Codes of Conduct

Wordle 04

Word cloud created by the author at http://www.wordle.net/ and comprised of keywords for coding user-generated Foursquare tips.

After coding and analyzing the full data set for broad topics (i.e., coffee, service, etc.), I began to peruse the tips in an open and undemanding way, allowing phrases, words, and sentiments to simply settle in my mind. Subsequently, patterns and word “gems” caught my attention. A frequently used construction consisted of (1) announcing a consumable and then (2) declaring its goodness at varying levels of intensity (i.e., varied use of the exclamation point). Note: all of these tips can be viewed from the full data set by clicking here

  • Orange juice squeezed fresh daily! Yum. [179]
  • Sticky muffins!! Yummy!! [237]
  • Orange & Basil Scone! Yum!!! [213]
  • TODDY WORTH DYING FOR. [229]

While not a construction per se, there were also instances in which the entire tip was simply a naming of an item; only suggesting that it was enjoyable and worthy of sampling (e.g., “Honey vanilla latte!” [223]). This construction was reworked any number of ways. Sometimes the writer would insert a command, insisting that the reader also get said consumable. In other cases the writer imposed grammar (an article and a verb) to communicate a more refined recommendation. Naturally, examples of refined commands presented. Furthermore, commands varied (i.e., go, get, try, and have).

  • Get a redeye, it’s awesome! [211]
  • The Honey Vanilla Latte is awesome! [251]
  • Try the velvet. And get whipped cream. It’s homemade and delicious. [138]
  • Get the chorizo crepe if you like delicious crepes. [330]
  • Have a breakfast burrito. A little pricey, but great local ingredients and delicious! [150]

Carefully selected words, such as “indulgent” and “savory” made otherwise common tips stand out from others. However, some of the first word “gems” that got my attention were invented, emergent, or otherwise modified words, such as: awesomesauce (awesome), delish (delicious), fav (favorite), food coma bliss (satisfying), and my personal favorite — an example of onomatopoeia — om nom nom (presumably the sound of one eating with reckless abandon somewhat like Cookie Monster).

Urban Dictionary is a serious and entertaining lexicon that crowdsources definitions for emergent words, including awesomsauce. Here we have the current high-vote definition for awesomsauce.

awesomsauce
“Something that is more awesome than awesome. It is a modifyer [sic] of your basic awesome into a more awesome version.”

Not surprisingly, I began to notice tips that I would characterize as “insider information” for those who are “inside” the Foursquare network. This can include references to the “mayorship” of any given venue, but also details that may not be readily apparent from the first few visits, such as wi-fi codes, items not listed on the menu, understated practices, or skillful employees that don’t otherwise standout from their peers.

  • Wireless password is: bean2010 [252]
  • Ask to try the Dr Lux – whipped cream, dr pepper, and espresso. It’s different. Not on menu. [106]
  • Locally owned neighborhood cafe with sort of secret drive up service, and they are dog friendly!! It’s a winner!! [206]
  • If you go for cocktails, look for Ben, the tall hipster mixologist. Ok, that was kinda repetitive, but his creative work behind the bar bears repeating. Ask for his take on the mojito. Or anything… [394]

With these observations, some questions began to percolate in my mind and I returned to the data set with the intention of developing a list of keywords to look for in order to identify more complex constructions and uncover common linguistic practices. Naturally, I was also curious to see if any of these qualities lent themselves to more Likes/votes than others and if there were any curious variations among the different coffeehouses. I created a database “score card” using Microsoft Access that allowed me to set up columns containing multiple keywords. The result is that I would be able to filter tips for individual and collective keywords. This process came to resemble the method referred to in “The Coding Manual for Qualitative Researchers;” specifically, the three-column approach promoted by Liamputtong and Ezzy to render “code jottings” into established code categories. After reviewing the tips and making notations numerous times, I settled on the following codes and identified the keywords that counted for them.

In Microsoft Access, using columns with multiple “lookup” values makes data filtering easier. In this case, the highlighted row will be included in searches for user tips that refer to the coffeehouse space, food compliments, or general liking, Click image to enlarge

Examples of Keywords, [concepts] and (synonymous keywords)

Code Description Examples
Directive Tips that insist a reader consume, experience or otherwise partake in the recommendation. Get (also: enjoy), try, have (also: go with), go (also: get, show up)
Declarative Tips that make a value judgment about the location or its products or services. Like, love, favorite, heart (<3), best, [goodness] (including: yum, delicious, tasty, awesome, etc.)
Intensifier Tips that contain instances of non-verbal elements, such as ellipsis or emoticons; use of exclamation points, or use of “my” or “I.” Ellipsis with 2, 3, and 4 periods, smiley face emoticons, exclamation points individually or in groups of 2 or more, use of “my” and “I”
Localness Tips that use words or phrases to emphasize the local qualities of the coffeehouse or the ambient qualities within it; also, references to the artisanal qualities of their menu items. Local, home, neighborhood, homemade, well-crafted, ingredients, atmosphere, setting, hang out, [insider tip]

This is page 4 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography
Click here for page 5: Copper Star Coffee

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Local Contributions

Foursquare users are able to publish a tip about any venue in the Foursquare database by using either a mobile device that supports the Foursquare app or a computer. Tips may be submitted prior to, during, or even well after a check in has taken place. Thus, it is possible for users to leave tips even if they have never actually visited or checked in to a venue. Of course, this opens the door for irrelevant or malignant user feedback; in some cases, outright spam. For this reason, every published tip presents users with a one-click option to Report mischief in any form. Of course, users are also able to Save and Like tips if they desire.

Leave a Tip for Others

The app encourages users to contribute tips to the Foursquare community in a few ways. After checking in, but not always, the app will present the user with a popular tip (see screenshot above; “1st time here! Here’s a popular tip”). Presumably (and based on experience), the app will promote a tip from the user’s friend network if there is one. Soon after checking in to a venue, the app will ask the user if they would like to leave a tip for that venue. Again, if a user is exploring venues via the app or the website, they are prompted to leave a tip at that time. Aside from making user lists, publishing tips is the primary way to make a contribution to the growing body of user-generated knowledge about venues. Users are restricted to 200 characters but, like Twitter, can include URLs that can direct others to additional, web-hosted information (Chris Thompson on May 24th, 2010, What is a tip?). Because of the fundamentally public nature of tips, they lend themselves to data collection; especially via computer.

Leaving a Tip and Receiving a Tip

Left: publishing a tip. Right: notification of a local tip, after checking into a venue.

Even with a shortlist of standout coffeehouses from the Foursquare best of Phoenix page, I still had a collection of nearly 500 tips. In examining preliminary statistics regarding the top-ten list, clear division between the “top” five and “bottom” five emerged: the top five scored 9.0 and above on the Foursquare 10-point rating system; three of the bottom five had more than one location which challenged, and the bottom five also had lower total check-ins and a lower ratio of users to user check-ins as compared to those top five, which boasted super-high Foursquare ratings, single locations (i.e., personality),  inclusion in more user-generated lists, more user-uploaded photographs, etc.

Among the top five coffeehouses, there were a total of 346 user-generated tips. All quotes from these coffeehouses — ranging from summer 2009 through April 20, 2013 — were included for analysis in this study. They were collected using a desktop computer to browse individual venue pages so that each page of tips could be selected, copied and pasted. Data was first pasted in Microsoft OneNote to strip formatting and then copied and pasted over to Microsoft Excel. Initial collection included preserving the date the tips was submitted, user information on who submitted the tip, the number of likes awarded to each tip, and the tip itself in its entirety. This entire base set (minus usernames) is embedded in the spreadsheet below and it was used to derive second-level data, such as individual word count per tip, average word count for tips of the same coffeehouse, and, through discourse analysis, a breakdown of the broad topics associated with each tip.

Foursquare Coffeehouse Data

Getting a Flavor for the Feedback

I developed broad categories after an informal review of all tips and created columns in Excel to code them. With 346 tips and five categories, there were now potentially 1,730 “tip elements” to be considered. However, on average, each tip accounted for 1.4 tip elements and this only increased the overall total of tip elements to 488.

Coffeehouse Tip Coding by Topic in Excel

Table 1: Using Excel to code tips according to broad categories. Click image to enlarge

Figure 1 shows that the conversion of tips to tip elements had little to no effect on the distribution of tips among the coffeehouses. Additionally, the division of tip elements validates that each accounts for a substantial amount of consideration (approximately 20-30%) and that no fringe categories were under consideration.

Tips and Tip Elements

Figure 1. Percentage distribution of tips, tip elements, and categories. Click image to enlarge

With my major categories identified and after properly coding  the modified data set of 488 tip elements in Excel, I then generated a pivot table to examine how these variations could be organized to present one or more findings. Pivot tables allow data to be stacked, arranged, filtered, and rearranged hierarchically to tease out significant relationships. I prepared a table to look at how each of the major categories were represented by user feedback for each coffeehouse (Figure 2). However, the significance of these relationships among categories between coffeehouses could not be validated without recalculating the distribution of categories accordingly (Figure 3). For example, we see that tips regarding coffee at Lola Coffee account for 29 of the 44 tips and that this fewer than the 42 times coffee was referenced for Lux Central but more than the times it was referenced for the other three coffeehouses; specifically: Copper Star Coffee (13 references), Giant Coffee (23 references) and Jobot Coffee (26 references). Once these tips are recalculated relative to all feedback within each venue, we come to observe that tips regarding coffee at Lola Coffee account for nearly half of all tips for that venue (48%), which is about double the feedback for the same category at all of the other coffeehouses, which are now relatively similar, ranging from 20-29% feedback relative to other categories.

Comparison of User Feedback Across Coffeehouse Venues
Coffeehouse Tip Number Analysis by Topic

Table 2. Analyzing the number of tip elements by topic permits comparison among coffeehouses but not between them. Click image to enlarge.

Coffeehouse Tip Analysis by Topic

Table 3. Analyzing the percentage of tip elements for each topic relative to all tips for a single venue allows comparisons to be drawn between coffeehouses. Click image to enlarge.

Significant differences emerged and yet I reminded myself that the range of user feedback varied considerably

Coffeehouse Users Check-Ins Lists Tips Photos
Lux Central 3,060 16,202 93 128 458
Jobot Coffee 1,403 6,801 47 70 176
Lola Coffee 1,131 5,654 46 44 85
Copper Star Coffee 902 4,230 24 48 71
Giant Coffee 910 3,839 34 56 121
Tips and Likes

This chart illustrates the inverse relationship between number of user-generated tips and number of likes. Most tips have no “Like” votes and whereas 28 tips (approximately 8%) account for 50% of all “Like” votes. Click image to enlarge.

4sq Tips and Likes Chart

In this chart we have tips arranged along the timeline from oldest (left) to most recent (right) with the height in red indicating the number of words in the tip and the height of the gold indicating how many “Like” votes that tip received. Click image to enlarge.

Word Count to Likes

Word count is aligned with like-votes received and there is no discernible correlation. Click on image to enlarge.

Other Resources:
• Best of Foursquare – Phoenix
• What is a tip?
• 5 tips for creating foursquare lists that get noticed
• Foursquare launches rating system, competes with Yelp


This is page 3 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography
Click here for page 4: Codes of Conduct

Posted in Reflections | Tagged | 1 Comment

Online Communities

LUX CENTRAL - Copy

There is “life” beneath the surface. Promotional postcard for Lux Central (detail), artwork by Sammy. Similarly, the affordances of technology underlie our in-person interactions.

In his 2010 book, Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online, Robert V. Kozinets  addressed the importance of clearly defining culture and community as a starting place when exploring the ways in which they are mediated by and exist in online venues. Kozinets notes that it was acknowledged by many in even the early days of the internet that elements of community-building were taking root in bulletin boards, chat rooms, and listservs. Still, anonymity was not uncommon, considering that “it was assumed that the members of online groups almost never physically met” (Kozinets, 7). Under the new paradigm of Facebook and other mainstream online communities, anonymity is less in fashion. Yet even this is contested, take for example Google’s initial move to prohibit pseudonyms [1] in its Google+ platform, only to reverse course [2] the following year; and its efforts in 2012 to nudge YouTube users towards adopting real identities. In any case, people are connecting online and through online channels and establishing identity is important, particularly when online activity overlaps with real-world activity.

In the early days of online communities, real world meetups may not have been an option but what new challenges arise when in-person meetups do become an option, if not inevitable? How do our online channels and venues afford us the opportunity to interact remotely when it is our lifeline but to also interact remotely when it is a complement to our real-life interactions? The channel that I have chosen to explore this topic is Foursquare for the way it affords users to interact with people they know at different levels as well as members of a community of interest; again, at different levels. In essence Foursquare allows users the platform to collect against, connect to and contribute with other members in the community.

Who hasn’t noticed that something is going on underground and in the clouds overhead, filling the interstices of our lived experience. With much of our day-to-day interactions mediated through technology, even the most intimate, in-person interactions taking place in our public spaces are carried along a stream of information technology. For example, I meet a colleague at a coffeehouse — a meetup arranged and facilitated via email, mobile phones, and — in the hours preceding — text messages. We individually check in to the venue using Foursquare, we access our Google drive to conduct our business, and we consult our synchronized calendars to coordinate a follow up meeting. Afterwards, we may report on the meeting via Twitter, share it via Facebook, or archive it on a blog.

More of our lived experience is taking place in the in-between spaces, not as a mediator but as a destination; however, much of what used to be inseparable from the traditional desktop computer has now been liberated through mobile devices. We are increasingly mediated through online channels and yet more mobile. Our technology is in competition with the real world only insofar as it does not accommodate it. Yet, with the explosive trend of mobile devices and the apps they run, accommodations and affordances continue to grow.

“More than half of Americans now use social networking sites to tell their stories, to build their networks and to share in the social media revolution that’s occurred. People are  using these technologies to do something profoundly human. They’re connecting with other people and sharing their stories. So they’re not hooked on their gadgets; they’re hooked on each other.”

Lee Rainie
Networked: The New Social Operating System
(promotional video)

References:

[1] Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research Online
[2] Pew Internet & American Life Project
[3] Google Confirms: Non-Real Name Google Profiles Risk Suspension (I.E., Google Still Doesn’t Get Social)
[4] Google+ is Now Allowing Nicknames, Pseudonyms & More
[5] No Pseudonyms Allowed: Is Google Plus’s Real Name Policy a Good Idea?


This is page 1 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography | Click here for page 2: Collect and Connect

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged

Collect and Connect

Foursquare, like any game, allows a mix of competition and connection among players; even if — as in the case of solitaire — you’re only competing with yourself. With this in mind, I tracked each of the quantifiable measures from my profile and for each of the “friends” in my Foursquare network.  Specifically, I tracked and analyzed the following indicators: friends, tips, photos, lists, badges, maryorships (current data), total check-ins, total top places check-ins (for the past six months), and total most explored categories check-ins (for the past six months). I computed sums, averages, and ratios to see if correlations or patterns emerged. In reconsidering the game element of Foursquare, I experimented with grouping indicators according to the effort a person makes and the rewards they earn. In a game, this might equate to strategy, practice, focus, and improving or winning. In this case I identified effort as the sum of user-generated tips, photos, and lists (but not check-ins). I identified the earnings as current mayorships and accumulated badges. Obviously, names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Foursquare Matrix

In this Table and chart, “Earn” refers to the sum of all user-generated tips, photos, and lists; Earn refers to the sum of earned badges and mayorships (at the date of data collection). Top Place check-ins and Most Explored Categories check-ins are also reflective of the date collected as they change as time passes. Click image to enlarge.

In looking at “earn” and “effort” I could not immediately discern a correlation but if I made them a “closed value;” i.e., making them account for total participation then I could create a spectrum in which a person’s earn-effort activity would place them on some point of the scale. I looked at total check-ins for a correlation and could not identify anything, try as I may, to account for the large variation in user activity. Total check-ins ranged from 61 to 6,305. I wasn’t able to incorporate friend scores because friends ranged from 7 to 309 (note: all friends are also Foursquare users). I needed a way to even these numbers. I decided to look at check-ins for “top places” and “most explored categories” because they are limited to the past six months — for everyone. With this new data set of recent activity, I found myself getting closer to an understanding but not a correlation. I then looked to see what patterns did emerge. I then coded/quantified both effort and recent activity data sets for high, medium, and low. The result was a matrix of user profiles.

High Effort Medium Effort Low Effort
High Activity Scooby Doo
Yogi Bear
Snoopy
Medium Activity Bart Simpson
Low Activity Sponge Bob
Bugs Bunny
Elmer Fudd Pink Panther
Popeye
Mighty Mouse

If user profiles were formalized or identified by Foursquare, in an automated way, and fed back to users this may open up opportunities for Foursquare, its developers, venues and users themselves, in terms of encouraging more “active” participation in the app; specifically, in leaving tips, submitting photographs, and curating lists.


This is page 2 of 9 in a Foursquare Coffeehouse Mini-Ethnography
Click here for page 3: Local Contributions

Posted in Reflections | Tagged | 3 Comments

Blog Redux

Blog

CC licensed (BY NC) by Thomas Hawk (see bottom of page for photo credit)

This week in ENG553 we are looking at blogs. It amuses me to see how far I have come regarding this species of internet creature. In my profound naivete, I used to think that blogs were an engine of the internet, only to learn that they are more like the exhaust. When I applied to graduate school in fall 2010, I had to submit a writing sample. I used an assignment I prepared for ENG552 (Composition Studies). This was inspired by the book Keywords in Composition Studies which contains dense treatments of fifty-five of “the most consequential words in the field”(from the back cover). I had to write a treatment of a keyword that did not appear in the 1996 publication and I selected “blog.”

At the time, I thought I was taking a chance at selecting a narrow, fringe concept that I would have to somehow bend to fit the assignment. I quickly discovered how buried I could become under an avalanche of books, journal articles, and online articles. It was a great challenge to try to compress all of that information into a 2-page essay and feel that I could speak authoritatively. I may look back on this essay and feel proud or embarrassed. What is important is that it marked my first serious effort at graduate school writing and, in fact, it played a part in my getting accepted into Arizona State University’s program in English, rhetoric & composition. So, in honor of how far I’ve come and how poetic it is to continue to revisit old trails, I am posting the original essay as submitted.

_____________________________

blog

A blog, otherwise known as a web log, is a regularly updated website that contains dated entries, posted in reverse chronological order, that account for an individual’s (i.e., a blogger’s) activities, experiences, and reflections. Blogs are particular to the internet just as dreams are particular to sleep because they both arise organically from a unique medium and are defined by elements exclusive to that medium. In the case of blogs, the internet allows for equal and free access to online publishing, instantaneous broadcast of content, protocol (i.e., hyperlinks) for integrating and appropriating an unlimited reservoir of content, and the posting of comments by readers. Notwithstanding, it is the content, and the compulsion to stimulate community discourse with that content, which provides the spark of life that generates blogs. The message dictates the medium, just as jazz emerged from formal music. Jazz “[demanded] a different way of playing and listening, just as blogging requires a different mode of writing and reading. Jazz and blogging are intimate, improvisational, and individual—but also inherently collective. And the audience talks over both” (Sullivan).

Blogs reside within a fragmented, virtual region of the internet, known as the blogosphere. In the 1990s, this community was exceedingly small, and the members served as aggregators of the burgeoning World Wide Web. “The original weblogs were link-driven sites… each was a mixture in unique proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays” (Blood). By the end of the decade however, the community had mushroomed and then, with advent of blog publishing software, exploded. “Since 2002, the number of blogs has doubled every six months” and it is now estimated that a blog is created every second (Ringmar 19). The blogosphere is expected to host half a billion blogs by 2010 (Barlow 35). Above all, it is the desire for discourse that drives this growth (Lovink xix) and, as such, the blogosphere is best understood as “a conversation, rather than a production” (Sullivan). Bloggers and their readers feed and amplify this conversation cum “discourse community” (Vandenberg quoting John Swales 67) using a variety of blogging tools; i.e., “chat-forums, bulletin boards…’shout boxes'” (Ringmar 18) and engage in various established and emerging blog genres (Ringmar 25). With a tendency towards innovation and convergence, the term blog may eventually fall away (Ringmar 19); however, online discourse communities will continue to grow interdependently as more of our lives are mediated by the internet.

The academy is no stranger in this strange land. Not only were scholars among the first wave of bloggers to exercise the power and potential of the blogosphere, they were also the vanguard of online communities at the dawning of the internet, being among the first to employ e-mail and build newsgroups (Wood 36). As such, blogs constitute a natural progression from these early networks. Academics who blog, effectively broadcast their research, affirm their knowledge, promote their professional interests, and continually dialogue with a robust community of peers, no matter how far flung they may be. Indeed, a number of the more celebrated bloggers are professors (Ringmar 54).

From this vantage, academia understands that imparting literacy is no longer sufficient “as more and more human activities acquire Web-connected aspects” (Barlow xi). Increasingly, all citizens — or Netizens — must also acquire neteracy; specifically, “the ability to negotiate the Internet with relative ease and skill” (Barlow 20). Institutions and instructors therefore have an obligation to promote critical neteracy skills and thereby cultivate in students the capacity to engage in, process, and facilitate the discourse of online communities. In this regard, blogging provides a unique opportunity to the field of composition because writing is the alpha and omega of blogs. Furthermore, blogs are not going away; and this presents a challenge to the field on how best to make use of them (Barlow 29). Answering the call, instructors of English, reading, writing and other disciplines are increasingly looking to the blog as a tool to extend and inform classroom instruction. Blog-driven assignments (e.g., pre-class writing, post-class reflections, peer-evaluations, critical assessment of public posts, etc.) have found their way into the curriculum at every level. In some cases, the instructor’s own blog may be the subject of an assignment.

Whatever the instructional aim, the format and features of blogs present numerous opportunities for writing instruction. As a new form, blogs are evolving and unconventional; their language “is conversational and often it’s irreverent and kick-ass” (Ringmar 18). This can be an effective means to engage timid writing students because the expectation to write in a scholarly voice, i.e., to “invent the university,” is not expected, and typically the effort is not graded for style and grammar but rather on effort. Further, it acknowledges the difficulty  writers can have in identifying their writing agenda outside of actual discourse “since it is the discourse with its projects and agendas that determines what writers can and will do” (Bartholomae 609). Ultimately, the student blogger will become “less reflexive and more reflective” and a more confident writer as a result of composing in a low-stakes medium (Blood). Moreover, the interactive, community-driven feature of blogs may provide a means for instructors to reconcile the relationship between writing and learning. As David Jolliffe frames it, “what subject matters do we want [students] to learn about through writing?” The “interdiscursive tensions” that arise can only be addressed by achieving a balance between allowing students to write on what they know versus having a subject handed down to them or, for that matter, some combination of the two. The solution that Jolliffe promotes – a progressive sequence from reflection into inquiry and then interrogation leading to persuasion (Jolliffe 213-214) – is naturally inherent in the iterative dynamic of the blog as played out between a blogger in their dispatches, reactive comments posted by readers, responses by said blogger, and the ensuing conversation of the collective. Andrew Sullivan, in his essay Why I Blog, turns to Montaigne to exemplify this writing process:

“But perhaps the quintessential blogger avant la lettre was Montaigne. His essays were published in three major editions, each one longer and more complex than the previous. A passionate skeptic, Montaigne amended, added to, and amplified the essays for each edition, making them three-dimensional through time… helping the reader see how each rewrite added to or subverted, emphasized or ironized, the version before. Montaigne was living his skepticism, daring to show how a writer evolves, changes his mind, learns new things, shifts perspectives, grows older—and that this, far from being something that needs to be hidden behind a veneer of unchanging authority, can become a virtue…”

Not all of what is to be found in the blogosphere is golden. While it contains enviable examples of articulate and insightful blogs, a significant amount of the overall content may, in fact, be dubious (Sullivan). From a style standpoint, the internet “breaks with many of the conventions of [written] English… [and] has quickly developed its own set of conventions” (Barlow 16). As such, good grammar in this medium can no longer serve as a gauge for effective, valuable writing (Barlow 23); and quality may not necessarily trump quantity. The enormous output of the blogosphere can scarcely be ignored by the field of composition. In her 1994 essay, Anne Ruggles Gere raised concerns that the academy had neglected composition’s extracurriculum; moreover, that it is failing to acknowledge that the extracurriculum “continues to exist or perform cultural work” (Gere 1085). The blogosphere bears this out. Bloggers, like their offline counterparts observed by Gere, are encouraged by the force of what they have to say and the act of expressing it and in “[writing] down their worlds… [they] bear testimony to the fact that writing development occurs outside formal education” (Gere 1082). While some bloggers may be soldiers reporting from the frontlines of war and may not live to see the end of the day, other bloggers blog in their pajamas about the contents of their breakfast plate and go the whole day without leaving their house. “At either extreme, the bloggers put their talent, wit, or off-the-wall perspectives on display, trying to achieve the attention that they, and so many others, crave” (Wood 53). As Gere notes, local writing workshops exist “to build community in order to solve local problems.” So too, bloggers engage the larger community and expose themselves publicly, believing that the act of engaged writing can change their lives and their worlds (Gere 1083). In this regard, one persistent issue associated with blogs is how many of them are not read. “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one” (Quenqua). Blogs on average are not updated often, and many die. “The shores of the internet are littered with blogs which have run aground and been abandoned by their owners” (Ringmar 22). For bloggers who wish to reach the right audience, their blog is akin to a message in a bottle. For readers who are seeking the content and discourse that is meaningful to them, the “right” blog is akin to a needle in a haystack” (Ringmar 24). This dynamic raises another persistent issue associated with blogs: they typically speak only to the converted” (Barlow 62).

Indeed, “most Web communities do not spring from the Web, but from affinities existing in individuals beyond the Web” (Barlow 9) and what brings people in mass to the internet, above all else, is conversation (Lovink xix). One vigorous outcome is “the imaginative and bold ways people have chosen to make their voices and their causes heard using new tools, new technologies, and new social relationships” (Case xi). Because blogs can be broadcast and received all over the world, they fulfill the potential for far-reaching democratization. As such, blogging is “a medium that is cost-effective to maintain so it is not subject to pressures of commercialization; it is free of rigid bureaucracy unlike that within media organizations; and, it is not bound by professional codes of journalism” (Tan & Ibrahim 6). As a result, bloggers hold a unique position in that they are intermediaries of the interconnected community. Often not in positions of power and positioned a level above the non-blogging, but engaged, masses, bloggers serve as a conduit for knowledge and discourse within the community in a way similar to journalists. The journalistic angle may be compromised more often than not because of the personal nature of blogging which does not negate the journalism component but may suggest the need for a new term; perhaps “blogalism” (Tan & Ibrahim 135). As “members of the middle layer [bloggers serve] as knowledge intermediaries, undertaking various social and technological practices to drive the embedding process. These practices included filtering incoming knowledge, feeding it to followers, recycling and recombining ideas, and providing a just-in-time support system.  The middle layer can be seen as forming a key part of a knowledge ecosystem, within which patterns of feeding and recycling [occur]” (Cranefield & Young 48).

It has been suggested that “blogs are the proxy of our time” and that they will continue to serve as the building blocks and the currency in the new medium for interlinked, online communities attempting to navigate social change (Lovink xxiii). As such, “if the blogs are changing our culture, it is because of the individual bloggers, not because of the other uses that have been found for the blogs, no matter how fascinating these may prove to be. If nothing else, the blogs are changing our relationships with technology, making them more personal and active than ever before — in the political realm, certainly, but elsewhere as well.” (Barlow x). Worth noting, is that the majority of bloggers are under 30; younger than other internet users and much younger than the general population. Moreover, this digitally active contingent is overrepresented with African Americans and particularly Hispanic Americans, relative to their percentage of the internet-using population (Ringmar 21). In other words, the at-risk and age-appropriate populations that the academy most aims to influence and educate are already online and they will have been blogging before, during, and after their relatively brief stay in the classroom. The question for composition studies is not whether blogs are a legitimate area of inquiry but rather how will the field take an active role in learning from them and also effectively instruct general writing skills instruction with them. Already the wave of community discourse has moved through the utility of the blog and onto shorter, more responsive and more fragmented mediums, such as texting, Facebook, and Twitter. The drive for communicating through composition will not change; however, the mode will change and it will undoubtedly be the subject of continued scholarship.

Seth Goodman
December 2010

References

Barlow, Aaron. Blogging America: The New Public Sphere. Ed. Robin Andersen. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2008. New Directions in Media.

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” 1985. The Norton Book of Composition Studies. Ed. Susan Miller. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2009. 605-630.

Blood, Rebecca. “Weblogs: A History and Perspective.” Rebecca’s Pocket. Rebecca Blood, 7 Sept. 2000. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. <http://www.rebeccablood.net/‌essays/‌weblog_history.html&gt;.

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Photo credit: cc licensed (BY NC) flickr photo shared by Thomas Hawk

Posted in Reflections

Adventure Ho!

Downplaying this sentence as much as possible, let me declare that this is my first posting to this site. I’d like to avoid the importance and pressure of what these words — this post, this page — point to; especially as time goes on. When I activated this WordPress blog, the site template displayed WP’s stock phrase “The Best Blog Ever!” No thank you. I can do without the pressure. I find it hard enough to recount what I did in the past week when chatting with my own mother. We’ve all gotta’ start somewhere.

Ethnographic Museum of Oleggio by Shadowgate

cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo shared by Shadowgate

I am taking a class at Arizona State University this semester (spring 2013): Technologies of Writing, Online Ethnography (ENG 553). It’s not blowing my mind as much as bending it; pulling it, really, like taffy. I’m finding it challenging in a surprising way, this topic. It is presenting me with a quality of abstraction that is thick and murky and rapid. I’m at a loss. What flavor is red? How warm is sad? Who exactly is yesterday? I am at once reminded of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and Dorothy on her wild ride up the cyclone. I am moving through new “landscapes,” in unexpected directions and I’m being exposed to and pummeled by so much — so much that is familiar and at the same time doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t speak for my classmates; they are having their own experience. This fun mashup of “down the rabbit hole” illustrates that each of us — all of us Alices — have our own experience of the fall. But this chunk of the internet is my attempt at, my space for, dropping anchor in this investigation into netnography and what it means to me in the so-called “real world.” To put a twist on a notable quote by Kahlil Gibran [1], this site is my work made visible.

In simple and concrete terms, my classmates and I are exploring digital spaces [2]. This is intellectually challenging for me because, while my life is heavily mediated by technology and the internet, I do not view myself as actually living in online spaces. Now that I am four weeks into this course, ideas and concepts are beginning to come together, enough for me to find a true starting point. I am open to discover where this will lead. That said, I am reminded of this great line from The Princess Bride in which the hero recounts how he came to be in the service of the Dread Pirate Roberts and, eventually, came to replace him. Each night, the Dread Pirate Roberts would say: Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.” The point then is this: Netnography and the Hood may end up becoming the best blog ever but for now “I’m in it” for only the next three months. I’ll most likely kill it in the summer.

One final note; one final reference — this time to one of my favorite films, Groundhog Day. In this film Bill Murray portrays a man who is forced to relive the same day, over and over again, until he has become whole and refined. This is my way of saying that I reserve the right to go back in and edit, revise, and modify any of the content on this site, until I get it right. What you read on this site may not be — particularly on the pages as opposed to the posts — reflective of content that was rendered complete the first time around. More likely, it is the product of many weeks of revision and tinkering.

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[1] “Work is love made visible”  On Work Kahlil Gibran, from The Prophet

[2] Course description (from syllabus): “What is online ethnography, and why is it a useful tool for contemporary academic researchers? What unique challenges do online ethnographers face, and how do they seek and find help conducting this kind of research? This course introduces students to a range of ethnographic research methods and theories, focusing specifically on how such work is carried out in online spaces. The class will explore topics of public and private information; data protection and retrieval; entree and participation in online groups; online identity performance techniques and measures; social network design and iteration; and the importance of understanding internet inquiry from both users’ and designers’ perspectives.”

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