Stuck in a bog. Check someone’s blog.

I’m not entirely sure that the title makes sense, but hopefully it will after you read this.

I’ve posted in the past about how I’ve always found blogs pointless. In fact, although I’m enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would, I still doubt that I would be blogging if it weren’t for this subject. Facebook and YouTube waste enough of my time… Anyway, that’s irrelevant.

For once, I want to talk about how useful blogs can be.

I won’t lie. Most of the time that I do the readings for this subject, they don’t make sense. Or perhaps they make sense after the 5th reading. (I wouldn’t know, I never have the time.) And so when I’m stuck, confused over just how “the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design…naturalize[s] the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (just one of our weekly blog questions for those playing at home – reader pg 228), I scratch my head. Then I scratch my ear. And then I go fishing. For blogs.

That’s right. After someone suggested it in class (probably our tutor Nicole, thanks!) I decided to check other people’s blogs to see what they thought of the readings. (Other people in this case refers to classmates, my fellow Net Commers).

No, don’t get worried. I don’t do it to plagiarise, I do it to decipher. While I use WordReference for French, I use blogs for Net Comm. A translation of the readings into English, or at least people english, not computer english.

One of the most useful blogs has been Allan’s. (http://allanalderson.wordpress.com/)

Allan is the resident mature age student in our class, and thus the envy of everyone else. Why? His real world/life experience has given him actual organizational skills and the motivation to turn up to lectures. Damn him and his wisdom. But back to the point. When I’ve needed it, Allan’s blogs have provided the insight I’ve been looking for, and he always has some cool videos too. (So thanks Allan! Hope you don’t mind.)

And while, perhaps not world changing (at least not often) this is what blogs are best for. Giving people the opportunity to express their thoughts. I’ve argued that blogs are, at their core, inherently personal. And while I’ve always viewed such a personal outlet as trivial, I do see how blogs can allow other like-minded (or similarly enrolled) individuals to find and develop a community. Bringing people from all walks of life, all over the world, together. It’s true that everything is news to someone, and whether you find something interesting while I find it pointless is irrelevant. It’s about giving people a voice, even if that voice is rarely heard.

**UPDATE: While I’m at it, SWOTVAC has given me the time to trawl some other net comm blogs. Some great ones include:

Perry’s (http://pjsingleton.wordpress.com/). Who’s got over 1000 hits, so I assume I’m not the only one who does this!

And Jessica’s (http://jessicasargeant.wordpress.com/). Super insightful.

Well done guys. Great jobs!***

So while I’m still sold on all the benefits of blogging, I am starting to see its usefulness. And since the blogosphere literally has too many blogs too count, I guess plenty of others do too.

And that’s why, when you’re stuck in a bog. Check someone’s blog.

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Blogging for who? Sorry, not you.

Week 7:

B) Lovink also argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self” (Reader, page 222).

Discuss this argument, giving an example of a blog.

I’ve never understood the thinking behind a blog. I’m neither that interesting, nor that selfish (I hope). Not to be rude, but it’s true, blogs are inherently personal. They’re a means to rant, to complain, and to comment without restraint. They provide a voice, in a world where less and less voices are heard.

The argument that the blogosphere is the ultimate democratic tool of the 21st century is a highly contested one. Rather, I agree with Lovink’s argument that for all the talk of communities and mobs, “blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self” (2008: 28). Lovink argues that “blogs are part of a wider culture that fabricates celebrity on every possible level” (2008: 28), and that ultimately blogs just “perform the introspective duty of the online diary” (2008: 29). Arguably, the majority of blogs are “too personal, even egocentric” (Lovink, 2008: 28). West raises the interesting notion that blogs are simply “media influenced modes of escapism” (2004: 176) and indeed, many people I know write blogs because it’s therapeutic. I disagree, however, that this is fuelled only by “personal depression” and “loneliness” (West, 2004: 176). Sometimes it’s just healthy to get things off your chest.

Interestingly Shirky defines blogs as “social software”—that which “supports social interaction” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 29)—and yet “most sites either have ‘no comments’ or [have] closed down the possibility of responding altogether” (Lovink, 2008: 28). Extending this, Trueman argues that “when everyone in general thinks they have a right to be heard…nobody in particular is listened to” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 27). So if bloggers are neither listening to nor commenting on other blogs, then clearly, as Claire E. Write argues, “the essence of a blog is not the interactivity of the media: it is the sharing of the thoughts and opinions of the blogger.” (Quoted in Loving, 2008: 28) Thus, regardless of any community involvement, blogging is always fundamentally a personal endeavour.

Let’s look at a real life blog. It took me three seconds to find this one, conveniently promoted on the WordPress.com homepage.

Stevil (http://stevebetz.wordpress.com/) is the personal blog of Steve Betz. Steve is your average protein chemist-cum-structural biologist-cum-endocrinologist drug discoverer. He’s in his mid-40s (guessing from his pictures) and lives in San Diego with his wife and beloved dog (who features in the majority of these pictures).

Steve seems like a smart guy. Yet he posts stuff like:

“Boys will be boys”: An insightful post about two elephants urinating and rolling in their own faeces during his recent trip to the San Diego Zoo. In case you still don’t get it, there are 6 action shots, in glorious colour.

And “Rise and Shine”: A photo of a snail with the reminder “Time to get moving this morning”. (Source: Stevil)

Now forgive me for being harsh. But the fact that a grown man woke up and felt the need to post, in public, on the Interweb, that it was “time to get moving” — and then illustrate it with a picture of a snail — is, frankly, ridiculous. (It’s also contradictory. If you need to get moving, why are you blogging?) The elephant story isn’t much better. Nevertheless, whether or not I find Steve’s posts interesting, or read them at all, is irrelevant. That’s the beauty of a blog: it’s written fundamentally for oneself.

(Still not convinced? While explaining blogs, this video highlights their personal and often trivial nature.)

And, yes. I do realise the irony of writing this on a blog…

Words: 551

References:

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, UK: Routledge. pp 1-38

Stevil – Blog: (http://stevebetz.wordpress.com/) [date accessed: 24 April 2011]

West, C. (2004) Democracy Matters: winning the fight against imperialism, New York: The Penguin Press. pp 176

Web Creativity: But I can’t speak computer!

The Web is built to foster creativity. But which are the best ways to go about it? And do you need to be a computer hacker to succeed in online content creation?

Do you speak computer?

Attribution Some rights reserved by dullhunk

While contributing to certain aspects of the web undoubtedly require specific skills, the evolution of Web 2.0 technology is providing more and more ways for the average person to interact with the Internet. In particular social networking sites and the blogosphere pose the greatest potential for laypeople to create online. But can a website or online space every be truly completely accessible to the average person?

Coding: child's play?

AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by GrahamKing

This blog, for instance, is being hosted by WordPress. I don’t need any specific training or extra knowledge to get everything up and running and my thoughts out into the ether of the World Wide Web. From the outside, it appears as if I can do whatever I want to my blog. Customising its appearance, posting to my heart’s content and even changing the URL to my own personal domain, if I have the cash to do so. But if you take a closer look, everything is not as malleable as it seems. In fact, many argue that customizable domains such as blogs, and Facebook pages, are actually very tightly controlled. Think about it. What can you do to your Facebook profile, apart from change the picture. Not much.

I can’t even change the font of this post! Lame.

Which raises the question: is the full creative potential of the Internet truly available to everyone? Or only those who speak computer?

Public vs. private: will Facebook kill privacy?

Week 5:

Analyse critically the following statement by Mark Zuckerberg while comparing it to privacy issues raised by online social networking collaborative practices:

Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on sharing (start at 0:26—stop at 0:39) (http://www.tubechop.com/watch/146252)

“When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more. When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.” (Zuckerberg, 2010)

Is privacy dead?

[Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by opensourceway]

Facebook wants to rewrite the rules of privacy. Or rather, erase them altogether.

The above video, however—released in response to Facebook’s disastrous efforts to make users’ default privacy settings more open—shows that Zuckerberg and Facebook still don’t seem to understand what privacy means to their users.

Let’s consider his two main points:

1. “When people have control over what they share, they’re comfortable sharing more.”

Agreed. Privacy is not about hiding everything; it’s about controlling what you share with whom.

On social networks like Facebook, however, this is not so straightforward. People are often ignorant of exactly what they are sharing, and, even more concerning, other people can easily share things about someone else without their knowledge. The recent Brocial Network scandal revealed the extent to which Facebook privacy can be exploited. Since all of the photos had been uploaded to Facebook by the girls themselves, everything the Brocial Network’s members did was technically legal. In fact, the obvious question is: if those girls didn’t want people to look at those photos, then why did they post them in the first place? (A very Eric Schmidt line of thinking). But it’s not that simple. Those girls may have been happy for their friends to stalk their semi-naked photos, but I doubt they appreciated 8 000 other randoms doing so. It’s hard enough to control what you share on Facebook, let alone what anyone else may. Until this can be sorted, it’s ridiculous for Facebook to try and force people to share more.

2. “When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. And in a more open world, many of the biggest problems we face together will become easier to solve.”

Logical, yet idealistic and impractical.

Sure, a more connected world would be great, and if everyone on the planet was working towards solving the same problem, well, let’s agree that six billions brains are better than one. Yet, again in the context of social networking, this attitude poses problems. If everyone knows: where and when you go somewhere, and what and with whom you do something, that’s not only creepy, it can be dangerous. Online predators and offline stalkers are enough of a problem, without giving them a copy of your diary. (HINT: If you don’t want to be robbed, don’t status update your location.)

Thanks to the Internet, privacy is more important than ever. As Solove says, “reputations are forged when people make judgments based upon the mosaic of information available” (Solove, 2007: 30), and when drunken photos lose Uni degrees, and accidental YouTube stars are actually victims of cyber bullying, it’s hard to argue that decreased privacy will make life easier. Having 500+ friends can make it difficult to remember with whom you are sharing what, and often a little online over-sharing can lead to a lot of offline hair-tearing.

Whoops.

[Image: Courtesy All Facebook]

In any case, people aren’t ready for such an open world yet. Studies by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, have shown that in fact young adults are the most conscientious demographic when it comes to online privacy and reputation management. Over 70% of 18-29 year olds admitted having changed their social network privacy settings, to limit what information was viewable by whom (Madden and Smith, 2010). After all, reputation is one of our “most cherished assets”. (Solove, 2007: 30)

People have long been predicting the end of privacy. And now Zuckerberg wants to bring that about by making the world’s social network, well, more social. But if you’re listening Mark, take note:

People still want their privacy. They want it protected. And that needs to be respected.

[Image: AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by Florian SEROUSSI]

Words: 551 (excl. Zuckerberg quotes)

References:

Madden, M. and Aaron Smith (2010). Reputation Management and Social Media: How people monitor their identity and search for others online. Pp 2. (http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Reputation-Management.aspx) 26 May [date accessed 16 April 2011]

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 30

Zuckerberg, M. (2010) Mark Zuckerberg on making privacy controls simple. Facebook. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWDneu_w_HQ&feature=player_embedded [Video: date first accessed 14 April 2011]

Citizen journalism: can journalism by anyone be trusted by everyone?

Week 4:

Russell (et al.) compares elite media and institutions with bloggers and ponders the following question: “Do bloggers, with their editorial independence, collaborative structure and merit-based popularity more effectively inform the public?” (Reader, page 136). Do you agree? Use examples to illustrate your point of view.

Thanks to the Internet, anyone and everyone is now a journalist. Stories are breaking in real time as people share what they see. In fact, the Internet is “dissolving the boundaries between professional journalists and amateurs” (Solove, 2007: 23) so thoroughly, that the mainstream media increasingly relies on its readers for content.

Debating whether citizen journalism more effectively informs the public has arguments for both sides. Russel et al. argue that bloggers have “editorial independence, collaborative structure[s] and merit-based popularity” (Russell et al., 2008: 67). They can operate much faster than the mass media (often in real time) and usually have first hand information. Furthermore, while the mass media has long been preferred for factual credibility and objectivity, the more cynical observer knows that, in the modern age, news is just another commodity. Stories are slanted and certain issues are covered specifically to maximise profits. In such an environment, citizen journalism does appear an enticing alternative.

Yet for all its potential, it would be premature to say that citizen journalism is more effective at informing the public than the mass media. At least not yet.

Firstly, the majority of citizen produced content is actually poached from the mass media itself. Bloggers simply use the “mainstream media as a springboard for critique and discussion” (Russel et al. 2008: 70). Furthermore, there are far too many voices to create an effective, coherent news service. While this “wider range of opinions” (Sonwalkar, 2009: 77) is often touted as a positive of alternative media, in practice it is impractical. Russel et al. suggest that “all voices can be heard, but not all voices attract equal amounts of attention” (2008: 67), however, I agree more with Trueman’s assessment that “where everyone has a right to speak….nobody in particular is listened to” (Quoted in Lovink, 2008: 27).

The two biggest issues, however, are obviously: credibility and objectivity.

While you should by no means take everything you read in the newspaper as gospel, you can usually trust that the facts are correct. Why? Because someone will be held accountable if they are not. A key difference of citizen journalism is that no-one is accountable. If I write something false on my blog, and you read it and believe it… Well, who cares? I won’t go to jail. I won’t get fired. I’m going to bed. In fact, efforts to improve editorial content quality have often “discouraged potential contributors” (Robinson et al., 2010: 170). Thus, even if the vast majority of bloggers strive to be factual and honest, there will always be those who won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. How will you know who’s right?

Secondly, professional journalists are trained to put aside their prejudices and report in an objective manner. While it’s certainly not bulletproof, it is better than nothing. Yet, as Dheere writes, bloggers “often see themselves as taking a more active role in the news than simply reporting it. They are often instigators of change in the first place” (Dheere, 2008). In light of this, how can the public reasonably expect objectivity over an issue the journalist was involved in? It’s one thing to write a story, it’s another to be the story.

The shift from mainstream media, as the primary source of news, towards social media (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) is undoubtedly underway. But it’s not there just yet. The Age website might have to be my homepage a little while longer.

(Still doubtful? This video cleverly summarises Citizen vs Mainstream Journalism. Using Lego!)

Words: 556

References:

Dheere, J. (2008) ‘Arab bloggers meet to discuss free speech, reject ‘journalist’ label’, PBS MediaShift. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/arab-bloggers-meet-to-discuss-free-speech-reject-journalist-label256.html, 12 September, [accessed 11 April]

Lovink, G. (2008) Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, London, UK: Routledge. pp 1-38

Robinson, S., DeShano, C., Nakho, K. and L. A. Friedland (2010) ‘Madison Commons 2.0: A platform for tomorrow’s civic and citizen journalism’ pp. 162-172 in Rosenberry, J. and  J. Burton St. (eds) Public journalism 2.0: the promise and reality of a citizen-engaged press. New York: Routledge.

Russell, A., Ito, M., Richmond, T., & Tuters, M. (2008). Culture: Media Convergence and Networked Participation. pp 43-76 in K. Varnelis (ed.) Networked Publics. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Solove, Daniel. J. (2007) The future of reputation: gossip, rumor and privacy on the Internet. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 23

Sonwalkar, P. (2009) ‘Citizen journalism in India: the politics of recognition’ pp 75-84 in S. Allan and E. Thorsen (eds.) Citizen journalism: global perspectives. New York: Peter Lang Publishing

Is YouTube ignoring You?

Week 3:

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation of online ‘communities’?

YouTube is the online mecca for self-expression. It provides a platform for any and everybody to share their talents with the world. More importantly, however, is that this sharing promotes the development of user communities with a “communal preference” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) for something, from extreme sports to funny animal videos.

Van Dijck, however, argues that this process is not nearly as democratic as it appears. In fact, he argues that the site’s interface plays a significant and much ignored role in “steering the agency of users and communities” (Van Dijck, 2009: 43) through the ranking and promotion of particular videos. Yet since “rankings and ratings are vulnerable to manipulation, both by users and by the site’s owners” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45)—see the man who watched his own video 60,000 times!—when users are “steered towards a particular video” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45), there are also significant implications for the online communities that YouTube supports.

YouTube’s diversity makes it an effective means for communities of all sizes to promote and develop themselves. Theoretically. Users are suggested related videos and through these links can discover new activities and tastes. Yet, the “promotion of popular favourites” (Van Dijck, 2009: 45) based on views, ratings and comments, unfairly diminishes opportunities for more obscure and marginal communities by narrowing the spectrum of choice readily available. Even within related videos, the higher ranked ones appear first. It creates a vicious cycle in which the more popular videos are: promoted, viewed more often, made more popular and are then in turn promoted even more. Other and newer videos have less chance of being discovered in the first place and often fall by the wayside. And since YouTube videos are often “famous for being notorious, obnoxious, or annoying” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24), the most popular videos are rarely those most worth watching.

What’s more important: You? Or Views?

[Image: Courtesy Blue Fountain Media]

**UPDATE: In April 2011 a YouTube techie revealed that a staggering 99% of YouTube hits come from a meagre 30% of videos! **

Perhaps most concerning, however, is not that the same videos are being watched, but rather that they are increasingly commercially made.

YouTube is fast becoming a prominent element “of the mainstream media landscape” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 15). Consequently, user-generated content is being overrun by commercial content with big budgets. In combination with ranking-based-promotion, marginal communities now have even less chance of being discovered because potential viewers are being bombarded with more professional, and arguably more popular content. At the moment, only one of the top 5 most viewed YouTube videos ever, is amateur made. The others, and the vast majority of that special 30%, are all commercial. They are music videos or television shows. A disturbing trend for a site based on User-Generated Content.

Viral marketing shows just how much the practice of ranking-based promotion can be exploited. According to a top marketing executive, “clandestine marketing campaigns” (TechCrunch, 2007) regularly fabricate controversial comments, pay blogs to embed videos and craft misleading titles all to maximise the popularity of a (commercially produced) video (TechCrunch, 2007).

Such promotion artificially influences user-agency, making it much harder for average users to stumble upon something that they may love but have never heard of. While anyone can still upload videos to YouTube, ranking-based promotion tactics and an influx of commercial content means that it is increasingly unlikely that more than a handful of procrastinating teenagers will ever watch them. Users are unknowingly being pushed towards mainstream content, undermining the development of innumerable user communities.

So, is YouTube ignoring you?

Yeah. It probably is.

Words: 553

References:

Burgess, J. & Green, J. (2009) ‘YouTube and the Mainstream Media’ pp. 15-37 in J. Burgess and J. Green (eds.) in YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Van Dijck, J. (2009) ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, Media, Culture and Society 31 (1): 41-58.

TechCrunch (2007), The Secret Strategies Behind Many “Viral” Videos, http://techcrunch.com/2007/11/22/the-secret-strategies-behind-many-viral-videos/        22 November [accessed 31 March 2011]

Week Three: What features can you identify in WordPress that define it as a Web 2.0 application?

Considering Tim O’Reilly’s eight design patterns for Web 2.0 applications, it is clear that WordPress is one such application. The four main design criteria displayed by WordPress are as follows:

The Long Tail:O’Reilly suggests that Web 2.0 is primarily composed of sites that cater to niche markets, allowing it to attract an incredibly broad audience. This is a definite feature of WordPress, in which any produser can create a blog that caters specifically to his or her unique interests.

Users Add Value: Clearly a key aspect of WordPress, O’Reilly argues that users must add data to an application for it to grow and succeed. As a blog hosting platform, WordPress relies on users adding to and adapting the software provided for it to even exist. Inevitably some users will add more value than others, for instance those writing and improving software code may be few and far between, but every user contributes in their own unique and useful way.

The Perpetual Beta: O’Reilly describes how Web 2.0 applications are constantly updated and being improved in real-time. This differs from the previous practice of packaging a set version of a product, selling it, and then requiring the user to upgrade at a later date. The nature of the Internet and the WordPress platform means that being in ‘perpetual beta’ is an inherent quality of blog hosting software. Since people do not have to download anything, the product is able to constantly with or without the awareness of the produsers.

Software Above the Level of a Single Device: As more and more people forgo their computers to access the Internet, Web 2.0 apps must be openly accessible to new devices. WordPress software is adaptable to and accessible on a whole host of new generation technologies including: mobile devices, such as an iPhone and tablets, like the iPad.

Hello world! Welcome to Net Communications

Welcome to my WordPress blog. Over the course of the semester I will be critically discussing and exploring the world of Net Communications. I hope that it will give you some insight into how the technologies that you use everyday, without thinking, actually effect, construct and enhance your lives. If not, there should at least be some sweet YouTube videos.

Cheers. Have fun.