Category Archives: Uncategorized

My Relationship With LinkedIn (original blog mistakenly posted 10/31)

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

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

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

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

So she wins. I guess I have to pay up

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Keen and Zittrain’s competing realities can co-exist, but is technology really the issue?

At the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival, Andrew Keen and Jonathan Zittrain debate over whether the rise of technology is creating or replacing good jobs. Are there more quality opportunities for the average worker to find employment, or are workers being replaced by technology, leaving them with no option but to take on more menial work for lower pay while a few companies collect the profit? Zittrain argued the more optimistic point, while Keen could not find a silver lining.

I found the debate fascinating because, though Keen and Zittrain seemed to see two contrasting realities, it seems to me that both realities exist simultaneously. Through the use of emerging technology, some people are able to find new ways to earn money that better fit their lifestyles. At the same time, other people are losing their jobs to an automated process. In some areas, people have FREE access to resources that they would have previously paid money for, but the people who provided those services for a fee have lost their customers… but those services are also generating new and different jobs… but are the new jobs enough to replace those that were lost?

Before writing this post I decided that I needed to see some numbers. I looked at America’s most recent employment numbers, charts showing the rising and falling of industries, and reports on which industries are hiring college grads. Service-providing industries are rapidly growing (example, health care) while labor industries are shrinking (example, mining). As of this very moment in history, according to the couple reliable sources that I dug up in a short amount of time, job prospects are becoming more numerous, though in different industries than before.

Taking a step back, I realize that I am not an economist, and that this is a very complicated field of study. The reports I found don’t speak to quality of the jobs being created in comparison to the quality of the jobs being lost. Another factor that isn’t shown in the data I found is the amount of training needed for the new jobs. Are the jobs being added accessible to the unemployed?

Working at a technical college I hear a lot about the skills gap, where the unemployed population lacks the skill level to fill open positions. I also just learned of the term “grey collar worker” used to describe a highly educated individual who can only find lower skilled employment, like my younger sister who has a four-year degree in international relations, yet she has only found employment doing clerical office work. These two realities exist at once! There aren’t enough skilled workers to fill the open positions AND there aren’t enough open positions for the skilled workers! How can this be?!

Debators keep bringing up the labor market in the 1950s as an example of a time when the middle class flourished, people could find good moderately skilled careers that would allow them to provide for their families and send their kids to college. However, now that all of their kids have gone to college to get highly skilled training, some industries are hurting for skilled labor while others are saturated. Is this really solely a technology issue?

Bringing this back around to the debate between Keen and Zittrain, Keen argues that technology is taking the lower skilled jobs, leaving a large population unable to find quality work and Zittrain argues that there are emerging areas and systems of employment that might provide balance to this economic shift. My quick research does seem to show that employment is on the rise, though the industries who are hiring are shifting, backing up Zittrain’s point of view. After taking in all of this information, I am left with the following conclusions:

  • There is a problem in employment, but though technology definitely plays a role, it is only part of a much larger issue.
  • Our culture, as Keen points out, is shifting from an industrial economy to a digital economy at an unprecedented rate. This results in some industries being left in the dust while there are few constraints on the new guys (Google is brought up over and over), allowing them free reign to dominate the field, yielding profits to a lucky few.
  • Economic theory and public policy are straining to keep up with the changes in the market. Zittrain and Keen bring up Uber’s legal issues as an example. Are the drivers employees or contractors? What percentage of the profit can Uber collect? Does Uber have to provide benefits to it’s workers?
  • Meanwhile, there are either too many or too few skilled workers, depending on the industry.

The rapidly shifting job market in this new digital economy is leaving a lot of people playing catch up. Some are lucky enough to ride the wave, while others are struggling to stay afloat. Is technology the problem, or is the issue more deeply rooted in our society’s cultural expectations and policies that are still trying to catch up with rapid change? Keen’s arguments were all on point, but other than decrying the state of things, I didn’t see him offering any possible paths forward. The optimist, Zittrain, at least mentioned that we must face these issues head on, examine policy, change our expectations and move forward.

I look forward to hearing where my classmates stand on this issue. I know this is a huge issue where politics and values come into play, and I want to hear from other opinions. I am often surprised to find so much resistance from my classmates when I take a pro-technology stance. The way I see it, the momentum pushing our society towards a more digital age is a fact. We have the choice to meet it head on, embrace it and work out the kinks… or to dig in our heels and get passed over. Just the fact that the individuals taking this class are mostly professionals who are investing our time and money into graduate-level professional development means that we are all being affected by this economic shift, and we are moving forward! Tell me your thoughts!

Sources:

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Industry employment and output projections to 2022, December 2013

Michigan State University, Collegiate Employment Research Institute, Recruiting Trends Report Briefs 2015-16

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation – September 2015, released October 2, 2015

Communities and Committees: Mindful Contributions Win the Day

In this week’s reading of Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, we learned about the importance of collaboration and the attentive nurturing of one’s social network (online and offline). As I read the assigned chapters I was surprised by how Rheingold’s advice for managing our online communities almost perfectly mirrored my work week meditation on successful participation on committees.

This past week I excitedly attended my first meeting as a member on a committee. I can see you rolling your eyes. Keep in mind that I am an enthusiastic people-person with five years professional experience under my belt – which is enough for me to feel like I can meaningfully contribute, and not so much that I’m jaded about committee work. Also, graphic designers don’t often get to weigh in on college-wide policy. I sat at the long U-shaped grouping of desks admiring my coworkers’ professionalism, and keyed up to be able to represent the marketing point of view. I did get to add some good insight to the conversation, but I also contributed at least once when I didn’t necessarily need to, resulting in me feeling like I added more confusion than productive information. Over the course of the week I spent some time thinking about committee participation, college communication in general and how an individual can best use her experience, connections and insight to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. As it turns out, some of my conclusions were almost exactly the same as strategies that Rheingold shared in his discussion of etiquette while online networking:

Pay attention before you join in. (p. 163)

Rheingold’s first tip urges folks to remain a wallflower for the first couple days while checking out a new community. The culture, expectations and general vibe of a community might not be apparent at first look. It makes sense for the savvy web-citizen to take some time to assess the true nature of a community. If it is a bad fit for whatever reason, then everyone is better off – the individual and the community – not to force the relationship. Additionally, watching and waiting helps the prospective member understand what she is can uniquely contribute to the community.

In a committee situation, it’s less of the question of whether to join but what to contribute. Hopefully any new committee member was selected to provide a very specific skill or knowledge. My challenge is that in my eagerness to contribute I am tempted to join-in as soon as I think of anything to add. Instead, I should pause and absorb what is being discussed without the pressure to pipe up at the first opportunity. Just like in online communities, it’s important to understand the context of the issue being discussed, the tone of the conversation and the roles of the other committee members before joining in.

Assume goodwill. (p. 164)

This is crucial in any situation where text is the primary medium of communication. Any time I receive a potentially snarky email from a coworker I step back and remind myself how easy it is to misinterpret the tone of email without the aids of body language and a person’s audible tone of voice. If I still can’t get out of my head that the email is hostile, my next step is to call or visit the coworker in person to discuss. If there is a problem, usually a quick conversation human-to-human eases the tension. Most of the time, rather than malice having been the cause of the nasty-gram, it’s confusion or ignorance of processes, both of which are situations that I should be jumping to remedy.

Jump in where you add value. (p. 164)

I was talking with someone outside of work who I know has been on many committees, and I mentioned how all of my colleagues in the meeting were so well spoken! I couldn’t have presented those facts in such a natural way. I was nervous that when it comes time for me to step up to the plate I will embarass myself. The woman I was chatting with pointed out that my coworkers’ eloquence most likely came from intimate knowledge of the subject they were speaking about. When it comes time for me to share my expertise, I will find myself able to be speak with authority.

In the end, this all relates back to attention management. Overexcited hastiness can be just as harmful as detachment and disinterest. Step back, breathe and take it all in before making a move. Assume that coworkers mean well despite tersely worded emails. Calmly “ask friendly questions” (p. 164) until the matter is explained and resolved. Every person on a committee or employed in a company is there because of a specific skill or point of view. Keeping that unique attribute in mind can help inform when that insight is needed.

I’m sure looking back on this post I will be tickled by my enthusiasm for committee meetings, but I truly am looking forward to the next session, especially now that I have these strategies in mind.

A change in tone is needed to facilitate conversation between experts and a literate public


“Promote the notion that more info literacy is a practical answer to the growing info pollution.” (Rheingold, Net Smart, p.89)

“Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.”

“…Markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organize. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.”

(Levine, Locke, Searls & Weinberger, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, Thesis 3 and 10)

Last year I had an experience as a patient that changed the way that I thought about communication, specifically between experts (the doctors) and the increasingly informed public (the patients).

I had recently been through screening that revealed something worrisome. Since my healthcare provider is laudably transparent, I had access to the test results describing the discovery weeks before I had the chance to meet with a doctor and discuss. This, of course, gave me quite a lot of time to do my own research.

When it comes to researching health and medical issues on my own, I know that the internet is filled with misinformation, and that the doctors are the experts. I don’t panic, self-diagnose or jump to conclusions, but I do like to be as informed as possible when I meet with a doctor so that I can participate in conversation and ask relevant questions. I turn on my internet crap-filters and come walk into the doctor’s office prepared.

The day of my first informational appointment, the doctor swept into the room and introduced herself and her accolades. Then she described her observations from my test results, many of which matched nicely with my own research. However, the way she explained my situation and the tone of her voice made me feel like she was talking to a child. When I asked questions she quickly swept them aside and assured me that there was nothing to worry about. At this point I surprised myself and the doctor by starting to cry. The doctor was shocked, as she had just told me that everything manageable. It wasn’t the content of her presentation to me that caused my reaction. It was her tone of voice, and her dismissal of my worry that deeply upset me. She pointed me to a tissue box and made her exit. I changed doctors.

I was nervous about my second appointment. I knew that I was working with someone new, but my last experience was so upsetting. The new doctor came into the room, introduced herself and then knocked my socks off by her next statement. She said, “I’ve looked at your charts and I’ve formed my opinions, but first I would like you to tell me what you already know so that I can make sure we’re on the same page.” I felt like she was inviting me into a conversation, that she valued me. She didn’t diminish my perception of her expertise by asking me what I already knew. Instead she gave me credit and brought us both to a place where we could productively move forward.

The relationship between experts and amateurs, and the “company” and the “market” has shifted since the common people have had more access to information and better connection to each other. The authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto brought forward 95 theses that explored the shifting balance of power between corporations and the consumers who they market to, declaring that the people want to be treated like humans. Companies need only to look within to find employees that share a voice with the public that they are trying to reach. The consumer is getting so savvy that they can identify when they are being pandered to in a way that is insincere. “Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.” (The Cluetrain Manifesto, thesis number 25.)

On the other side of the coin, the people have a responsibility to become savvy consumers of information. We have access to more information than ever before, but it also runs the gambit in terms of quality and truthfulness. In the chapter on “crap detection” in his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold champions many techniques that consumers can use to ensure that the fruit of their online research is as reputable as possible. Among them are methods like researching the credibility of the author (p. 78), triangulating information by checking three reliable sources (p. 79), using fact checking tools (p. 90) and finding resources that experts endorse as reliable (p. 91).

When specifically discussing the phenomenon of patients doing their own research before speaking with a doctor, Rheingold is cheered that at least one respected medical source “has publicly advised doctors to teach their parents the kind of crap detection that licensed practitioners learn to do early in their medical careers.” (p. 91). If doctors can help their patients to be savvy consumers of available information they empower people to make better healthcare decisions.

In my case, it mattered to me to have a doctor who acknowledged that I was coming into the conversation having done my research. My desire to be prepared with a basic understanding as well as with questions doesn’t undermine my respect for the expert opinion. The first doctor had made me feel like she lecturing me, rather than bringing me into a conversation. The second doctor wanted to connect with me so that we could move forward together.

This is a lesson that I can bring into my work with end-consumers as well as with colleagues that are coming from different realms of expertise. Defaulting to lecturing only alienates the listener. Perhaps asking instead, “What do you already know?” is a better way to enter a productive dialogue.

BONUS: “Crap detection” was just one of many useful subjects discussed by Howard Rheingold in his book Net Smart. After reading the first chapter I actually bought my own copy of the book so that I could highlight more liberally and keep his advice at hand after the end of the course. Chapter 3 covers the importance of being proactive with your online presence. Rheingold discusses keeping up with Twitter and how he tries his best to be responsive to every post involving him (here he gives his twitter handle). I just had to put this to the test. Three years after publishing this book, would he live up to his claim?

Twitter response from Rheingold

It took him six minutes to respond to me personally. Needless to say, I am very impressed.

Does this qualify for extra credit?

Mapping Life

My house, could be run by librarians.  I have always had a little bit of insanity when it comes to cataloging information and trying to make it easy for others to access.  For instance, once upon a time, all of my household manuals were kept in one location.  Trial and error made me realize that this didn’t make sense.  The kitchen appliances seemed to have a greater need for me to be able to quickly access the manuals.  I moved them all to a special location in my kitchen and the rest of the manuals go in my laundry room.

And, if you don’t think that is particular enough, I have a sitemap.  In the event that a family member is watching my child, I don’t want them hopelessly frustrated trying to figure out the dust-vac.  I have a “map” of every appliance and the room where someone would need it.  It then cross-references where the accessories are for that appliance and where the instructions are.  Weird.  I know.

When I was younger, I actually thought I may need some sort of intervention because of how specific my brain was in categorizing the information that came into my house.  I used to file every article that crossed the threshold.  That got to be exhausting.  I literally had giant binders for topics.  It was a bit OCD.  I now realize that I don’t need to retain all information I come across as the internet is able to relocate almost all of it.  I have to keep myself away from magazines and let the internet (and the document designers) do what they do best, catalog the information for retrieval.

As I read chapter 4, I was all over it.  I have been doing most of it for years, even if I didn’t realize it.  My binders of information actually take a lot of work to cross-references.  While I know that I will only need some information, like when I’m cleaning or in the kitchen, for instance, I know my parents will access it randomly when watching my child.  I make sure that they can find the vacuum manual more readily than I would require it.  It is the first manual in my household binder.

This is much like the approach for structuring a website.  I know my audience.  I know what they need and I know where they will get lost trying to find it.

New look! Same great taste!

When your husband is a biologist you find yourself participating in unusual activities for a graphic designer. A couple weeks ago I found myself providing moral support by tromping around the forest after dark as part of a citizen science activity led by my better half. I had a headlight strapped to my forehead and I was sweeping my gaze across the leaf-litter looking for the blue-green reflections from the eyes of wolf spiders. I’m proud to report that I was a very successful “citizen scientist” as I located quite a few of the little guys. To use the scientific term, I had developed a search image, by becoming hyper-sensitive to the the minute details that differentiated between the shimmering slug slime and the spider-eye glitter (Happy Halloween!). My brain had learned to look for one very specific thing set of traits, and to ignore anything that didn’t match up.

Spider eye-shine search image

Spider eye-shine search image
(Source: http://www.jonathansjungleroadshow.co.uk/)

I observed a similar phenomenon when I worked for a tea company a couple years ago. (No spiders. I promise.) For a variety of reasons the company had decided to switch the format of packaging for its retail products from tins to paper boxes. As with the tins that they were replacing, each grouping of of the boxed teas (herbal, green, black, etc.) had a different visual theme to reflect the rich history and craftsmanship behind the individual lines of product. Some of the lines kept graphics that were nearly identical to the labels on the tins that preceded them. Some lines were completely revamped.

When the redesigned boxes finally hit the shelves, tea sales showed mixed results. Some sold quite well, but the line of teas that had the worst turn in sales was one that was completely redesigned. For all of the teas, customers had to look for boxes on the shelves instead of the tins that they were accustomed to. The tea company received calls asking why stores had stopped carrying customers’ favorite products. The products were still on the shelves, but the customers’ established search images were making them blind to the new packaging. This was very early in my career, and though I could be proud of how handsome the graphics had turned out on these boxes, I learned a lesson. Redesigns happen at a price. No matter how satisfying it might be to completely overhaul the aesthetics of a product it might not be worth the blow to customer recognition. Having an established search image can help a scientist or a tea lover quickly find what they are looking for, but it can also blind them to anything that doesn’t match up.

In the field of technical communication, the concept of ambient design is related to the effects of a search image. Salvo and Rosinski explain that, “effective ambient design helps users understand the purpose or content of a [document] with a quick glance.” (p. 120) Users create an entire mental library of meanings tied to visual cues. When looking at the magazine shelf in a store, a reader can quickly deduce the kind of content she would expect from Seventeen Magazine and how it might differ from Vogue. She doesn’t need to read the headlines on the front cover to know this. She makes her conclusions based on the magazine’s use of colors, typefaces, photography, and white space. If her favorite feature is always in the first twelve pages with a blue headline, she might flip directly to that page without critically observing the pages before or after. It would be a mistake for an editor to move that feature to the back of the magazine and use red headline, because the reader is already cued in to the ambient design with a pre-established search image.

These are the powerful forces behind a brand. A company or product establishes a set of cues that get filed away in the mental library of the consumer. Companies will go to great lengths to establish and protect a brand. For example, last year Cadbury lost a legal fight with Nestle after it attempted to trademark a very specific color purple. In the U.S. many people can name the postal service that deploys brown trucks, or remember the cause behind trendy yellow rubber bracelets that were popular years ago. Coca Cola’s brand is so strong that its name can be easily identified when written in a foreign language as long as it’s in the iconic white script on a red background.

Hebrew "Coca Cola"

Hebrew Coca Cols (Source: http://www.brandsoftheworld.com)

As a technical communicators, designers and consumers we can form opinions around the subtle shifts or dramatic reinventions of our favorite brands. What can we learn from the companies who make big changes gracefully, and others that flop? Is there a right way to tweak a brand without alienating your consumers, or is it always a negative experience for the customer whose pre-established visual language is being re-written?

Communicators unite! The parallel struggles of two professions.

A little while ago I made a pact with myself to quit the “graphic designers are misunderstood” rants in order to provide less angsty and more constructive content to this blog. Though my point of discussion today comes uncomfortably close to breaking that agreement, I think that the likeness between the history and struggles of technical communicators and graphic designers is fascinating. The profession of technical communication is at least parallel in some aspects and identical in others with that of a graphic designer.

My professors and more experienced colleagues have told me stories of how they adjusted professionally as PCs gained dominance in the workplace. From using rub-off lettering to meticulously laying down thin black lines in order to make a document “camera ready” for the printer, being a designer meant having amazingly adept hand skills and other areas of expertise which are different from what is needed to hold the same title today. When Macs with graphical user interfaces came along, my colleagues were immediately on board, many of them being the first in their company to have desktop publishing capabilities. As technology rapidly changed and improved, designers had to continuously learn new hardware and software. Often it was the same software to the same purposes as the technical communicators described in the first chapter of Rachel Spilka’s book (Spilka, 2010).

The Apple Macintosh, 1984

The Apple Macintosh, 1984
(Source: http://www.prepressure.com/prepress/history)

Yes, the basic concepts of design still hold true through changing technologies, just like the discipline of technical communication has always required the professional to use “words and images (whether stationary or moving) to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience (Scriver, 1997).” Still, the advance of new technologies have reshaped the day-to-day workflows of technical communicators and graphic designers. Learning new technology became a sink or swim situation. In the Communications Design BFA program at Syracuse University, our professors purposefully never taught us how to use the design programs we needed to become professionals, leaving us to figure it out on our own. They said that the technology will change in a few years anyways (and it did). What we needed more than to be taught the software was to learn how to be self-taught.

Returning to Scriver’s definition of the core skills needed for technical communicators, I would argue that the exact wording could be also used for graphic designers. Also identical between the two professions is the need to move beyond doing commodity work (which is easily outsourced or downsized) and instead shift towards symbolic-analytic work. Both professions must learn to, “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design, and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes.” (Spilka, 2010, p. 54) Spilka even used the phrase “pretty it up” when describing the perceived commodity work that is asked of technical communicators by clueless colleagues. A customer recently sent me an email with a subject line reading “Make it spiffy?” Though creating aesthetically “spiffy” documents is within my job responsibilities and skill set, I would rather be thought of as an expert in crafting effective communications. (Now I’m getting dangerously close to my previous rant.)

I appreciated Spilka’s edict, that it is our individual responsibilities to make the true value of our work visible to the higher-ups. We must align ourselves with the management strategies of our institutions and fully embrace the changing technologies and philosophies as they emerge. We must find ways to advocate for ourselves and let the true symbolic-analytic qualities of our work become apparent to all. Spilka goes on to recommend strategies for the technical communicator to do just this by showing how their work contributes to cost reduction, cost avoidance, revenue enhancement and intangible contributions (Spilka, 2010, p. 61). Though some of these tips can only be applied to technical communicators when taken at face value (such as “One method [of cost reduction] is to consolidate development of documentation, online help, and training to minimize the duplication of efforts in doing research, planning and designing communication.”)

My goal is to be unemployed

I work for a company that provides outsourced employees for a variety of industries.  I report to one company, but I represent another.  I am comfortable with this.  My loyalty can be bought for the price of my paycheck.  I can assume the culture, goals and procedures of the company that I represent, although ultimately I am not their “employee.”

My long-term goal in becoming a technical communicator is to be an outsourced employee, but without a larger “umbrella” company sending me my W-2’s each year.  I want to dictate the companies I work for and have some control over the projects I accept.  I am comfortable putting on that “company’s uniform” for a temporary time and then moving on.

I felt such joy when I read R. Stanley Dicks discuss the prediction that “many more technical communicators will be officially unemployed but constantly working.  They will be following the consulting/temp agency model that already characterizes the work of many communicators (Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, p. 59)”.  I am hoping to open a fortune cookie with just that prediction for my future:  “You will soon find yourself unemployed, but always working.”

The expansion of telecommuting opportunities is, in part, one of the catalysts that finally pushed me back into school.  I currently follow several job sites that focus on home-based and freelance work. Flexjobs.com and ratracerebellion.com consistently have an extensive list of job opportunities for telecommuters in all aspects of the technical writing field, primarily ones with technological competencies.

In 2001, I was on the verge of enrolling in a “technical writing” program, when a job offer–in an unrelated field–removed me from that path.  I went to work for a company I loved and put that plan on the “back burner.”

While I am disappointed that I allowed so much time to lapse before entering a graduate program, I am grateful for that derailment.  The technical writing program I was set to enter was very solid and respected.  But in 2001, it wasn’t very focused on digital media.  Within a few short years, their “technical writing” program became their “Technical Communications” program. It was completely revamped several times over the next few years, as they slowly began to focus the program more on the emerging use of technology.

Had I enrolled back in 2001, I would have been “getting to the party a little too early.”  Now, I don’t know that a 14 year lapse between degrees was quite necessary but…. At any rate, I cringe to think of how many competencies I would have been scrambling to learn within a year or two (maybe less) of earning that degree.

As I do work-from-home and spend a lot of time following web sites and blogs devoted to such work, I have come across many people who are constantly working as technical communicators, but as independent contractors.  I see a flood of freelance job openings in the field.  I have yet to find one person that lacks or job that doesn’t require technical skill.

I feel certain that the degree I was going to begin in 2001, is not the same degree that I will be getting now.  This is what gave me the final push to go back.  As I researched schools this time around, it was interesting to see how every strong program focused on digital media.

As R. Stanley Dicks pointed out in Digital Literacy for Technical Communication (p.52):  “It is important to remember, when discussing current and coming trends in the discipline, that they largely have to do with the tools and technologies associated with the discipline, and not the core competency skills that the discipline continues to require; that is using words and images to inform, instruct, or persuade an audience Schriver’s (1997).”  That program I was set to start 14 years ago would have given me “core competency skills,” but not what I needed to achieve my current goals.  Of course, I realize with the constantly evolving landscape of technology, there will always be new things that I need to learn to “stay on top” of the field.  I am reassured, though, that the evolution in technical communication as a whole, and the changes that have occurred in academia as a result, will enable me to start with the foundation I need.

Who Is Your Source?

Web 2.0 encompasses all of our social media connections: blogging, YouTube, Facebook, Wikepedia….  In the Keen Vs.  Weinberger argument (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB118460229729267677), we see two very different versions of what the prevalence of social media communication and internet access to information means.

Mr. Weinberger argues that while much of the information and opinions we see on the internet are not churned through some sort of “truth wringer,” we do have the power to determine if a specific source is reliable.  “Where” we go on the internet and “whose” opinion we are reading, is a filter of sorts.

This new media can be viewed contextually and is every bit as reliable as traditional media, when we apply a clear filter.   As readers,  we are capable of applying that filter on our own.

Mr. Keen’s response makes me feel like I am a child and he is a parent chastising me.  He confuses the amount of communication that goes on via the internet, as equating with it being “garbage.”  The abundance, according to Mr. Keen, renders is a virtual wasteland.  He leaves me feeling that I am too stupid to edit through internet information.  He doesn’t trust my own sensibilities in seeking (and judging) the information I come across.

Personally, I love books and magazines.  My house is overflowing with “traditional media.”  I have never been able to make that transition to paperless reading.  I don’t want to see books vanish forever.  I get the value and merit of traditionally published medias.  I know that the information has been filtered through an editor and the facts reviewed.  I agree that I am less likely to run across inaccurate information when I pick up something published through a traditional source.  However, I agree with Mr. Weinberger’s comment that I can easily access an encyclopedia if I need to be assured of “facts.”

The internet allows us to be as “intellectually diverse,” to borrow a phrase from Mr. Keene, as we choose to be.  Mr. Keene’s summary of the internet and our ability to assimilate knowledge from it, seems to completely absolve the reader from having any intelligence in the matter.  My “take away” from his response?  We are all too dumb to navigate the internet on our own, and assess the value of what we are reading.

I regularly scan Facebook to see what is going on for the people in my “Friends” list.  At no time, do I assume any of them to be experts though.  What my mother writes about politics is different from what I read in a New York Times post.  Goodness, what my mom posts is very different than what my super smart and educated older brother posts!  I understand who the writer is and I value their credibility in light of that.  Having access to so many opinions and people’s take on life, is part of the value that the internet and our communication through it holds.  The internet is an intrinsic part of our world and I believe most of us, growing up with the internet, have developed a filter, with which we take in the information.  It is an organic part of growing up in an age that is technologically centered!

Clearly, I lean towards Mr. Weinberger’s views on this subject.  As a reader, I can discern what is of value and what is accurate.  As Mr. Weinberger points out, the amateur’s voice still has value and can provide worthwhile content.  Further, I like that there are so many voices at my disposal.  If I am not educated by someone’s writing, then I am entertained or at least encouraged to consider the topic more deeply.  If none of these occur, then I simply discard what I read as irrelevant. I appreciate getting information from varied sources, even if they are subjective or lack scholarly editing.  My intellect  is an adequate editor!

Test Blog #2: User Beware!

It is easy to see why so many of us back away from recognizing social media as a serious communication tool.  Who hasn’t scanned a friend’s Facebook page only to see a post and think, “Eck! Why on earth would they post that for everyone to see?”  We have all heard about teachers who have lost their jobs for posting snarky comments about students or politicians who have lost respect for their social media faux pas.  The cautionary tales are endless.

And then, there is always that “friend” on social media who just seems oblivious to his or her inability to put together coherent thoughts.  While we may not judge them as harshly as we do the ones who make the ethical mistakes via Facebook and Twitter, we still walk away with certain ideas about their intelligence or attentiveness to detail.  When we look at the assortment of photos on a person’s Facebook page, we make certain conclusions about how they spend their time. With one click our comments, photos, thoughts, and stories can be seen by anyone.  People can access our list of “friends.”  They can see what sites we are linking to and make assertions about what is important to us.  Our life is naked for (potentially) everyone to see.  The opportunities for drawing conclusions, and often negatives ones, are endless when so much information is visible.

It’s hard to not judge someone by the quality and content of their social media use.  That judgment that we feel towards others, can translate into a fear that prevents us from fully harnessing the positive power that social media can provide us in our professional careers.  However, we damage our careers by not adopting a positive relationship with social media in the professional arena.

In “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759443/View), Hurley and Hea discuss the reasons many students are reluctant to accept social media as a legitimate and necessary tool in their professional careers, while they may utilize it–albeit cautiously–in the personal lives.  Within the technical writing community, “assumptions about professionalism and credibility seem too high a price to pay for (social media’s) use (p. 56).”  There is fear that one poorly thought out post or “tweet” will make us look incompetent or worse.  Your reputation or job may hang in the balance and throwing something out to the public that could strip you of those, can be scary business.

Hurley and Hea also point out that students have “concerns about the immediacy of social media–that users can write something and instantly send it to numerous audiences on the Web–suggested for them a carelessness about the craft of writing (p.60).”  That immediacy may seem fine in your social circles, where friends are posting photos of what they ate for dinner.  It may not seem so simple when you are representing your company.  But it is precisely that same immediacy that allows a company to reach the desired audience, with a message that is effective for them (the audience), at precisely the right time.  It can be an extremely targeted method of communication with consumers and therefore vital to most businesses.

Potential technical writers must begin to get comfortable with professional social media practices while they are still pursuing their formal education.  It is not for social or professional purposes; it is an intrinsic part of both.  It is no longer an optional tool in the technical communicator’s “tool belt,” but a necessity.

Test Blog #1: Loving my blogs from afar

I love my blogs a lot… from afar.  I have several blogs that sit largely abandoned on the hosting site.  They are all lifestyle and home related, all were brought into existence with passion and love, but I can’t find the focus and energy to consistently post to any of them.  I’m starting to think I’m only addicted to the “idea” of my blogs, because despite the lack of attention they get, I still shell out for the hosting and reregister the domain names when I get the reminders.

Lost on The Way To Blog

Some days I wake up and spend the entire day trying to get to the computer to get some blogging time in.  I am the only adult in my house though.  My roommate is my five year old daughter.  I will never cry the blues about being a single mom, but you are the only one that is going to get the things done that need to be done.  And trust me, my daughter does not make it easier.  I adore her, she’s a wonderful child, but she is five.  She is messy and into everything.  She has lots of ideas for me, and, for that matter, I have a long list of things I want to do with her each day.  We are mutual distractions.  We stay busy all day.

Every now and then, I will go searching for the forgotten passwords (since it’s usually been a while since I last used them and inevitably I forget them). She senses my concentration.  She could get absorbed in playing with Barbie dolls for an hour, but the minute I sit down at the computer, she smells that I’m doing something that requires a little of my focus. Within minutes she will be in the bathroom yanking my eye shadows out of the drawer and asking if I mind if she puts green eye shadow on my cheeks. (For the record, the answer is usually “yes.” She will only be little once.)

And when I do get alone time with my blogs?  

Every once in a while, I actually manage to sit down at my desk and get logged into one of my blogs.  I usually start out excited about the topic of my post, but I begin to struggle over the mechanics of what I am writing and question the content.  The clock starts ticking and I begin to feel guilty.  The list of “to do’s” starts going through my head.  Often I find myself wondering about things like “Did I pay the phone bill yet?”  A thought like that almost always means the end of my blogging time is near.  Inevitably, I will have to click open the AT&T site, just to check the due date and quiet my brain.   Once I find myself off my blog site, my thought off my topic, who knows what other “must do’s” will pop into my head. And if I wait long enough, my little pumpkin will come in asking me to help her put on her Belle costume… it doesn’t matter.  The end result is the same.  Another half written entry will sit there for a month until I come back and no longer remember my train of thought or feel interested in the topic.  This has happened over and over, too many times to possibly count.

Is There Hope?

Clearly, I never give up hope on my blogs.  The file folder on my nightstand is stuffed full of papers and post-its with topics and ideas I want to add… when there is time.  Alex Reid’s article “Why Blog?  Searching for Writing on the Web” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759448/View)  presents a novel idea.  Blogging doesn’t have to be a major event on my schedule.  I don’t necessarily have to clear up a whole block of time.  He mentions devoting just 10 minutes, a couple of times a week (p. 313).  He even talks about using a mobile device for frequent short posts (p. 314).  And Reid doesn’t seem alone in this idea that a blog can be done regularly without taking up lots of time.  Nardi, Schiano, Gumbrecht and Swartz echo this idea in “Why We Blog” (https://uwstout.courses.wisconsin.edu/d2l/le/content/3019142/viewContent/17759450/View) when they note that some bloggers post once a month (p. 42).  Instead of feeling guilty for neglecting my blogs or feeling pressured to write a full-length article I could start with baby steps… habitual baby steps.  Even on the busiest of days, there is a good possibility I can lock myself in the bathroom with a tablet for ten minutes, before anyone notices I’ve left the room.

Test Post #1: Blogs vs. more tailored publishing platforms

Blogging is a useful format for many people to get their ideas out into the world, but I’m noticing that it’s increasingly having to compete with other publishing platforms for my participation.

In their essay titled “Why We Blog,” Bonnie A. Nardi, Diane J. Schiano, Michelle Gumbrecht, and Luke Swartz observed five reasons why their subjects wrote in blogs; “documenting one’s life; providing commentary and opinions; expressing deeply felt emotions; articulating ideas through writing; and forming and maintaining community forums.” (“Why We Blog,” pg. 43.)

When I kept a blog as a teenager I used it as a journal. As a college student, I blogged while studying abroad to share my adventures with family and friends back home. Later I maintained a tumblr page that reblogged design-related images and links that I found elsewhere on the internet. I read blogs to learn about the thoughts and ideas of interesting people.

All of these motivations are still driving my online behavior today, but they manifest through other platforms. I keep my family and friends posted through Facebook. I edit and share photos that document my day-to-day life through Instagram. I follow designers, celebrities and interesting people on Twitter and Instagram, and repost interesting content through Twitter and Facebook. For me, all of these platforms are more centralized, easier to post to and to browse than a blog.

I am looking forward to exploring this class’s use of a blog as the nucleus of course discussions. As I don’t have a background in writing, I’m hoping that frequent blog posts and responses can help me improve my writing skills. I am curious, though, to compare my experience in this class using a blog to post our discussions to my experience in the other course that I’m taking simultaneously. In that class we post our responses to a discussion board. How does one format compare to the other?

Test Blog #2: The art of a tweet

It’s not hard for me to see how skills in technical writing can be immensely useful in constructing a professional presence with social media. The most recent example in my life is my experience of trying to familiarize myself with Twitter. Tweeting didn’t seem all that hard until I tried it myself. As an initial “lurker” on Twitter, I spent a long time building up a twitter feed full of interesting people and organizations without actually posting myself. On the surface, composing a good tweet doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult. It’s only 140 characters. It can be an offhand comment, or three words before re-tweeted content from another user. It can be a series of emoticons and a link. How could that be difficult?

Sometimes it takes trying to do something myself for me to be able to recognize the artistry in others’ efforts. Since I took my own name as a twitter handle I decided that it was a good idea to start using it to establish a presence on Twitter. I struggle. It can easily take me 15+ minutes to compose a good tweet. It requires consideration and skill to be able to compose an eloquent thought with a bit of humor, the correct attributions and maybe a link, all under 140 characters. My favorite Twitter personalities make it look so effortless. Now my goal is to tweet more often to refine my own skills, and hopefully to fill my account with enough decent posts for any interested party to kindly ignore a couple duds. After all, it’s under my actual name. I have my reputation to consider.

This experience of mine came to mind while reading “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” by Hurley and Hea. It’s so easy for someone who is not familiar with a social media platform to disregard it. The overwhelming cultural narrative, as expressed by Hurley and Hea’s undergraduate students is that, “Social media often influences writers to write carelessly and unfinished. Because the social media may just be a way to communicate with others, people often forget the structure of the English language and instead just abbreviate words in the quickest manner to get a simple point across, not leaving room for proper punctuation or spelling.” (Hurley and Hea, p. 60).

Before I tried tweeting, even though I was reading other’s tweets, I didn’t have an appreciation of the skill needed to be an effective communicator in this medium. Just like the students in Hurley and Hea’s class, it took to experience of actually engaging in the platform myself before I was able to see the talent that goes into composing relevant and poignant content within the confines of the media. These talented authors have to consider their audiences and make themselves a peer in order to appeal to their readers. Additionally, they have to distill their thoughts to fit eloquently into the word limit. While I struggle to improve my own use of twitter, at least now I have a better eye for what makes a good tweet. I can appreciate the contributors in my twitter feed, not just for their content but also for their skill.

Test Blog #1: Good, Better, Best.

good-better-best

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

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

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

Good

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

Better

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

Best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Civility in online news comments sections

I chose to write my final paper about an issue that’s frustrated me for years, the basic lack of quality and accountability in online news site comment boards. It always felt like such a disconnect to me. Here we have reputable news sources, the format of which (a newspaper, let’s say) has evolved over about 600 years to really reach a pinnacle of social necessity in the mid- and late-20th Century. Journalism has evolved into a profession rooted in ethics and the pursuit of meaning and truth for the purpose of educating and informing the public. Pretty lofty and important concepts, for sure. And then the internet comes along and there’s an incredible opportunity for news outlets to distribute information to audiences never possible before and to actually engage with readers in real time. Twenty or so years after people really started turning to the internet for news, these interactions with the public have devolved into virtual places belonging to trolls and spammers, extremists of all kinds, bullies and liars, totally inconsistent with journalistic values of truth, fairness, accuracy and integrity.

Referencing the expansion of digital literacy described by Rheingold, I took a look at a variety of third-party comment systems designed specifically to improve the level of discourse in comment sections, finding many features and concepts in use that align much more closely to the goals of reputable news sources than the lawless site-run comment system can be. Facebook Comments is widely used, as well as Disqus as embeddable comment systems. IntenseDebate and Livefyre offer communities centered on sharing and commenting on news links, and some new platforms like Kinja and a yet-unnamed partnership between the Washington Post, New York Times and Mozilla offer promising ideas in encouraging true connectedness and interactivity between journalists, editors and commenters, what I believe will be the next step in online journalism.

Thanks everyone for your entertaining and informative posts and thought provoking comments during this semester! Have a wonderfully relaxing break and a successful Spring semester.

Michelleim-gonna-be-productive-this-winter-break

Using Social Media and Corporate Philanthropy to Drive Traffic

Champions for Kids Facebook Cover Photo - Giving Tuesday

Champion for Kids social media campaign – Giving Tuesday (12/2/14). Source: https://www.facebook.com/ChampionsForKids

One of the aims of my final paper was to identify whether promoting a cause marketing campaign (Giving Tuesday) on social media platforms could increase web traffic to the campaign’s landing page on my company’s own website. In several studies of communication strategies, the effects across multiple platforms are examined. However, the focus of my final paper explains the Champions for Kids’ (a non-profit organization) campaign strategy for Giving Tuesday to engage employees in donating, promote materials on Facebook and drive traffic to the organizations landing page.

In my final paper, I first build on scholarship relating to social media and consumer behavior scholarship to identify digital platforms in cause marketing as a significant method of consideration for communication strategies. For the purposes of the paper, I limit the data findings to two platforms: a website landing page and a Facebook page. I find data to prove a correlation between social media posts on Facebook to drive landing page traffic and  the effects of cause marketing campaign in increasing a social media audience.

The digital divide and how technical communicators can help close it

My paper was inspired by my personal experiences from working in the mobile sales industry and encountering people from all types of different backgrounds that did not know how to use their mobile devices for basic functions. The main complaint I heard from each of these people is that the instruction manual that comes with the phone is not helpful. My paper discusses the vast differences in the technological skill levels of people and seeks to discover ways that technical communicators can improve or wholly change their methods to better help people master new and emerging technologies.

Web 2.0 and the Modern Workplace

My paper focuses on the changes Web 2.0 and social networking have brought to the modern workplace. Many employers have introduced various social networking platforms and software to enhance connectivity and productivity among the workforce. Benefits of these programs include facilitating open communication, compatibility with mobile devices for traveling workers, and allowing instant updates on progress and sales. Most of these programs and platforms can be customized to cater to each company’s unique needs, style and culture.

Although Web 2.0 and social networking offers employers undeniable benefits, it also has a downside. Companies may fall into the habit of imprisoning employees with mobile devices, and the convenience of impersonal communication could possibly shift the social dynamic. This paper will analyze the ways emerging media and digital technologies are changing our workplaces and social lives in the workplace. The pro’s and con’s of these technologies will be weighed, along with their potential long term effects on both companies and employees.

Necessary Networking

While reading “Social Media’s Role in Distributed Work”, I began to realize how essential social networking has become in the workplace during these past few years. It is true that many of these once “personal” forms of communication and entertainment have recently become the primary method of communication in many workplaces. Most employers are now looking for experience with social networking when hiring new employees, so I was motivated to research the pros and cons of this trend. I ran into an article on CeraIt.com titled “5 Problems with Social Networking in the Workplace”, and found these points highlighted:

The Benefits

Expanding Market Research

Social networking sites give businesses a fantastic opportunity to widen their circle of contacts. Using Facebook, for example, a small business can target an audience of thousands without much effort or advertising. With a good company profile and little in terms of costs, a new market opens up, as do the opportunities to do business.

Personal Touch

Social networks allow organizations to reach out to select groups or individuals and to target them personally. Businesses can encourage their customers to become connections or friends, offering special discounts that would be exclusive to online contacts. This personal touch is not only appreciated but may give the business access to that customer’s own network of contacts.

Improve Your Reputation

Building strong social networks can help a business to improve its reputation with as little advertising as possible. Social networks can boost your image as thought leaders in the field and customers/contacts start to acknowledge your business as reliable and an excellent source of information/products that suit their requirements.

Low-Cost Marketing

Once social networks have become established and people become familiar with the brand, businesses can use the sites or applications to implement marketing campaigns, announce special offers, make important announcements and direct interested people to the specific Web sites. It is mostly free advertising, and the only cost to the business is the time and effort required to maintain the network and the official Web site.

The Concerns

Social networking sites are applications and, as such, are generally not a problem for organizations. It is the people who use them that are a cause for concern. Social networkers, if one can call them so, are the root of five problems for an organization that allows social networking at work.

Productivity

One reason why organizations on social networking in the workplace is the fact that employees spend a great deal of time updating their profiles and sites throughout the day. If every employee in a 50-strong workforce spent 30 minutes on a social networking site every day, that would work out to a loss of 6,500 hours of productivity in one year! Although this may be a generalization, organizations look very carefully at productivity issues, and 25 hours of non-productive work per day does not go over well with management. When you factor in the average wage per hour you get a better (and decisive) picture.

There is also an effect on company morale. Employees do not appreciate colleagues spending hours on social networking sites (and others) while they are functioning to cover the workload. The impact is more pronounced if no action is taken against the abusers.

Resources

Although updates from sites like Facebook or LinkedIn may not take up huge amounts of bandwidth, the availability of (bandwidth-hungry) video links posted on these sites creates problems for IT administrators. There is a cost to Internet browsing, especially when high levels of bandwidth are required.

Viruses and Malware

This threat is often overlooked by organizations. Hackers are attracted to social networking sites because they see the potential to commit fraud and launch spam and malware attacks. There are more than 50,000 applications available for Facebook (according to the company) and while FaceBook may make every effort to provide protection against malware, these third-party applications may not all be safe. Some have the potential to be used to infect computers with malicious code, which in turn can be used to collect data from that user’s site. Messaging on social networking sites is also a concern, and the Koobface worm is just one example of how messages are used to spread malicious code and worms.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is becoming a fine art and more and more people are falling victim to online scams that seem genuine. This can result in data or identity theft. Users may be convinced to give personal details such as Social Security numbers, employment details and so on. By collecting such information, data theft becomes a serious risk. On the other hand, people have a habit of posting details in their social networking profiles. While they would never disclose certain information when meeting someone for the first time, they see nothing wrong with posting it online for all to see on their profile, personal blog or other social networking site account. This data can often be mined by cybercriminals.

Employers must be on the lookout for information that their employees may post, as this may have an impact on the company. People often post messages without thinking through what they’ve have written. A seemingly innocuous message such as “I’m working this weekend because we’ve found a problem in our front-end product” may be a spur-of-the-moment comment but could raise concern among customers who may use that system, especially if the company handles confidential or financial detail.

Reputation and Legal Liability

At then time of authorship, there have been no major corporate lawsuits involving evidence from social networking sites. However, organizations need to watch for employees who may be commenting publicly about their employer. For example, one young employee wrote on her profile that her job was boring and soon received her marching orders from her boss. What if a disgruntled employee decided to complain about a product or the company’s inefficiencies in his or her profile? There are also serious legal consequences if employees use these sites and click on links to view objectionable, illicit or offensive content. An employer could be held liable for failing to protect employees from viewing such material. The legal costs, fines and damage to the organization’s reputation could be substantial.

Do you guys think this trend is a beneficial one that should be continued considering the pros and cons?

References:
Kelleher, D. (n.d.). 5 Problems with Social Networking in the Workplace. Retrieved November 16, 2014, from http://www.cerait.com/5-problems-social-networking-workplace

What’s Wrong with the Landline? We Prefer Text.

Imagine this: You are at a dinner with friends, either out at a restaurant or in someone’s home, and know only one or two people in the room. Although you’ve had a lovely conversation with one young woman, she has excused herself to the restroom and you are no longer tethered to a conversation. What is your first reaction?

More than likely, you turn to your phone either to check the time or fill time.

Welcome to the world of contextual mobility 2.0.

While reading “Implications of Mobility” by author Kenichi Ishii (2006), I could not help but trace the eight-year-ago paper’s summary to new examination of mobility, as described by Turkle (2012) and Rheigngold (2014). The author’s work seems almost a forshadowing of current social forms of communication. The idea of contextualized communication has, since the paper’s publication, become a norm. For example, the author gives an overview of young people using mobile phones to maintain social networks beyond parental grasp, and that mobile phones “…[are] used to obtain freedom from family grip” (Ishii, 2006, p. 348).

With the decline of landline usage, the contextualization for youth using mobile phones has shifted to a norm of communication, leading to Turkle’s (2012) point that humans expect more from technology and less from each other. This, perhaps, rising from the idea that contextual mobility has “….enable[d] mobile phones users to communicate more freely from an existing social context” (Ishii, 2006, p. 350). Published shortly after the birth of Facebook, I see the author’s paper as forbearance of future events.

Perhaps most prophetical is the author’s illumination between low social skills and mobile use. Today, millennials hate getting voicemail, and prefer text over actual phone conversations. This hyper-contextualization of communication is pointed out in the author’s note that “…it is hypothesized that people with low social skills prefer mobile mail to mobile voice phone as compared to people with higher social skills” (Ishii, 2006, p. 351). Taken in context of Turkle’s point that “…Some of the things we do now with our devices, only a few years ago we would have found odd. We would have found disturbing” (Turkle, TEDtalk, February 2012), such as prefering text over voicemail

What do you think? Is Ishii’s (2006) work a foreshadowing of contextual communication mentioned by Turkle (2012)?

Our View of Social Media and Technology

Technology art

While reading Ferro and Zachry’s “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge Making”, I ran across the statement that:

 Technology ranks high on the worldwide list of tools promising to foster economic growth, social well-being, and environmental sustainability, especially in the global south.

I began thinking of my personal “northern” view of social media and technology, and I personally view it as essential part of my lifestyle. Although I’m sure technology plays it’s part in the economy, I see it on a more personal level. I did some research to see how people in other countries viewed the social media and technology, and ran across this article titled “Around the World, Net Neutrality Is Not a Reality”. The article examined the general view of technology and social media in developing countries, and mentioned that in Kenya:

In the United States it’s practically free for you to get on Google and Facebook, as Wi-Fi is almost everywhere or cheap relative to income. Here, that’s not the case, It’s a different relationship to the Internet when you only get it on your phone, and you don’t have a traditional Internet connection at home or work.

For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That’s not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business. That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life.

I found this article incredibly interesting and was wondering what technology and social media meant to you all?

References:

Talbot, D. (2014, January 20). In Developing Countries, Google and Facebook Already Defy Net Neutrality | MIT Technology Review. Retrieved November 10, 2014.

Inclusive Design for Social Media Tools

I was interested in the global aspect of Longo’s article and colloquium and the desire to bring the cultural implications of the internet and social networking to the fore. It was important to me that the needs and considerations of the globally disenfranchised were so strongly considered. Truthfully, I find myself often forgetting that so much of the world is generally without the networked capabilities I take for granted.

Longo had a point that spoke to me especially as a designer interested in the best communication practices between all types of people, across cultures:

However, as we embrace and use these tools to open communication and design processes, we need to look at cultural assumptions underpinning the design of these tools and how we envision  people using them. Through this mutual analysis of our audience, our tools, and ourselves, we are able to devise technology design and diffusion practices that profoundly include the perspectives and feedback of people whose lives are affected by those technologies. (pg. 26)

Especially in a hyper-connected world where the latest designed artifacts are largely of the digital, interactive variety, there are incredible opportunities to design interaction in the most inclusive and universal ways possible. Designers and writers today should assume that their works can be accessed and used by people in widely differing cultures and create with the goal to successfully reach as many people as possible. This is such a challenging aspect of design today. It is challenging to design for the entire range of participants in our own culture, much less cultures we are wholly unfamiliar with. The desire to create universal works needs to be accompanied by a drive for intense research and an abstract way of thinking that can allow the creator to place themselves in another’s shoes. It is a balancing act between clearly communicated content and accessible design.

Think about your own favorite social media technology, and think of yourself as someone from the Global South. How does the technology translate? Is the technology primarily word-based? This clearly creates limitations. Maybe there’s extensive use of icons, some of which have come to represent technology in a universal way (think of a “settings” icon, often represented by a gear shape, or a “location” or “GPS” icon, wholly derived from graphic interface of the technology itself). Some social media tools are very minimal in prompts design, relying on swipes and taps to function.

As we begin to collaborate and seek feedback from across cultures and continents, we may find ourselves thinking in terms of the most basic forms of communications. The universal solution might rely on a design of simplicity to facilitate and negotiate the complexity of the inner workings.

LinkedIn for Employment

Job Search

I have been actively seeking employment since early this year and have tried all of the job boards (Monster, Indeed, Career Builder), numerous temp agencies (KForce, Robert Half, Jaci Carroll), and have been visiting company websites for open positions with no luck. A good friend of mine who is an aspiring career coach always tells me to try LinkedIn, but never gave me any solid instruction. I created a profile a few years ago, but deleted it when I realized my cell phone number and address were showing up in Google searches along with my picture. I definitely need a new approach, but I was very uncertain of how LinkedIn may help.

One day while researching the benefits of LinkedIn vs. Indeed, I ran across this wonderfully titled article on ZipRecruiter called “LinkedIn vs. Indeed: The Apply Button Smackdown!” The article recounted how ZipRecruiter added both “apply buttons” for Indeed and LinkedIn and tracked the number of applicants that used each. The monthly results:

FEBRUARY
Indeed Apply: 6.9% (12,564)
LinkedIn Apply: 6.4% (11,599)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 86.7% (157,589)

MARCH
Indeed Apply: 10.1% (22,003)
LinkedIn Apply: 6.6% (14,377)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 83.3% (180,616)

JUNE
Indeed Apply: 16.0% (38,610)
LinkedIn Apply: 5.4% (13,017)
ZipRecruiter Apply: 78.6% (188,747)

The article went on to ask why the Indeed apply button outperformed the LinkedIn button, and came to the conclusions that:

  1. When someone gives their resume to Indeed, they do so with the explicit intent of finding a job or changing jobs. Even though LinkedIn has a multi-year head start collecting resumes, the majority of their users are not engaged in an active job search.
  2. Indeed is RAPIDLY building the size of their resume database. We asked Indeed for a run-rate and they told us they are adding more than 1 million new resumes a month. That’s a staggering volume of active job seekers set up to use the Indeed Apply button.

I found this article interesting as it seems more serious applicants are using Indeed and probably similar search engines. I have gotten most of my job interviews off Indeed.com and I truthfully think it’s an excellent resource. Rich Maggiani and Ed Marshall’s article seemed like a how-to for LinkedIn, and I appreciate the concept of connections. However I wonder how far connections of connections who are virtually strangers would go to act as a job reference for you. It seems very abstract and absurd, but it is worth a try.

Have any of you had any luck with finding work on LinkedIn?

References:
Siegel, I. (2012, July 18). LinkedIn vs. Indeed: The Apply Button Smackdown! – ZipRecruiter. Retrieved November 3, 2014, from https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/2012/07/18/linkedin-vs-indeed-the-apply-button-smackdown/

Image:
(2011, 10 02). Job Search [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://mbahighway.com/2011/10/top-10-mba-job-search-websites/

Communicating Across Cultures

I was especially interested in the topic of cross-cultural communication in Chapter 7 of Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, titled “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” by Barry Thatcher. I personally have always enjoyed the research portion of communications work, and learning about the audience and applying that knowledge to convey information to a particular demographic is an indispensable part of designing and writing successful communications.

It is because of this research interest, paired with a fascination of world cultures that I found the information in Thatcher’s chapter of particular value. I think it can be easy as an American to feel isolated from international culture, especially for Midwesterners and people who live outside of major metropolitan areas, so this article also serves as a reminder that our communication methods are particular to this culture and not always directly applicable to others.

My favorite part of the article was Thatcher’s research into websites of 27 universities around the world, looking at purpose, audience, information, organization and style in terms of the cultural values of “how a single person relates to others” (pg. 175), universal or particular approach to rules and norms (pg. 176) and the “degree of involvement across different spheres of life” approach of diffuse or specific (pg. 177) as illustrations of these cross-cultural communications considerations. When reading about this research and Thatcher’s case study involving Texas Tech University, I couldn’t help but think of Stout’s website and how, not surprisingly, it embodies many of the same cultural communications values Thatcher describes as particular to Western cultures.

Screenshot 2014-11-02 19.46.29

Like the Texas Tech website, the homepage emphasizes cultural values of “individualism, universalism, and specific orientation.” (pg. 190). This is shown by the featured image of a lone, individual student in the header as well as links that are specific to types of users the website aims to serve. The purpose is to give users quick and direct access to whatever information they seek.

The audience for the Stout website is those disparate individuals looking for quick access to specific types of information. Like Texas Tech’s site, it is “designed for the reader’s specific needs at the moment.” (pg. 191)

The information presented is, again, all about the individual user’s needs for specific answers. Collective and historic information about Stout and the Menomonie community is buried within the site. Many photos do include collaborative themes and groups of students, but the relationships are often vague. Language is at a universal level, designed to be easily understood by most potential users.

The organization of the Stout site is based on the specific needs of the audience mentioned above. The site as a whole is “highly templated”, much like Texas Tech’s site (pg. 193). The overall organization follows strict guidelines which dictate menus, headers and hierarchy, dividing information immediately along user types like “Future Students”, “Current Students”, “Parents”, etc.

Looking at these cultural values evident in a familiar website has made me realize how much I am oriented to think along these lines when organizing information in publications and website design without much thought about how else it could be done, certainly not in terms of how international users might prefer to be communicated to. As world cultures become more connected through the network, cross-cultural considerations become increasingly relevant during the design process, and I certainly plan on applying the concepts presented in this chapter in my work. Did this article make you think about the cultural assumptions you make in your work?

Endless Options

While reading Chris Anderson’s “The Long Trail”, I found that I could relate to mostly everything he was saying. It is true that my friends and I followed popular trends, but starting a few years ago, websites like Pandora began leading me to more obscure things I would have never discovered on my own. About 5-6 years ago I simply downloaded MP3 files both legally and illegally. It was a bit difficult to discover new artists, because I’d search for specific songs and people. I did the same with movies, I downloaded hundreds of torrent files (which ultimately ruined my computer), but they were all similar popular movies.

Ever since streaming music and movies became popular, I haven’t purchased a CD or downloaded a music file. I’ve even seen on the news that sales in CDs and music files have significantly decreased. I read a New York Post article that mentioned:

Total sales, including physical CDs and albums, digital downloads and streaming, slipped 3.3 percent year-over-year through June 30, to 227.1 million units, according to Nielsen/Billboard stats released Wednesday. The decline is smaller than the 4.6 percent fall music labels tallied in the first half of 2013. A 42 percent increase in on-demand audio and video streams helped to stem the slippage.

Apple has even caught onto the new trend by launching iTunes Radio and acquiring Dr. Dre’s Beats Music & Beats Electronics. An apple press release mentioned:

Beats Electronics has brought the energy, emotion and excitement of playback in the recording studio back to the listening experience and has introduced an entirely new generation to premium sound entertainment. Beats Music was developed by a team of people who have each spent their entire career in music and provides music fans with an incredible curated listening experience.

“Music is such an important part of Apple’s DNA and always will be,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “The addition of Beats will make our music lineup even better, from free streaming with iTunes Radio to a world-class subscription service in Beats, and of course buying music from the iTunes Store as customers have loved to do for years.”

I see where Anderson was going when he said, “If the 20th-Century entertainment industry was about trends, the 21st will be equally about misses”. What other areas do you see this change affecting?

References:

Atkinson, C. (2014, July 2). CD Sales Decline as Music Streaming Takes Off. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://nypost.com/2014/07/02/cd-sales-decline-as-music-streaming-takes-off/

Neumayr, T., & Joyce, S. (2014, May 28). Apple – Press Info – Apple to Acquire Beats Music & Beats Electronics. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.apple.com/pr/library/2014/05/28Apple-to-Acquire-Beats-Music-Beats-Electronics.html

My social network analysis

The structure and nature of networks is a fascinating topic indeed, and the quantitative nature of digital data makes analysis of online human networks not only relatively easy, but pretty insightful. I took Howard Rheingold’s cue in Net Smart to search for “visualize Facebook social network” (pg 203) and applied it my personal Facebook friends. What I learned revealed some statistics I hadn’t considered before, but more interesting, intriguing insights into how friends with certain social network strengths make up my top connections.

After a Google search for the phrase above and a look around at the results, I chose Wolfram Alpha’s Personal Analytics for Facebook. I had to register an account through my Facebook page, but I haven’t noticed any unwelcome posts, and the analysis was totally free and quite thorough. I recommend trying it out for yourself! Wolfram Alpha looks at post, like, comment statistics for statuses, photos and links, word frequency analysis on status posts and a lot of personal data in addition to the network analysis, the topic of this post.

Mutual Group ClustersMutual Group Clusters

The first complex network analysis was groupings of friends according to “mutual group clusters”, which, not surprisingly, seemed to group friends into collective experiences like family, work, and school.

The largest group (medium blue cluster on the right) seemed to consist my closest friends and friends of those friends, mostly people I considered in my “real life” social peer network. I invite these people to parties, go to theirs, we visit the same bars, know the same people.

The next largest group, (darkest blue on left) consisted entirely of people I went to high school with. This is a great example of a network that, to me, is strictly online and almost painfully superficial. I have exactly two high school friends I still socialize with on a regular basis, so most of this group is people I haven’t seen face-to-face for almost 15 years. For many, it is unlikely that I even interacted with them much during high school!

The next group (slightly darker blue in the middle-right) is family, including some of my parent’s closest friends. Smaller groups include coworkers I had at a newspaper group (blue-green), my husband’s family (medium green), and schoolmates from my undergrad studies (green-yellow).

To me, the most interesting set of friends were the outliers (at the bottom in orange and red), who each were assigned their own “group”. These friends had no connections to my larger network except through me, we provide for each other unique connections to otherwise unconnected networks.

color coded friend networkNetworked Roles

The second and most insightful network analysis assigned social roles to certain friends. These roles described highly connected friends in terms of their relationship to me and my network as well as their connections to other networks. This analysis gave me an important insight into which of my Facebook friends have influence and access inside or outside of my network.

Wolfram Alpha defined five different social network roles and assigned “top” friends to each who exemplified the defined role.

The first role is “social insider”, represented on the graph in purple. According to WA, “a social insider is a friend who share a large number of friends with you. Social insiders typically appear in the center area of your friend network.” My “top social insiders” include my husband, brother, mom, and oldest friends and would be important people for influencing my established network.

The next role, “social outsider”, is represented in gray. Like the outliers in the group cluster graph, “a social outsider is a friend who share at most one friend with you.” (WA) These friends could offer access to entirely new, foreign networks. My neighbor is a good example of one of my social outliers.

In green are my “social connectors”. This is a friend “who connects together groups of your friends that are otherwise disconnected.” This is one of the most important roles, acting as a hub to connect disparate social groups and affecting influence on several groups within a network. This role includes close friends and family, similar to my social insiders.

Next, in orange, are “social neighbors”, those friends “with a small number of out-of-network friends (friends of theirs that you don’t know).” These people are more integrated into my shared network than they are integrated into other networks, so they have a strong vested interest in the same networks and friends. This includes many of my older family members who haven’t established extended Facebook networks.

The last role is that of “social gateway”, “someone with a large number of out-of-network friends.” My top social gateways are my connection with very large number of friends. I don’t consider myself close to most of them as personal friends, but their potential to reach others can’t be underestimated. My top social gateways include my very outgoing younger cousin, a popular friend of my mom’s, and a classmate from undergrad who is in a band.

This analysis has been so insightful and while it felt superficial and egocentric at first (sometimes what Facebook feels like in general), it caused me to think about outwardly about the varied people in my virtual network, their inherent value and humanity as individuals with unique networks. It is a useful tool for those who want to reach local and new networks effectively as well.

You don’t need an app to detect bullsh*t

“We are immune to advertising.  Just forget it.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

There it is.  The secret of the modern day consumer.  We know this is all a game that is geared to make us buy stuff and guess what?  We’re not buying it anymore.  But, we are still buying.

Recently, I’ve been looking into purchasing a Chromebook for myself, but it definitely wasn’t because of some incredible advertisement I saw.  Nope.  My coworker bought one, showed it to me, and now I’m a bit interested in getting one for myself. So, naturally, my next step is to hop on the Internet and start doing some research on the different models, pros and cons, specs, etc.

As I’m researching and poking around on different websites, I decide I want to post on Facebook about how I am searching for a good Chromebook and am open to suggestions from my network of friends.  As I start typing my post, I notice an ad in the corner for the new Toshiba Chromebook.  Coincidence?  Definitely not.

I am immune to advertising and, in fact, it turns me off to a product more than it grabs my attention.  I’ve actually stopped looking to buy a Chromebook now because my experience on Facebook made me feel so invaded, almost violated.  I was actively searching for a Chromebook, I didn’t need some sneaky, “stalkerish” advertisement algorithm reminding me of what I was interested in buying.

There are many points in the Cluetrain Manifesto that make me want to raise my smartphone in defiance to big, faceless and emotionless corporations that don’t care about their customers. I don’t view corporations as “godlike” figures.  In fact, I feel a little bit sorry for them that they are trying to convince me that seeing advertisements for an item my browser history is loaded with is pure coincidence.

“However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.” – Cluetrain Manifesto

Precisely.  Let’s cut out the bullsh*t.  Stop trying to sell “my demographic” a product.  In fact, stop trying to sell me a product altogether.  If I want it, I’ll look for it.  That’s what the Internet is for.

The Attention Span of our Children’s Generation

KidsPhone

While reading Chapter 1 of Rheingold’s book, I was drawn in by the concept of being mindful of our mental habits. I thought the experiment he did with the laptop usage of his students was brilliant, as it it forced them to “start paying attention to the way they pay attention (pg.36)”. Having a family full of young children, I began trying to apply this concept to my nieces and nephews as they are a very unique generation that doesn’t  know life without mobile devices and using them to engage in the constantly updating digital media obsession. I grew up in the 90’s and throughout the majority of my life, mobile devices and all of the current forms of social and digital media did not exist. My obsession/addiction to constant digital and social media began in 2007 with Facebook, and spiraled out of control in 2012 when I got my first smartphone. However, this is not true for my nieces and nephews of 10 and 12 years old.

My siblings use their mobile devices to pacify their children, which by default led to the children mastering the devices. By the ages of 7, they had Facebook and Instagram profiles and found joy in updating selfies and getting likes from their followers (who were always immediate family members). When Rheingold mentioned using digital media as a means of control by choosing when to drown out undesirable stimuli, all I could imagine were my nieces and nephews on their smartphones at the dinner table, during church services, and in the classroom. I began to wonder since they started using digital media at such a young age, how would their abilities to multitask develop?

Rheingold mentioned the concept of “successful multitasking (pg. 37)”, being able to accomplish goals without degraded performance. I thought of my eldest nephew, he is 12 years old and an obsessive gamer. He plays his Xbox all day at home, and he plays games on his smartphone all day until he can get home. He is an average C student, and has a small group of friends who are all gamers just like he is. In contrast, my 10 year old niece is OBSESSED with Instagram, she’s on it more than I am and that’s insane in my opinion. However, she’s a straight A student, an incredible pianist, and has a large group of very diverse friends. Perhaps as Rheingold mentioned, she was either “attentionally endowed” or perhaps she has greater mental control.

I wonder how these children will continue to develop mentally and socially, and if digital media is actually harming them in any way. I googled the topic and found a few articles of questionable credibility, however they were very interesting. The site http://www.thetelegraph.co.uk had a an article titled How digital technology and TV can inhibit children socially. The article mentioned:

Researchers discovered that depriving 11 and 12-year-olds for just five days of all digital media – including television – left them better able to read others’ emotions.
Prof Patricia Greenfield, the senior study author and professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, said: “Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs.“Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues, losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people, is one of the costs.”

I wen on to discover an article on http://www.HuffingtonPost.com titled “Kids, Tech and Those Shrinking Attention Spans”, this article mentioned:

We hear it all the time — increased exposure to technology is rewiring our kids’ brains, making it tougher to reach and teach them. A Pew Internet survey of nearly 2,500 teachers finds that 87% believe new technologies are creating an “easily distracted generation with short attention spans” and 64% say today’s digital technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

These statistics are a bit troubling to me, and I would love to develop a way to make young children mindful of their time on mobile devices, computers and watching television shows. If parents monitor their children’s time on smartphones and gaming will it make them prioritize their tasks while on theses devices, or will it only make them more excited or anxious for their next opportunity to use them? My problem is finding a way to perhaps get my nieces and nephews see using these devices as privileged form of entertainment rather than a way of life. This would be incredibly difficult because it has been life as far back as they can remember, and it is life for everyone they know.

Less chatter, more meaning for companies through networking

As a big fan of manifestos and other calls for change, The Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 Theses really spoke to me this week. There were several themes therein that I found especially appealing.

The first of these themes is that companies need to ease up in the Department of Propaganda and Information Control:

  • People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  • Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  • Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.
  • When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  • In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.
  • We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

I remember learning about all the different methods of advertising in elementary or middle school, and I’m pretty sure it was in the context of D.A.R.E. I suppose they taught about advertising to strengthen my resolve against all the illegal drug pushers I would inevitably encounter who used tactics like “join the cool people, buy THIS!”, “you’ll totally get laid if you have THIS”, “you are clearly lacking and need THIS to compensate”. While I never met any drug dealers with such a corporate, consumerist sales approach, that little tidbit of education is knowledge I’ve applied to the advertising I’ve encountered ever since, and I’m proud to consider myself more or less impervious to traditional advertising.

What works on me? Facts. Tell me the facts, I’ll look into it and get back to you. A little personality that isn’t irritating helps too. Hold the b.s., meaningless claims, and parsing of phrase, please. This is the kind of advertising I choose to design in my graphics work (whenever possible) and this kind of relationship between company and consumer lends itself well to a networked market, I believe. Dispensing with the fluff and distraction shows a respect for the market as thoughtful, intelligent people.

Another theme I really enjoyed was the idea that real, live, human employees are valuable for more than propagating the company “image”, shutting up, crunching numbers and generally being treated like a thoughtless machine:

  • What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.
  • When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
  • When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.

In reality, it is “The Company” that is the thoughtless, inhuman machine that exists as no more than an idea, a construct, and figment of the imagination. It is nothing if not for the people that make it up, and I truly believe connections with those humans are what the future of marketing and customer service will evolve into as consumers demand access to relatable people for information and help.

The last theme I really appreciated was the idea that social media, crowdsourcing, and networking offers companies an absolute wealth of information to improve and create products and services. Involvement in society, culture, and community are what’s expected of modern companies:

  • Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  • If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market
  • Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  • We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay for. Got a minute?

The last point has always been a disconnect between consumers and business I’ve found ironic. I can think of any number of products or services I might use, if only someone would offer them! Now that the capability exists for direct communication between company and consumer, I hope companies will take advantage of access to consumers to help guide their decisions.

I noticed that the 95 Theses was written in 1999. Fifteen years later, there are companies who have embraced these ideas, but so many more who are stuck in old ways of advertising, controlling information and employees, choosing to dictate how things are instead of listening to how things should be.

Do you believe in magic?

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

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

Magic, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

We’re the assembly line

William Hart-Davidson’s article on content management was the most readable of our texts this week. Honestly, I didn’t really understand the first two, or when I thought I did, then I read more and completely lost what I had grasped. But Hart-Davidson’s piece was surprisingly a piece that followed technical communication practices and actually made sense (sidebar: anyone else disillusioned by how we’re reading articles by renowned experts about technical communication, the art of talking to users in the layman’s terms, only it’s all garbled academia? And yes, I know the audience is also academics; I just see the irony).

But good on Hart-Davidson when he said that “companies live and die based on how well they communicate” (p.135). And how he says communication is “why they [companies] operate” (p. 135). Yes, please! The challenges he outlines when it comes to a successful content management system are ones that I encounter daily at work.

While we have a network (two, actually) and shared folders, we do not have a company-wide protocol set in place to find the information needed. My day has at least one request for me to email a document to someone that is already on the shared drive. There is no documentation in place to determine where different content pieces have been placed (online, different ad pieces, etc.), and after reading the article, my takeaway is to organize our assembly line, to make it more efficient so that we can be a better end product for consumers.

Visual and Verbal, Communication BFFs

KeepInTouch-Info_icon

Out of this week’s readings, the concepts that spoke to me most were contained in Chapter 4, “Information Design” by Salvo and Rosinski. In this chapter, the authors approached much of the information design roles technical communicators have in terms of, not surprisingly, design.

I found the lines between traditional, historical roles of the technical communicator as writer and those of visual designer were blurred by the authors and this ties in closely with my observation that these types of information design roles will require cross-over proficiencies in practitioners as job roles and expectations are consolidated in the future. As noted by the authors, a base of historical genres and usability studies is a good starting point when applying both verbal and visual communications to new technology (pg. 106-108). Technical writers will need to develop aesthetic, visual design sense and visual designers will need to develop strong writing and reading comprehension skills in order to integrate both of these equally important, but traditionally separate, communication strategies into effective messages. Because writing is communicated visually, and visuals often use words to convey meaning, verbal-visual skills are inextricably intertwined, and ultimately most effective when used together (see image, http://www.jocelynwallace.com).

It was a difficult choice for me after high school to decide whether I wanted to go into writing or design. I was awarded a big journalism scholarship in high school for college, but after one year decided to try graphic design instead. Because of my interest and proficiency in written communication, I feel I’ve had an advantage to many of my designer colleagues. Being able to contribute or entirely create copy and writings for design clients is a distinct advantage over designers who don’t, requiring the client to create written content themselves, or hire a writer at additional cost. Even for designers who aren’t as interested in writing as I am, there’s no underestimating the value of being able to fully understand and analyze a design’s text components, and applying that understanding to create a visual design that is harmonious and appropriate. Basic literacy skills such as vocabulary and semantics, spelling, and syntax can save a lot of time, money, and hassle as well.

I’m currently researching for a midterm paper in a grad-level Design Education course about this very issue, the benefits of emphasizing writing and reading comprehension skills as a vital part of undergraduate design curriculum. To me, it’s just another skill to acquire in order to be the best communicator possible.

So on this same note, I’m interested in the writer’s perspective. How do you feel about utilizing or acquiring visual design skills as part of being an effective communicator? Do you see it as a valuable skill? Is it something that comes naturally to you? If not, do you plan on learning more about it to better market yourself or make it easier to talk with designers in the workplace?

Defining Vague Terms

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The two most perplexing and vaguely defined terms Spilka has thrown at me so far are “The Rhetoric of Technology” and “Digital Literacy”. I read the author’s 5-page description of the rhetoric of technology, but still didn’t quite grasp it because she focused on separating it from “The Rhetoric of Science” instead. From what I understood she defined it more in terms of its practical application in organizations and society when dealing with specific situations.

In my opinion, the rhetoric of technology is pretty much technical writing. I think it could be a description of a particular piece of technology, how to use a certain technology, or thoroughly understanding the purpose and all the potential a certain technology has. I believe the heart of rhetoric lies in the author’s ability to effectively plant their thoughts and beliefs within their audience’s minds so naturally they don’t realize it. So I would say the rhetoric of technology encompasses the same in the realm of technology.

Spilka defined “Digital Literacy” more in terms of “ professionals knowing not just how to do things with technology but also why and when action needs to take place… One must have not only an ability to use new media technologies, but also a critical self-awareness that questions why and explores purposes digital communication technologies serve in culture”. I found this definition intriguing because most Americans in my age group (I’m 25) have an advanced understanding of digital and media technologies, however most of us never questioned it’s purposes and roles in culture. We use it as a constant tool for communicating with friends and trivial entertainment never considering anything greater. It’s strange to wonder how Instagram, Whisper, Tango and Tumble have a greater role in society and what their true potentials might be.

Thinking long and hard, I suppose these apps and means of communication would be excellent tools for politicians and lawmakers to reach our demographic as statistics have shown that younger Americans are the least likely to vote. I could also see public service announcements going out through this medium and being more effective than the radio or television as we use our phones and these apps more. What ideas can you all come up with?

Technically… it’s not “outsourcing”

I just recently started a new job at an ecommerce web design company in my hometown, Philadelphia.  It’s a startup environment and even though I am starting at the bottom of the food chain, there is a ton of room for advancement and growth – which has me excited and accepting of the low starting salary.

It seems pretty “American,” a few young guys in an office near downtown Philadelphia, working at making it as ecommerce web designers.  It’s the new American dream – the successful tech startup.

Here’s the kicker; neither of them are web designers and neither of them have a background in web design.

This company either pursues a client lead or a client calls in, they hear what the client needs for their site, they send a scope of the project and an estimate of the cost (never less than three grand) to the client.  If the client says yes, the company contacts their design team in Pakistan and voila! in a few weeks you have a website “homegrown” with good ol’ Philadelphia web designers.

It blew my mind, really.  All of the design and SEO is done in Pakistan!  It’s actually my job to edit blog articles and social media posts that are written poorly in English and make them sound more “American.”  Yes, this does fit the entry level description of a technical writer, but it still makes me uncomfortable that the bulk of the work is outsourced, or, as the company describes it “created in collaboration with design teams in Pakistan”.

Dicks’ discussion in Chapter 2 makes me think about my current job.  Yes, they hired me because they needed me but I realize that I really do need to prove it to them that I am valuable to the company and that I can prove to be an asset to their operation.  All they need is to find someone in Pakistan that has excellent mastery of the English language as well as knowledge and understanding of American culture and I would be out of a job!

The Sympathetic Graphic Designer

A great, comprehensive summary of the wide variety of skills needed to be a good designer. No doubt you'll find many of these same skills on a list for technical communicators.

A well designed, comprehensive summary of the wide variety of skills needed to be a good designer. No doubt you’ll find many of these same skills on a list for technical communicators or find you use them often in your own work.

Although I’m not a technical communicator who uses primarily writing and language to transmit messages, I think of myself as a technical communicator of the visual variety (with a penchant for writing). As a graphic designer, my work and industry are closely related to that of the technical communicator, and we likely share many of the same challenges and experiences in our careers. In The Effects of Digital Literacy by R. Stanley Dicks I was especially struck by the similarities in the current state of both of these related industries.

What inspired me to return to school was my own experience losing a job to overseas outsourcing. I worked as a copy editor, and later in the graphics department (advertising design) for a newspaper group based in La Crosse, Wis. I loved the work, so demanding and fast-paced, with often incredible pressure and high stakes (complete with meager compensation). My coworkers were some of the most intelligent and creative people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. The newspaper group produced three daily papers, several twice weeklies and seven or eight weekly newspapers in addition to additional special interest, seasonal and advertising publications, and I was proud to work for the press, which I had always revered. The newspaper industry, however, is in a state of crisis as the cost of producing a physical paper becomes an untenable business model when many adults find news from free online sources or from television or radio. In early 2012, the company outsourced all advertising and graphic design services to a contractor in India and later that year moved nearly all copy editing positions to a central location in Madison, Wis. These types of changes are, to me, an effect of digital literacy. As the culture shifts to assimilate new technology, industries (and individuals) who can’t or won’t change are left behind, becoming obsolete.

I definitely identify my work as being of “symbolic-analytic” nature, described by Robert Reich (in Dicks’ words) as those who, in the post industrial world, “analyze, synthesize, combine, rearrange, develop, design and deliver information to specific audiences for specific purposes.” (pg. 54) These high-level, creative tasks require an ever-changing, flexible and innovative outlook not everyone possesses. As manufacturing moves overseas, and our industries begin to do the same, I truly believe that us technical verbal and visual communicators will need to work to stand out as individuals working in collaboration with other professionals in the new support economy style (pg. 58) as opposed to in-house, departmental type positions common in the industrial age.

In my graduate work, I’d like to look at how graphic designers and design students can learn to acquire a wide range of communications skills, such as writing, to make themselves more valuable and flexible communicators, and what other skills might be beneficial to the constant skills evolution required in the possible support economy. This article gave me some insight and avenues to explore further.

Innovative Challenges

I began reading the first couple chapters of Rachel Spilka’s “Digital Literacy for Technical Communication”, and the concept that first struck my attention was the concept of “innovators, the majorities, and laggards”. For those of you who missed this, she explained the innovators as the group of people who are the first to adventurously try new technology. In my mind, I imagined people like myself. I’m the first in line to buy the new iPhone, I join every new social networking site I hear about, and I’m never concerned with stability.

The second group she defined was the majority. These are the people who wait for a few versions of the technology in question to be released to ensure all major defects are worked out. I immediately imagined my parent’s generation; if it’s too fresh and new they assume it’s a fad. New technology needs to exist for a while before they are willing to try it; they are also more likely to try if their peers are starting to do it. The last group she defined were laggards, the people who reject new technology altogether and argue for the tried and true.

Holding off on this concept and moving into Chapter One, Spilka mentions that American hospitals are light-years away from the digital age. They still use paper charts and files, and only 8 to 11% of hospitals use electronic systems. She argued that their “lagging” is counterproductive as using electronic health records can “improve efficiency and help reduce deaths and injuries caused by medical errors”. However, I disagree.

Going back to the previously mentioned concept, perhaps medical professionals are laggers for a very good reason. We can agree that there is no new technology that doesn’t come with its share of bugs and/or catastrophic malfunctions. Do hospitals really have room to test drive new systems? Experimenting with a digital version of patient charts and records, would be risking major errors. This sounds too much like recklessly playing with human lives. Heaven forbid the system crashes, or a system error switches patient information. We might have a heart transplant going to a patient with a broken arm, or a stroke victim on his way to dialysis.

It sounds incredibly risky to me. Please let me know what you all think.

Doctor

Online Transparency is Credibility

I was first introduced to the dynamics of company Facebook pages back in 2011 while working for a bottled water company named Crystal Rock. I was randomly searching for my co-workers online when I found they were all following the company page. Upon viewing the page I noticed many lovely costumer compliments as well as irate complaints. There were even terrible customer posts signing out individual customer service representatives they were unhappy with. I noticed under many of the compliments and under each complaint, the Crystal Rock administrator gave a very thorough and professional response. Many times the administrator would describe the solution/corrective actions they planned to take to ensure the complaint was handled there on the page.

My initial reaction to this was “Why would the company keep this visible?”, I imagined it must be incredibly bad for business. When I got to work the next day I asked out communications specialist and she told me this was promoting credibility through transparency. The fact that Crystal Rock had complaints and left them visible for the world to see after publishing their plan to correct the issue made them in a sense human and that they cared about customers. If they had left the comments unanswered the page would have appeared poorly maintained, but the responses showed no shame, no pretense, and that Crystal Rock always wanted to do right by their customers and each customer voice mattered.

This concept has been taken a step farther when encountering companies who do the opposite. There are many Instagram companies who provide awful customer service, and when customers complain on their pages the comments are deleted and the customers are blocked. These customers often resort to resources like Yelp and other review forums to publicize these instances. Before I purchase anything off Instagram (or any online company) I study the reviews thoroughly. Sites such as AliExpress that have public complaints that resolve the issues are more likely to get my business, however companies that have customer complaints about being blocked and deleted for expressing their dissatisfaction will NEVER get my business. This is nothing I have ever thought twice about, but when I heard it from the Crystal Rock communications specialist it clicked.

In my opinion, companies can promote credibility and transparency with customer blogs and feedback. Both positive and negative helps. Consumers aren’t always expecting perfection and are often forgiving if they feel companies actually care. Company pages as described are definitely ways to promote business.

Let’s complain about the Internet… using the Internet

This is one of my favorite things in the world: people complaining about the Internet via the Internet.  I love it when Facebook users post angry status updates every time Facebook makes another privacy-invading change or UI disaster.  They complain and yet they adapt to the changes because, if they want their voices to be heard, they must remain on the network that allows them to be heard.

In this debate, Mr. Keen is this exact kind of person. complaining about the thing that he hates, while using that exact thing.  It’s like complaining about how much you hate peanut butter as you slather another layer onto your bread.

I view this debate from a more philosophical point of view as opposed to technical.  Humans created a technology that has both advanced and hindered society.  Mr. Keen feels as if this technology is more of a hindrance than a boon.  Yet, Mr. Keen runs a blog with hundreds of readers, taking advantage of this very technology.  He claims that the Internet is best used for activities such as research and the sending of information.  What he does not say is that his blog is not contributing to these tasks at all.  His place in the blogosphere is a waste of space, a waste of the infinite Internet.

This debate of technology is a great example of the flaws of humanity.  We are able to have excellent debates, gain followers, make enemies, all while we contradict ourselves.  We are intentionally unintentionally (yes, I said that) hypocritical but somehow the validity of our arguments still stand.

Additionally, we also learn a lot about narrowmindedness – which I am not using in a negative light.  Mr. Keen claims that the Web is used solely for the distribution and consumption of pop culture, consumerist things.  However, he comes to this conclusion by searching the Top 6 blogs.  Of course the top anything blogs will be associated with pop culture because, well, that’s what makes it popular.  It is unlikely that anyone could kind valuable information on the Internet without doing a fair amount of careful research.  It was once a popular idea that the Earth was flat, this does not make it right.

So, yes, I agree that the Internet is littered with virtual garbage, but that does not mean, with careful digging and a good cleanup crew, treasure cannot be found.

Technical Communication & Social Media

Technical Communication and social media seems to be the trend many organizations are following. Using social media platforms to store and update technical documentation is much more convenient, user friendly and accessible than the traditional manuals. Since most social media sites are compatible with mobile devices, this makes technical documentation that much easier for users to access.

Intermediate Blogger

I’ve had some experience with my personal Tumblr blog, and briefly with Blogger during an undergrad class. However, I’m far from one of those people who can gain thousands of followers. I’ve worked with WordPress during projects with freelance clients as well as classes in this program. I am very interested in learning more about blogging as I know it is an extremely marketable skill.

Social media can indeed coexist with successful communication

Elise Hurley and Amy Kimme Hea were spot on when they said that their students were reticent to use social media for work or business because “assumptions about professionalism and credibility seem too high a price to pay for use,” referring to the permanency of posts. I appreciated how in the article, Hurley and Hea outlined how they walked through steps to help their students understand how technical communication and social media can and should coexist.

While Chris Pirillo (# 10 tip) said to be true to an individual blogger’s voice, the advice applies to technical communicators for a company as well. Companies will have a strong online presence partially by maintaining consistency in both their design as well as their tone and way of blogging or conveying information. Weaving all information through links on different social media platforms helps the company’s reach grow as well.

On a personal note, I avoid social media platforms. While I do have a Facebook account, I do not have the app on my phone, so I find that I look at it fewer and fewer times a week. In this way I do not fit the standard Millennial profile. Perhaps I am like Hurley and Hea’s students, and still need to be convinced that intentional social media messages can be beneficial for my brand, and not be a liability down the road.

Social media’s opportunities and pitfalls

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Connection in some ways, disconnection in others

Like I mentioned in my first post, I see social media as a double-edged sword. One the one hand, it allows for targeted and mass communication like we’ve never seen. For organizations with something to sell, and people with something to say, there’s no other platform of communications that allows for a bigger, quicker reach or can be more specific in directing viewer demographics. The costs of running an online campaign can be relatively small, and the digital revolution’s impact on advertising waste can have a great impact on the environment. Finding people already predisposed to a company’s product has never been easier, and it’s often the case that individuals seek out connections with companies and organizations they like out of their own volition, as opposed to the traditional pursuit of consumers by companies.

On the other hand, social media can be very unforgiving, and technical communicators often need to be able to anticipate the many viewpoints and user experiences of not only their consumers, but of all social media users. An insensitive or ill-informed post can cost years of marketing and public relations work, and sully the image of even a long-standing, respected brand. Careful consideration of social media use is vitally important. While it’s easy to reach and connect with people, it’s just as easy to turn people off. It only takes a click for a consumer to connect and disconnect.

I’ve often felt social media applied to me in a personal way with similar pros and cons. If I’ve got something to say, and I want to reach most people I know, I go to social media. For the effort, there’s no more efficient way of inviting people to a party, promoting an event or business I enjoyed (or warning about one I hated), and sharing experiences and staying in contact with colleagues, friends, family and acquaintances. Conversely, I feel that it has disconnected me from people I should be closer to, or at least made me lazy in my efforts to connect with the most important people in lasting, beneficial ways.

I’ve often hesitated to use social media in a professional way, but Hurley & Hea’s study, along with prodding from professors, has opened my mind to the possibilities that social media can offer. Even while exposing my work to criticism (which is actually a good thing, I do recognize), and myself to less sense of privacy, social media can offer connections to job opportunities and future work l’d otherwise have no way of getting in touch with. The practice of crafting my own social media presentations can only help in future job and instructional practices.

But while I recognize the many benefits of social media, much of it still feels foreign and forced to me. It’s not an activity I’ve naturally taken to, and more or less joined social media venues out of peer pressure. I don’t like feeling as though I’m only doing something because other people are, or to stay in touch with people I’ll likely never see again in my life. I need to find my own place in this vast sea of information and personalities. It will be a journey for me to integrate social media into my life in more meaningful ways.

Musings on my soft underbelly and social media

Blogs and social media have always been a bit of a double-edged sword for me. While I love debate, differing opinions, human connection and technology, I often feel like I don’t have much worth putting out into cyberspace, ‘cause I’m really nobody of special ability or insight, so who would even care? Right? Plus, like reservations students had in Hurley & Hea’s study in The Rhetoric of Reach, it’s forever out there, a piece of my intimate self. In a way it’s like a tattoo… I think they’re cool, I kind of want one. But how can I commit? Overly cautious, one might say, and I’d have to agree. I have reservations about being in the spotlight, putting myself out there for critique. That apprehension has never been worth the potential positive returns.

This is a hangup I’m consciously trying to move past. My current DIY personal improvement. All my life it’s seemed as though I’ve got a little mental project for myself (usually to get over something that I’m tired of being held back from) and this is it for now. Going back to school for an advanced design degree, critical eyes are everywhere and they’re nothing if not gleefully honest about their feelings. I’m determined to become comfortable exposing myself and my ideas and work to potential criticism and use it to improve, on my own terms. I’m deliberately showing how flawed I am, just to see what happens. Should be interesting, I think.

My experience with blog and social media in general has been mostly work-related, or simply as an observer and reader. I’ve created a few blogs in the past with intentions of using it in a diary-like fashion or as on online portfolio, but it was never an activity I was able to generate much excitement over. I’ve participated in Facebook (will you be my friend?) more than any other platform, but am getting into Pinterest (my mother is more of a Pinterest expert than I am, I think that says something) and am learning more about Twitter through my work. I currently contribute content to the UW-Stout University Library’s Blogger page, Facebook and Twitter accounts. I encourage you, especially as writers, to join these pages, there is such a wealth of resources available from the University Library.

As a graphic designer, my job has always been to craft messages. Writing goes hand in hand with the visual. Responsibilities to maintain social media and blogs often falls onto designers, at least in part, so I plan on becoming more blog-literate and active throughout this course, to take advantage of the opportunities these connections can make, both professionally and personally.

 

It was the best of blogs. It was the worst of blogs.

Of all the different social media platforms, blogging is by far my favorite.   One of my first blogs was through Xanga and was likely named xxdisenchantedxx because, I, like millions of other tweens at the time, was convinced that having the letter “x” in one’s screen name or Xanga URL marked me as an individual.  My Xanga was about nothing in particular and utilized more like a diary.  It is highly likely that I penned hundreds of digital pages about music and how nobody understood me.

As I matured, so did my taste in blogging.  I abandoned my woes and complaining on Xanga to LiveJournal, where I focused a lot of my blogging on showcasing my creative writing pieces and poetry.  I was a member of several writers groups and made a lot of cyber friends.

For some reason I can’t really remember, LiveJournal became dull and my interests started to veer into darker areas.  I became obsessed with the occult and the New Age movement, which led me to Vampirefreaks.com, a website geared toward the goth subculture.  There, I discovered a passion and love for body piercings and tattoos and found many other people interested in New Age religions such as Wicca.  I chronicled my experiences in my spiritual search through my blog hosted on the website which helped me connect with other like-minded people.

Again, time passed and the community of VF started to change into a meeting ground for teenage girls obsessed with sparkling vampires.  I decided it was time to move on to Blogger.

I started and stopped several Blogger blogs, each about specific topics: music news, Wicca, guitars, and poetry.  During this time, I was involved in a ton of extracurricular activities in school, worked a part-time job at a restaurant, and had a long-term girlfriend.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to blog; I just didn’t feel like I had the time for it.

High school ended and college began, giving me even less time to manage a blog.  I tried to keep up with at least a personal blog through Blogger, but that ultimately fell into the blog graveyard.  In my sophomore year, I was introduced to Tumblr, which had me hooked faster and harder than any other blogging platform I had used in the past.

Tumblr was and still is the perfect social blogging platform.  It has the quickness of Twitter, the connectivity of Facebook, the customization features of Xanga, the blogging features and simplicity of LiveJournal and the community closeness of Vampirefreaks. I haven’t looked back from using Tumblr as my primary blogging platform for my personal blogging of my interests because I find it to be the most perfect blend of social media and blogging that is available right now.

I am still plagued with the starting and stopping of specialized blogs; I just can’t seem to find a topic and stick to it.  More importantly, I can’t seem to make the time to actually blog consistently.  Currently, I am veering a step away from Tumblr and am currently working on a professional/academic blog powered by WordPress, which, after using Tumblr for so long, am finding to be incredibly frustrating and not user-friendly.

I plan for my professional blog to feature posts about technical writing and how it is important in closing the technology gap (which I have deemed to be a global crisis).  I found Joshua Mann’s article to be particularly useful as I plan posts and create a blogging schedule and strategy for my professional/academic blog.  I also enjoyed the little tip about becoming an affiliate to generate some extra money using the blog.  Monetizing a blog is something I had previously thought about, but did not know how to begin.

I suppose that is enough of my rambling for now.  I’m looking forward to this course so I can directly what I’m learning to my own blog to make it as effective as possible.

Emerging from my “blog fog” to say farewell and thanks!

I have thoroughly enjoyed my investigation of using blogs in our Introduction to College Life classrooms, but I feel like I’m emerging from a “blog fog” and I can’t quite relate to anyone who’s not steeped in this subject at the moment.  My husband has learned to include the word “blog” in any conversation he attempts to engage me in – “Are we getting a Christmas tree blog this year?,” “Would you like scrambled or fried blogs?,” or “Have you talked to our son,Sam blog, this week?”

 But seriously, this was a great learning experience for me. I researched the use of blogs in university classrooms and designed a plan to use those findings to create a blog for our Campus Read program, which is just two years old.  Campus Read programs always list “building a sense of community” as a goal, and “community” is almost always listed as an adjective associated with blogs, so I thought it was a natural fit. One thing I learned, however, is that the community-building nature of blogs doesn’t automatically happen and that a great deal of work will have to be invested for my vision to materialize.

I gained this insight from reading about the Julie/Julia project, which was made into the movie Julie & Julia with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in 2009.

Even though Julie Powell’s blog was very popular, visitors only reported feeling a “moderate” sense of community and the community dissipated when Julie Powell discontinued the blog. To the degree that people did report a strong sense of community, it was associated with the comments function of blogging – both writing and reading, which makes sense if you think about community as being dialogic. Anyway, if anyone is interested in reading more about the Julie/Julia project, I recommend Anita Blanchard’s article “Blogs as Virtual Communities: Identifying a sense of Community in the Julie/Julia Project.” You can retrieve the article here at the Into the Blogosphere series through the University of Minnesota, which offers a lot of great articles about blogging (http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/blogs_as_virtual.html).

 Aside from my insights about community, I learned a lot about my own campus’s policies and preparedness for 21st century learning.  Probably the most interesting insight I came away with is the degree to which we’re still groping with how to effectively use new media.  I read an article that described all of the “invisible” issues we might have to consider in creating a campus blog and initially I put it in the “not relevant” pile as I was sorting through my research.  It kept bubbling back up to the top of the pile as I had discussions with people on campus about how to implement a blog.  (You can read the article, “The When of New Media Writing” by Danielle DeVoss, Ellen Cushman, and Jeffrey Grabill at http:// www. Jstor.org/stable/30037897). It wasn’t that anyone was being obstructionist particularly, but with any large institution, people and departments aren’t always communicating or communicating clearly. As I put the finishing touches on my paper, I still wasn’t clear about what I might and might not be allowed to do with regard to technology, sometimes for practical technological reasons, and sometimes because of local, contextual constraints.  I hope I am being sufficiently vague.

 Finally, I just have to briefly mention the role of audience and blogging. Because of my role in our Writing Center, I knew that the concepts of blogging and having a sense of audience were linked, but I didn’t expect that I would spend so much time thinking and writing about it for my paper.  We always tell students to “imagine” an audience with certain characteristics and so forth and not to think of the professor as the sole reader, but that’s always a difficult exercise because ultimately, students know that their professor usually is the sole member of the audience. Having a blogging experience, though, can fundamentally change the way students think about an audience and motivate them to write—this was probably the main learning outcome I had from my research project, and it isn’t really the one I was prepared for, since I thought my main goal was to use blogs to develop a sense of community.

 Which leaves me to you, my “audience.”  This experience was very educational for me, and I want to thank you all for your support during my graduation to the 21st century (well, at least from elementary school to middle school!). It has been my privilege to take this course with you.

 And now, in a nod to Lori’s sendoff from Michael on “The Office,” I leave you with these words from Creed  Bratton’s Blog, also from “The Office,” apropos of the fact that we are now fully immersed in Wisconsin winter:

 “Almost winter. Time to turn my tennis racket into snowshoes.”

 Good luck to all on final projects!

My Final Blog Post – What I learned

The topic I choose for my final paper related to Objectives 1, 2 and 5. In this paper I examined the aspects of selecting, creating, and maintaining a Knowledge Management System. This relates to the course objectives 1, 2 and 5 in the following ways:

Objective 1 relates to the way new digital technologies affect writing, specifically technical and professional communication. Most writing being completed in the Knowledge Management System will be technical writing. It will be related to how to perform certain tasks and how specific pieces of functionality work.

Objective 2 relates to the way digital technologies will change the technical writing workplace. With the implementation of a new Knowledge Management System, this changes the way we write based on the types of text the new system can handle.

Objective 5 relates to the consequences of these new technologies for writing, managing and distributing information/knowledge to online audiences.  My experience with Knowledge Managements systems is that each has a customer facing option. We create content on our side and then it is available for our customers to use when and where they have the time.

Knowledge Management Systems are an important piece of a software knowledge transfer. A knowledge management systems allows software development/support staff to create content for dissemination to the internal customers and/or customer base. This report provides an overview of things to consider when looking at selecting, creating and maintaining a knowledge management system. Also included is a compare/contrast of Sansio’s current Knowledge Management System to Parature, the lead in what is being selected to replace it.

As could be seen throughout my blog posting, I had a hard time with this class. It took a while for me to get the AHA Moment that really connected it all for me. I think part of my issue was I was looking at this as a Social Media class and the more I thought about it, the more I knew Social Media was not going to be used in my job. It took a while for me to break out of the Social Media and think about it as Digital Communication, which includes a lot of what I do in my job.

I ended up really enjoying this class and can’t wait to find a way to apply what I learned to my job.

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”?

Digital Literacy across cultures

I know that I’ve mentioned this example before in reference to global culture, but it directly relates to this week’s reading about digital literacy across cultures. I was fortunate to be part of a project that had stakeholders in the Midwest, Ireland, and India. The main purpose was to create a system and interface that would search and analyze… specific data. My role was to create a user-guide to help people utilize the system. There were several obstacles that needed to be resolved during my involvement in the project.

I worked closely with the primary tester, and she would use the system, try to stress it, and also validate the results of each test search. She logged all issues on the project SharePoint site. She recalled early in the project that the form originally classified the issues as defects, but that needed to be changed. The India team viewed the term defects as pointing blame. They would spend days researching whether the issue was in fact a defect, or if it was a design feature that was simply not working correctly. By reclassifying it as an issue, we eliminated the idea of blame. This allowed them to spend their time fixing the issue rather than researching who was at fault.

There were status calls twice a week, which allowed the project manager to collect status updates from each area, and also helped clarify what each person’s role was and the expectations for the week. I’m not sure if these calls were done for convenience, accountability, or because of deeper cultural reasons like Thatcher described in this week’s reading. I do know that it seemed to help people stay on task and understand their responsibilities.

We also encountered issues with the design and layout of the program. I found it difficult to use because most of the fields you entered data into or selected criteria from were not labeled. The lead tester had the same complaints, but was told that it was too late to make those kinds of changes. Part of the job of the user guide was to explain how to use the system, and part was to help American and European users overcome the awkward and confusing layout and interface. I wish I knew if it was a cultural difference, or if it was just a poorly designed interface.

I guess I’ve always taken general usability for granted, but this week’s readings by Thatcher and Blakeslee have made me realize that convenient usability is a factor of our cultural experiences, and that a different culture would have different experiences to draw from. What seems logical and convenient to me might seem confusing or awkward to someone from another culture. The areas of the internet that I frequent seem to be tailored to an American, or at least and English speaking user, but I would really be interested in seeing the potential layout and organizational difference of a website designed with a different culture in mind.

Ishii’s research about mobile phone usage was very interesting. It seemed like a well-done study, and it is one that I would appreciate seeing carried out again. He might be able to find stronger correlations today than he was able to when the study was originally carried out. I think he would find the mobile phone usage breakdown would still be similar between home, work, and away from work. Expected differences would be the level of usage for the average person, especially teenagers, and I would also predict a difference in the social skills among mobile phone users. It is easy for me to make predictions based on my own observations, but I really would like to see the research.

It always comes back to your audience

For the most part, writing for a digital audience requires the same considerations as writing for traditional audiences. You must first look at the rhetorical situation. To do this, technical communicators must ask themselves a series of questions, including this question:

Who is the target of my message?

As you know, your audience can be broad and varied, or very specific. The problem with the digital world is that the audience tends to be the former, which can make it very challenging to decide how to create your message. How do you write a universal message for a non-universal group of people?

Well, I hate to say it, but you have to generalize the audience members. You can’t feasibly create a message that will work for each and every individual out there, so you just have to try to identify the most common features so you can address MOST of them.

How do you identify these common attributes? One of the best ways is learning directly from the user. Blakeslee (2010) talked about interacting with readers in this week’s readings – what you might call a “collaborative” audience or user-centered design. Of course, this hinges on having the audience provide feedback in order to help improve technical communications. However, like in the case study from TaxSoft, what if you don’t have direct contact with the customers? Or, in my own personal experience, what if it’s like pulling teeth to get user feedback?

Audience Challenge #1 – No Contact

In the TaxSoft example, one of the employees interviewed said she had to get secondhand feedback from other departments or review call logs to see what customers were saying during conversations with their call center (p. 208). They did this because she (and her fellow technical writers) didn’t have a direct relationship with the customer. She commented that “writers are not subject-matter experts in our company, and, as such, it would not be appropriate to step into that relationship with our users” (Blakeslee, 2010, p. 209). I think this is very unfortunate. Perhaps this company needs their technical writers to start getting more involved with the customer?

The SecureNet case study, on the other hand, showcased employees who DID have relationships with their customers, going so far as to interview some of these audience members before starting a new project (p. 210).

Audience Challenge #2 – The Unengaged Audience

This is the audience that doesn’t provide feedback, or is very difficult to get feedback from. I have had this experience quite a bit in my place of work. A specific example is the online customer portal we launched earlier this year (that I’ve mentioned in previous blogs). We rolled it out in four groups. After each group was introduced to the site, I sought feedback from group members on the features of the site, if they were using it, what areas they liked best, etc. I probably sent out over 100 surveys and only had three or four returned to me. Those that were returned had little to no helpful feedback. What did I do wrong?

Well, it comes full circle because it has everything to do with the audience. My audience is not terribly tech savvy so many of them just weren’t using the site. Filling out a survey for a service they weren’t using didn’t make sense. For those that WERE using the site, they didn’t send us a survey back because they preferred to tell us in a more personal way. The most useful feedback we received was gathered during a phone conversation. Seems a bit old school, but, again, going back to the type of audience I have (not tech savvy), doing a telephone survey makes more sense.

Fortunately for me, my audience is typically quite specific. This can make it easier for us to create our message, although it’s not foolproof. But, this is actually one of the greatest things about digital technology! If we don’t get the message right the first time, we can change it anytime we want for little to no cost and for a modest amount of labor. With traditional communications (print), it can be time-consuming and costly to make changes. I just think about all those companies out there that still put together catalogs and how much time and resources that must cost them.

stack of catalogs

U-Line is a perfect example. They mail us a catalog once a month. Then, they send us a catalog with each order we place from them. Sometimes, we will get up to six or seven catalogs in a month! We think it’s a waste of paper and also prefer looking up products online anyway. Maybe this company needs to evaluate their audience a little better!

Image source: http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf/Organizing/Bills_and_Mail/Organizing-Catalogs.html