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Why my research is in Twitter

“Twitter’s a fad.”twitter

“The young kids use Twitter because they don’t want to have a real conversation.”

“Twitter is destroying society.”

“How do you know they’re real?”

“I really don’t care that much about what you’re doing all day.”

I’ve heard it all. From all types of people.

The only people who truly understand Twitter are those who are using it regularly, and have overcome the barriers to acceptance that it inherently presents as a tool of technology.

Academics don’t get Twitter. Including many of those doing research into social media.

Twitter represents a new way of communication. After lifestreaming on Twitter for over two years and researching it for over 12 months,  I understand the nuances of the communities on it, and have watched it morph as it has moved from being a geek tool to a plaything of the mainstream.

I’ve seen people pretend to be people they’re not. Consciously and unconsciously. Romances, flirtations and breakups. Proposals, business endeavours, connections – and their destruction. Lonely and socially inept people have connected with high flyers and leaders. I’ve watched as people going through the most intense pain of their lives have dared to share emotion and feeling that they’d never divulge to their closest friends in a physical sense. I’ve seen Twitterers decide, recently, that “in real life” friends and online friends really are the same thing. For many, normal people, physical presence does not matter any more.

In 2010 I’ll be completing my thesis in the communities of mombloggers on Twitter. I’m particularly looking at some individuals who have had things happen to them that we just don’t talk about in society. People who are judged through horrid newspaper reporting that does nothing more than enable the middle class and other everyone who doesn’t fit their beige lives. People in pain. Who perhaps with Twitter have found reason to keep going, found some sense of support they didn’t have available “in real life” – and through whose journey the rest of the community is learning more about things that often get swept under the carpet. Death. Abuse. Homelessness. Why some women hate others, and appropriate responses to companies and those we don’t understand.

It’s hard.

My big wish for my work in 2010 is that I can somehow do some justice to the women in the communities of Twitter, and give them the opportunity to be heard and appreciated. I can see the opportunities and topics for my PhD dissertation being unveiled, without my pushing them.

I know it won’t be easy when some decide to be contemptuous.

But I’m ready.

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Skiing on a budget with kids in Colorado

If you’re looking for a great deal for skiing, then a little preparation is in order. Think it out early, and you’ll save lots. Leave it to the last minute, and you’ll be paying for it – literally. As a grad student mum with extremely limited funds, I have got hold of some great deals, and I wanted to share some resources with you.

The Colorado Gems Card. For a $10 initial outlay per card, you get a whole range of discounts and free ski days at various resorts across Colorado. The card pays for itself after the first one or two times of use – for example, at Eldora it will get the holder $10 off the price of a child’s lift ticket (normally $39 a day), and $15 off an adult ticket (normally $65 a day). (One per person, per card, per day.) The processing takes a week or two, so get it early to make good use of it.

The Colorado Passport gives your 5th grader three FREE days of skiing at over 20 resorts in Colorado, and four days for 6th graders. It’s a really great way to get some good savings across numerous resorts, from Eldora to Aspen. The Colorado Passport is FREE for 5th graders, and $99 for 6th graders. It’s well worth the investment for the 6th grader – look at how much the lift tickets would cost you at the resort you’re most likely to go to, and you’ll see what an impact having the card makes. You need to have a picture of your child to process, and online is the fastest way of doing the application. The site says it takes about 2-3 weeks for processing, but I did it two days ago, and it’s already on its way. Important: You do not have to be a resident of Colorado to get this passport – if you know your family will ski Colorado at any time this season, it’s a great one to get for your 5th or 6th grader!

colorado vail resort pass The School of Shred gives your 5th and 6th graders four FREE days of skiing at all the    Vail Resort properties. There is no charge for this card at all, for either grade – just take   evidence of enrolment to the pass office at any of the included resorts, and they’ll sort   you out with all of it done on the spot. (You can feasibly do this on the day you arrive  to ski.)

Additionally, you can get discount lift tickets through local supermarkets such as King   Soopers (you need to go there, not able to buy online). There the tickets this season      will save you around 5-10% off the ticket office price. Not a massive saving, but    everything helps and this is one option for those who find themselves considering  skiing the day prior to heading up the mountain.

Ski rentals are expensive on the mountain. If you plan it well, you can rent in town for  a cheaper rate. Just be prepared to pick up the afternoon of the day prior to your ski  day, and return either the same day, or early the day after you shred. For the front  range, Boulder Ski Deals is my rental location of choice, with rentals from just $10 a  day for kids skis and even better deals for everyone as the season gets older. You can also  try Crystal Ski Shop and the rentskis.com site. All these have deals for group rates, and extended rentals. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. 🙂

Food and beverages are expensive (and are kind of like airplane food in quality) on the mountain, so if at all possible, take your own lunch and snacks. The best skiing seems to happen in the mornings, with everyone winding down after lunch, so don’t think you need to take a heap of food with you – a sandwich, some juice/water and snacks is fine. Remember your chapstick and sunscreen (irritating to be so prepared and then have to buy them on the mountain).

And one final note: Please, rent a helmet. You can get helmets for $10 a day anywhere (in town or on the mountain). In fact, some resorts will charge $10 for the first rental and only $8 for the subsequent ones. We’re all about saving money, but medical expenses are far more than $10. It doesn’t matter how fast you go, if you’re learning, if it’s your first time, or if you’re seasoned – if you want to keep your head and what it has in it, protect it. Helmets keep your head warm, look good, and if you don’t wear one, you’ll be the odd one out on the slopes.

Hopefully this will give you a great start to getting out with your kids on the slopes in Colorado – have fun!

Three tips for the TSA from a mum at Christmas

I have four kids. I believe in Santa. This Christmas, we saw yet another moron decide it was a good idea to try and blow up a plane. At Christmas. Christmas is my favourite time of the year and I’ll be blasted (no pun intended) if anyone’s going to take that away from me. So I’ve decided that I’ll let the TSA in on some key things they could be doing to really make a difference at Christmas.

This is important to me. My 15 year old flies to America from Sydney today, with smoke and mirrors security that I have been unable to prepare him for. The fear level is at orange. I think they’re going to pat him down. He might just enjoy that.

But I digress.

Instead of ramping up their already failing theatre of security, the TSA should just ask mums what the best things to do to keepare, given our Santa expertise and knowledge. So here are three little suggestions from the mum who still helps Santa and has never denied his existence, even to her 18-year-old adult daughter.

1. Warning people that they are being watched. My kids know Santa’s watching them. (Sidenote: Saying the Easter bunny watching you isn’t as effective. He doesn’t have as much power. Santa’s the big guy.) Maybe if the TSA ensured all their security staff were trained in really watching people and their behaviour we’d see some real changes.

2. Keep a list – and freaking well check it. There’s nothing worse than having a list of gifts and sorting them when wrapped to find that one kid has more gifts than the Brangelina clan, and another has 3 tiny boxes – and they all came from the Dollar Store. That happens when you make a list and ignore it. The massive failures of the TSA have been associated with administration stuff-ups. The terrorist watch lists are not shared adequately, efficiently or effectively. You can do cavity searches, but getting the terrorist watch list information shared properly might be a little easier. Just sayin’.

3. Hide stuff that you don’t want them to see. For years, I’ve hidden gifts from my kids in nothing more than a few striped raffia big bags with some sheets thrown over them in the formal dining room. (We don’t live there any more, so if my kids are reading this, sucked in.) It kept the gifts a secret because I knew the kids didn’t look in obvious places. While you TSA people are obviously inspecting our belts and shoes and don’t care who knows it, you’re missing the powdered explosive taped all over the body, and the stressed out guy walking around with it taped to his genitals. If I were a TSA officer I’d rather find out about that explosive from the observation of the sweaty guy than a standard genital frisk of every passenger. Unless they’re all Mark Harmon.

So there you go, TSA. Please ensure the safety of my kid and don’t harrass the 99% of people who really don’t need it. Merry Christmas.

Thank you bus girl, happy holidays

Sometimes something in your daily routine can remind you of how connected we can be.

This semester I’ve caught the bus to campus on monday afternoons, on my way to my Human Computer Interaction class. When you catch the bus on a regular basis at a regular time, you’re quite often joined by a few others who have the same schedule.

And so I was joined on Mondays by a beautiful young girl – I’m guessing she was about 10 or 11. She was always on the bus already when I got on, and rode past my stop. But every time she was there, she made me smile.

This wonderful young lady was equipped with a CD player. And big headphones. She had a penchant for the Spice Girls.

How do I know?

She sang at the top of her lungs, along with the CD that nobody else could hear. Some people pretended not to hear her. Others grinned and went on with their newspapers. But most people really enjoyed listening to this singing that had absolutely no tune, and no back beat to drum out the bum notes. Everyone was grinning. With her, not at her.

On my last Monday of class, our nightingale was there. And this time the bus driver (who wasn’t the same person every time), kept turning his head to look at the young girl. I wasn’t sure if he was going to ask her to stop – she was really making quite a bit of noise. I couldn’t read his expression when he turned his head.

But after a couple of miles, he turned, looked at her, and began to click his fingers along with the beat.

We couldn’t hear the same music as the girl. But we all left the bus with her song, and were reminded to feel free in finding our own.

Happy Holidays.

Disney on Ice, Worlds of Fantasy

Disney really has wrapped up every part of entertainment. Everywhere, the Disney organization has a presence. Even in this horrid economy, Disney reported an 18% increase in profit for the fourth quarter this year. The brand resonance of Disney is nothing short of amazing. Older women remember their favorite Disney princess, and still buy pyjamas, t-shirts and lots of other merchandise.

Feld Family Entertainment invited Harry, Charlie and I to see Worlds of Fantasy last Friday. The show was very well done, and Charlie’s favorite part was the segments of the story of The Lion King.I was fascinated by Pumba, who skated on all four skates. I couldn’t work out how the person in the suit was doing it. Charlie didn’t care about the technicalities, he just loved the images, especially of the interpretations of the animals – gazelles, wilderbeasts, lions, birds… all on skates.

The show is probably best suited to the under-10 age group, although we all enjoyed ourselves. The venue was packed, and there were so many little Disney Princesses all dressed up everywhere it was like the Royal Ball! They were incredibly cute. The show moves to Denver Coliseum from 11th to the 13th of December, and if you use the code MOM when booking through Ticketmaster, you can get four tickets for $44 for Monday-Friday matinee shows (a much better idea for little ones), and $4 off Friday night and weekend shows.

The latent sphere of the network society

Time for a brain dump. I have just completed reading work coming from Mor Naaman, Jeffrey Boase and Chih-Hui Lai at Rutgers, slated for CSCW 2010, on the content of messages in what they’ve decided to call “social awareness streams.”

And right there I have an issue. I’m lumping it together with the term “weak ties” which found prominence in the 1940s (well before the internet was considered in social theory) and the found a new audience a few years back with its adaptation to online networks.

Today, referring to the activity on microblogging sites as either of these is probably very limited, based on myriad case studies of individuals and their very real connections and friendship strength, found through CMC. They are neither “weak” (as in traditional notions of acquaintances who can be called upon when needed), nor simply an “awareness” of others in a network. They are also not built in a heirarchical organization – they are horizontal. In fact, Castells’ emphatic assertions that when we talk about communication we are actually discussing realms of power and influence, means that “communication” isn’t a term to be thrown about lightly.

He’s right.

My theory of the strength of these relationships is discovered through a realm of CMC that is primarily representated in phatic communion. The relationships exist as communities within what I call the latent sphere of the networked society. (In this sense, I use the networked society as defined by Manuel Castells.)

ghostbusters slime

You can buy Ghostbusters-type slime like this at http://www.midnightwarriorsentertainment.com

If Vincent Miller is correct, and Twitter is nothing more than a celebrated phatic technology-a technology which exists purely to support phatic communion, then the very real relationships being discovered today through its use are far more tangible than those discovered through discussing the weather in real life. And the fact that Twitter has existed and morphed in so many ways over these short years I respectfully suggest dispels any notion that it fulfills the “social awareness streams” suggested by the researchers at Rutgers. It, in fact, provides people with real connections, in the most concrete form – in fact (hold on to your hat) in a way that potentially surpasses that experienced in real life.

These people will regularly never have met in real life, until at least having met online first. Homophily still exists – we still form communities on this phatic network. (Just look at the hashtags to find the communities and topic areas that draw people together. And that’s before Twitter added the List function. And then also, what about all the third party tools that operate solely on allowing you to classify your ‘groups’ of people in that space, such as Tweetdeck…) But these communities are not just asking simple stuff like what the weather is like, or just passing the time of day. The depth of feeling is not just as acquaintances. This depth of connection to people we never before would have connected with, and in fact to many we would never approach in real life (such as the homeless), has never before been realised by any other form of media. It’s new. It’s potentially both scary and exciting.

Even though Twitter is accepted by the mainstream middle class to such an extent it no longer receives explanations in newspapers (and in fact is used as the basis for reporting by lazy journalists), it still has not reached critical mass. But it will happen.

I believe the mommyblogger community is leading the way in demonstrating the case study proof of my assertions. We have seen real connections, and real support – people reaching out in very real ways to support each other, typically in times of great need – within this community. This latent sphere bubbles up and is electrically tangible. Like Flubber (it’s highly viscuous, highly volatile, and has a great sense of rhythm) or the slime in Ghostbusters. (Sorry, but you’ll understand my meaning :)) It’s not just “aware”.

So imagine the future – where more communities realise that potential. And then take it that step further, where the brands you love most are able to be part of that space. You know the old saying that if mums ruled the world, there’d be no more war? Here we are in a global networked society, with mums leading the way. Who can tell what comes next?

 

Glade’s sweet smell of good social media PR with Edelman

This week I was happily invited to join some other Colorado-based bloggers for a few adult snacks, refreshments and the opportunity to build a basket of goodies to take home. It was a great evening, put on by Glade’s parent company, S. C. Johnson’s wonderful PR team from Edelman in Chicago, to promote their Sense & Spray product.glade scent sense and spray air freshener

This event demonstrated Edelman actively identifies good people for brands to work with, and can put together an event that suits all parties. Edelman has fantastic staff, for a start. The company also teamed with social media expert, Ann-Marie Nichols, to ensure they are hitting the right targets.

If you ask me, Ann-Marie and Edelman are smart operators. After meeting/catching up with them on the evening, my belief is that the bloggers were hand-picked to represent ethical, good quality content providers who actively engage with their readers. Women who are authentic. At a time when companies are seeking out mommybloggers more than ever, there are now bloggers who do nothing more than run around the USA for the opening of every envelope. Smart companies, like Glade and Edelman, see beyond what I’ll call “the usual suspects.” (Yes, I’m biased. I was invited.)

Edelman’s staff were well equipped with plenty of information for us to take home in the best format – a USB drive. The activity of putting together our basket of goodies allowed us to chat about the product informally, and we also had fun coming up with possible names for a new Glade scent. (Yes, someone said Bacon. I said Aussie Bush. Ambiguity FTW.) I was so lucky to have Jen Goode so kindly say yes to drawing by freehand (magic marker) one of her lovely penguins on my mug. jen goode penguin mug

It has pride of place on my desk and reminds me how special women entrepreneurs like her are. I have always loved Jen’s designs and you can check the penguin ones out on her blog, and buy a whole range of stuff featuring them. She also does other designs too. She’s an amazingly talented woman in so many areas. I feel so lucky to have actually met her too now.

The event was a great success for Glade. The bloggers discussed myriad issues beyond and including the product, and we all came away feeling positive – and that associated value rubs off. Edelman gets it.

But the goal kick for me was the extra mile Edelman went for me. Here’s the thing:

We were all offered a basket to give away on our blog. Awesome. However, I asked if it would be okay for me to give it away to anyone, anywhere – given some of my readership is in Australia. Glade is a global brand, but I completely said I understand if that’s not okay. I just needed to be clear on my blog. On the spot, the Edelman ladies said “Absolutely, we will make it work. We will send the basket to anyone who wins.” So I’m stoked. I love that foresight and appreciation of my needs.

And I’m excited to give away this lovely basket of goodies to you, even if you’re an AUSSIE!

glade basket

What you'll win! (The mug will be a fresh one that you can draw on. Great if you're like Jen Goode!)

The basket contains a snuggly IKEA blanket/picnic rug, Swiss Miss mix with mini marshmallows, eye cover, ceramic mug and some permanent markers to decorate it with, and the wonderful new Glade Sense & Spray plus a refill that we have had now in our bathroom for a few days. It smells great and with the refills costing under $4 each (USD), and them lasting about a month each, even graduate students and startups can afford it (ahem).

HOW TO WIN!

To enter is easy – Leave a comment below with your recommendation for a new scent for Glade, focused on Australia. It can be funny or serious. The winner will be picked by Harry and Charlie on Wednesday and I’ll contact you via Twitter/email (make sure you leave contact details). I’ll also announce the winner on the blog. Go for it!