Tag Archives: online

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.

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?


What Twitter means to me

I joined Twitter on my first trip to the US, in 2007 at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. And I remember thinking it sucked. I had no connections other than the conference channel – which was tweeting  basically nothing. That sucked.

Segway (does it have a ue?): I’m a tertiary level teacher of marketing and journalism in Oz, and every Christmas break (5 weeks long) I commit myself to a private research project. That year I committed myself to social media – particularly, Twitter. And I got back on board.

With a vengeance.

I joined @STUB and met other Sydney based Twitterers in real life. I extended those relationships online and people all over the world are now part of a network I’m happily claiming to be my friends. Not even in air quotes.

So my summer research has now, 2 yrs later, become a network of over 1650 people. Many of whom I know care about me just as they do other friends in their life. And if you are, at this point, thinking “is she going to talk about me”, then you’re one of the people I feel most close to.

Far from making me a desperate online loser, I sincerely believe online communities are the families and friends of the future. Durkheim – I love looking at your crap, but you’re a bit wrong. We are distanced, but we are strong.

To all my friends who started with Twitter, I am so grateful to have you. You have changed my life for the better. What a great summer project you were. What an amazing present and future you offer.


The future of print journalism is social

Traditional print media’s attempts to embrace an online presence has been lacklustre, and in fact has helped kill their brands.

Most print MSM have incorporated blogs as part of their delivery mechanism. They have made their existing, print-trained reporters produce content for a medium they are not familiar with. It’s like having a trained print journalist produce television. There are differences. Traditional journalists who are already overworked due to company lay-offs have had varying degrees of ethics and purpose when producing content for their blogs. Most appear to not really know why they’re doing it other than ‘to show we’re in that space’. And because of the time involved, the overall quality of everything they do can suffer.

When blogs are put up by traditional media, the masthead appears as the banner to the blog. Anything produced under that masthead reflects on the brand. For a media brand, if it’s not journalism or well produced, that’s damaging. MSM has treated the internet as though it’s a massive printing press and anything and everything can run. At last, there’s no restrictions of cost of paper, distribution, etc. Stories which perhaps shouldn’t be written or run are given a second chance online.

Recognising the Web 2.0 social aspects, print media has incorporated Reader Comments sections in their online brands which allow all manner of diatribe, ill-informed opinion and complete drivel run for pages and pages – often longer than the stories themselves. Most of this ‘reader comment’ would never have seen the light of day if it were offered to print entities, but due to lack of staff, it runs away with itself unless flagged by another reader. I would suggest if it’s not fit for print under your masthead then it’s not fit for online publication under your masthead either – and as news organisations of many years’ standing, you have a responsibility to control these comments before your readers – particularly on hard news. By making the reader comments section open slather, it’s as if a peanut butter brand opened the lid and said “got anything you want to add? Sure thing, just chuck it in there.”

Online should be giving print media the opportunity to give readers a more in-depth experience with the type of quality reporting often limited by cost of paper and distribution. It should be expanding their brands. All stories should be including internal links to sources, further information, etc that are well researched and allow the reader a complete experience.

Print media believes writing for the web means writing all the information in a shorter way and presenting it well. Often simply repurposing content. For example, J-schools train up and coming reporters in how the eye looks at a screen, and gets them to rewrite a print story for the web. That’s kinda like getting a print reporter to rewrite their story for tv. It’s garbage. Great print media, in adopting an online presence should be all about giving extra information through the links they provide. It’s about being truly transparent. And in a Web 2.0 environment, it’s about being social.

Being a social media entity does enable everyone to be part of your efforts. Web 2.0 is community. But when you add that masthead to the top of your online efforts, then you have a responsibility to the survival of your professional brand as a business as well.

If you want to use Web 2.0, you need to do so responsibly to help your medium survive. Recognise that you have a community of readers who regularly want to respond. Why not approach those people to see if they’d like to have their own blogs rather than sullying up every story you run? Only add reader comments if you can moderate them, and only to particular stories. Invite people to provide additional links rather than simply their opinion! Identify exactly what it is that is driving you to make your print journalists write blogs too, when you have a whole community of people out there? There are plenty of ways to be effective in Web 2.0. It’s social. It’s about people you don’t employ. And they’re a community who could add value and credibility to your brand when you control the infrastructure within which they contribute.

If your masthead isn’t that important to you, then you deserve what’s happening to you.

Why you shouldn’t read print

Since moving to Boulder I’ve actually started picking up the local free newspaper each day, but I’m over it. Why? I read it online and believe it’s the cheapest, easiest way of helping the environment – even easier than all that other recycling we do.

In Australia to get a paper you need to visit a newsagent, or the train station – basically have a human interaction. But here in the US, there are a plethora of newsboxes (I dunno what they’re actually called) all around the place – everywhere – carrying an assortment of daily newspapers, catalogues, classifieds. Almost anything! Many of them are free, and those that aren’t are cheap to buy. The Daily Camera is only 50c (the Sunday edition is $1). You put the money in the slot and it lets you pull the handle open to grab your paper. While in Sydney we have about 4 generally available mass media newspapers, here there are at least twice that.

This seems great – it’s so convenient, there’s never a line for the paper, and it’s so cheap it’s easy to pick it up to read on the bus or whatever. And on a Sunday morning, you don’t have to make conversation.

That’s the big difference. The quality of news in these papers is shocking. The Colorado Daily is really crap. The writing is complete drivel. The topics are ridiculous. There is no real news. The best part is the comics. And even then, whomever is editing it sometimes runs the same comic two days or more straight. The Boulder Weekly, another free paper, is a bit better, but really – it’s a good thing they’re free. Nobody in their right mind would pay for this crap. The writing is grammatically incorrect, badly edited – it looks like a 4th grade paper. It’s simply not professional in any sense of the word, let alone ‘journalism’. Sort of like a cut down, free version of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

But that gets me on to ‘good quality’ print – you know, the stuff you expect to pay for. The real journalism.

The Daily Camera and The Rocky Mountain News, which are like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in the ‘real’ sense, have been running subscription campaigns. Get it cheaper and you’ll save! Big frigging deal. I can read both of them online… for free!

And there’s nothing left of it when I’m done. No papers laying around to put in the recycling.

That’s the biggest deal of all – the environmental cost. The New York Times, one of the most respected newspapers in the world, is also available online. Consider this: 314 acres of trees are cut down for every single edition of the Sunday New York Times. 

314 acres. Gone. Because people like something tangible to hold with their coffee on Sundays; and then they chuck it out come Monday morning. 

For a world of people who are becoming more aware of global warming and all the associated issues of environmental catastrophes, surely we owe ourselves and our kids those 314 acres.

Join me. Demand great journalism from your traditional mastheads, but demand it online. Leave the paper on the trees where it belongs.