Posted by jeffreyuw
For my final paper, I wrote about the complex computer algorithms that drive Google’s search engine and Facebook’s news feed. My paper explored the many variables that determine how Google’s search engine ranks web pages, and the user inputs that influences the content users see on Facebook. I also discussed what this means for technical communicators, and how they can use these algorithms to communicate effectively with online audiences.
Google’s Search Engine Algorithm
When conducting research on this topic, I found one journal article that argued that Google’s search engine forces technical communicators to write for two audiences: human and robots. The author argues that technical communicators have to write content that is interesting and helpful for people, while writing in quantifiable and structural ways for Google’s search engine. In order to rank on Google’s search results, you have to repeatedly use certain keywords that match the reader’s intent, write a concise headline that Google’s robots can easily read, and use numerous links throughout the post.
This was probably one of the more interesting insights for me while writing this paper. I had not thought of it in this way before, but it’s true. Even major newspapers (like the New York Times) had to change their writing practices in order to rank on Google’s search engine. The same journal article found that the NYT’s web articles use more literal titles than it’s newspaper headlines. They use more literal headlines because these titles can rank on Google’s search engine more easily.
Facebook’s News Feed Algorithm
When it came to Facebook’s news feed algorithm, there are a lot of factors that technical communicators have to consider. Unlike Google’s search engine algorithm, Facebook’s algorithm is controlled more by user activity than writers. Facebook users also have a better idea that their every move is being tracked. This is largely due to the many scandals and news headlines that have brought attention to the issue. For instance, this article shows how Facebook is reading your text messages if you have downloaded certain applications.
This has caused many users to be rather distrustful of the content they find on Facebook. One study found that users changed their behaviors once they learned how Facebook’s news algorithm worked. This can put technical communicators in a tricky situation. They have to use Facebook’s algorithms to reach certain user groups, which means they benefit from a system that tracks a user’s every move. Facebook’s users tend to be more hostile because of this fact.
Computer Algorithms Implications
For these reasons, technical communicators need to practice transparency when using computer algorithms. This can be difficult because technical communicators often serve mixed interests: they write quality content for the user, but they also serve a larger entity like a company. This requires technical communicators to write for a company’s needs rather than a user. As such, technical communicators need to balance these two roles accordingly if they wish to communicate with users effectively.
I recommend that technical communicators become UX experts and researchers in order to balance these roles effectively. By being UX experts, writers must thoroughly understand the needs of the user so they can best write content for them. By being research experts, technical communicators must use the best tools (like Google’s search plan and google analytics) to best learn the key terms they need to know to rank on pages.
Personally, this has been an incredibly interesting course and semester. Everyone has written such thoughtful blog posts and has caused me to think more deeply about my own online habits and use of digital technologies. I look forward to seeing what you guys have written about for your final papers! Good job, everyone.
Posted by Rebecca Snyder
Social Media is more than just a distraction to some. The reading this week made me really step back and evaluate myself with regard to my own level of distraction caused by my response to the notifications from social media and e-mail. I spent and entire day being acutely aware of my habits in a way that I had not previously, and here is what I discovered: I am a social media addict with unchecked OCD!
Each morning, my alarm sounds (on my phone) 15 minutes before I have to get out of bed. This is purposeful because it allows me to silence the alarm and spend those 15 minutes waking up while scrolling through my e-mail, text messages, missed calls, and of course my Facebook business page/messages. I have been known to stay in bed doing this for 30-45 minutes, often missing my opportunity to shower and beginning my day with a coating of dry shampoo and body spray. On days when I do have time for my shower, I take the phone into the bathroom with me and will often prop it against the wall at the top of the shower so that I can be sure to not miss any important messages or phone calls.
When I am out of the shower, I check my phone again for the temperature and the daily weather so that I can get dressed accordingly. By then, it is usually time for me to wake up my youngest son to begin his day (we home school). I often Face Time him as his wake up call, you know, to save those 10 steps I would make to his bedroom.
I spend the remainder of the afternoon as a slave to the pings and bings of notifications. If I am waiting on an important call or email, I find my (actually diagnosed) OCD pattern of checking every few minutes rears its ugly head. I will admit that, often, this pattern does not change when I am in the car driving. In his book, “Net Smart,” author Howard Rheingold notes that, “Texting while driving kills…(and) the fact that anyone would risk life and limb for an LOL is a clue that something about texting hooks into the human propensity to repeat pleasurable behaviors to the point of compulsion” (p. 45). ACK! He is right! Try as I may over the years of driving with my son’s in the car and teaching the boys to drive, I still can’t say that I am 100% cell phone free while driving.
My brain knows I need to be, but something almost uncontrollable begs me to check that phone at every ping. And, turning the volume off doesn’t change that desire to check. In fact, it almost sends it into hyper-drive as I worry that I have missed something imperative!
Most evenings I work my business by doing online Facebook parties to open oysters and sell jewelry. During this time I am totally plugged in – working while checking a barrage of private messages, keeping up my online presence, and reading/responding to live comments as they come through my feed.
To finish my day, I lay in bed and scroll through Facebook or read articles online that interest me until I get tired enough to fall asleep. I can’t even speak to how many times I will be reading through an article or a friend’s Facebook timeline only to find myself in the circle of links and clicks that lead me to chase a white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole. If you aren’t sure what I mean about the rabbit hole, here is a great article I read recently after a night of chasing that rabbit for about 3 hours: Following the White Rabbit Down the Social Media Rabbit Hole
Fine Tuning my CRAP Detector
In Chapter 2, Rhinegold points out that, in order to be smart in our use of the internet, we must learn to filter out what is true and what is false. Rhinegold says, “Don’t refuse to believe; refuse to start out believing. Continue to pursue your investigation after you find an answer. Chase the story rather than just accepting the first evidence you encounter” (p. 78). I am going to take a second here and get really personal in an attempt to give an example of a broken “CRAP detector” (p. 89) and the toll it took on my quality of life for over a year. I mentioned above that I battle OCD. My OCD doesn’t come in the form of counting or repeating steps for fear that something bad will happen. My OCD presents itself with health anxiety – I am a hypochondriac when I allow my mind to take off in whatever direction it chooses. Rheingold assures us by saying, “What person doesn’t search online about their disease after they are diagnosed?” After my youngest son was born (15 years ago), I went through a severe bout with my OCD/hypochondria where I determined from Dr. Google that I was dying from a brain tumor. I lost a good year of my life with worry and anxiety, but I was too afraid to see a doctor or mention these concerns because I just knew I could not handle a horrible diagnosis in my fragile mental state. According to the internet, I had every symptom. I was dizzy, I felt my speech was stumbling and slurred at times (even though friends and relatives had no idea what I meant and had not seen/heard any issues when speaking to me), occasionally my vision was blurry and I was experiencing flashes and floaters. I was feeling like I was in a memory fog and often felt clumsy and off balance. I often would run to a mirror and stick my tongue out to see if it went straight down or off to the side -Google told me to try that. Unfortunately, Dr. Internet failed to tell me that brain tumors generally affect one area of the brain at a time. So, if I had blurry vision caused by a tumor in my brain, it would be located behind my eyes (most likely) and symptoms would all be related to that one tumor in that one place. A tumor behind my eye would not cause me to have slurred speech, a foggy memory, or to lose my balance unless, of course, it was metastatic. It took me a year and a Lexapro prescription to tune my crap detector enough to realize that I had been feeding my unfounded fears by seeking worst case scenario CRAP on the internet. I am happy to report that I continued with that Lexapro prescription and I no longer live my life in fear of dying from whatever Google diagnosed illness I may have.
Working to “Hit It Big”
In Chapter 3, Rheingold begins to discuss meaningful ways that we can participate in social media. Because social media is such a great tool in my business as a network marketer, I can’t just decide to unplug completely. Instead, I can make small changes to the way I operate on social media (perhaps beginning with locking my phone in the glove box when I drive). My inital interest in this graduate course came from my desire to learn how to better present myself online and how to be intentional in my participation on social media. Reingold reminds us that, “The good news is that learning to participate effectively online (like learning attention and crap detecting skills) is a matter of mindset and practice – and the payoff can be big. Knowledgeable online participation can help you land a job, find a mate, organize a movement, or sell a product or service. As citizens, professionals, and consumers, we hit it big, manage to get by, or fail utterly in large part because of our ability to connect and converse with others by way of digital networks…” (p. 114). I am ready to do what it takes to “hit it big!”
Posted by Lynn
It can be almost funny when you find connections between real life and content in your assigned coursework. After reading Chapters 3, 4 and 5 in Digital Literacy I found myself in an ironic situation. My husband and I had to work together to create content. On Friday my husband came home from work and I asked him how his day was. He said it was fine and then I heard the real story. Corporate human resource represenatives came into the plant in our small town and said that all 40 employees would be laid off sometime between January 1 and April 1 2018. The company has a much larger plant about an hour and a 1/2 away that employees around 200 people. The employees were told they would be making 1/3 of the positions available in the larger plant but it would be open recruitment.
My husband hasn’t updated his resume since the last time he was job hunting 5+ years ago. Knowing there is such a high demand for these positions I stressed how important it would be for us to have a professional looking design with quality error free content.
My search for a new resume template started with Google search for free creative resume templates. Some pages I was afraid to click on because I was worried about the sources. Other pages had nothing but ads or still required payment. I spent a number of hours using a variety of search terms to find this content. There was very little if not zero content available that was professional, modern and clean designs.
My next search was to try to find content that was very low cost. I remembered seeing digital content such as clip art on ETSY and thought it was worth a shot. I was able to find just what I was looking for using Etsy.com search for instant download resume templates that cost between $1 and $2
To my surprise all it took was paying $1 instead of looking for the content for free. The template I picked had three templates with it. One for the resume, one for a cover letter and one for references. It included instructions and templates in a variety of formats. Both for the Apple software Pages and for Microsoft Word.
I think this taught me a lot about the availability and cost of content. No one wants to give up content for free. Even if it is just a dollar per download that adds a lot to the professionalism and quality of the product.