out which information is useful or accurate. Did you know that World Anti-Vaccination Day is November 11? Neither did I.

I’m not sure when the controversial debate that autism might be linked to the vaccines children receive will be settled. Will it take a scientific breakthrough? Will it be when previously eradicated diseases reemerge? At this time, it seems that the only thing to do is to keep asking questions and to think like a detective to try to determine the credibility of online information so that you can make the best choice for your family. James Madison summarized it best when he put it, “knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The Digital Scarlet Letter

Blogging is difficult. It is difficult to come up with an idea and to then execute it. Blogging also takes a lot of time. My personal experience with blogging was uneventful. I found myself writing, rewriting, editing, and then never posting. I doubted whether anything I wrote was unique. What would people think of me? Would they judge me? And then how would I get followers? And God forbid, what if someone stopped reading my blog? I was so weary. Because of this, I never blogged. Instead of blogging, I like to Pin things on Pinterest (3.7k pins to date) – recipes, fashion, inspirational sayings in beautiful typefaces, and anything Kate Moss.

I don’t have a personal blog, but I do like to look at other people’s blogs, especially entertainment blogs. My guilty pleasure is celebrity gossip and the snarkier the better. When I’m bored, I go straight to TMZ or Jezebel. I’ll read basically anything that makes fun of celebrities. And depending on the post, I’ll skip it entirely and head right to the comments. I’ve never posted any comments myself, but the petty, sarcastic comments make me smirk. Rumor has it that TMZ will start letting readers post audio comments.

Out of touch celebrity lifestyle blogs

I find celebrity lifestyle blogs hilarious. Gwyneth Paltrow has gotten a lot of criticism over her blog that she launched in 2009 named goop. The main areas are: Make, Go, Get, Do, Be, and See. In her “Make” section, she dishes up recipes completely devoid of diary, meat, sugar, anything processed, and so on. She’s also been accused of posting meals that would cost more than $300 to make. You can also shop on her blog for $1,500 shoes and $800 earrings.

Blake Lively launched her lifestyle blog, Preserve, over the summer. The reviews of her letter from the editor crack me up. Being a celebrity married to Ryan Reynolds isn’t enough, as Blake is “hungry for experience.” You can also buy a $7 bottle of ketchup on her blog.

I am hungry, though… not just for enchiladas.

I’m hungry for experience.

The Digital Scarlet Letter

We are now in the era of the Digital Scarlet Letter. What this means is that information published is not revocable. So the stupid things that are posted online will be there forever. Hurley and Hea mention the growing concern of “reputation management” and that “it’s a great leap for students to think of social media as real texts worthy of their composing talents and time.” Have celebrity misgivings a la Anthony Weiner and Alec Baldwin tainted the idea of using social media in a legitimate, meaningful way? Maybe, but it’s not stopping anytime soon. Now that social media is so common, the latest trend is to do something extreme for attention. Samantha Goudie stumbled onto the football field, blew a .341 on her breathalyzer test, was arrested, and tweeted “yolo” from jail. Before she deleted her Twitter account, she had more than 20,000 followers.

Last year public relations specialist Justine Sacco was fired over her racist Tweet.

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!

Justine Sacco

And if a post goes viral, is ignorance, joking, or sarcasm an excuse to get off the hook? Is an apology enough?

Aaaa Haaa Moment

www.facebook.comIn many of our conversations this semester we have discussed the multitudes of social media options in this digital age.  While we have not exactly discussed trust or privacy as an individual topic before this week, there have been definite innuendos about the trust we each place in these sites; some of us have shown it by the desire (or lack thereof) to use a particular site, others have pointed out the flaws in some of our readings that can lead to a distrust of that author as well as the information in the article itself, and others just aren’t interested in sharing their personal lives.  Both of the chapters this week got me thinking about why there is such a variance, even in our small group of, assumingly (based solely on the fact that we are all interested in the same field), similar beliefs and personalities (ok, I am probably stretching it a little but just go with it!).  In particular when you take into consideration Facebook, there always seems to be a huge debate over what is posted and why people want to spill their life stories (and, at times, very personal information) out to all these supposed “friends”.  Even when we read articles about how Facebook is changing their privacy setting again and releasing more information (you need to see this visual – I can’t download the image), some of us are still frequent users, or know of people who are.  In Schofield and Joinson (2008), when I read the following quote, it all started to make some sense to me:

 “. . .we found evidence that trust and privacy interact to determine disclosure behavior, such that high privacy compensates for low trustworthiness, and high trustworthiness compensates for low privacy. Clearly, privacy and trust are closely related in predicting people’s willingness to disclose personal information, and the relationship may be more nuanced than simple mediation” (p. 25)

We may not trust Facebook, the company, but really, that is not who we are communicating with.  We are communicating with our FRIENDS whom we place a lot of trust in.  Therefore we continue to use the site even though we know our privacy is at risk.  In fact, when Facebook makes style changes, I have read comments that make it sound like “how dare you change MY site”.  The users seem to have almost hijacked the site in some ways – they seems to ignore the fact that there is an actual company associated with this site and they are in business to make money. They are quick to forget the most recent privacy concerns and continue to use the site and still revealing very personal information  – again because they are communicating with trustworthy friends, not the company itself.

The ethical principle in Katz and Rhodes (2010), the Being Frame, also plays heavily into the use of Facebook, on both sides of the screen.  Facebook, the company, Enframes its users:

“In the being frame, not only machines, but humans as well are Enframed, and considered a standing-reserve – not only for use by the organization [Facebook], but also by the machines to which we must adapt” (p. 237)

But the users themselves are becoming part of this “being frame” as well:

“The digital and the technical has become the personal (e.g. Blackberry devices, Facebook), and extend around the wired world.  We exist everywhere with technology as a technology; we stand with the resources as a reserve” (p. 238)

I believe it is because of this thought process (along with the trust aspect of their friends) that users are willing to look past well-known privacy issues and continue to spell out their entire lives for all to see.  Right or wrong, they are one with the machine.

http://www.privacy.vic.gov.au/privacy/web2.nsf/pages/its-your-privacy.-dont-ignore-it.

Privacy and the internet

Privacy in healthcare is very important. This is something that I have some experience with. This kind of privacy is a bit different than the kind discussed in the reading this week. This Health Care Privacy is more about preventing access to data that exists. Not allowing people who don’t need to access a specific patient, access to that patient. This relates to the reading this week in that privacy is really about what you want to show the outside world. I liked the description of the 3 types of privacy; Expressive, Informational, and Accessibility.

  • Expressive Privacy – The ability to choose what I say and do.
  • Informational Privacy – The ability to choose what information I share with others.
  • Accessibility Privacy – The ability to choose how (physically) close I get to others.

In addition to the three types of privacy described above there are also two forms of privacy; actual and perceived.

  • Actual Privacy – When people are around, my actual privacy is limited.
  • Perceived Privacy – When my family is around, my perceived privacy is high. I trust them to not divulge my personal information, to maintain my privacy.

There are a number of ways that people can protect their privacy online. Depending on the site you are using, for example eBay, you can turn yourself into a pseudonym. You can clear web history, deny cookies and other things. The image below is from a Pew Internet Privacy that was done that describes how much people understand about internet privacy.

Pew-Internet-Privacy-Chart

http://researchaccess.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pew-Internet-Privacy-Chart.png

Social Media sites also have specific settings in regards to privacy. According to Consumer Watchdog, Facebook and their ads track you even when you are not currently logged into Facebook.

facebook_privacy

http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/node/12480

After Privacy, comes trust. Once you look at the privacy settings of your web browser and or website you are looking at, you have to decide if you trust the web site you are visiting.

01f01

http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?pid=S1807-17752007000300001&script=sci_arttext

This image visibly describes what goes into a decision by a consumer to purchase from a specific site.  “A consumer’s intention to purchase products from Internet shopping malls is contingent on a consumer’s trust. Consumers are less likely to patronize stores that fail to create a sense of trustworthiness and an easily usable context. In the meantime, trust would also be influenced by e-commerce knowledge, perceived reputation, perceived risk, and perceived ease of use, all of which are set as independent variables in the model. Hence trust serves as a mediating variable while purchasing intention is a dependent variable.” (JISTEM, 2007)

I know that I have done research on products and found website that were offering them for less than Amazon or some other known online retailer. I do research not only on the product they are offering, but also the website before I decide to trust the retailer and purchase from their website.

What do you know about protecting your privacy on the internet, specifically the use of websites privacy policies? Does anyone read these before signing up for a new website?

Privacy and illusions of anonymity

retrieved from http://xkcd.com/1269/

retrieved from http://xkcd.com/1269/

This week’s reading by Paine Schofield and Joinson about privacy gave me a lot of information to think over. Even though their writings occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s, their definitions are still very relent in today’s digital age. Westin defined privacy as “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how and to what extent information about them is communicated to others”. Altman defined privacy as “the selective control of access to the self”. In most cases, unless someone is a celebrity or politician, they decide their own level of privacy or access to the self.

The Paine Schofield and Joinson reading also shared the ideas of Ingham, who stated that “man, we are repeatedly told is a social animal, and yet he constantly seeks to achieve a state of privacy”. I found this an interesting idea, but it does work with the ideas of Westin and Altman described above. Each person defines their own level of desired privacy. Some people choose to live very private lives. These people choose to share limited information online, and restrict it only to those they choose. These would also be the celebrities that we almost never hear about, that choose a life of discretion rather than embracing the spotlight that would normally follow them.

In a past reading, Qualman introduced the term “glass house generation”, which described how some people choose to live out their lives online. These people allow more access to themselves in the online world through social network sites, blogs, and also vlogs , and they share all sorts of personal information and opinions. Some feel that they can share a lot of information because they still maintain a level of anonymity, and some don’t seem to care. They feel they care share whatever they want and don’t consider the repercussions.

Ingham indicates that there may be costs for those who are unable to achieve their desired level of privacy, but I think it goes beyond that. Some individuals who choose to live at their desired level of online privacy may experience costs such as having that level of privacy breached. They may leave only a breadcrumb trail of information around on the internet, but there are individuals who are bloodhounds for that sort of information. With the proper motivation, they will scour the internet using various tools to seek out the information they desire, and the results can make people feel much more vulnerable than they expected. Anonymity online only works if you never disclose enough information to easily identify you, or if the information you do disclose doesn’t help to identify you.

I’ve been casually following the Kickstarter campaign for a board game called Shadows of Brimstone. I won’t go too deep into the short history of the game, but basically overall price, backer levels, and general issues with crowd-funding has caused this to become a controversial Kickstarter campaign. There are many strong opinions, and many have voiced their frustrations. I stumbled on this blog entry a few days ago and found it fitting with this week’s readings. I did not see the original post, but this amended post tells a great deal. The blog author shared an opinion someone didn’t agree with. That individual decided to track him down using bits of information, and then sent the author a creepy email directed at him and his fiancée. The author felt understandably vulnerable, because his illusion of anonymity and security had been shaken.

I find the above situation despicable, but it does serve as an example to the rest of us. Be careful what information you choose to share, because someday, someone may try to track you down. Personally, I would prefer it if they either came up empty, or ended up chasing their tail looking for a trail that has either long gone cold, or one that never existed in the first place.


The Circle of Trust

This week’s readings deal with privacy, trust, and ethics in the digital world. The Schofield and Joinson piece, “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” and the Katz and Rhodes piece in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, “Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations,” really approach the same question from different directions. What does it take to gain user trust and maintain integrity in an increasingly digital world?

Schofield and Joinson (2008) argue that privacy and trust “interact in determining online behavior” (p. 24). They discuss multiple dimensions of both privacy and trust, and they suggest that users often rely on some combination of these components of privacy and trust to guide their purchasing decisions and online behavior.

As digital communities grow, members look for ways to verify that other members are who they say they are. Schofield and Joinson (2008) point out that there are many ways to build trust online such as use of profiles, photographs, media switching, and linguistic cues (p. 21). Individuals use these tactics to build trust among other individuals, but how do companies gain the trust of their customers?   The below comic strip is a good example of how companies do not gain customer trust:

Schofield and Joinson suggest that assuring customers that the information they disclose and the transactions they conduct will be dealt with appropriately and competently is an important building block for user trust. Also important is the company’s reputation; if people believe that they can trust a name, this belief can be more influential on purchasing behavior than trust building techniques such as privacy seals and statements.

While conducting business online might require disclosure of more personal information than it does in person, it also offers benefits such as “personalized service, convenience, improved efficiency” (p. 17). As online business continues to grow, this is evidently an acceptable tradeoff to many users. I know that when I am faced with the choice of going on a retail hunt for vacuum cleaner bags in the rain or giving Amazon my address and credit card number and having the vacuum cleaner bags delivered to my door, I almost always choose the latter.

Similarly, many users appreciate the personalized aspects and conveniences of online shopping, which are enabled by user tracking. Schofield and Joinson (2008) assert that users who maintain the same pseudonym in multiple online arenas can be tracked more effectively than users who switch pseudonyms from site to site (p. 26). As pseudonyms protect a person’s identity, I’m not sure why it’s beneficial for a person to have multiple pseudonyms. I tend to think consumers benefit more from enabling companies to track their usage in order to provide them with better products, recommendations, and customer service than from maintaining multiple pseudonyms in order to inhibit user tracking and preserve the notion of privacy.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) argue that “to stay competitive, as well as avoid potential crises, organizations and the professionals within them must both acknowledge and actively engage in multiple ethical frames of technical relations” (p. 230). Essentially, this is also an argument about establishing and maintaining trust and identity through a digital medium.

The 6 ethical frames Katz and Rhodes present explain how we use technical relations to achieve certain goals. Rhodes’ study, in which she examines Email as A Tool and an End, Email as Values and Thought, and Email as a Way of Being, demonstrates that depending on how we use it, email technology can be: both a means and an end, a value system, a method of rational calculation, and an extension of individual consciousness- or some combination of these. Even in the lowest common denominator of these ethical frames, where email is considered a tool, email is the mechanism that facilitates achieving a common goal through a digital medium, which requires at least some notion of trust and integrity.

Katz and Rhodes (2010) offer, “In delineating the ethical frames of technical relations that define human-machine interactions, we therefore recognize the socially dynamic and constructed nature of ethics; indeed because we do, we hold that technology both instantiates and helps construct social and moral values” (p. 231). This statement illustrates the bidirectional relationship between technology and social and moral values; ethics is a fluid concept that changes as social norms change. Social norms are changing as a result of technology, and thus the ethical frames of technical relations offer us a way to correlate the changing use of technology with corresponding ethical implications.

Coming to grips with the “Internet of Things”

So, I suppose this is tangential to this week’s readings (or maybe at the heart of them), but I kept going deeper and deeper into the Internet as I studied the issues of privacy, ethics,

and problematic internet use (PIU), straying far from my topic, getting lost in all sorts of sidetracks.  For example, I came across the word “paraphilia” in one article and didn’t stop to look it up, but then I came across it again. I was reading an article that mentioned the fact that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5) (http://www.dsm5.org/Pages/Default.aspx) was updated in 2013 and would now include PIU, which I found interesting and relevant to this week’s readings.  So, I went to the DSM site and found, in fact, that “Internet and Gaming Disorders” is included in Section III, which is apparently a research section because it explains, “By listing Internet Gaming Disorder in DSM5’s Section II, APA hopes to encourage research to determine whether the condition should be added to the manual as a disorder.”

It was at this site that I saw “paraphilic” again, so I decided to do a search and spent over an hour just reading up on those.  I won’t offer you a link, but you can Wikipedia it and see at a glance why I got distracted. Or perhaps I’ve just been sheltered?

Anyway, I don’t think I would qualify as one of the addicted just yet, but this is the kind of thing I worry about — getting sucked in to the Internet “black hole.” I mean, I really had to force myself to stop going everywhere willy-nilly and exert some discipline — problematic internet use? Scott Caplan makes a distinction between impulsive (lack of impulse control) and excessive (a lot) and says that what might be seen as excessive might just be what is required for a student to complete an assignment (that’s probably me, so far), whereas compulsive use is more likely to result in negative outcomes (p. 724-725).

Speaking of negative outcomes, before I started this course, I thought about Internet privacy challenges mostly in terms of social media and the fact that some people seem to lack

Note that most of us still score a "C" for personal security measures. http://blog.varonis.com/varonis-2013-privacy-and-trust-report/

Note that most of us still score a “C” for personal security measures.
http://blog.varonis.com/varonis-2013-privacy-and-trust-report/

boundaries with regard to self-disclosure.  Now, I have a much broader (and more disturbed) understanding of the privacy challenges we face, including the fact that it’s so easy to track our digital footprints. Still, like the people in this Varonis report, I do very little to protect my privacy.

Maybe there’s regulatory help on the way? According to this November 12 article from Politico (http://www.privacylives.com/politico-ftc-wading-into-internet-of-things/2013/11/14/), the Federal Trade Commission is going to start taking an interest in privacy issues because of so many everyday objects (“thermostats, toasters, and even sneakers”) that are getting connected to the Internet.  Some of the more interesting ideas: pill bottles that keep track of whether you took the pill, refrigerators that tell you when the milk will expire, and forks that track how fast you eat, all of which could embed sensitive information about individual consumers that could then be inappropriately shared.  This echoes Carina Paine and Adam Joinson’s concern that areas of our lives previously considered offline are now areas of privacy concern and being magnified online (p. 16).

Some trade groups are concerned that this new interest from the FTC might inhibit innovation, so it should be interesting to see if the FTC will be able to do much reigning in.  By the way, when I went to retrieve the Political URL, I saw an article about “hacktivist” Jeremy Hammond getting 10 years in prison, so of course, I had to stop writing and spend another 45 minutes learning what that was all about.  Oh well, I guess that’s the nature of the “Internet of Things” (that’s the name of the FTC workshop).

Finally, I found Steven Katz and Vicki Rhode’s piece, “Beyond Technical Frames of Human Relations,” a bit hard to absorb.  If I understand their argument, it’s time to move beyond previous ethical frames to “human-machine” sanctity, which “recognizes the new relationship between him and and machines as whole entities” (p. 250). Call me old-fashioned (for sure!), but I don’t want to have “reciprocity” with my machines (p. 251). The authors bemoan the fact that some mechanized procedures and processes, most notably content management systems, seem to operate according to the machine’s specifications and for its own purposes rather than for people or organizations (p.235), but their proposal that we humanize our machines so that they become “you”s rather than the objects that they actually are seems to be a prescription for making the situation worse.

Did I just not understand this? Do I just need to come to grip with digital “being” and the “Internet of Things”?

Functional Ethics and Privacy

Katz and Rhodes started out their foray into ethics and technology in Beyond Ethical Frames of Technical Relations by exploring briefly the potential hypocrisy in a nonprofit of using different terms to describe cognitively disabled people in internal communication versus external communication. This example certainly played into their arguments that communication can vary depending upon what ethical frame people are using at a given moment.

It reminded me of an article that I read which made the claim that profanity is shifting, making terms that derogate minority populations far more taboo than they ever were in the past. This lends greater weight to the idea that ethics may exist in various levels, because that company certainly had a standard that conformed to cultural norms of proper terminology, but within that framework, the standard was different when utility was more important than brand maintenance. Yet, I doubt that disrespect to that population was meant, and truly disparaging terms were not used at all, instead they used simply less accepted but simpler terms in order to get the job done.

The same thing could easily be seen in verbal communication. Most people will behave in a more formal manner with an external customer than they will with a coworker, because the expectations of behavior differ based on familiarity. For example, when I email my coworkers, even about work related things, I may include something funny or an emoticon, which would be inappropriate with a customer or even a supervisor. I really don’t think that having different frames for ethics is something that is exclusive to technology, but that we often adjust our ethical code to match our audience, at least to some extent. But it is just like in technical communication, we always have to adjust to the needs of the audience.

Like ethics, privacy and trust are interesting topics to consider in relation to emerging media. While the Paine Schofield and Joinson article Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online delves primarily into how such concepts interact in an e-commerce situation, I always think of privacy as it functions within my job. I work at a hospital, so I sort of think of internet privacy like medical records. Because of HIPAA, medical records are privileged information and so most people would not think twice about them, people just assume that they are extremely private. However, they don’t know or consider the people who handle the information that goes into their medical record, the people who ensure that information is placed correctly and is complete. Many people see medical information before it is filed or committed to the electronic medical record. But, it is still considered private information because all those people who have seen the information are not allowed to talk about it.

I feel like internet privacy is very similar. Generally, if people don’t think too deeply about it, they will assume that they have complete privacy in their online interactions, when the reality is that they have less absolute anonymity than they believe. But, because of a reputation economy that regulates privacy to some extent, there is some level of privacy, even if it is not as absolute as we would like. There is also always the potential for a breach in privacy. I think that generally, it is far easier for us to assume a safety that doesn’t exist because doing otherwise would cripple our ability to function effectively within our increasingly technology saturated world.

Scams and Accountability

The reading brings up the idea of actual privacy and perceived privacy.  This is a very good point because someone may feel that their information is save when it isn’t.  A good example of this is using a credit card when online shopping.  Even though a company can have on their website that they’re a secure site, they might be using order files that contain credit card numbers.  When I worked at the software company that made and sold order management software, I’d see this all the time.  There are updated versions of the software that don’t allow for credit card numbers to be displayed, but if someone hadn’t updated their software they were carelessly storing customer data.  The customer felt safe because the site provided the appearance of being secure, but in reality credit card numbers are available to everyone that works for that company.  There were many times I even saw credit card data supporting customer support inquiries.

Another example of actual and perceived privacy is going out to eat at a restaurant and paying your bill with your credit card.  This is pretty standard, as it seems most people don’t carry cash.  Your waiter can be walking away with your credit card and scamming your information.  below is a link to an example story of waiters using skimming devices to copy credit card numbers so they could create counterfeit cards to use to purchase expensive items and sell them for cash.

http://money.msn.com/identity-theft/article.aspx?post=450f13b5-f7c3-422c-a953-7def3d7a80e0

Some of you might be wondering what credit card skimming is.  The image below shows some details about how credit card skimming can be done.  The link below the image takes you to an article (where you’ll also see this image) that provides some more information about credit card skimming.

Image

http://www.businessinsider.com/hackers-tech-credit-card-skimming-2011-10

The reading makes a point that “we take it on faith people are who they say they are.”  This is so true in many aspects, such as online dating.  When you go on a site like match.com you’re just believing the person’s profile is an accurate representation of who they are.  This issue goes deeper than that though.   Celebrities get scammed this way by “catfishing”.  I saw on the news the other day that Brad Paisely and his wife got scammed by someone claiming their daughter was dying and she just wanted to speak to them.  The woman running the scam never asked for money, but when she said her daughter passed away she asked that Brad Paisely provide a song he had sung on the phone for the funeral service.

Image

The link below (that also contains the image above) provides the story in text and video form.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/uncovering-dying-daughter-hoax-lured-celebrities/story?id=20793858

The video also mentioned this wasn’t the first celebrity that was scammed this way.  It’s very sad to think people would play on the emotions of another person in such a way.  This I guess opens the door to ethics, which was also part of the reading this week.  I know the reading focused more on workplace and email ethics, which I think is an important topic being email is replacing conversations.  I think that email is not only quick to fire off and get a response, but it also covers you from taking the blame for something.  For example, If I call someone at work and ask if something is ok and they say yes, I have no evidence that approval happened if something goes wrong.  If it was done via email, the accountability is on that person.

blame

https://exploreb2b.com/articles/accountability-at-work-and-at-home

I think in the “cut-throat” world we live in makes the workplace tough because everyone is on the go and wants to look good.  Ethics sometimes take a backseat.

Frames and Ethical Implications in a Digital Being World

This week, I was really into reading about “The Digital Being” as discussed in regards to the Being Frame.

I became engrossed in the idea of how ever-growing and expanding ranges of technologies “continue to sweep over culture and into our organizations” so much that as noted, practitioners and scholars must learn to understand and address the ethical implications (241).  One way, according to Digital Literacy this week, is to understand the ethical frames of technical relations.   And I could not help but think here about Mr. Clinton for some reason, denying any “relations” with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.   It is just where my mind unexpectedly wandered when I read the word relations.   I suppose in the context of living in a world where we now must consider our technical relations in addition to our personal relations, it does seem appropriate to connect to the idea of ethics and how this inevitably will always come back to any relationship we have.

One of the most powerful ideas, for me, was this about our digital being from Katz and Rhodes: “Digital being has enabled us to forget that our values, our thinking, and our work are heavily defined by our technology, and that much of our life now exists outside our flesh, essentially in digital bodies” (239).   Suddenly, just after reading this, I had a vision of my family, friends, and colleagues as these digital beings, and then I thought, how much of their real selves do I really know?  What ethical implications does this have on my relationships and the way we might treat each other?  Do their digital beings treat others differently than their flesh selves?   I basically sat with lots of questions on my mind, and I saw the world almost in a very Matrix-like fashion where I am not sure who the real person is when I meet someone compared to the digital person.

Another idea developed under this one is that the digital being has now taken over in a way that we are not as capable as people of the past, and our “digital machines have literally replaced our ‘mental storage’ of ‘information’…” (239), especially when it comes to the workplace and writing.  The specific example was how new employees struggle with writing and spelling because we are so programmed to use spell-check and grammar check systems that we no longer store the necessary information to become efficient writers.  I see this with students, also.  I also see it in math with the use of calculators.  I have a friend who teaches math prep courses, and she tells me often of students who do not know their multiplication tables without the use of a calculator (these are adult learners.)   And so now, I see that their digital being has learned these skills in a digital fashion, and when stripped of the technology tool, they are left lacking fundamental skills to survive in the work world and world in general.  Are we to expect that is okay because it is the way they have learned?   I find a little bit of an ethical struggle right here alone.  What is the responsibility of humans today in these contexts?

The other ethical frame I want to address briefly here is the Thought Frame and quickly tie it into the Digital Being.  The last questioning thoughts from the section on “Thought  Frame” really had me thinking about my organization: “Does your organization conceptualize or refer to communication as a transmission of information from sender to receiver? Does it regard emotional response in the workplace as noise in the system?” (237).    If we are very much defined by our digital beings in the workplace, and we communicate via email, videos,  webinars, podcasts, social media, and texting more than we do f2f, isn’t it much easier to become just a receiver in the system?   When our authentic selves present an emotional response to something, do we just become noise that interrupts the system?  When are we allowed to present our deep, meaningful self versus our digital being?  Is there a more appropriate time for one than the other?  I find that I am weighing heavily how technology has changed relations and ethics together on a very basic human level: how we see how our selves and how we then communicate with each other.

Achieving digital utopia in the workplace

“Ideally, with improved staff spirits and strengthened commitment to the company, in the sanctity frame, employees who are treated as whole human beings will in turn consider the organization’s best interest along with their own, resulting in actions like taking better care of equipment, being frugal with company materials, and treating coworkers with respect” (Katz and Rhodes, 2010, p. 253).

What a utopic vision of the workplace! Truthfully, I think my company has nearly achieved this level of ethical standards with regards to digital technologies, but, for a long time, this was not the case. For several years, we employed outside sales reps who were from the age of old school sales where most client communications were done in-person and notes about the account were kept filed away somewhere in the rep’s home office filing cabinet. The problem with this is that the information is not easily accessible by other members of the sales staff who need it. To counteract this, my company integrated an online customer relationship management (CRM) software that could be accessed anywhere, as long as you had Internet access (and, more recently, available as a mobile phone app).  This CRM program is the one I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog – Salesforce.

Like I was saying, these reps were old school and they fought using Salesforce tooth and nail. Information was rarely entered, phone calls were not logged and there was no accountability. Bringing this back into an ethical framework, was it unethical of these employees to not record their sales activities via the company’s required digital system, or was it unethical of the company to expect these employees, with fewer technological skills, to conform?

At one point in our reading, Katz and Rhodes (2010) said, almost in a disbelieving, joking way, “Imagine hiring an employee who did not know how—or refused—to use email as part of the job!” (p. 245). Yep, that was our company up until a few years ago. All of these old school sales reps are gone now.  The staff we have now is very adept with technology and uses the CRM fully. For a long time, our sales process was very painful, but now it feels like a well-oiled machine.

I think these former employees had a fear of technology. It was something they didn’t understand, and they definitely were not digital natives. Even less so than many of us in this class! Could part of their fear have anything to do with privacy and trust? With Salesforce, whatever information you enter is visible to everyone else who uses the program. With written notes and files, you can pick and choose what you share with the rest of the team (which they did during our weekly sales department calls).

The topic of privacy is an interesting one, not only with regards to something like a CRM program, but also with email and Internet use in the workplace. Most companies have IT departments that closely monitor the email and Internet usage of its employees, which I think is fair. They want to ensure that these tools are used

1) as means to help the company, whether it’s for increasing sales, improving workflows, communicating with vendors and clients, crunching numbers, etc., and

2) in a way that appropriately (ethically) represents the company and preserves its reputation.

So, how much control should a company have over its employees’ technology use? At our company, we have quite a bit of free rein. It makes sense, though, as the majority of our employees work in sales and marketing and we need access to the Internet (including social media sites) to research and learn about clients and competitors. We use email just as much as we use the phone for reaching out to clients and prospects. Our CRM program is online. For the most part, I think the trust that our company places in us makes us want to be more responsible and we rarely have any issues with people abusing this right. According to Schofield and Joinson (2008), this trust comes from the company’s belief in our abilities, integrity and benevolence (p. 19). The company believes that we not only know how to use technology, but that we know how to use it appropriately.

“With great power comes great responsibility.” 
-Uncle Ben, Spiderman

I am grateful for this freedom and trust, especially when I hear about other companies. A coworker of mine was just telling me yesterday that a friend of hers works for a cabinet-making company where there is absolutely no allowance for using email or cell phones for personal reasons at work. In fact, copies of employee email transactions are printed into hard copy each day for review. And, if anyone is caught using their cell phones, it can be grounds for immediate dismissal. Yikes! Is this within the rights of the employer to monitor technology usage in the workplace, or does it transcend those rights and become an invasion of privacy? If someone needs to make a personal call because of a sick child, does the company have any right to interfere? This brings up another interesting question – if the technological device being used belongs to the company vs. the individual, who decides how it can be used?

I don’t necessarily have all the answers to these questions, but I think there might be a final project idea in there somewhere, so ask me again in a few weeks and I might have a few answers! Overall, though, the discussion of ethics is interesting and a rather nice way to put a bow on everything we’ve learned this semester. Now that we have a better understanding of how digital technologies have come about and changed the field of technical communications, how do we use these technologies in a way that is right and good and furthers our field for the better?

With that, I wish everyone the best of luck in pursuing these ideals. It has been a real pleasure getting to know all of you this semester, and, hopefully, our paths will cross again soon!

Is Higher Ed “linked”?

From karmahire.com

From karmahire.com

I realized I’m going to have to undergo a shift in perspective regarding job seeking and recruiting after reading this week’s material. Having spent the last 10 years in just one institution of higher education, I’ve been used to a certain laborious way of doing things.  I’ve probably been on 15-20 search committees in the past 5 years, and, as far as I know, we haven’t used any social media such as Linked In or FB.  We recruit via our website and some online newspapers and job boards, then we get electronic resumes, then we consider them individually, then we meet as a committee, then we usually conduct phone interviews, then on-campus interviews, and hopefully make a hiring decision.  This process is not very nimble and usually takes 4-6 months.

Since I wasn’t sure if this is just specific to my university or to higher ed as a whole, I did some research and found that we’re probably a little late in adopting newer methods, but our field as a whole is still lagging.  In “Web 2.0 in Higher Education Recruitment,” Rob Friedman explains only about 20% of recruiters look to social networks for recruiting and most job seekers are still looking at online job boards. The study also noted that most professionals in higher education are using Linked In to do their networking and the article echoed the cautionary tone of Qualman and Maggiani and Marshall (“Using Linked In to Get Work”) saying, “The utilization of social networks makes it more important for job seekers and representatives of colleges and universities that what people see about them personally is consistent with the image they wish to publicize” (www.higheredjobs.com). Interestingly, the other social media sites professionals are using are Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, and Second Life.

from gridworks.sl

How would professional networking work at Second Life?
http://www.gridworks.sl

Second Life?  How would that work since everyone is a “persona” and doesn’t really know who anyone else is or what they do? Seriously, if anyone knows the answer to this, I’d be interested since I couldn’t find much in my research. Also, if anyone else is working in higher ed, I’d be interested to hear if you’re using SM in recruiting.

It’s hard not to find Qualman engaging, but sometimes his claims seem so contradictory. For example, regarding recruitment through social media, he says “all of this newfound transparency from social business networks is a godsend for employers” (225). Yet, just a few pages later he warns people that “unflattering items should proactively be removed from the public eye” (229).  Of resumes, he says that recruiters used to have to “read between the lines” (225) to get a good sense of the candidate.  How is that any different than reading between the lines of a Linked In profile that has been wiped squeaky-clean?  I think SM is probably more efficient, more convenient, and quicker (which we in higher education could use), but I’m not sure I’m convinced that it’s any more transparent.

Speaking of transparency, I’d hate to be in the shoes of that University of Iowa grad student who accidentally emailed naked pictures of herself to her students. When you think of the potential multiplying effect of those emails getting forwarded, that’s probably not something she’s ever going to be able to “scrub” from her public record (See the story by Lisa Gutierrez at the Kansas City Star/Ihttp://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/24/4574427/iowa-teaching-assistant-accidentally.htmlowa).

The “Human+Machine Culture” by Bernadette Longo probably took me to mental places I really didn’t want to visit. In her discussion of culture and community, she writes “Human+machine culture represents both the hope of freedom from inhuman work and the fear that humans will not be able to control the machines they had made in their own image” (166). She says that technical communicators are in a position of “knowledge making authority” (166) and earlier refers to “the scientific knowledge system sustained through technical communication” (165).

When I read material like this, I worry that I am pursuing the wrong degree.  I sort of “glommed” on to the “P” in the MSTPC Program, thinking more of developing myself as a “professional” writer rather than as a technical writer, but most of what I read in my classes seems to focus on the “technical.” Is that because the means by which we communicate are “technological” or do most people envision themselves entering a “scientific knowledge system”? Am I thinking straight in aspiring to the P rather than the T?

I sometimes worry that the "T" is both literally and figuratively at the center of my degree

I sometimes worry that the “T” is both literally and figuratively at the center of my degree

I guess I need to start thinking about these things if I’m going to get my Linked In profile updated and polished.  That reminds me of some other advice Qualman gives: “if job seekers share a common name with an individual that is less than scrupulous, then the job seeker needs to make certain the employer knows that the person is not them, but rather someone else with the same name” (229).

So, I guess I’m going to have to make a big note on my profile:

from vimeo.com

from vimeo.com

“Please don’t confuse me with Evelyn Martens, the serial killer.”

Is our digital culture a positive or a negative?

Our culture really has become a digital one.  Some of the reading this week reminded me of Turkle’s reading.  People do value human connections, but are electronics really satisfying that need?  It seems we feel valued when we’re a part of a community, but how is that really fulfilling our need to connect with each other?

Image

http://blackcoffeetwosugars.blogspot.com/

I remember before this digital culture having to look in the newspaper to try to find a job to apply to instead of going on Monster.com or LinkedIn.  I do think that LinkedIn can be a great tool to find a job.  The recommendations on LinkedIn are very helpful to a potential employer.  You have to be careful what you post on LinkedIn, even if your profile is private you might be connected with your current boss.  It’s important to take advantage of the confidentiality tools LinkedIn offers, as well as be smart about what you post.

I agree with this article that states either you use LinkedIn right, meaning you have a full profile and are active in groups, or you don’t use it at all.  Just having a LinkedIn and not using it doesn’t help you.

http://jobsearch.about.com/b/2013/10/05/dont-waste-your-time-on-linkedin.htm

As part of the digital culture comes the Glass House generation.  I thought this name was interesting considering it’s very true.  It’s very easy to find information about people with online profiles.  A coworker of mine told me that the restriction for 13 – 17 year olds to keep their profile private has been lifted this week.  I can’t say that I agree with this.  I think if they can choose to post publicly that can open them up for danger of strangers knowing where they’re going.  But maybe it’s a good thing and can help cut down things like underage drinking because they’ll be more visibility to them.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/facebook-teens-can-now-post-publicly-but-posts-are-friends-only-by-default/2013/10/16/57d5051c-3682-11e3-be86-6aeaa439845b_story.html

Apps like the Find My Friends app also provides more visibility into where people are.  Two friends of mine are engaged and they use this app to check up on where each other is.  I remember one day one of my friends told me she was at the doctor and her fiancé seemed to be gambling at a casino and went without telling her he was going.  It seems like these apps are set up for people with trust issues.  I remember growing up when my dad wasn’t home from work at the “normal time” we just looked out  the window and waited.  We couldn’t call his cell phone to ask where he was and when he’d be home.

Image

https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/find-my-friends/id466122094?mt=8

I liked the part of the reading that covered the way search engines make money.  As I’ve said before, I worked for an order management software that hosted websites.  Clients asked us all the time about how to get their site higher in search engines and would pay us to do special work on their site to increase their rankings.  The software also allowed people to use what we called source codes.  This would allow a user to create different codes for the different places they advertise to see what the most productive ads are.  For example, if they have an ad on Google, they can enter the URL of the ad and assign a code to it.  Whenever a shopper would come to their site from that URL, that code would be placed on their profile.  Reports could be run to see how many of those clicks resulted in orders, and what the order size was.

The types of tracking and information we can uncover can have some positives, such as businesses knowing where to put more of their advertising dollars.  But we need to be aware of the negatives, like keeping children safe as well.  I guess we’ll see where some of these changes get us in the near future.

healthcare.gov: A “crash” course for this week’s readings

"The system is down at the moment," from healthcare.gov. is not the sort of message digitallandfill is hoping to inspire in its "5 new rules of customer engagement" post.  Read the entire post at http://www.digitallandfill.org/2013/09/5-new-rules-of-customer-engagement-gd13.html

“The system is down at the moment,” from healthcare.gov. is not the sort of message digitallandfill is hoping to inspire in its “5 new rules of customer engagement” post.
Read the entire post at http://www.digitallandfill.org/2013/09/5-new-rules-of-customer-engagement-gd13.html

I would rather avoid a discussion of health care policy and politics, and I don’t plan to address those for the most part, but this week’s reading and the healthcare.gov. “hubbub” seem too convergent to ignore.Michael Salvo and Paula Rosinski remind us that “As soon as a design is out of the author’s hand and launched into the world, we see how effective that design can be in use … We make our information spaces, and then these spaces make us and impact our communication―always returning to the human genesis of the space, yet not always under the immediate control of the users (or designers) of that information space”  (In “Information Design”).

As Moore put it in “A Sea Change in Enterprise IT, “organizations are facing an avalanche of information” as they change from systems of record to systems of engagement and “Best practices in this new world are scarce.”

Well, they seem to be scarce this month for sure.

"We have a lot of visitors on this site right now.  Please stay on this page." From slate.com http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2013/10/problems_with_healthcare_gov_cronyism_bad_management_and_too_many_cooks.html

“We have a lot of visitors on this site right now.
Please stay on this page.”
From slate.com
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/bitwise/2013/10/problems_with_healthcare_gov_cronyism_bad_management_and_too_many_cooks.html

What went wrong with Healthcare.gov?

But, back in the spring and over the summer, experts involved in the development and elsewhere were talking about the potential of the Website in much the celebratory tone of Qualman in Socialnomics, without some of the cautionary tones of Moore’s white paper.  Both are very clear about the speed of change, but Moore’s quotes from a number of CIOs in 2011 (“We are grappling with this”; “Nobody has figured this out”; and “whether we want it or not, it is coming in”) suggests more trepidation and is somewhat predictive of healthcare.gov.

As I’ve confessed and lamented often, I’m not terribly tech savvy, but from what I can gather, there were some missteps in creating the “information architecture” that characterizes the site. What the developers and designers were celebrating back in the spring was that the site would have a content management system-free philosophy that would make for a “completely static website,” using Jekyll and Github, which was supposed to result in an “incredibly fast and reliable website,” according to an April 10 post at the HHS.gov blog site by David Cole, one of the designers from Development Seed, one of the websites designers.

According to Brian Sivik, Chief Technology Officer at HHS who was quoted in an article in The Atlantic Monthly, its use of social coding is built in a way that’s “open, transparent and enables updates. This is better than a big block of proprietary code locked up in a CMS [content management system].” I mean, the very title of the Atlantic Monthly article is celebrating democracy: “Healthcare.gov: Code Developed by the People and for the People, Released Back to the People.” (See the full article at http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/06/healthcaregov-code-developed-by-the-people-and-for-the-people-released-back-to-the-people/277295/)

So, as I read through any number of articles trying to figure out “what went wrong?” I tried to keep my focus on the role of technical communicators, rather than policy makers, politicians, self-interested CEO’s and CIO’s, software developers, and code writers, but then I started thinking that my thinking is antithetical almost everything I’ve been reading in my classes for the MSTPC program: “We are not merely writers anymore.  Now we are editors, information architects, project managers, client liaisons, and more” (135) as Hart-Davidson reminds us this week in “Content Management.”  So, there are probably many technical communicators caught in this morass or, alternately, learning opportunity, depending how you view it the current problems at healthcare.gov.

John Pavley at the Huffington Post does see it as an opportunity for the “bi-directional” experience Moore, Qualman, and others have described. “If they want to live up to their initial promise and completely open-source the code on GitHub.com, I’d bet thousands of developers would volunteer to fix all of their bugs for them. That’s the power of open source and open government: Other people are invested in fixing your problems for you!” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-pavley/obamacare-website-problems_b_4057618.html)

Content Management Meet Up in Milwaukee

The Content Management System Meetup in Milwaukee began with  "Let's get ready to rumble!" Image from http://anything-digital.com/blog/events/what-cms-is-best-cms-showdown-results-after-milwaukee-meetup.html

The Content Management System Meetup in Milwaukee began with
“Let’s get ready to rumble!”
Image from http://anything-digital.com/blog/events/what-cms-is-best-cms-showdown-results-after-milwaukee-meetup.html

So, all that reading about the CMS-free healthcare.gov experience got me curious about what are considered “good” content management systems, so I tried to root out some reliable information and came across this CMS “Showdown” in Milwaukee in May.  It’s not an “academic” source, but I found it enlightening in that it shows how such providers think it’s important to talk about CMS. The showdown was between 6 CMS providers: Sitecore, ModX, WordPress, Drupal, Concrete5, and Joomla.

The Fight Club meetup metaphor was funny but not really typical of the communication, according to the write up by Jessica Dunbar at anythingdigital.com (May 14).  It seemed to me to be pretty communal, in a sense, with quick pitches for each product (3-5 minutes), perhaps a little tag line or branding (ModX – “Creative freedom”; “We like to say that WordPress is both free and priceless at the same time”; “Come for the software, stay for the community” [at Drupal]).

This was the only visual aid used at the CMS Milwaukee Meetup, which I found odd for a bunch of "information architects" who should be visual thinkers.   The article from allthingsdigital.com also includes a YouTube video for the Drupal Song.  I'm thinking those guys might want to keep their day jobs.

This was the only visual aid used at the CMS Milwaukee Meetup, which I found odd for a bunch of “information architects” who should be visual thinkers.
The article from allthingsdigital.com also includes a YouTube video for the Drupal Song. I’m thinking those guys might want to keep their day jobs.

A representative for Joomla declared, “Joomla! is a extremely customizable and adaptable for Enterprise, SMBs, NPOs and beyond.”  Joomla was the only representative to bring a comparison chart, so perhaps that’s why it won. At the same time the writer of the article declared himself the only judge, so maybe that’s why it won.

The good news for me?  I’m actually starting to understand what some of this means….

Are Targeted Ads and Facebook controlling where we spend our money?

I find the concept of socialommerce interesting.  I think we all know when we’re on a website that they can track what we’re doing, such as where we’re clicking and how long we’re on each page.  In my last job at an order management software company I saw these concepts a lot.  In addition to providing a software to help businesses manage their orders, the company also hosted websites.  I learned a lot about e-marketing tools because of this.  Let’s say you go online shopping and you leave the site quickly without putting any items in your cart.  If you entered your email address anywhere or were logged into an account on that site, they can tell you were there and didn’t buy.  The company can send a special coupon to use to attract your attention back to the site.  But let’s say you went online shopping and abandoned your cart.  You can get an email with a different offer that is specific to the item you left behind.  Businesses will also send surveys for feedback from their customers, and most will offer a coupon to thank you for your time and opinion.  The example below is from New York and Company.

 Image

Businesses have so much visibility they no longer should be offering blanket offers because not every coupon or deal is going to influence everyone to buy.  Even in this rough economy, people will spend money when they feel they’re getting a good value.  I did some quick searching and found a study from The Network Advertising Initiative that stated targeted advertising increased revenue 2.7 times as much as non-targeted ads.  Also, it is twice as effective at converting users who click on the ads into buyers.  People will also be more likely to spend money on things their friends give positive reviews on and companies that have a good reputation.  I do agree that we’re at a point where products and special deals find us.  Over the summer I was looking to buy a car.  After my first couple of Google searches and visits to different sites, car ads were all over my Facebook page.  I didn’t like these ads because I knew what I was looking for and what I wanted to test drive.  After I purchased a car the ads were still on my page for weeks.  This makes me wonder how individual specific advertising can be productive for things that the advertiser can’t tell I am no longer in the market for.  Being I already bought a car, continuing the ads for me are useless.  That space could be used to advertise something I might actually spend money on, like the ad on my Facebook page today that’s below.  Birchbox sounds pretty cool, anyone try it?  I have to love asking for feedback on my blog post that talks about how we use social media to see if something is worth investing in!

Image

Facebook can definitely influence purchases.  This morning one of my friends posted she had a waffle and instantly that’s what I wanted.  I actually did go out to the diner to get one!  Our statuses also allow us to network.  Friends of mine are getting married and posted on their Facebook status that they’re looking for a photographer.  There were many comments that provided names and links to example work done by the photographers.  In this case Facebook did the research for them and instead of finding a photographer, a photographer kind of came to them.

I was surprised to read that there is so much tracking on DVRs.  I don’t know why this shocked me because everything is tracked these days, so why wouldn’t my cable company track what I fast forward and what I’m watching and when?  I wonder how they use this data.  I’d assume some of this has to be used to determine the popularity of a TV show.  As a rule, I DVR everything and watch it later so I can skip the commercials.  In the reading this week Hulu and their limited commercials are mentioned.  The reading states that these 2 minute commercials are more productive than a longer commercial break because people will sit there and pay attention for those two minutes.  When a commercial break is longer people get up and do things or fast forward through them.  I know many people that are getting rid of their cable and just watching TV online.  I wonder how we’ll see either Internet plans or sites change to support this.  It makes me think of cell phones and how wireless plans have changed to accommodate a lot of people no longer keeping a landline.

Image

The “Art” of blogging?

http://talk-radio.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/blog1.jpgBlogging has always been intriguing to me but, at the same time, has never been something I really felt comfortable doing.  First and foremost, I never felt like I had anything interesting to write about. I have a very normal (sometimes very boring!) life with kids who rarely give us trouble and aren’t at that super cute stage where they are making major milestones on a regular basis.  Those milestones takes much longer to appear now and blogging once a year didn’t make much sense. After all, isn’t that what the obnoxious braggy holiday cards are for?  When I was working as a Realtor, I tried blogging as a “Subject Matter Expert”.  Well, I learned pretty quickly that even after 10 years in the business, you will never feel completely like an expert so why in the world would anyone ever want to read what I had to say? And then, of course, is that obnoxious fear factor side to blogging.  What if someone makes a comment on what I post and it ends up being a nasty comment?  Real Estate brings enough toughness into the world, I didn’t need to introduce another source for potential nastiness!

So imagine my surprise when last semester I had Engl-700 Rhetorical Theory with Dr, Pignetti and found out we would be blogging on a weekly basis.  I definitely had mixed emotions at first.  A little bit of nervousness and also excitement.  Sometimes we (well, I do for sure) have to be forced out of our comfort zone to do something that we found intriguing but never tried.  Those first couple of posts were pretty torturous!  To think that this blog wasn’t just the safety of the class members on the D2L discussion boards, it was a blog that anyone can find and comment on (that fear factor was screaming loud and clear!).  And . . . that is exactly what happened to another classmates blog post.  After the initial shock of the comment from the “outsider”, and several comments back and forth asking the commenter to have some blogging manners, my worst blogging fear had come and gone.  To my surprise, the world didn’t end.  And the blogging continued.

I still envy those who can just write about simple everyday things and make it sound so elegant and effortless.  Blogging isn’t as much of a challenge for me as it was in the beginning but I don’t think I will ever master the “Art” of casual written conversation in the public sphere where posts from years before can come back and haunt you.  I think I will leave that to my annual Christmas card letter.

Trusting Online: Finding Common Ground

To me, it seems a huge coincidence that one of this week’s topics is “trust.” As I wrote last week, my wife, Jody, found her grandpa’s missing Purple Heart, which he earned during World War I, on an internet site honoring soldiers who were wounded or killed in action. Jody wanted that medal back in the family, so she asked Mr. Maier, the man who runs the site To Honor Our Fallen, if she could buy it back.

According to Carina Paine Schofield and Adam N. Joinson’s paper “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” “Trust is the willingness to be vulnerable, based on positive expectations about the actions of others.” My wife and I felt pretty vulnerable this week, but on Saturday, when I was in Michigan, I received a tearful call from my wife that she was holding her grandpa’s medal in her hand. It was back in the family.

Purple Heart, Jody’s grandfather

Last Sunday, when Mr. Maier told us he would send the Purple Heart back to us if we covered his investment in the medal and research surrounding it, we were put in a tough position. Mr. Maier did not operate a store, he had no reputation as a seller, and we knew of no recourse if a transaction went badly. Should we trust him? If we did, were we being foolish?

Schofield and Joinson’s article identifies three dimensions of trust including “ability,” “integrity,” and “benevolence.” We weren’t really worried about his ability; shipping a package with delivery confirmation is easy enough.

Mr. Maier’s “benevolence” was a concern that needed some thought, though a week ago I wouldn’t have considered calling it that. According to Schofield and Joinson, benevolent companies and organizations look out for their customers’ best interests and do not exploit them. Jody researched average prices paid for Purple Hearts and found out Mr. Maier was actually asking less than what a lot of other people make in selling these medals. Considering the emotional attachment we had expressed for this family artifact, he could have asked for more money. But he didn’t, and we were starting to trust him because of his benevolence (and the research Jody did–trust doesn’t need to be blind).

Still, we wondered about Mr. Maier’s integrity–whether he would actually follow through and send us the medal after we paid him. In retrospect, it was his “benevolence” that helped us believe in his integrity. Since he wasn’t asking for as much money as other people were asking for these medals, maybe that indicated he would be fair with us and keep his end of the deal. Also, the nature of the website he ran showed benevolence; he was not collecting Purple Hearts as a for-profit venture. He was using them and the information he researched about the recipients to share online as a memorial to veterans. Didn’t we have to trust him?

Yes, actually, we did. If we didn’t trust Mr. Maier, there was no way the medal would be back in the family.

And the reality is that he trusted us, too. He trusted that my wife’s account of how her grandfather was wounded, her memories of the man, and the significance of the medal were sincere. He trusted that we wanted the Purple Heart, not so we could turn a profit with a different buyer, but because it had meaning to us.

So we all trusted. And even though we never met Mr. Maier or talked to him or saw a picture of him, I don’t think we are complete strangers. Through Jody’s emails to him, he was given a glimpse of some of what we value–history, connections to family, and remembering the sacrifices made by our elders. And through the work of his web site and traveling Purple Heart memorial, he shows us that we have a lot in common.

Issues of Trust and Control

Over the past 10 years or so, I’ve gone from not generally making purchases or otherwise disclosing personal information online to regularly doing so. I’m sure this is the case for many people—online purchasing and using the Internet for social networking has required us to become more comfortable with it, or retreat. In this week’s reading “Privacy, Trust, and Disclosure Online,” Carina Paine Schofield and Adam Joinson examine the complex relationship between privacy and trust and our resulting willingness to disclose information in an online environment. A lot of what they covered seemed like common sense to me. Perceived privacy contributes to trust; both are necessary for us to be willing to disclose information online.

Schofield and Joinson’s explanation of the different aspects of trust stood out to me as being particularly relevant to my own evaluation of a company’s online presence. I think I regularly (if subconsciously) make judgments about companies based on the following.

  • Ability, or the knowledge or competence of the company and its ability to handle my information appropriately.
  • Integrity, or the belief that the company is honest, reliable, and credible.
  • Benevolence, or the extent to which the company is doing right by me.

It’s almost common sense; I wouldn’t do business with someone face-to-face if I didn’t think they were competent and capable, honest and credible, and were taking my interests into account. Why should it be any different online? Admittedly, the stakes are higher in many ways online. After all, we’re leaving behind information about ourselves that doesn’t go away—ever.

I think that’s why providing users with a sense of control is especially important. Schofield and Joinson explain, “…where possible, users should be provided with control over whether to disclose personal information and the use of that personal information once disclosed” (p. 26). When we can decide whether we “prefer not to disclose” answers to certain questions, or whether we only populate the required fields, we maintain some degree of control. (For me, being able to indicate that I don’t want to receive email offers is one control option I greatly appreciate!)

Maintain some degree of control over information reminded me of the fiasco with Facebook’s privacy policy changes a few years back. Basically, Facebook changed their privacy policy, and users freaked out about it. Facebook addressed the issue a blog post, explaining in a forthcoming and straightforward way that on Facebook, people own and control their own information. This response illustrates that Facebook recognized that control (even if it’s perceived control) goes hand-in-hand with trust and privacy. By addressing users’ concerns in this way, I think Facebook did the best it could to mitigate the damage done to its users’ trust in it.

Information Society

Do you remember this band from the 80’s?  There’s no real relation between this and the article, Privacy, Trust and Disclosure Online” by Schofield and Johnson. but they included the following quote, so I couldn’t resist:

 

 

At no time have privacy issues taken on greater significance than in recent years, as technological developments have led to the emvergence of an “information society” capable of gathering, storing and disseminating increasing amounts of data about individuals. (p.16)

The focus of the article is on personal privacy and all the various aspects of that, such as psychological, physical, and interactional (p. 14), but one area that really impacts us is organizational privacy.  By that I mean, the ability of the employees of our customers to retrie ve and share information without exposing it to our other customers (their competitors).  We would love to implement the kind of communication that social media provides, but our customers are very concerned about keeping their proprietary information away from their competitors.  Even just letting other customers see the kinds of questions they are asking could give away some key competitive details.

It is hard enough to really understand the difference between your actual privacy and perceived privacy as an individual, but I think it is probably even harder for people to make decisions in this area when they are making them on behalf of their employer. This might be the single biggest obstacle to implementing social media in business to business (B2B) communication.

RUN! (Week 12)

While reading the Paine Schofield and Joinson report, the term “survival of the fittest” came to mind.  It seems that rather than having to be fast enough to literally outrun bears and lions, we now need to worry more about the safety of our non-physical identities.  We must protect ourselves from theft of our time, money and ideas, along with voyeurism, forwarding of information detrimental to our professional lives, and personal attacks of any number of other types.  Those who manage to stay in control of their own privacy are those who are fast and smart enough to keep ahead of the “bad guys,” or those who just happen to luck out.

That’s me… the one on the right. Probably shopping.

My husband and I have a friend who will NOT make a purchase on the internet.  In the past, if something he wanted to buy was only available online, he would come to our house, I would order it online with a credit card or PayPal, and he would reimburse me on the spot.  I never thought anything of it – in fact, my husband and I both think he’s kind of silly for being so “paranoid.”  This friend has never had a bad experience with privacy or technology, but he is a generally untrusting person and really, this is probably a responsible way of thinking.  He is, perhaps, one of the “fittest.”

Our family, on the other hand, buys nearly everything online.  Santa Veach has been doing all of her shopping at Amazon.com and Walmart.com and a variety of super-fun specialty stores, having a grand old time flinging debit and credit card numbers left and right across the virtual abyss.  I don’t think twice about it.  We don’t hold anything back on our very active Facebook accounts, except for things that I obviously can’t share because of security concerns at work (not that my friends would care, anyway.)  Our son has had a Facebook account since he was six years old, as do many of his school friends, although they all use false birthdays in order to allow the registration.

We are ripe for becoming victims of some kind of privacy issue or identity theft, but even acknowledging this fact does not convince me or my husband to back off from being so open and “out there” online.  It is just too convenient to have whatever I buy show up on my doorstep, even though I’m giving out sensitive financial information with every transaction.  It’s too much fun for my husband to always check in wherever he is on Foursquare, letting everyone know he’s not home and giving them a rough estimate of how long he’ll be gone.  Our 9-year-old HAS to have a Facebook account because everybody else on Earth has one, and he wants to show everyone the picture of the fish he caught, even though he’s in the age group most susceptible to identity theft.  I suppose sacrificing our privacy is a price we are willing to pay for the benefits we receive from our technological adventures.

The Human + Machine Culture and The Metaphor of the Ring

As I read Bernadette Longo’s “Human+Machine Culture” in Rachel Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, I couldn’t help thinking of Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together: Why We Expect More of Technology and Less of Each Other. It seems an obvious connection to me–both authors address the issue of whether virtual social connections are meaningful enough to satisfy our need for deep, real relationships.

In Longo’s second sentence she writes that as she works at her computer she senses that “other people lurk behind my screen–and I want a relationship with those other people, even if it is mediated by the machine that is a physical manifestation of the virtual relationship.” Near the end of her chapter, Longo writes, “Turning back to my computer, I ask myself why I simultaneously love it and distrust the community it enables. What is it that I desire in this relationship; what is it I fear?”

“Lurk”? “Love it and distrust…”? “Desire”? “Fear”? An odd choice of words I thought. Something was nagging at me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I needed to have another look at Turkle’s book to see if I could figure out what dark cloud was causing this trouble. That’s where I found it.

Part of Turkle’s book talks about always being connected, always having our mobile devices with us, and always checking them. She mentioned cyborg experiments in 1996 where people walked around campus with computers and transmitters in their backpacks, keypads in their pockets, and digital displays clipped to their glasses. One of the test subjects claimed to feel quite powerful, but there were also “feelings of diffusion.”

Diffusion! That’s it! In The Fellowship of the Ring, book one of The Lord of the Rings, before he leaves the Shire for good, Bilbo Baggins says to Gandalf that he feels stretched out and worn thin. Diffused, perhaps? The Ring (online technology) can leave a person feeling stretched thin and diffused.

Turkle and Longo are both talking about a fear not unlike what happens in The Lord of the Rings. Just as the Dark Lord Sauron and the Nazgul can see young Frodo when he puts on the ring, Google and Yahoo! and company can see Longo when she’s working at her computer. That explains the lurking feeling.

What of the love and distrust and the desire and fear that Longo wrote of? Isn’t that very much the way Gollum, Bilbo, and Frodo feel because of the Ring? None can really part with it completely. Gollum is driven mad by his desire to regain his possession of the ring, Bilbo leaves it for Frodo, but only with great prodding from Gandalf, and Frodo can only let the Ring go when Gollum bites his ring finger right off. They all loved the Ring, couldn’t completely trust anyone else because of the Ring, and took care of the Ring as the Ring made them more dependent on its seductive power. Are we too impressed by the seductive power of the internet?

Turkle explains the love and distrust and the desire and fear through the story of Julia, a 16-year-old girl who loves texting her friends, distrusts her own judgments about her emotions, desires comments from her friends, but fears not getting an appropriate response fast enough. During the interview with Turkle, Julia even mistakenly refers to her phone as her friend. Kind of the way Gollum refers to the Ring as his Precious.

Turkle writes, “Always on and (now) always with us, we tend the Net, and the Net teaches us to need it.” If we forget our real relationships and communities because of our virtual communities, then Longo and all of us have good reason to fear and distrust.

One Net to rule them all, One Net to find them, One Net to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

LinkedIn: Leveling the Playing Field for Workers

I think I like LinkedIn even more than FaceBook.  From 9 to 5, there is no site that is more useful than LinkedIn.  I think that what a lot of people miss is that LinkedIn isn’t just a job search site.  Yes, you can create a resume-like profile and actively search for work, but it is more than that.

As Maureen Crawford-Hentz stated in Erik Qualman’s book Socialnomics, “Social networking technology is absolutely the best thing to happen to recruiting–ever” (p. 228).  I’m not a big job hopper, but I like to keep my options open so I used to load my resume to the usual job sites.  Occasionally, I would get an email from a recruiter, or I might check the listings on the site, but that is just about all I ever got out of it.  I checked those site maybe two or three times a year.

On LinkedIn, however, I check it two or three times a week.  Not because I’m looking for a job, but because I want to check-in on old colleagues, or see stories that are related to my skills and interests, or post a question to one of the groups that I’m a part of.  It doesn’t just connect recruiters and job seekers, it connects like-minded professionals with each other.  And, the recruiters get the benefit of seeing all that interaction and can use LinkedIn members to help them to recruit the right person.

A couple of months ago I got a message from a recruiter about a job that wasn’t really right for me, but I knew someone that was a perfect fit so I talked to her and gave her my friend’s info.  She called him, and within a week he had an interview.  He was actively looking for a job the “old-fashioned” way and never saw this lead, I wasn’t looking at all and it found me, and I found him for the recruiter.

Also, as Qualman points out, job seekers also have the power now to get inside information about potential employers.  If I don’t know someone that works for a company, there’s a pretty good chance that I know someone that knows someone.

For the important relationships in our lives–family and friends–social media could be responsible for decreasing the depth of our relationships, but it actually increases the depth of most professional relationships.  In the past I would have had zero relationship with most of the people that left the company I work for, so any connection is an improvement.

As we have all probably noticed, there isn’t much in the way of corporate loyalty.  Layoffs are a regular occurrence and sites like LinkedIn can help to level the playing field for employees.  If companies can walk away from their employees  at a moment’s notice, it’s only fair that employees should have the same freedom.

Are You Content with Content Management? or Finding Your Data Doppelganger

Parts of Geoffrey Moore’s paper “A Sea Change in Enterprise IT” reminded me of Erik Qualman’s work in his book Socialnomics. Among many other ideas, Qualman’s book discusses how our internet searches, purchases, and use of social media can be traced, studied, used to predict behavior and react to trends, market to individuals, and increase profits among other things.

Moore writes, “In a world of digitally facilitated communication and collaboration, where almost all data, voice, and video are transmitted via the Internet, every interaction leaves a trace.” After mentioning the possible security and legal problems associated with mining and storing this data, he continues,

“At the same time, however, chief marketing officers are drooling at the opportunities embedded in these trace logs. Behavioral targeting is the new rage in digital advertising, anchored in the ability to infer a user’s preferences from their prior Web behavior, and to thereby present them with offers that are better tuned to their likes.”

I know this data mining is happening, and I know somebody out there has a whole lot more information about me than I care to imagine. What picture of me is shown by the digital traces I leave behind? What can a person tell about me by the pattern of gas pumps I visit and swipe with my credit card? What do all my computer keystrokes add up to? And really, how many people want to know?

EMC Corporation, one of the groups listed at the end of Moore’s paper as an AIIM Task Force member is interested in such information. They are sponsoring a project that is attempting to “humanize” all the collected data that we leave behind.

Rick Smolan is the creator of the project titled The Human Face of Big Data. According to their website, the project is “a globally crowdsourced media project focusing on humanity’s new ability to collect, analyze, triangulate and visualize vast amounts of data in real time. Briefly, here’s how it works. Download the app for Android or iOS. Spend about 10 minutes answering questions, and then give permission for the app to keep track of you, follow you with gps technology, and compare you–anonymously–to other participants. I don’t know exactly, since, as an introvert and lover of the movie Enemy of the State, I have an aversion to sharing too much information.

Besides the data collection part of the project, there’s a photo-journalism arm as well. Photographers have traveled the world to capture images of the human face of technology. Later, there will be a free iPad app to share all the information.

As an added incentive Smolan says users will be matched with their “data doppelganger.” Woohoo! Or is it more appropriate to shout “Yahoo!”?

Smolan claims that by collecting and sharing our data with the world, his project can illustrate “an extraordinary three-dimensional snapshot of humanity.”

Really? A snapshot of humans I could see, but a snapshot of humanity? Can data do that? I’d like to think there’s an element of humanity that can’t be measured and stored through an iPhone.

But I may have to try the app just to find out.

A Relationship?

I’m not sure that the word “relationship” means what it used to mean.  If I’m interpreting things correctly, young people shun traditional romantic relationships–they just “hook-up”.  However, according to Qualman, “Consumers today, in particular Millennials, and Generation Zers don’t want to be shouted at, they’d rather have conversations and steady ongoing relationships with companies” (p. 141).  So, we don’t want to have relationships with people, but we do want to have a relationship with our muffler shop?

I have a couple problems with this. First, when in the entire history of humanity have people preferred to be shouted at.  Just because social media offers an alternative to traditional in-your-face advertising doesn’t mean it wasn’t always obnoxious.  Second,  do people really want ongoing relationships with the companies that make the products they use?  I don’t want to treat companies as if they were friends: It demeans the whole concept of friendship.  When I contact a company it is either because it is broken or because I can’t figure something out.  I want to locate the information I need (wherever that is) and get on with my life.

Qualman does a very good job of explaining the technological possibilities of social media, but I think that Sherry Turkle does a much better job of evaluating the moral implications in her book Alone Together.  For example, I like the examples Qualman provides about the Fantasy Football Today podcast.  The producers of the podcast integrated advertising into the content rather than just using a plain commercial.  And they also used the “Tom Sawyer Approach” to leverage their audiences’ desire to participate to provide them with free content (p. 143).   He also makes a very good point when he says that, “Users generally want to be communicated with through the medium in which you met to begin with” (p. 172).

I don’t expect him to explore the moral issues around the move to social media (it isn’t the point of his book), but he never hints at the potentially negative aspects and consistently argues for the benefits.  Yes, there are some really cool possibilities with these new media, but there are limitations and trade-offs with every media and I think it hurts his credibility a little bit when he fails to mention them. Qualman even makes this point when he says, “By pointing out your flaws, people will give more credence when you point out your strengths” (p. 138).

First we were all professional photographers… now we’re all doctors, too?

Our growing dependence upon taking others’ advice is scary to me when I back off and think about it.  Seeking advice on purchases as Qualman describes on pages 89-99 is just good economical sense.  We can save a lot of time, money and frustration by learning from the experiences of others and have our eyes opened to aspects of the purchase or the item itself that we hadn’t considered.  But hmm… medical advice from Facebook friends and acquaintances?  I can see the sharing of home remedies and suggestions for minor health issues, as with the burn example on page 100 of Qualman’s book.  However, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t, say, put a photo of a mole on my arm on Facebook and take a survey as to whether or not they thought it was cancerous, then subsequently base my decision whether or not to go to the doctor on their opinions.

That being said, I do participate in exchanges like this all the time, as both the person asking the question and one of the individuals offering opinions.  Do I think I know what’s best for whatever a friend’s ailment might be?  No.  I just want to help and not seem as if I’m ignoring a friend’s concern.  We have a saying at work, “trust but verify.”  (I know, we seem to have a lot of sayings at my workplace, but they fit a wide rage of situations.)  We take our friends’ input into consideration, but I don’t think most of us take the advice of our social networking friends as seriously as Qualman makes it seem – or at least we shouldn’t.  I acknowledge that on further down page 100 he says that, “After their physician, nurse, or pharmacist, people look within their network from those they trust for good advice on medical treatments and medications.” He then further cites an iCrossing study that suggests that, “Some even list the advice from their friends above that of their physician.” Yipes.  Don’t get me wrong – I know doctors are people like everyone else, they make mistakes, they are working for a paycheck, and there are “good” doctors and “bad” doctors. But even though I have some pretty intelligent friends, I’m sure that in eight-plus years of medical school and continuing education my doctor and the Walgreens pharmacist learned something about health and illness that even my smartest Facebook friends haven’t.

From http://www.pagecovers.com

Hold on, Dr. Whoever. I need to get a second, third, fourth and fifth opinion from my Facebook friends.

I suppose the basis of my concern here lies in how disturbing it is that so many people distrust the medical field in general that they would even consider taking friends’ advice over a trained professional.  Often, if we ask six people the same question, we will get six different answers.  Isn’t it likely that we will pick and choose our favored answer, even if it is subconsciously, potentially ignoring something that requires medical attention?  We can talk ourselves into and out of things and allow our friends to convince us one way or another, but hearing a diagnosis or advice from a medical professional carries a certain amount of authority that our friends simply can’t or shouldn’t provide for us. We don’t know the big picture of our advising friends’ situation, even if it seems they’ve experienced the same issue we are asking about, but doctors with access to medical records can take into account details we may not realize are related to the condition. Qualman states on page 101 that the increase in our health care and medical equipment discussions via social networking is benefitting society, but I think this is only true if we apply a healthy dose (pun intended) of common sense, and unfortunately, not everyone has that.

Obama’s Blackberry

I had almost forgotten that there was a controversy about whether or not President Obama could keep his Blackberry until Qualman mentioned it.  According to Qualman the reason they were going to take it away was that all his messages would become part of the public record, “The reason for the discussion about whether Obama would need to relinquish his BlackBerry did not center on overuse. Rather, it revolved around the fact that his text messaging, tweets, status updates, and e-mails would be part of the public record” (p. 77).

But that isn’t the whole truth I think.  This is a little off subject, but Research In Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry, has a proprietary email service that runs on servers located in Canada.  Every single BlackBerry message flows through these servers.  That’s why when they go down it takes down the service of every single BlackBerry.  As I remember it, the bigger concern was the security issues around having the private messages of the President of the United States being sent to servers in another country and the fear that some hacker would be able to tap into it.

I don’t think that people were afraid that he’d text a mistress (cough, cough, Tiger Woods).  I think everyone believes that he is savvy enough to use a BlackBerry (or other device) intelligently, but it wasn’t as simple as Qualman made it sound.  Even with GPS turned off on your phone, the cellular provider can still determine roughly where you are based on which cell sites your device is connected to–a potentially bad thing for the President of the United States.

Ok, rant over.  Other than that, I think that Qualman made a lot of valid points about how social media really propelled Obama into the White House.  The way he was able to connect in a personal and direct way with voters energized people in a way that robo-calls and junk mail can’t.  Also, I think he is the first President to really understand and leverage the power of the internet to gather analytical data about what people are thinking about at a specific moment in time.  Why conduct polls to find out what people are saying they think, when you can go to the internet and see what they are ACTUALLY thinking and doing by analyzing search phrases and page hits?

Qualman used the flu to illustrate his point, “Comparing the CDC data to Google’s data showed that Google’s insight was roughly two weeks ahead of the CDC” (p. 71).  If Google can get a two week jump on the CDC, then how much of a jump did the Obama campaign have on McCain?

Symbolic-Analytic Work

About four or five years ago I remember having a cup of coffee with a lady I used to work with.  She had a PhD in English and was working in our group as a Writer/Editor.  We were discussing the current state of Technical Communication and where we thought things were headed.  She had spent her entire career in academia and had recently joined our company.  We had already started to go through a lot of layoffs and she wanted my thoughts on which jobs were the safest.

I told her that I thought she would be safer if she moved away from editing and took on more writing.  I told her that I thought management would start to cut anything that was not directly related to pushing manuals out the door.  She burst into tears.  She loved the English language and I think it kind of broke her heart that editors would be seen as non-essential.

She left our group and within a year we had no editors–we still don’t.  And now even the writing is going away to places like India or Poland.  I think that the group I’m a part of has shrunk by about 75% since 2000.  Two weeks ago the guy that hired me 15 years ago and the writer that mentored me both left the company.  Whatever TC was when I started, it is no more.  As Stanley Dicks explains:

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)

According to Dicks we need to find ways to do more “symbolic-analytic work” that has more strategic value to the companies we work for (p. 53).  This could be the old standby of doing more with less, but I think that most companies have gone about as far as they can with that.  If it can be outsourced, it pretty much has been

So what’s left then?  Where I work, there are still some people that write manuals, but they probably also lead a team of people in India that write most of the content.  These writers may also develop e-learning and flash-based tutorials.  I think that just about everyone else is dedicated to figuring out how we can use new tools and technologies to communicate to customers more effectively (and, of course, more cheaply).

That means figuring out how to make single-sourcing and content reuse work using DITA and a CMS.   For more than a year now I have been leading a team within our organization to move from a book/course based model to a topic-based model.  This includes things like:

  • Change management – How do you get people to buy-in to making such a huge change?
  • Development process – What happens to the process when we stop assigning book/course and start assigning topics or lessons?
  • Graphics – If people are reusing graphic content, how do we make sure it has a consistent visual language?
  • Metadata – How do we tag the content that goes into the CMS so people can find it, manage it, and reuse it?
  • Templates and Usage – What kinds of authoring templates and guidelines need to be created to ensure that content authoring is consistent?
  • Curriculum – What training needs to be created to bring people up-to-speed on this new way of working and all the new tools?
  • Content Structure – How do we organize all this information within a CMS so that it makes sense?
  • Pilot Project – What projects do we want to put choose for the initial testing of these new tools and processes and how do we use the findings to adjust our approach?

All of this is stuff that is strategic and that can’t be outsourced.  Doing this right could mean huge improvements for the customer as well as huge efficiency gains for the company.  Before this, I used to write books and my life was predictable, but I was so bored.  This is really scary and stressful, but it is exciting and meaningful in a way that my old job wasn’t.

I think that is what Dicks was getting at with his article.  Even though technical communication has gotten a lot smaller as a profession, for those that remain the work is going to be more challenging and more meaningful.  The club is a lot more exclusive than it used to be, but the upside is that TC will get more respect as we add more value.

“Thank you, old media.” “No. TY, new media.”

Qualman’s first chapter brought on this little post.

Oh, yes.  Old media vs. new media: the oft-discussed subject in the Technical Communication and MSTPC programs.  Both have their pros and cons, and I think that at this point in time, each has its proper place.  Since my son just celebrated his 9th birthday and we’ve been working on thank-you notes, I’ll go with this comparison:

Old media is to handwritten thank-you notes

as

New media is to sending thank-you e-mails.

Handwritten thank-you notes are a must for grandparents and other respected individuals. This thank-you media requires more thought, effort, and even comes at a higher monetary cost (stationery, stamps, smiley-face stickers, etc.)  We are likely to send them out with correct spelling, capitalization and punctuation.  Errors or missing details can’t be added once the thank-you is sent without going through the entire process again.

E-mail thank-yous, however, will suffice for close friends and other situations in which informality is acceptable.   We may let punctuation and spelling slide, and e-mail is a free service, so it costs us nothing.  An e-mail can come across as more of an afterthought, with generally less time and effort put into it.  We could turn around and send an additional e-mail correcting errors or adding things we forgot in minutes.  There is a more fleeting feeling to them, and recipients are not very likely to keep them once they are read.

Likewise, old media creates more of a record, whereas new media seems fleeting and fickle.  I think of watching a story develop over the course of a day, and watching the headlines change on CNN.com.  We can get very different information, depending on at what point of the day we check the website, and we understand it’s best to wait until everything is sorted out before taking the online news reports as complete and accurate.  Old media (newspapers in particular) gather the information once per day, so there is really only one opportunity per day for erroneous stories.  While the possibility of misinformation still certainly exists, it is not nearly as rampant, and it is not acceptable when misinformation appears in hardcopy print because we expect these outlets to verify their sources and information.  They, themselves, are often considered to be more respectable organizations because their reports are more reliable.

This might seem like a case against my argument, but it demonstrates that when old media gets something wrong, it’s a big deal, but when new media reports something erroneously, it’s no big whoop.

For similar reasons, I think we are more likely to keep, for example, a newspaper clipping of our graduation announcement rather than printing out the online version of the article.  We might see the article online first, but we would be prompted to go out and buy that day’s hardcopy newspaper for scrapbooking or archiving.  It is my opinion that we have a lot more trust in old media than new, but we are drawn to new media because of our love of instant gratification.  Humans are a pretty impatient species, and new media can give us what we want instantly.  There’s a saying at my place of employment: Do you want it done now, or do you want it done right?  New media does it now, but old media is more likely to do it right.

Blogging : Scary, Intriguing, Unknown, …

Dear E745er of Fall 2012,

Yes, to me blogging feels like writing a letter/email to someone – at this point. As you can tell now, I don’t have any experience whatsoever with blogging, neither reading nor writing. However, I am familiar with the technical side of writing a post, creating a page, etc. (on wordpress at least) since I have an online portfolio there. But I don’t consider that to be a blog. So, let’s say, I am an absolute BB (Blogging Beginner).

However, after reading the works concerning blog literacy, it was just outpouring out of me, means, I wrote like 1000 words within a heartbeat, which I don’t even remember when that happened to me the last time. Normally, I really have to work for each 100 words I have to write. Anyways, in the following you just find my most important thoughts. But apparently something hit home.

To get started and acquainted to blogging, I would begin with reading others’ blogs. Alex Reid’s article provided a list of the top 25 blogs as of 2010. In the next week I will check some of those out and actually see for myself why they are considered to be so successful. Actually, I am wondering, how many of those would be still on that list today in our fast-paced time.

Blogging also is not like something been written in stone or even printed. I guess what I try to say is that a blog doesn’t necessary have the life span of a book or even a magazine, but it can. There are no parameters anymore about how long would a blog last.

Also, Alex Reid lets us remember in his definition of a blog that all the content published on the web, (even emails and chat) is stored on some servers somewhere in this world and can be reactivated in decades and centuries to come. Even though you might have wrote a blog for a specific audience, you can never be sure who your audience will be in the future, when they will read it and how they might interpret it. How can you be sure that your message will be understood the way you wanted it to be. But then again, Shakespeare comes to mind. Do you think he envisioned that centuries later his works are still being read?

Here’s another aspect of blogging: Since we don’t have to go through the hubs of finding a publisher and getting our works being edited, it seems everybody can write and publish – no education, no costs necessary. What I would like to ask the community of this blog (mmh, I guess I am adapting already to the ‘new’ medium), how do we find out about the credibility of the author? To answer this question myself: It is up to us. As always in life, we have to decide what to believe and whom to trust. My dad used to say, “Just because it is printed, doesn’t mean it is true”. That still applies. Just rephrase it a little. As professionals, as students in this program I consider us being lucky, since we have the education to distinguish between the different sources.

Does this sound all pretty negative, at least standoffish? Ok, let’s see, what are the good points? Because of the publishing format, a blog can be read, reviewed and commented on almost instantly. A real interaction with your audience is possible which is unique in my eyes. During my work, I always enjoyed working directly with customers, to see how they use the manuals produced for their specific needs. So this is definitely a plus. Also, I can reach people not only in my immediate physical setting, but also around the world. What is scary on one hand (not knowing who actually reads your blog) can be a real opportunity. You might reach people you thought you would have never access to. I guess, like always in life, it is all about the perspective on things. You can focus on the negatives or on the positives. Here is my promise: I will give my best to leave my fears behind, to actually overcome them and move forward into embracing the many facets of the digital age. But I know I will have to push myself.