Farewell Post

This Social Media Theory journey has been enjoyable, but much more difficult than I even imagined. I knew what my challenges would be at the beginning. Hurdles like lack of experience, being a digital immigrant and the whole ‘behind the curve’ identity I have yoked myself with perennially plague me.  And most of those realities played a part.

But nothing was as difficult for me during this course as was overcoming my innate tendency to be a late adopter.  Repeatedly when assignments came around, a general, life-long habit to wait/psych myself up to trying new ways of social media interaction caused dread and anxiety and often caused me to wait too long.  Indeed, I got very far behind in this course–more so than I might’ve ever in any other college course. I’m not proud of that.

Miraculously and as it turns out, my tendency to be a late adopter is not from incapability (or from fear of it, at least). I can happily report at the end that, more often than I expected, navigating and wrangling new forms of social media endeavor was far easier than I guessed and was always enjoyable.  It was good to learn as a sidebar to the course that I’m not a total idiot, whether I might’ve felt that way a few times in the last few months or not. Indeed, I’ve made myself proud, where the ‘how to’ aspect of the course comes into play.

But on the notion of the use and practice aspect of social media, I can honestly say that a comprehensive retrospective provides me with a somewhat decent handle on the scope of how social media works for creating an online presence. Managing and maintaining the sites is constant work. But it’s more than just creating content and making sure everything is current. It’s about doing so with a cohesive mentality and with an appropriate message for a targeted  audience in mind. It’s about branding. And it’s about making the most of the respective social media’s functionality as it most appropriately benefits the brand.

I’ll admit, my own brand has been all over the map this semester.  What I intended to create with the GayGaze blog was/is just too uncomfortable for me. So, in light of that, I changed courses midstream to promote my creative writing on the journal blog.  And I’ll have to confess that I didn’t live up to my self-challenges on that front either.

In effect, all of these observations lead to a perspective that I did not expect to gain by the end of this course: social media management is a tough job. It’s a busy job. And now more significantly than ever, I see that it is an important job. And I feel incredibly more equipped to tackle it if a professional opportunity ever comes my way.


what would barry do?

when it comes to stuff that doesn’t really matter, it appears that i have this overly analytical and intuitive mind. i’ve even been accused of being ‘abstract’ during my graduate school experience. some of you who have happened through my blog from time to time have witnessed that and even seemed to enjoy it.

but for me, it’s my own personal hell. that abstraction that possesses me—even about little things—and gets me so tied up in knots sometimes it feels like a straight jacket. it’s predictably amplified with significant things. like Jesus, for example. 😉

deep inside the churning recesses and cobwebs and whirlpools of my mind, i’ve always had this one certain consideration–almost a fear of the truth if i let myself even consider it.  with easter on the immediate horizon and with some of the tv programming i’ve been watching lately about the life and times of Jesus (and while professing to be a christian through ALL my wiles), that ol’ bug in my overactive mind jumped back around today.

what if i were a Jew, alive in the time of Jesus?

indeed, what would barry do?

would i have been one to eagerly join the camp of Jesus and his disciples? would i have done that with a whole heart like the bulk of those 12 men? or would i have been a fake…a liar…a devil…like Judas? would i have been the one who witnessed the entire Jesus movement first-hand, and then still deny him three times in the time of his trial?

or further, would i have nursed my belief in the God of a religious society at that time and altogether have rejected Jesus for being the ‘next flash in the pan?’

in the first place, it’s pretty relevant to consider what would it have actually been like to be ME in that culture, in that setting, in that time of uncertainty, although that throws a whole new dynamic spin on a consideration that is already abstract. yeah..that’s probably just too much to evaluate. indeed, these are questions that might not can even have answers. so let’s keep it as simple as possible.

i mean, i guess i’d like to say that i would have eagerly and zealously followed Jesus and to believe that i’d have been one of his most staunch supporters in that day, at all costs. it makes me feel good to think i would have been inclined that way.

but what if i didn’t?

eh. it’s as invaluable to ponder on never-even-purchased milk as it is to cry over it when it’s spilt. questions about some type of personal behavior that might’ve happened embedded within 2,000 years of history are worth pondering, i guess. and there’s no way to know.

but..what about NOW. if Jesus’ birth had happened only a few years after mine and he was enduring the ardor of the original easter weekend right now, just down the street from my house, what would barry do now? what IS barry doing now?

surely the most of us are not fools.  Jesus was a mover and shaker, if not the messiah or son of God that He claimed to be.  we see that ‘type’ of person come along repeatedly over the course of history. for the record,  i happen to believe that Jesus was what He said and did. and that’s easy to say with historical record combined with the esteemed and inspired teaching and preaching of generations of people and with my own spiritual instinct intact. lip service is effortless. but what if the reality were unfolding tonight just like it did for some other real people two millennia ago. they tried to believe he would arise the third day, but on a night like tonight before that had actually happened, did they really believe it or did they let present doubt seep in? would I have?

i’m asking alotta rhetorical questions right now.

but the most important question to myself tonight is this one—and it’s not rhetorical:

if i am a follower of Jesus (which i am–whether it looks like it on my surface or not), and if i believe that we are living in the last days before time ends and Jesus returns (which i do–based on easily discernable evidence predicted in ages past), what will barry do?

will i take the mark? or will i reject it and stay true to what i know to be a higher spiritual reality than the ‘world’ will receive? will i willingly bend down and be beheaded when the new world order begins its executions of those whom won’t subsribe, because i won’t subscribe?

…more questions…and more abstraction…this is deep, huh. abstract thinking’ll do that to ya. especially on ‘easter eve.’ lol

perhaps, for now at least, a conclusion:

here and now, i have to say that i’m quite confident i have my own answers about how my faith will play out in whatever unforseeable future we all face together. when i can’t speak about my past, and when my present casts a shadow or maybe even the wrong impression, my future is really not even up for debate. heck, i realize right now that it never has been, even within my own mind.

when even I have self-speculated about the strength of a faith that i have inked up with my own reckless behavior, i know the truth for myself. and if i accomplished little else for this Easter season, i have conceived once and for all that i’m a Jesus freak. and i’m on the winning side.

when i have questioned myself quite publicly right here in this very blog over the last few minutes about alotta self-weakness….

i would’ve, i somewhat have, and i will continue to attempt to stay true to my faith in Jesus Christ…regardless of the many confusions, distractions, temptations, hardships and contradictions my very lifestyle has presented and will present me in that endeavor.

happy easter to all. and thank you, Jesus.

LinkedIn: I’m BAAAAAACK…

Assignment: Establish a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one. Enhance your profile if you do have one; join groups and interact with others. Please describe what you did to enhance your profile in the journal blog. Also discuss in journal blog: What are you doing to establish your personal brand online? What could you be doing better? What do you plan to do in the future? What strategies will you employ?

I can hear the collective gasp in the audience when I reveal that I already had a LinkedIn profile before this class. I know! I’m sure it has appeared that I have evaded and avoided all things Internet and social media for the last decade of my life, made so obvious by the routine of this class.  And to some extent, that was true of my life before grad school.

But in contemporary society and regardless how much we ‘late-adopt’ or maybe even try to avoid social endeavor online, these days the Internet is a required resource when you’re looking for a job.  And unfortunately, I found myself doing just that on a recurring basis over the last decade.  I found myself in the restaurant business in 2003, after financial struggles led me away from the news business.  It was the allure of singing that made me go that path when I found a gig singing in a restaurant.  But as it appears things typically go in my life, good things come to an end.

That singing gig eventually ran away from me, and I found myself squeezing out a living by waiting tables.  And I was miserable. Enter months of job searching and my eventual creation of a LinkedIn profile.

I had basically forgotten I had that profile until this topic came up in class.  I’m not really sure my LinkedIn account ever actually led me to a new job. After revisiting that profile right now for the first time in as many years as I can recall, I can see why that might have been.  I did a terrible job creating it.  Looking over it right now, I see that the ONLY experience I included on it was restaurant-oriented–when at the time I created it, all I wanted was to get out of the restaurant business!!  And the profile picture…all I can say is THAT was a bad call.  On further examination, I noticed that out of 16 listed skills and endorsements, only half of them pertained to any of my skills that I needed to highlight to get me back to a professional career setting. The rest of these indications of skill were simply distracting (such as “entertainment” and “versatile writer”–both so ambiguous they could be wildly misconstrued). Amazing.

Meanwhile I had 13 requests and several emails requesting endorsements that I had basically ignored during the time I left this profile sitting idle. Who knows how many of those were lost connections I could’ve used when I have previously needed a career change.  And further, who knows how much longer I would’ve let this stale and inaccurate professional profile dangle in the ether had I not been challenged to update it for this class.  I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in graduate school (which happened without a LinkedIn presence to speak of..lol), but if this door hadn’t opened I can only project that I would still be idle in Chattanooga and ignoring some awesome resources I had at my fingertips all the while.  I won’t neglect my LinkedIn profile any longer!

Here’s the link to my new and WAY IMPROVED profile:


In revamping myself on LinkedIn, I linked to the academic journal in which I was published at Georgia State University, I joined three groups (one of which is directly related to media studies, which is the focus of my professional project), I sought out and invited some old colleagues from prior professional settings, and I linked to several people whom I’ve met here in Memphis and who will undoubtedly be helpful as my education and eventual career search evolves forward.

Personal branding is paramount in today’s professional society. I have been pretty slack in this endeavor, although careful to consider my respective audiences on the various social media platforms I use.  As discussed elsewhere on this blog, I reserve Twitter for the primary outlet for discussion of gay stereotypes and establishing contents within the gay community to further my research and actual social contacts in general. In turn, Facebook has been my primary means of contact with friends and family from back home in north Georgia. My brand in that setting is a far less personal representation. This is a necessity considering my alternative lifestyle and the narrow-mindedness of many people whom I still value in that audience.  I had intended to brand myself within my ongoing media studies of gay stereotypes on television with my topic blog, but as discussed in another post, that endeavor has proved to be too vulnerable and personally challenging.  I’m strongly reconsidering my prior consideration to forge ahead with that blog under a pseudonym because I’m just not comfortable being that ‘out and proud’ in the online setting.

As to how I could manage all of this branding better, it would be ideal if I could streamline all these various identities into one cohesive identity that I could exert across all platforms. I believe consistency and accountability are significant human attributes. Those who exhibit these attributes have my utmost respect. And when my urge is to exemplify these traits as well (and I do my best in my private life), I’m just not in a life position where I can be consistent with my brand platform-wide.

I have re-oriented my thinking, however, and in that light I intend to focus more attention on my blog that has thus far been used for journal and reading insights.  I gave that blog a new theme and established some further metrics tools with it so that I can maybe re-illuminate a creative writing outlet like I once had with my Myspace blog in the late 2000’s that reached over 34,000 hits.  With my energies devoted to this blog in specific, I believe I can streamline my online presence to more consistency and accountability.

My engagement strategy will be a simple one. It worked extraordinarily by the very nature of Myspace, wherein each new time I posted a new creative writing blog an alert was inserted on my profile so that all my friends could see it.  In the current setting (and because I have been working on a ‘blog-a-day project for this new creative writing momentum), I will simply link each new post to my Facebook status and to my Twitter account.  The bulk of my prior readership is still contained in contacts lists between these two platforms. I’m confident that consistently posting links to each new blog update will draw healthy traffic to this creative writing blog in short order.




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.



My Social Media Goals–and Shortcomings

Assigment: Create a list of specific goals you have for your social media presence, tailored to your needs and what you have learned so far about what works and doesn’t work with your topic area. Decide what metrics you will be collecting about your blog/social media presence that will measure progress toward those views, using the readings for guidance. Make a specific list or spreadsheet.

And here’s the one part of this course I’ve been dreading.  Something about this metrics business scares me a little. Maybe it’s because it’s foreign, or maybe because I still have recurring nightmares about my attempt to compose my first-ever and only-ever public relations dashboard last semester whilst flying almost totally blind about all the concepts and procedures involved.  But I did successfully create that dashboard, with numbers I either sought or devised myself and through learning to manipulate Powerpoint for the second time I’ve ever even used it. I’ve been a brave man for the grad school endeavor. Very brave, indeed. 😉 Nonetheless and for whatever reason, I still feel ill-equipped to really wrangle any sort of metrics with any kind of accurate sensibility.

Actually, I should re-phrase.

I can interpret and synthesize metrics information as derived from any number of analytics sources.  I’m smart enough to evaluate results.

Where I feel a bit challenged is in how to achieve those results.

Take, for example, my prior blogging experience on Myspace back in the day when that was the main social media platform.  I gained my first exposure to metrics therein, as the blogging component of that platform had what amounted to a ‘counter’ for hits. I watched that closely, and found trends in those numbers that pertained to content.  For example, any time I wrote about politics, I saw major spikes in readership.  And on those nights when I might’ve had a few too many beers and might’ve tossed out a general ‘woe is me and my life sucks’ type of blog, well, the hits plummeted.  But throughout my whole blogging endeavor on Myspace, all I did was create content.  It was a personal blog (sometimes too personal). While I was edified by the 34,000+ hits I had by the time Myspace gave way to Facebook, I didn’t have a desire or perhaps even the capability to consider how I could further promote it or amplify my statistics.  Many people encouraged me to do so, and to even consider bigger writing projects like a book.  Some of my readers even did some research on how to publish my blog into a book.  I truly had some devoted and appreciative fans.

But I was not a fan enough of my own blog (or of myself, even) at that point to even try to understand how much more significant it could’ve been.  That’s too bad.

But now, armed with new educational spirit and insight and with a multitude of tools at my fingers to do precisely what I once couldn’t be bothered with where metrics are concerned, I find myself in a newly challenging situation.  Now I’m up to speed on willingness and know-how on the metrics end, even when sometimes it can seem like the blogger in me is apparently asleep. But I fear that I have made a mistake where my topic is concerned.

I have speculated and articulated concerns about this previously, considering that my tendency for the bulk of my life has been not to make my sexuality an issue. Unfortunately, that has become an issue.  I’ve found it too overbearing to heartily promote or even composing content for my topic blog for fear of the personal ramifications in doing so.  It’s a subject I’m passionate about. And I perceive the value in what might be accomplished by developing this blog on the topic of gay male stereotyping on television.  But to make it a noticeable endeavor has just been a personal hurdle I haven’t been able to surmount.

I have been able to make some strides.  Fortunately, I had a very limited audience on Twitter when this semester and all of our challenges started. I have been able to control that audience, and even keep that audience limited. Therefore, I’ve been freer about what gay-oriented content and activity I have tweeted.  But even in that setting, there has been fallout.  A long-time friend who was on the ground floor of my Twitter activity actually commented to me the other day, in a concerned and almost shocked observation, that my Twitter was ‘really gay.’  She spoke to me about it from a stance of “why” and “it’s really ‘in your face'” and are you sure you want to do that.” She’s been accustomed to me keeping my sexuality largely quiet.  And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge how jarring it was to see me doing something different in the online realm in that aspect.  And that just felt really familiar and discouraging, even in an arena where I had created what I thought was a safe haven for being open.

Sigh. I guess I just needed to air all that out. It doesn’t change the fact that I have assignments and expectations for this course that pertain to that blog where goals and accomplishing numbers are concerned.  And I am working to meet the assignments. I will do my best to work through what is expected.  But I can honestly say that the results will probably be minor because I should’ve probably chosen a different topic for these kinds of exercises–one that I could more enthusiastically and boldly promote.

As to that promotion and in the reality of this precarious situation, I can say that I DID have some goals for this blog. Indeed I still do.  And in fact, the whole idea of peeling my face and name off of it and assuming a pseudonym might actually still be the best route. But because I haven’t done that at this point, it’s all a bit late for the purposes of this class.

For all these obvious reasons and because, for some reason, I have achieved a bit of a following on my class blog, I’ll primarily turn my attentions to its existence and the related metrics for the duration. Indeed, #Bones is becoming a bit of a celebrity on there and on Facebook as a result of the #photoaday challenge. A piece I posted a while back for the entrepreneurial journalism course was actually re-blogged by a tech blogger.  And I have constantly seen a decent amount of traffic to that blog.  So it makes sense to consider it for these exercises–to some extent as a means of personal branding–as opposed to what I intended to do with the “beat blog.”

So. Concerning thevoiceofbarry.wordpress.com. What would I ideally like to see happen with my blogging and/or my social media presence in general?  I can easily say that to increase page views and comments on any of my outlets is a number one priority.  I’ve previously discussed how I view Facebook as a sort of ‘stage’ and all the folks on my friends list are my virtual audience.  I feel similarly with our class blog and with my accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  In this perception and as I post content and pictures, etc., in the form of “performance,” pageviews and comments are like the applause. And as Lady Gaga sings, I live for the applause. 🙂

Specifically and beyond increased pageviews and engagement in the form of increased commenting, I perceive that with the momentum I have established through various forms of posting on this class bog that I might could almost re-create the reality of my former blog presence on Myspace–just for general writing posts.  I still maintain relationships with 90% of my readers from my old blog on Facebook. (Although there is gay content on this blog, it is fairly buried.  I could effectively probably even remove most of it and have no damning hard evidence about which to worry. I’m also changing the entire design of the blog so it will even take on a new identity visually.) Through cross-promotion on Facebook and a firmer branding of this blog as a place where I post the type of musings that were wildly popular in my past, I see that I could likely ramp up my visits on this blog in pretty short order. Cross promotion on Twitter is also an easy and needful opportunity here. I already have 28 followers and 408 views without even promoting this blog at all and with only random posting so far.  Now that I have redefined a direction and can more actively draw attention to content on this blog, I will definitely be paying attention to page views and comments.

As to specific metrics,  Wordpress provides some decent basic numbers as to general activity.  For the purposes of my personal, observational writing and whom has typically been a fan, I will find it compelling to learn geographical locality of visitors to determine if they’re largely people from my native southeastern area or if my writing can appeal to folks from other geographical or cultural regions.  I’ve plugged my URL into Google’s Webmaster Tools to start generating some analytics results.  Also, average viewers per day or per post will be pivotal to this personal writing blog.  Because I have seen previously that my readership spikes with certain topics like political blogging and wanes with too much personal melodrama, I will need to pay attention to what specific blog post content engages the most readers.

Lastly, as a personal challenge related to this blog, I’ve committed to myself to write a blog post per day for 30 days.  Content production is the primary key to engagement. And since the particular content is my own writing, I have to require myself to post plenty of it.  This is not an easy challenge while enrolled in graduate school, considering the amount of writing already required for classes.  And I have seen this discipline of this daily writing endeavor already to be a challenge in times past when I wasn’t in school and was merely holding down jobs waiting tables.  This will indeed be a challenge under the circumstances, but a personally worthwhile one if what I experienced with my prior personal writing blog was any indication.

And who knows, maybe my readers will start championing for  book again and the right person will engage with me to make that happen…


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.

Weekly Reading Insights-Week 3

Blogging vs. Journalism:  Insights and Observations

This week’s topic is one that pulls me personally in various directions.  At issue is the war between bloggers and journalists. These are two worlds that repeatedly collide in our current reality, where writing in the growing online realm is free, easy and available to almost everyone, and when the field of journalism as we’ve known it is rapidly fading. The worlds also cross-over, considering that many journalists have become notable bloggers and that some bloggers have successfully utilized this online vehicle to secure employment in the journalism field. Having been a professional journalist and having likewise enjoyed a healthy audience for a personal blog, I can easily discern merit in both camps as well as I can perceive the incumbent operational conflicts.

For an accurate analysis of how these two fields of communication interact, it’s important to first consider the nature of each.  A blog (a shortened version of the term ‘weblog’) by definition is a “a website containing a writer’s or group of writers’ own experiences, observations, opinions, etc., and often having images and links to other websites.” The key words here are “writers’ own experience” and “opinion.” This is, indeed, the general nature of a blog.  The most accepted characterization of a blog is as an “online diary.” These are the online, personal outlets where the previously faceless and voiceless can write about their insights and opinions on any subject conceivable.  And millions do—as many as 31 million blogs exist in the United States alone. And when the blogging trend has simply been characterized as a sort of personal online journal in its infancy, topics now range primarily along political and public policy lines including government, diplomacy, healthcare, education and a wide range of more societally-minded subject matter.  The underlying beauty of blogging is the freedom to inject personal voice.  In many instances, that personal voice can achieve notoriety and even national attention, lending audience and credibility to writers who largely have no journalistic credential and who typically do not abide by journalistic norm.

Journalism, on the other hand, has always been characterized by the intended absence of personal voice.  As Rosen aptly illustrates it, journalistic writing/reporting disallows “cheering in the press box.”  For journalists, many believe that the reputation of the industry relies on its members to be as purely objective as possible and to absolutely refrain from the inclusion of personal opinion.  Others suggest that pure objectivity is probably quite impossible. Regardless, the urge and importance of striving for that ideal goal of opinion-free journalistic reporting has been largely pervasive in the industry.  Journalism does allow for the expression of opinion in defined situations, as with editorial pages in a newspaper. But in general and quite opposite to the freedom to opine in blogs, journalism is typically opinion-free.

Because it seems that these two genres of writing exist within different realms of design and purpose, it appears that there should be an easy co-existence.  That has not been the case amongst insiders, however, considering the Internet’s partial demise of the journalism industry as it has existed.  Because many news- and information-seekers are now just as likely to peruse online content for information as they are to pick up a newspaper, blogging is stepping on journalism’s very toes. As Shirky points out and as we have all become abundantly aware, the Internet has allowed everyone to become a media outlet. For better or worse, citizen journalism by way of blogging is as much a news and information source for many as is the evening news on television.  For journalism, this is a direct threat—especially when what is available in online blogs, etc. can be of questionable authority and lack accountability.

Shirky illustrates this concept of citizen journalism, namely describing how interpersonal interaction has segued from ‘one-to-one’ (as with telephone usage) to ‘one-to-many’ (where one person’s intuition expressed online can quickly become disseminated to vast numbers of readers/viewers).  This allows online communication to resemble the act of traditional journalism.  Shirky points out that ideas/news being published online can typically occur in smaller outlets, but in many of them.  The frequency of this smaller-scale publishing can ultimately aggregate, amplify and possibly even ultimately outweigh the visibility of larger but fewer professional outlets publishing the same news. (Or more specifically and as in the case of the Trent Lott speech, smaller outlets and bloggers can focus less on news cycle or ‘old news’ concerns and pick apart and heavily publicize a story which might be ignored or overlooked by mainstream media.) Once again, these are direct threats to the existence of the traditional news business.  And once again, the question of accuracy and authority comes into play.  Indeed, the public has a ‘right to know.’  But if the information being conveyed by citizen journalists in blogs and elsewhere online is errant or skewed with heavy personal opinion, the entire democratic function of journalism as a concept can be in danger.

But from a personal perspective, I believe there is no need for competition or for one medium to usurp another’s role. They can and should co-exist. This week’s reading upholds this contention.

The existence of citizen journalism in the blogosphere is truly a new societal reality because of the Internet. Both Shirky and Rosen characterize this popularity, and explicate the threats to journalism I have already discussed. But what the two writers also do is to explain that this blogger vs. journalist dynamic is largely unnecessary.  While it’s true that information dissemination via the Internet has changed where and how consumers attain news, blogging and the like has actually ‘enlarged the team.’ Journalists can now often rely on consumers to provide information, photo and video to enhance a story that would otherwise be lacking some of these elements due to a news outlet’s financial or logistical limitations.  In addition, common sense and discernment allow us to decide when a blogger is, as Rosen puts it, an angry person in ‘mommy’s basement’ merely spewing opinion.  Those blogs largely go unnoticed and typically weed themselves out.  Mass amateurization, participatory contribution and user-generated content online have all brought many new would-be journalists into a new version of the mainstream. All the while, journalists continue to do their work.  As we continue to witness the increased readership and accountability of blogging and the simultaneous necessity of traditional journalism to survive and expand its typical business approaches in this new world of media, a functional and distinct partnership between online and traditional media can and should continue to grow.

Case Study–Television Programming Startup Distorts the Industry

“When there are so many incumbents up in arms, pouring in endless resources to stop a little company like Aereo, you know you’re onto something good and you’re doing something right.” –Chet Kanojia, Aereo Founder & CEO

And such is the reality for startup digital television programming provider Aereo.  Created in 2012 to provide consumer Internet access to live broadcast television programming, Aereo has stirred up the broadcast television industry to the point of lawsuits. But as CEO Chet Kanojia pointed out in the above quote, the startup is fueled by the onslaught of controversy its existence has created. The company began with a sound financial foundation, soliciting more than $50 million dollars in investments from companies such as IAC/InterActiveCorp.  As recently as January of this year, the company released reports indicating that it has raised $34 million more in funding for expansion, solicited from investors like Himalaya Capital Management and Gordon Crawford, formerly of Capital Group Cos. That’s a good thing, considering the series of lawsuits that have resulted from the startup’s existence.  Apparently, the company knew what it was facing and launched with the strong financial and managerial outlook “it knew it would need to withstand an onslaught long enough to survive Big TV’s predictable attempt to kill it in the crib.” More about that later.

The basic engineering concept inherent to Aereo’s functionality tosses back to the very nature of broadcast television and utilizes similar technology.  Hearkening to the now-archaic “rabbit ears” and clumsy rooftop antennae required to channel broadcast television signals into the home, Aereo operates via antenna reception as well—albeit using antennae no bigger than a dime.  These tiny devices are located in a central warehouse, and subscribers pay a fee to access over-the-internet programming delivery by means of the antennae.

While Aereo’s concept pertaining to medium of delivery via the Internet doesn’t seem new [considering the long-standing availability of television programming by means of the internet through Internet Protocol Television (IPTV)], where Aereo has tapped into a startup market is in the area of the programming delivered. Internet access to television programming has been only in the ‘on-demand’ realm, through streaming providers like Hulu, Netflix, or HBO Go or wherein broadcast or cable networks provide access to their own original episodes on their proprietary websites. Aereo has now enabled reception of live programming on the Internet. The company is not creating its own content, merely grabbing the broadcast signals of the networks and transcribing them to customers via the Internet.  In this aspect, Aereo is not changing the way television is produced, but it is revolutionizing how it is delivered.

Not only can consumers use Aereo to access previously unavailable live programming online, but through the use of mobile devices it can be accessed anywhere—and in HD. This is new for the industry. Customers can even utilize Aereo’s DVR functionalities via mobile device, allowing them more options than home-based DVR systems have in the past.  The ability to access live programming by means of mobile devices as designed by Aereo is also pushing the television advertising industry into new realms, “enabling new ways to aggregate, measure and engage with audiences beyond the exclusive control of TV programmers.”

When Aereo came on the scene only a year-and-a-half ago, the company started small. Its initial rollout was in New York City alone. This spring, however, the company is expanding its service offerings to cities all over the nation including Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston and Detroit. Preliminary demographics for Aereo’s subscriber base indicate that most customers are under 30 and that many of them “had never had traditional subscription cable or satellite TV as adults. Instead, Aereo users largely rely on Internet-only and streaming services for content.”  Aereo’s advent works out well for this demographic, allowing this group access to live television entertainment to complement their on-demand online use—thus providing a television package much like what cable television offers but at much less expense A subscription to the Aereo service can range as low as $8/month.

In its favor, Aereo’s technological design is user-friendly, being largely “no setup required…plug and play.”  Sources say this is encouraging to consumers who want to use this type of Internet-based live streaming programming access but whom have been put off in the recent past by other, somewhat similar technologies which were more complicated and more difficult to install and navigate.  And the service’s DVR capability, while more limited than those offered by cable or satellite providers, offers as much as 40 hours of space.

The insight, convenience and cutting-edge services offered by Aereo are easy to discern.  The company provides both dissatisfied cable customers, as well as those who’ve never been cable customers and whose reliance on the internet for programming hasn’t afforded them the prerogative to enjoy live broadcast programming, a cheap and easy option.  On its mere characteristics, Aereo appears to have a brilliant and intuitive startup business model with the sky as the limit.

That was until the lawsuits started.  Currently, a series of television networks is pursuing litigation against the startup, claiming that its existence is violating content-sharing copyright laws and unfair business practice statutes.  Specifically, ABC, 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal, CBS and others have filed a series of suits, claiming that the “transmission of content without a license is a copyright violation.” The broadcast networks are attempting to convince the courts to view what Aereo does as a “public performance” of their programming, which would be a direct copyright violation. Broadcasters are further concerned, as other companies such as DirecTV and Charter Communications have suggested they might enter this so-called over-the-air (OTA) antenna Internet service if Aereo is successful in defeating litigation.  Aereo has aggressively countered the allegations, saying that “because each antenna (used by Aereo to transmit signals to customers) is assigned to a specific customer, Aereo says that it’s not providing a public broadcast.”

Broadcast and cable outlets are fuming because the company’s mode of business allows it to evade paying retransmission fees for dissemination to customers. But so far two lower courts have ruled in Aereo’s favor.  This has prompted broadcasters to take the case to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed to hear the case in January of this year in order to determine if what Aereo is doing is actually legal. “We are very optimistic since we have won four in a row,” Kanojia said in an interview with Bloomberg.

Even with litigation at the Supreme Court pending, Aereo has at the very least presented the television broadcasting industry with an important disruption that may change the face of the business for good.  Millions of Americans are already ‘cutting the cord,’ leaving behind former means of attaining television programming to opt for Internet services.  Aereo meets this need head-on.  Already, ABC has responded to the startup by introducing its own ‘Watch ABC’ mobile app, which allows paying subscribers to access the network’s live programming via the Internet. And in an initial response to Aereo’s advent, broadcast network giant Fox even threatened to go off the air entirely and become a cable-accessed only network if the startup succeeded.

Regardless of specific realities caused at the hand of Aereo, it’s clear the startup television programming provider has made a mark on the industry.  The Supreme Court’s ruling could be the demise of the company, but the face of the industry has already changed, and Aereo’s impact will continue to be felt.


International Collegiate Twitter Scavenger Hunt Storified

In what turned out to be an excellent exercise in gaining some command on Twitter, my classmates and I joined with colleges and universities all over the country and even internationally to compete in the Twitter Scavenger Hunt.  Our professors provided the scavenger list…we provided the Twitter content.  I joined the challenge with my University of Memphis cohorts Robin Spielberger and Jessica Rainer.  The three of us attacked the challenge with not a little ingenuity and finished the week-long task with a compilation of scavenged tweets.  The culmination of the project was the creation of a video using the social media app called Vine.  Below is the link to our Storify version of the challenge, including our Twitter interaction with students on UofM campus and across the nation.

I’m still pretty green with Twitter and all its functionalities, but this challenge definitely added to my progress.  The most difficult part of the assignment was part and parcel to the way Twitter works: attempting to cram all the information (quotes, tags, hashtags, links and pictures) into the 140-character limit imposed for posting on Twitter.  But with a little collaboration and plenty of creativity, we circumvented the limitations and completed the challenge.

Enjoy our adventures!