Weekly Reading Insights-Week 10

The reading material compiled for this week’s topic of Social Media Uses and Gratifications was by far the most compelling and interesting reading to me for the semester.  Perhaps I might’ve considered a career in media psychology, because attempting to understand how and why people use their preferred types of media is quite intriguing to me.  Add to this innate curiosity the reality that I have lived through the decades where contemporary forms of media did not exist and have had to evolve through my own sensibilities about my personal media uses and gratifications in both a pre-Internet and post-Internet reality.  I’ve been a college student on both sides of that Internet fence as well.  It all adds up to compelling ways of thinking.

Where new media forms are concerned, I’m truly enjoying being somewhat observant to the proverbial ground floor of uses and gratifications study.  Indeed, reading through some of the selections (especially the Hargittai and Hsieh study), it’s likely the same experience as  other students had when television first surfaced as a medium and academic study attempted to define its realities and how it would be used and/or its effect on society.  This is historical research happening before our eyes, as it were. And if I live long enough, I’m confident I’ll look back on ideas and terminology like “dabblers” and “omnivores” and remember when they were first applied to social media–and that I was there when it all emerged.

Beyond the engaging aspect of the research and observation, though, what do scholars and industry professionals say about how social media is being used and for what purposes?

Repeatedly in this week’s selections and in other academic uses and grats studies, we consider the behavior of young people.  Typically falling into the category of ‘early adopters‘ per Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory, young person behavior with social media provides abundant insight–especially considering, as Boyd pointed out in her paper, some sites like MySpace and FaceBook were directly targeted to high school and college-aged users.  As Boyd suggested, the Myspace/Facebook dynamic highlighted more than increased use by young people, but a larger demonstration that online activity reflects cultural tendencies even in social class-oriented-behavior.  Appropriately pointing out that sometimes the media itself can set a tone for certain media by the way it characterizes them, Boyd’s contentions are that social media use is borne out of the social and cultural capital, attitudes, social network, geography, race and religion aspects in everyday life that identify us with our own social classes.  Because of factors even as simple as visual appeal (where one site’s “blingy” appeal for some classes comes off as “gaudy” to others), she concludes that “in a society where we can’t talk about class, we can see [class struggle] play out online.”

This phenomenon is reified by Manjoo’s observation of ethnic use of Twitter.  This piece was just a specific example of cultural/class-oriented social media use, but it’s compelling for me to read about this because it demonstrates a far different reality than my own use of Twitter and that of any of the dozens I have interacted with–as a white, gay man.  Ethnic use of Twitter in the “oral-dissing” tradition of the black community and in the “call-and-response” tradition using what Manjoo dubbed “blacktags” is something I have only randomly witnessed among classmates and some coworkers but have never really acknowledged as such. Yet this is a perfect example of cultural social media proclivity, just as when Boyd suggests that latinos might have been more predominant on MySpace because of the vivid visual (aka “blingy”) nature of its online presentation. The use of Twitter in the black community as a means to talk to each other directly rather than broadcasting messages is a tendency that I also found interesting and that I can remember seeing before I understood it as a trend.  This whole observation makes me curious if there can be enough discernible Twitter evidence to study trends of usage within the gay community.  That seems like a great idea for a study. 😉

Considering, then, that certain groups of the population or maybe even underrepresented segments of the population have identifiable uses for certain types of social media, a piece by Brown aptly suggests the “civic value” for journalists to pay attention to this habits and behaviors. Essentially, targeting these previously or typically underrepresented groups in the new media realms where they interact most and knowing those ways of interaction can help bring about a sooner demolition that state of being underrepresented–in both coverage and reach.

Finally, as Hargittai and Hsieh pointed out, understanding not only the frequency and nature of social media use but also the diversity of it is imperative. As previously stated, I really appreciated this article because of its innovation and insight. While basic, it provides new semantics for uses and gratifications theory where social media are concerned.  Whether on the “dabbler” end of the spectrum of use, where mainly one social networking site (SNS) is used and only randomly, or on the “omnivore” end where at many SNS’s are used and at least one to an extensive level, this article adds depth to prior considerations of age, race and cultural considerations that have been pushed to the forefront once again in the context of social media use.  This depth reflects that sex even sex (with women being more intense users of social media than men) and even technical skill can play a role.

Indeed, this was a fascinating week to read for J7330. 😉


Weekly Reading Insights-Week 11

DATA. Damn.

That word’s meaning has truly evolved for me, in particular, from the first time I can remember hearing it in an educational setting. Way back in 1984, I learned a bit about ‘data’ while in Mrs. Ruth Caudell’s “Data Processing” class at Gilmer High School. Personal computers were new then, and my peers and I were stoked about taking a computer class (which then used DOS as operating system..lol). Primarily, what “data” meant to that group of high school students was focused on what a computer could do with it. Thus, it was more about the new technology than the value of the data themselves.

Fast-forward many years through and beyond my years in the journalism business, and we arrive in 2014. Now “data” is a significantly more operative and useful concept for the news business.  Indeed, gathering and interpreting data has always been integral to the news function. But now, there is so much more data available at a reporter’s fingertips. And the responsibility to be able to wrangle it and interpret it is much more intense.

Data-driven journalism (DDJ) is fairly new terminology for the news business, coined around 2009 to classify reporting that takes on the task of getting involved in the hordes of data now available online to extrapolate and synthesize information about trends and statistics. According to so-called “information architects” such as Mirko Lorenz and Paul Bradshaw, this new journalism task specifically requires some extent of computer capability.  Bradshaw’s take on the phenomenon of DDJ is summed up nicely in  this quote: “data must be found, which may require specialized skills like MySQL or Python, then interrogated, for which understanding of jargon and statistics is necessary, and finally visualized and mashed with the aid of open source tools.” Therefore, this new aspect of reporting has opened up new jobs in the field–and also new implications.

Amy Schmitz Weiss detailed some of these implications in this week’s reading from her blog.  Not only does DDJ require new technological skills not typically expected of reporters before, it requires new capability at insight. Further, because many citizen journalists and lay information mongers are adept at creating their own visual interpretation of data, reporters in this field of the business have to be savvy with this skill as well.  Data mining and sensor-sourced capabilities cause some concern about the waning existence of private data. And for the DDJ reporter, the main key is being able to interpret and synthesize the myriad information that is available and important to manage for contemporary news stories.  Weiss pointed out the applicability of the trend, such as with the Cicada Tracker technology and mapping capabilities.  But the overarching sensitivity here, as pointed out by Weiss, is the key capability of reporters to be able to understand and analyze statistical representations of data to make sense of them for the general public’s consumption.

Obviously, the role and existence of DDJ is eye-opening for me as an old-school journalist.  But the most enlightening part of this discovery for me was data reporter Grant Smith‘s presentation of a Google map he created for a story in the Commerical Appeal regarding an alleged serial rapist.  Smith showed the class how he laid out a map of the alleged perpetrator’s reported crimes, and it became obvious how using data to simply create a map can shed light on a story such as this like never before. For me, the mere visual representation of the alleged crimes on a map shed light on the accused rapist’s activity and inclinations.

Indeed, journalism not only acts differently than it once did, it looks different.  Our assignment to create a Google map of our own for this week’s assignment was both fun and educational for my first attempt in doing so.  It’s abundantly obvious to me now how data reporting and mapping has became a crucial part of journalism’s present, and how it can only grow as a field to become an integral part of journalism’s future.

Weekly Reading Insights–Week 9

In this week’s reading, we approach the newly evolving concept of journalism as it has become more like a conversation as opposed to a lecture.

For the life of the journalism business, news has merely been reported to the audience, which thereby simply consumed it. Pervasively, the audience has had little to no prerogative to either respond to or engage with the news.  Aside from limited opportunities like ‘letters to the editor’ or so-called op-ed pages in newspapers, audience participation in the news gathering process has barely existed.

The internet has clearly changed this.  In our modern digital society where technology is relatively cheap and more widely available and internet access is rapidly filtering into nearly everyone’s lives, the public has not only become a part of the discourse–it has assumed its own roles of news gathering and dissemination. This is even more common with the rapid adoption of mobile devices.  Indeed, citizens can frequently be ‘on the scene’ and capture breaking news far more easily than a bonafide news team can.  The audience now has more than a right to be informed, it has a right to be heard. This has clearly changed the democratic process of journalism.

In this consideration, it’s important to analyze best practices for how this new dynamic works.  In her research, Doreen Marchionni set forth an explication of operational definitions to illuminate this veritable new way that news happens in our society.  Describing the difference between traditional journalism (where professionals dispense the news) as opposed to collaborative journalism (wherein the audience and news professionals exist and perform in conjunction), Marchionni does more than spell out definitions. In effect, she describes how this new collaborative reality is requiring changes in news professionals and the way they do their work.  Journalists now have to demonstrate less an air of authority, and more an air of humanity.  Because the audience functions no longer as subjects in the news kingdom, journalists now have to be friendlier and more relatable.  Informality–to an appropriate degree so as not to undermined credibility–is now the order of the day.  And interactivity is paramount.  In essence, the new social dynamic of the news requires journalists to be people too.

That’s a bit of a struggle for a business that has self-designated as a watchdog and a gatekeeper.  But according to Marchionni, it’s only necessary.  If our purpose as journalists is to inform the public, in modern culture that is best accomplished by allowing ourselves to engage with the audience in the manners the audience is comfortable with.  And simply, to a large extent, the audience no longer needs or wants to view news professionals as authorities.

Take, for example, the phenomenon of public commenting on news websites. In this one specific reality, academic research has been prompted to call the interaction a new public sphere.  And some scholars like Arthur Santana have even been prompted to characterize this scenario as a breakdown of this new public sphere where incivility in readers’ comments is common and pervasive.  (Santana’s work in this arena is scheduled to be published in the upcoming winter 2015 issue of Newspaper Research Journal).  Indeed, the reach and scope of this type of collaborative journalism and new public order is requiring new thought processes for academics and practitioners alike. This and other realities like it wherein in a participant public plays a heavy role in the journalism process prompts the industry to redefine its procedures.

The readings this week offer many insightful suggestions as to how to address this, but none perhaps as compellingly as in Why comments suck (& ideas on un-sucking them. This piece just makes sense.  Public comments (and the aforementioned new public sphere) is here to stay.  The news industry cannot redefine this course or stick its head in the sand and wish it away.  To embrace it is the best solution.  Practical ways of doing that, as suggested in this article, require a new streamlining of news operations. And change is difficult.  But with simple advice like learning how to reapportioning staff investment to monitor commenting, news organizations can wrangle the madness.  Ideally, as this article suggests and, in a sense, alluding back to what Marchionni discussed about media types becoming more human, journalists make the best investment when they acknowledge their constituents and communicate them humanely.  My favorite quote from this article reads, “When I’m speaking in public, I stand behind a lectern and I use a particular set of skills. The more I hone those skills, the better I get at public speaking. But if I’m talking with people at a cookout and I use those same skills in that setting, I’m just an asshole.”  This is a brilliant characterization about how journalists must reconsider their disposition amidst a growing trend of collaboration.

This collaborative reality is actually furthered on social media platforms like Twitter. This medium has basically evolved into being tailored perfectly for digital news dissemination, and the very nature of its design allows for commenting.  Facebook, too, is designed for this functionality.

But this new dynamic doesn’t have to be a nuisance.  As momentums like crowd sourcing and the perennial need for community engagement will always exist for news outlets, the new conversational nature of journalism actually makes endeavors along these lines easier, as pointed out in the report from Mayer and Stern. The reality is already so firmly rooted in the profession that analytics and metrics are being published to demonstrate the effectiveness of embracing the reality.

In sum, the internet and online social communication has redefined journalism at its core–to what full extent, no one can even foresee. But with an understanding of this new collaborative nature, modern professionals must continue to iterate their practices and their habits to adapt. Unilateral dissemination of the news is of the past;  finding the best ways to accommodate will be the key to the survival and credibility of news outlets.



Weekly Reading Insights–Week 8

For this week’s reading, we take a look at metrics and the various tools available to measure our online activity.  Indeed, in contemporary online society and especially for digital journalists, it’s not just about writing an article to deadline anymore.  The capabilities of online tracking, measuring, and analyzing engagement have added responsibility to not only write good content, but to be capable of positioning it and promoting it correctly.  Because the tools are there, they should be used.  And knowing how to do that is crucial.

Analytics and metrics are obviously something we never needed to contend with when I worked in the television news business. Ratings operations like Nielsen have thankfully handled that task for the television industry  for years.  And the work of Nielsen was pretty much the only way metrics could be achieved for television entertainment and news.  But alas, the times have changed. That is easily evidenced just by signing on to Nielsen’s webpage.  The first headline that pops up is “Online Measurement” and this quote: “Understanding how your brand is doing online is about more than clicks and page views. It’s about the audience.”

In the readings for this week, I perceived a couple of categories when it comes to metrics: how to achieve metrics and the growing science of metrics.

In the “how to” category, I can already acknowledge that I have bookmarked Leo Widrich’s article titled “A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog.” This article is gold and a significant and practical resource for anyone who needs to ramp up their online headline writing.  These pointers are especially useful for me in particular. With the bulk of my professional news experience rooted in television news, writing headlines was something I never had much responsibility for or experience with.  Headlines per se don’t really exist in television news (although skill in writing them is relevant to good lead sentence writing).  But now, headline writing–and really GOOD headline writing–is a requirement for anyone who endeavors online, whether that endeavor is as a digital journalist or a blogger or even just a Twitter user.  Indeed, these pointers are good for all of us.

Specifically and most notably, this article specifies the importance of using action words in online headline writing, as well as being bold to ask for downloads and retweets. And very akin to the best practices for writing a television news story headline, Widrich wisely recommends using “you” when writing headlines in an attempt to make stories seem more personally relatable.

Widrich also highlights the importance of using photos–but not just any photos. He points out that images significantly increase online engagement, but even mores when they are images that can convey meaning without requiring text. Self-explanatory photography is an art, and an incumbent photography skill for online engagement.  Widrich speaks to brevity, as well. We all know the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter and how a requirement on brevity as such can be a challenge. But Widrich suggests to impose that same brevity in headline writing on Facebook and elsewhere. He specifically suggests to keep it under 80 characters.  Indeed, shorter is more engaging online.

I liked the advice in this article that suggested using Twitter for A/B testing, especially with blog headlines.  Using Twitter statistics to establish validity before placing a headline on a blog or elsewhere is inspired and something I would’ve never even thought of doing with my own online platforms. Yeah, gold. The healthy list of resources in Gerry Moran’s piece is invaluable as well.  I also bookmarked this one. Tools, tools, tools. Especially free ones.  This is a good thing.

As to what is apparently a growing science about metrics, the article by data scientist Brian Abelson was an eye-opener. I’m aware and familiar with metrics, having previously built my own public relations dashboard for another class at the University.  And because we talk about it in our graduate student circles even pertaining to our own personal social media, I have a command on the necessity and importance. But to read to what extent academic and scientific research is foraging into the arena was really compelling. In the article, Abelson details his research into how pageviews on the New York Times website can differ with the implementation of promotion of content on social media platforms.  Through a statistical and visual interpretation of his findings that were as detailed and complicated as any academic research article, Abelson establishes his findings that promotion increases said page views.

The author also details the often-overlooked aspect of resource investment into attaining metrics.  Comparable to the origination of the term “horsepower” that this concept’s evaluation of the strength of a machine does not necessarily take into account the “resources required to generate a given amount of force,” Abelson explains that likewise, news organizations can’t simply count pageviews on a website. These organizations have to account for the resource investment (i.e. cross-promotion/advertising, etc.) that is required to accomplished those pageviews.

This is all such a new realm of thought to me.  I’ve investigated my dashboard on my WordPress blogs and have enjoyed seeing those static results.  I have my own Klout score (and a pretty darn high one I’ve heard at 59).  And I’m constantly monitoring my level of engagement on Facebook–if for no other reason than to see how my ‘fans’ are enjoying my ‘show.’ 😉

To gain perspective from this article on the importance of the level of investment in attaining these metrics,  I feel like I’m even better equipped going forward with my personal online endeavors at self-branding but even more so with my “beat blog” on gay male stereotyping on television. Even a little better understanding at the science of metrics and the factors that fold into it will help me decide what my best strategies are as I proceed to attempt to leverage my blog and its content for the highest levels of engagement.

Overall, the readings this week did indeed provide more information than just the importance of measuring online endeavor.  As summed up in the piece by Moran, reach is about more than counting.  It’s about who you can reach and to what extent you can engage.  Moran’s simple pointers as to considerations of what time is best to post online content, attempting to reach beyond just your followers, finding the right followers, finding influencers, and branding correctly all point to the new role of responsibility that journalists face in the online realm that goes far beyond mere content and deadline.


Weekly Reading Insights–Week 7

Assignment: Choose an article of interest (regarding location-based/geosocial services) to summarize as part of your journal blog reflections.

This week’s topic is as foreign yet as familiar to me as anything we’ve discussed so far.

The concept and functionality of geosocial services is probably one of the social media elements I am most familiar with.  I’ve long been a fan of ‘checking in’ on Facebook, to the point that many of my friends on there have a tendency to get a laugh out of it.  In my pre-grad school days and to some extent still now, I can be a pretty mobile guy when it comes to a night on the town or actually just in general daily routine. And unlike most (or maybe even ALL) of my Facebook counterparts, I have had a tendency to check in just about everywhere I go. This can result in three to five checkins in the three-or-four-hour course of a given evening. Because I guess many people on my friends list are a bit more sedentary and because the typical Facebook user has the site up on their computer for hours at a time, it’s easy to be distracted by that kind of activity on my part.  So I get the response “where is Barry gonna be in the next five minutes?” pretty often.

Alluding to what we discussed in class to some extent, I also like that social media (and checking in an as a record of activity) allow us to compose a veritable digital archive of our own history. It’s fun to look back and see where I was or what I was doing a year  or more ago, and the social media record makes that easy to do.  So in the personal aspect, location-based functionality has been a friend of mine.

Where geosocial functionality is foreign to me is in the realm of journalism. Quite honestly, when this consideration first presented itself, I couldn’t imagine how a reporter could capitalize on an app like Foursquare. Part of that confusion was because I wasn’t really familiar with that application, but further because it just didn’t configure how location-based technology and journalism could cohabitate. Obviously location matters when reporting news events, but because I didn’t have a command for how Foursquare even works, it just didn’t make sense.

Then I downloaded the app. Whoa.  This is like a match made in HEAVEN.  Now that I understand the features and benefits of an app like Foursquare, I can only guess how excited I would’ve been to have had this  kind of tool when I was a reporter.  “Going where the people are,” as Snow characterizes it, is a God-send for reporters. Gone are the days of my experience when a reporter might end up standing outside the Post Office for hours on end desperately trying to find someone willing to comment about a story on camera. Not only is the ‘man on the street’ more gregarious these days (probably largely because of social media), but he is also more easily located.  This is an easy function of crowd sourcing as well.

And the whole ‘tips‘ aspect tied in with geosocial services like Foursquare–now that’s cool.  I got a quick understanding about that with only my very first check-in (and my first visit) at Taziki’s after class last week, when I immediately read a tip from my colleague Elle Perry about what was good to eat there. Awesome.

But there are drawbacks.  A long-time user of the location-based “gay dating app” called Grindr, in many ways I’ve loved the capability to meet and talk to guys whom that app indicates are nearby. That has come in especially handy being new in Memphis.  And an article in the suggested list for summary indicates that app has made the move to Android in addition to iPhone-based access.  Growth is a good thing, because with any luck it indicates there are increasing numbers of other guys to talk to. 😉

Following a link on that article led me to another that had more compelling (and also somewhat disturbing) implications for location-based technology. Apparently Grindr has launched into the world of heterosexual interaction for its geosocial services.  As Nitasha Tiku writes, straight people can now enjoy the same convenience of meeting people via Grindr’s technology. This is not new, as other such location-based dating technologies exist. But what’s compelling in this particular article is how Tiku points out that the technology is particularly convenient for residents in dense metro areas like New York City, where there are actually too many people to meet.  This is opposite to my typical experience as a client of Grindr, where the opportunities to meet men in the areas I’ve typically lived in are too sparse and the app simply is a way of meeting someone at all.

But as Tiku points out, for some, the risk of exposure in heavily populated areas multiplies exponentially and negatively with this type of app.  It could be very likely to be looking at the profile of a person sitting right across from you on the subway.  Normally that might be okay–even a good thing.  But on the chance that the person owning that other profile is creepy or has underhanded intentions, this whole scenario just puts a face on the risk.  The antidote is as much as keeping your face off your profile, but eventually face pictures are swapped in online scenarios like these, so the risk pervades when someone can nearly pinpoint your exact location.

This article goes on to explain how Grindr’s new heterosexual version of its technology might best work as a type of Craigslist ‘missed connections’ function, where users can essentially more easily attempt to re-encounter someone they had previously seen in a public place when there might be no other means to try to reestablish that connection.  Craigslist for mobile users, as it were, I can see how useful that function would be, especially in very crowded urban areas where both chance and missed encounters are likely the frequent order of the day.

In either aspect, Grindr and other geosocial services like it that serve as interpersonal/dating sites have already shown tremendous success. In 2011 during the app’s pre-android existence, there were already 1.5 million male users via iOS and Blackberry  in 180 countries. Obviously there are a host of social media users who have already learned not to be afraid of location-based technology, which is largely due to everyday, more general-use apps like Foursquare.  The trend of comfortability with this type of self-exposure will likely only continue to grow.


Weekly Reading Insights–Week 6

For this week’s readings we once again turn to the writing of Clay Shirky, who, in the final chapters of his book, takes on the overarching principles important to consider with the evolutionary and cultural change being brought on by social interaction online. Shirky digs down into the deepest psychology of cultural reality and functionality in an online world in these chapters, summarizing what he sees as the fundamental realities of the digital world we now live in. I can easily grasp this cultural shift that Shirky evaluates just by being in same generation.  Having gone to college and been in the work force for even a few years before the advent of the internet, it’s easily tangible to discern how society has changed–a far cry from the perception of the so-called ‘digital natives‘ of ensuing generations who have only known internet-driven life. Thus, Shirky’s insights offer current and almost prophetic advice in these final chapters.

Perhaps as importantly as any of the concepts discussed by Shirky in this last part of his book is the concept of failure. As with any new startup possibility now and throughout history, the possibility of failure is incumbent.  In offline settings, this reality can be a function of poor planning, financial impropriety, faulty organizational tactics or a combination thereof. While these flaws remain constant for forming organizations in an online setting, Shirky aptly points out that to fail online is, at once, far cheaper.  Due to the far-reaching capabilities of open sourcing and crowd-sourcing in the development of anything from new software to social group formation in the digital realm, the online community (or as Shirky calls it, the ‘ecosystem’) provides for this handily due to its very communicative nature.  Propose an idea online and call for help, and typically at least a few interested people will respond.  If enough interested people participate, the idea can flourish.  That initial idea or momentum may not come to fruition for multiple reasons–and with limited financial investment.  Nonetheless, the online collaboration and the legwork and creativity formed around the idea still exists and can be mutated and applied to other situations.  All the while, the work and the investment has been at minimal cost.  This failure, Shirky contends, is not only necessary, but conducive. Failure equals research.

According to Shirky, there are some primary reasons for failure in this new digital community, especially in the arena of group formation and social interaction online.  If a group’s identity is suggested as too broad, too specific, or too boring, the endeavor can likely only fail.  Conversely, when a purpose for a social tool in the digital realm is user-determined and serves an immediate need for a component of society, the likelihood that users will congregate under its umbrella increases.  I found it particularly interesting where Shirky contends that willingness to start on any given project is more likely in collaboration than if the work is individual and ‘from scratch.’  This functionality, coupled with the less-expensive concern of failure, is easily accomplished on the internet.

With open source development of software as his example, Shirky explains how the internet makes failure cheaper:

  1. the endeavor doesn’t have any literal ’employees’
  2. there is no notable financial investment
  3. there are no actual business decisions involved

In this setting, online open-source style development “doesn’t handicap the likelihood of success.” (p. 246).  It is in this ecosystem of collaboration and creation, where every participant claims ownership in the process, that new ideas/groups/startups and indeed an evolved culture can flourish.

Shirky illustrates how our culture is migrating in this direction by contending that when a company or organization finds something that ‘works,’ that organization is more likely to stick with that process and attempt to advance in that area rather than invest too many resources in the development of newer, untested programs. Although this does create a tolerance for the status quo, it’s a cheaper route for most organizations. However, in the new digital realm where communication and cooperation are easier, cheaper and far less likely to fail, evolution is occurring to flesh out new practices, programs and endeavors that previously might’ve been left by the wayside. This is clearly a foundational cultural advancement.

Shirky finally sets out to explain the basic functionality of what he sees as best practices for new social media outlets available in contemporary society.   He details the required components as being a promise, appropriate tools, and the bargain.  Regarding promise, social media must lay out what it will offer potential users. This offer has to be better or more valuable than what people already have available for their lives. The suggested promise of what the outlet will offer has to be accurate and not too specific or sweeping and it must create a sense of value and shared ownership of participation.  The tools available for using the media in question must fit be as easy as possible. The tools must be limited or they may overextend what is promised. These tools must also be based on the number of people involved and the duration of interaction. Last, the implied bargain between users of social media tools is important, in that it clarifies what people can expect from each other. This bargain requires users to mutually guard the terms of the scenario so that its functionality and usefulness is not undermined. And all users who participate must agree to the implied bargain for participation to be beneficial.

This basic skeleton for how social media applications best operate as laid out by Shirky  in the final parts of his book relies on the main component of any of this online interaction: the human element. Online social interaction for any purpose is in and of itself a social bargain.  The internet is a social setting, and breakdown in advancement will occur when the human element doesn’t play by the proverbial rules.  Indeed, governance is still required, as Shirky points out in the cases of the White Bicycles in Amsterdam and regarding failures in the early days of Ebay activity.  While the internet and social media provides the most profound arena for cultural change and evidence of that change, when users continue to misuse or abuse the technologies and opportunities presented is where breakdown occurs.

And while part of the failure Shirky speaks about is because of misuse, inevitably some of it is also from human attempt to play catch-up, as he puts it. Technology and cultural momentum changes as rapidly via the internet as those of us who are ‘digital immigrants‘ can keep up with.  The future of how the digital social world will evolve is as much our responsibility to accommodate as it is the responsibility of newer generations to drive it forward. As Marc Prensky points out, it’s all a process of advancing our collective ‘digital wisdom.’

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 5

At first, I considered that our readings in Clay Shirky’s book for this week and the suggested outside readings about capitalizing on still photography for online use were unrelated.  The reading topics for each week’s class don’t generally have to be related, but I like to establish some sort of connection amongst the themes if I can. In most aspects and at face value, it initially appeared that this week’s topics are disparate. Shirky takes on the general ideas of “social capital” and “bridging and bonding” in his chapters.   I initially couldn’t see how that could pertain to photography at all.

But after some consideration, I’ve envisioned how best practices of personal internet photography and the concepts of bridging and bonding social capital do intertwine–and in profound ways.

Indeed, the Internet has changed our culture. For illustration, Shirky alludes to Robert Putnam‘s pivotal work entitled Bowling Alone. (Which, by the way, was the most intriguing and enlightening reading for me during Mass Comm Theory last semester.) When Putnam composed his insights, he fingered television for the devolution of society’s tendency toward group interaction. Putnam characterized that trend in 2000Shirky takes a look at it now, and as it pertains to the Internet. And what he sees is dissimilar.

Rather than devolution of group interaction, Shirky suggests that the Internet has promoted societal assembly.  It has made it easier. It’s become cheaper. And thereby, there is more of it. Rooted in what Robert Axelrod has characterized as the general human tendency to be reciprocal and “shadow the future” by doing good things for others on the presumption that they will return that favor,  Shirky and Axelrod allow this concept to apply to social interaction and collective cultural group identity. It’s essentially “paying it forward,” as it were. As Shirky contends, we strive toward the best with our social interaction. And we innately desire it. This urge inevitably increases our investment in social capital. It’s human nature to assemble with others, we do good things to ensure it, and thus it has been a human tendency.

When Putnam considered that television as a technology interrupted that, Shirky illustrates the internet as a champion of it.

Integral to a discussion of social capital investment are the concepts of bridging and bonding, illustrated succinctly in the writings of Pippa Norris. The internet has redefined the ways humanity approaches these concepts.  In bridging, we reach out to others who are unlike us in order to invest in the new or foreign. Bonding, on the other hand, characterizes a tendency to cleave to the familiar.  Society has not previously witnessed as electric an environment on either front as has been viewable with online activity.  Shirky contends, and I concur, that our society is in a new, more intensive and dynamic realm of social interaction on both fronts. Walls for interaction have disappeared, and the resultant increase in group formation and activity is obvious.

Shirky also indicates that this new culture of increased social interaction has its downfalls. Professional roles have been eliminated, in that the human coordination element has been largely removed from the equation. This is particularly obvious in the news business, as mass amateurization has undermined the gatekeeping role of news organizations. Also, what Shirky calls the social bargain is compromised, as the Internet allows people to evade governmental and journalistic limitation. His third perceived downfall is the general danger of communicative and group-based freedom (i.e. for mass activity as well as negative momentums). This concern speaks for itself.

So how does it all this pertain to photography and sharing pictures online?  The implicated advice is clear: be smart and skilled about how you take pictures you intend to post online, and then be very selective about what you follow through with posting. Online endeavor towards investment in social capital is our new way of life, and it is no longer merely a function of written expression. The Internet is now the vehicle for how we coalesce in modern times, but we no longer solely rely on written communication to do it. Words pervade, but we utilize images more profoundly in contemporary online society. Old school still photos in hard copy have a legacy of being worth 1,000 words.  But the audience is now amplified to a global one, with any given set of eyes perusing what we post at any given time. It is incumbent to consider within this new momentum of personal online branding that we use photographs to our benefit. Basic skill at photography is a requirement. And tutorials abound. It is now requisite to pay attention to what we broadcast for our own online image.

But considering how significant and fast-forward online communication is in the realm of social capital investment and how the concepts of bridging and bonding flourish in online interaction, utilizing intuitive and quality photography can either further or inhibit that possibility. We can identify with others across the world without typing a word if we correctly utilize images. And we can simultaneously miss opportunities or ostracize ourselves if we do so recklessly.

Indeed, as our global community waxes and as affiliations rise and amplify at the hand of the Internet, it is paramount to duly equip oneself with at least basic skill and awareness with still photography.  If Shirky is right in his assessment that the concept of community(ies) will only be advanced by the Internet–for better or worse–, the images we post today can either be a death-knell or a proponent to the potentially life-changing and significant social capital scenarios we could navigate tomorrow.