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Our last week of the unit and this week we are looking at the future of the Web and the possible move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, otherwise known as The Semantic Web.

Not surprisingly, the Semantic Web will deal with semantics i.e. be able to interpret meaning. Essentially “most of the Web’s content today is designed for humans to read, not for computer programs to manipulate meaningfully” (Berners-Lee et al, 2001). Enter the Semantic Web , which will act as an extension rather than a replacement to the Web we use today, assigning meaning to Web content and ushering in a new functionality. The Semantic Web is still at the theoretical stage and further developments in automated reasoning or knowledge representation are needed before this potential is realised.

In this week’s reading, Berners-Lee et al identify two key technologies needed for the Semantic Web – XML and RDF (2001, p.3). The former allows the user to create their own tags to annotate Web content and the latter assigns meaning. Berners-Lee et al also suggest that the third key component of the Semantic Web are collections of information known as ontologies and that these ontologies are files that formally define the relation between terms (2001, p.3).

The authors go on to suggest that the real potential of the Semantic Web will be realised as “more machine-readable Web content and automated services become available” (2001, p.4). Digital signatures will be part and parcel of this, providing proof of the authenticity of specific sources.

What is even more appealing about this technology is the ability for it to be applied to our ‘offline’ lives. I enjoyed the authors’ example of the tv or stereo automatically decreasing their volume when a person answers their phone.

Perhaps the Semantic Web is best summarised as such…

It will open up the knowledge and workings of humankind to meaningful analysis by software agents, providing a new class of tools by which we can live, work and learn together.” (Berners-Lee et al, 2001).

One last area to touch upon is the growing adoption of mobile and wireless Web connections. The increasing use of these technologies promotes the delivery of localised content through GPS-enabled tools. The idea of the Web in your pocket has become phenomenally popular since the development of Apple’s iPhone and similar smart phone technology.

As for what the future of the Web holds… watch this space.

What resonated most with me in Tama Leaver’s piece was his reference to Liz Lawley and her arguments about why Twitter matters (http://mamamusings.net/archives/2007/03/06/why_twitter_matters.php). The specific passage that Tama highlighted was this…

But asking “who really cares about that kind of mindless trivia about your day” misses the whole point of presence. This isn’t about conveying complex theory–it’s about letting the people in your distributed network of family and friends have some sense of where you are and what you’re doing. And we crave this, I think. When I travel, the first thing I ask the kids on the phone when I call home is “what are you doing?” Not because I really care that much about the show on TV, or the homework they’re working on, but because I care about the rhythms and activities of their days. No, most people don’t care that I’m sitting in the airport at DCA, or watching a TV show with my husband. But the people who miss being able to share in day-to-day activity with me–family and close friends–do care.

This hit me because it could really have been aimed directly at me. I was the person that was constantly asking ‘what is the whole point of this?’ and ‘who cares what I have to say about the weather?’. Apparently I have been missing the whole point of presence. Quite possibly there are people out there that, as Lawley suggests (2007), “care about the rhythms and activities” of my day. This is something that I have been reflecting upon over the last few weeks and one reason why I have been regularly engaging in the Twittersphere for the first time in years. Twitter does have a unique way of telling stories about people and their lives. We can piece together quite a lot about someone from reading relatively few tweets and although some of these bite-sized pieces of information may seem insignificant, they form something quite important when they are examined as a whole.

Twitter should really be seen as another important tool in the formation of our online identities. As Helmond suggests, it “acts as a central social node” in the social media landscape (2010, p.17). It is a useful tool with which we can connect with our community.

References –

Leaver, T. (2007) ‘It’s a Small World After All: From Wired’s Minifesto to the Twitterati’, Tama Leaver dot Net, March 11. Retrieved from http://www.tamaleaver.net/2007/03/11/its-a-small-world-after-all-from-wireds-minifesto-to-the-twitterati/

Helmond, A. (2010) ‘ Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software.’ Anne Helmond. New Media Research Blog. Retrieved from http://www.annehelmond.nl/wordpress/wp-ontent/uploads//2010/01/helmond_identity20_dmiconference.pdf

Lawley, L. (2007). ‘Why Twitter matter’. Mamamusings Blog. Retrieved from http://mamamusings.net/archives/2007/03/06/why_twitter_matters.php

This week we are asked to think about social me(dia) rivers and the the impact of our collective online output e.g. Tweets, blog posts, Facebook status updates etc. What do these tiny bit-sized pieces of information say about us?

We were asked to consider the analogy of Twitter as a river – looking at Twitter is akin to looking into a river in so far as there being lots of different things to look at today and then when we look tomorrow the flow may have changed and there will be a host of other interesting things to look at in this constantly changing environment. Also consider that there is a lack of permanence present in Twitter. Just as in the river, what is there today is gone tomorrow. We merely enjoy brief encounters with what we see. This is in contrast to a medium like blogging which has archival qualities and can be re-visited well into the future.

An activity for this week was to take a closer look at current Twitter ‘trends’. I actually cheated a bit on this one… the account I created for this unit is not the main account I use and I was more inspired to try this activity with my personal account as I follow more people on this one.

I felt completely out of touch when I took a look at what was trending – I couldn’t work out what most of the trends were actually about! Some were fairly obvious… The Rapture is obviously a hot topic at the moment with the supposed end of the world occuring on May 21st (nothing happening so far). Many trends were related to this – #endofworldregrets, zombie apocalypse and Harold Camping (who apparently is a Doomsday prophet).

What struck me was that there was an incredibly eclectic mix of trending topics including: Former NRL player Benny Elias (probably popular because State of Origin is coming up – Go the Blues!), the William Gibson novel Neuromancer (no idea why this is currently trending) and Winton (after a while I worked out that this is a V8 race rather than Tim Winton the novelist, which was my initial guess.)

These weren’t really themes that featured in Tweets from my friends today although I did notice an ‘end of the world’ tweet from my husband. That just actually made me feel sad that instead of hanging out with him in ‘real life’ I am in the study researching social networking and he is in the lounge room on his iPhone engaging in social networking. Is this what life has come to?

I understand the river analogy in terms of Twitter being in constant motion and lacking a sense of permanence in so far as the trends and tweets that I see today will not be what I see tomorrow.

We were also asked to sign up for a Friendfeed account, aggregate feeds from the other accounts we set up earlier this semester and analyse what the output says about us. My feed would suggest that I am obsessed with genealogy and family history research as the uni accounts I set up a few months ago have been used purely for my online presence project. Subsequently, this represents just one aspect of my life and one interest and although family history is a hobby I spend quite a lot of time pursuing, it certainly doesn’t represent a complete picture of who I am.

This reading focuses on the controversy surrounding a major change implemented by social networking website Facebook in 2006, the introduction of the ‘news feed’. Facebook users were suddenly confronted with a start-up page that listed all Facebook activities undertaken by those in their network of friends in the recent past. This information had not previously been private, however the introduction of the news feed function made this information much more easily accessible and ‘in the face’ on users.

The introduction of news feeds was highly controversial and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reacted by promising users new privacy options to control this. All the while, Zuckerberg was defending this change, spouting forth about the free flow of information. However, as boyd suggests, Zuckerberg failed to address how the introduction of news feeds “alters the social dynamic of Facebook” (2008, p.14).

boyd discusses these changes against the backdrop of similar changes with DejaNews and Yahoo, describing how users felt that their privacy had become compromised. boyd then goes on to discuss social convergence and the discomfort that many feel when new technologies are implemented. Specifically she looks at this discomfort from two angles – exposure and invasion. boyd suggests that many Facebook users suddenly felt very exposed with the implementation of news feeds. The aggregation of this information meant that they suddenly had to give much more thought to how their actions would be interpreted and consider how comfortable they felt about their entire friend network viewing all their interactions. boyd also suggests that the aggregation of this type of information leaves us feeling invaded or overwhelmed by “social information overload” (2008, p.16). News Feeds remove any sense of heirarchy amongst our friend network and we are feed constant information about all of our friends with no regard to our level of interest.

Above all, the news feed diminishes our control over information. Social convergence certainly allows for a more efficient distribution of information, but at what cost?

The activity for this week was to take some time to explore our digital shadows. Our digital shadow refers to our online visbility to others. The concept has become one of much discussion as increasingly employers engage in Web searches to learn more about their employees or potential employees.

As I suspected, my name is a little too common to come up with anything about myself specifically. Through the Google search I did learn more about the interdisciplinary practitioner (this sounded vague to me but apparently means that she is a writer, multimedia producer, tv presenter, arts collaborator and general medical practitioner) Rachel Armstrong and apparently there was a character in Home and Away with the same name as me. I also tried my maiden name and again found nothing about myself but did learn more about the Rachel Goddard Medical Aesthetics Company.

The Blind Search produced very similar results but with a little more variety. Again, nothing about me.

I thought the Spezify webpage was visually very interesting, but as Tanya and Kristina have mentioned, the layout was very confusing. I also thought the results were quite odd and very focused on the Home and Away character I mentioned above – with the inclusion of a large number of screen shots of the actress that played that character. I was also a little puzzled by some of the results e.g. pictures of the DVD cover for The Mummy. All I could think of here is that the main actress in the film is Rachel Weisz.

I then read Richard’s post and got the idea of adding a location to the search so tried to search for my maiden name and the city I grew up in but no luck there either.

Then my husband wandered in and asked if I had found any bad photos of myself and reminded me that a photo of us was published online several years ago in an issue of the Navy News. Low and behold, when I typed in my maiden name and Navy News it was the first result in the Google results.

I agree with what has already been mentioned regarding images being easily taken out of context. I also think there are a lot of very out of date photos of individuals hanging about on the Web (like the above-mentioned photo). I always cringe a little when an old school friend posts unflattering teenage photos of us on Facebook. Sadly there was a time in my life when I thought a perm was a good look. I do not need to be reminded of that now on Facebook. 

Ultimately though, I personally don’t have a problem with an employer or employee researching me online. I would likely feel differently about this if I thought there was anything controversial for them to find. They will probably just find 20 year old pictures of me with a bad perm.       

  

Qian and Scott’s paper focuses on personal blogs as “sites of self-disclosure where individuals share observations and thoughts about their online and offline lives” (2004, p. 1428). They argue that this is a social activity that involves risks and consequences and consequently, many blogging services provide tools to protect bloggers’ identities. The primary focus of the paper is to examine how this opportunity for anonymity impacts degrees of self-disclosure.

It is important to note that anonymity varies in degrees and can take different forms such as visual anonymity and discursive anonymity. It will undoubtedly also be greatly effected by the technology used. 

The authors suggest that self-disclosure within the personal blogging community is at a high level. Bloggers are essentially keeping a diary in a public online space and the growing popularity of blogs can be partly attributed to people’s “increasing expectation of more information as they progressively lose control of their own personal information” (2004, p. 1431). People are genuinely interested in other people’s stories and at the same time, people are becoming more interested in telling their own stories. Personal blogging is incredibly expressive and naturally involves at least a certain level of self-disclosure in order to be successful. Nevertheless, not all bloggers practice the same levl of self-disclosure and Qian and Scott suggest that this is partly due to people’s perceived sense of online anonymity (2004, p. 1432).

A blogger’s anonymity directly relates to the intended audience of their blog, with the authors suggesting that a blogger writing for an online audience that they do not know well offline, will practice greater anonymity. This also relates to bloggers finding themselves in difficulty in their offline lives due to what is written in their blog e.g. employees facing disciplinary action or termination from their place of employment for mentioning their company or colleagues in a less than flattering light. Overall, what we can ascertain is that the audience drives the blogger’s behaviour and their approach to anonymity.

Interestingly, the results of Qian and Scott’s survey showed that an overwhelming 90% of respondents identified their audience and those they knew offline and blogging was used as an extension of offline relationships.

Some thoughts on this reading…

I have become increasingly interested in the blogosphere over the past several months and regularly follow a number of blogs through Google Reader. I have also started writing two blogs of my own as part of my current studies and look forward to starting a personal blog in the near future.

What greatly appeals to me is the feeling of forming a connection and a community between bloggers. By regularly reading blogs I feel as if I become quite familiar with the blogger and as such, I find much more appeal in reading blogs that are written with a fairly high degree of self-disclosure and a limited sense of anonymity. I am well aware that I may not be a part of a blogger’s offline social network, but I feel some sense of community through regular readership and participation through commenting.

From a personal perspective I would feel the need to write with less disclosure if I knew that my audience included my family and those in my close offline social network. I would actually feel more comfortable writing with more disclosure for an audience that was unknown to me in the offline world. I think there will always be a certain lack of self-disclosure in personal blogging as I think we are generally acutely aware that a personal blog is in essence a journal or diary published online for anyone and everyone to read and engage with. We are taking a practice that has traditionally been placed firmly in the private sphere and pushing it out into a very public arena and with the latter in mind, I think we instinctively hold certain detail back.

DiMicco and Millen ask how users of social networking sites, namely Facebook, use these sites to maintain numerous diverse connections particularly as their offline social circle expands. Do users change the ways they present themselves online as they transition from schoolyard to workplace? The authors suggest that user do indeed alter their use of social networks to main

In their study of 68 IBM employees that use Facebook, DiMicco and Millen found that they could largely categorise the participants into three distinct groups:

Reviving the college days – The largest and youngest group that included users with a large number of school friends who primarily used Facebook to maintain their school network rather than interact with workplace colleagues.

Dressed to Impress – These users have a larger number of corporate connections and friends who are work colleagues. They have fewer friends, networks and interest groups and are on average much older than the previous group.

Living in the Business World – Usually these users belong to their company / workplace network and nothing else. They have limited interaction with online friends.

The authors suggest that the “Dressed to Impress” and “Living in the Business World” groups are much more deliberate in managing their online identities and are acutely aware that their online profiles will be viewed by a range of people in both their personal and professional spheres. “College Days” users are much more open, playful and informal in their online activities. They want others to know what they are doing with their lives as opposed to the “Dressed to Impress” group who are much more formal and professional in the way they present themselves online. Members of the final group offer very limited personal information about themselves and maintain tight control of their online identities.

Facebook and online social networking tools offer a number of benefits to modern workplaces. The authors suggest that they provide a way of keeping in contact with employees and learning more about them through a process they refer to as “people sensemaking”.

In conclusion, DiMicco and Millen suggest that one way of combatting the “unintended leakage” between our personal and professional lives is to maintain multiple online profiles. Although the authors admit that this is not necessarily a straightforward process, particularly when using Facebook, which requires better authoring tools to facilitate the management of multiple identities.

Some of my own thoughts about this reading…

I generally agree with the clusters that DiMicco and Millen identified although I have no personal experience of the “living in the business world” group and very limited experience of the “dressed to impress” group as I have only ever really used Facebook to connect with old school friends or friends and family already in my offline social circle. Certainly my personal use of Facebook most closely fits with the “college days” group in so far as my usage being quite open and informal with less deliberate thought being put into managing my online identity.

I can see the points that DiMicco and Millen are making by suggesting that Facebook and other online social networking tools can be useful in modern workplaces by facilitating contact with and between employees and providing opportunities to discover more about employees through a process of “people sensemaking”. Again, my experience of Facebook in this regard, as a corporate tool, is very limited. Personally I think I would prefer to keep my Facebook interactions personal and not professional.

Obviously the authors would suggest that I handle this by maintaining multiple online profiles, perhaps one for personal use and one for professional interactions with work colleagues. I think that if you have the time and inclination then this could be quite an effective strategy although personally I don’t have the need and the whole process sounds a little tiresome. I’m not sure I have the energy or time to manage multiple accounts.

I have to say that I find the study possibly a little flawed in so far as using a very small focus group that were all IBM employees. This obviously doesn’t offer a very broad sample of the population. I’m certainly not suggesting that all IBM employees display the same character traits (especially as personally I know four people that work for IBM including my brother), however we could expect that this would skew the results. I would like to see a much larger and broader sample of people used in an updated study. I know it has only been four years since this paper was published by I think that social media usage changes quite markedly over relatively short periods of time. Additionally I imagine that Facebook tools have changed in this time which may allow for easier management of multiple identities.