All posts by Callie Ingram

Tweetku: a Digital Essay

Tweetku Logo

Link: tweetkudigitalessay.wordpress.com

Description:
My digital essay attempts to do three things: to consider the relationship between Twitter and poetry, to create a framework for understanding how Twitter communities function, and to tell the story of @TheTweetku and #tweetku. All of these ideas come together in my essay as a consideration of what value Twitter offers to contemporary digital writers and writing communities.

Process:
I began with a personal quest in @TheTweetku to popularize the term “tweetku” and to join what poetry and haiku communities already existed on Twitter. As I began to develop this identity into my digital essay, I did background research on Twitter in general and then in its use for community-building, especially through hashtags, specifically. At the same time, my journeys through Twitter’s #haiku communities led me to a growing micropoetry movement that had found purchase on the social media site. I decided to organize my essay around these two concepts in order to contextualize my personal experience with @TheTweetku and give a useful framework for analyzing the #tweetku community.

Though the writing process itself was particularly slow-going for me, I relied quite a bit on the feedback on my classmates through the pre-writing stage and revisions of partial drafts.

Affordances and Constraints:
Practically speaking, using WordPress allowed me to embed tweets easily, which I never would have been able to do in print and especially not with the interactive functionality.  I was also able to write in a more immediately accessible voice, aided by links to more blogs, websites, and newspaper articles than printed scholarly work.

Most of the difficult issues came with attempting to translate my traditional idea of an essay into digital terms. Organization was one area in particular that I struggled with as I tried to negotiate linearity and transitions between pages in my digital essay. The same is true of citations, although I actually had a lot of fun figuring out digital equivalents to in-text citations.

 

“Mapping Twitter Topic Networks” and Tweetku Digital Essay

As I’ve been working on my digital essay, one thing I’ve been struggling with is how to show what the #tweetku community, or any hashtag community, looks like, without forcing readers to go experience for themselves.

I could try to depict this hashtag public by saying it has X number of contributors, or X number of tweets between Date A and B–but that doesn’t feel especially persuasive or meaningful. So, a portion of my research has been spent trying to figure out the best ways to incorporate and present quantitative data from social media sites.

The digital essay I want to contribute this week is a report on Twitter data visualization by Marc A. SmithLee RainieBen Shneiderman, and Itai Himelboim, entitled, “Mapping Twitter Topic Networks: From Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters.”

A quick summary: in an effort to better understand how Twitter political conversations happen, these guys analyzed many different conversations visually using software Node XL in order to recognize patterns:

Our approach combines analysis of the size and structure of the network and its sub-groups with analysis of the words, hashtags and URLs people use. Each person who contributes to a Twitter conversation is located in a specific position in the web of relationships among all participants in the conversation. Some people occupy rare positions in the network that suggest that they have special importance and power in the conversation.

What they found was that, through visual analysis, they were able to recognize at least six different kinds of network crowds.

  • The Polarized Crowd, which features “two big and dense groups that have little connection between them.”
  • The Tight Crowd, which is “highly interconnected.”
  • The Brand Cluster, which is made up of similar topic-driven commentary from many disconnected participants.
  • The Community Cluster, in which a popular topic has devolved into several, separate hubs of communication.
  • The Broadcast Cluster, in which “many people repeat what prominent news and media organizations tweet.”
  • The Support Network, which has a similar premise to the Broadcast Cluster except that the organization at the center or hub of the conversation is also replying and responding to many of its disconnected users (think of big business Twitter accounts that try to solve issues for their clients via Twitter).

Figure-3

 

This report has been extremely helpful for me in at least two ways: first, it gives me a set list of types of communities to compare #tweetku and other hashtag publics to, as well as ways of discussing the implications of being one of these community types. The #tweetku hashtag public, tiny as it is, is definitely a “Tight Crowd” community with many highly-interconnected members that all use the same or similar hashtags and respond to one another and with very few isolated members.

Second, this report gives me a better sense of methodology and resources–now that I know this kind of visualization is possible, I will be able to do it for myself. Unfortunately, Node XL is only available on Windows, so until I drag myself to the library for a day, I won’t be able to use that software.

Luckily, I’ve been able to find similar, if not quite as intensive, resources online. Using ScraperWiki, I’ve been able to get a lot of data–information about all of @TheTweetku’s followers, and information about every single tweet that includes the hashtag #tweetku or #tweetkuchallenge since April 22nd (unfortunately, it won’t let me look back farther than that).

With that information downloaded as a spreadsheet, I can then use Google Refine to clean up the data–fix it so that it catches all of the @mentions and #hashtags independently, cluster the locations together as much as possible, and edit it so I can export a new spreadsheet with only the necessary data.

Once I have that, I can use either Google Fusion Tables, Raw, or Gephi, to do the work of creating a visual element to display the data. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • A map of @TheTweetku followers

 

  • A look at the #tweetku community–the #hashtags (yellow) or @users (blue) involved, sized by frequency (this is visualization most similar to the original report–see the “Tight Crowd” interconnectedness?)

 

hashtagsvis

hashtagsvis (2)

 

  • A list of #hashtag publics associated with #tweetku, arranged by frequency

Although my attempts at data visualization aren’t anywhere near as grand as the report I’ve shared, I wouldn’t have known how to do them much less that they were possible without having read it. That’s a reason worth sharing, if nothing else.

Digital Essay 1st Draft

To my fellow gophers:

You can find my 1st draft at this wordpress where I will be publishing the final version as well: tweetkudigitalessay.wordpress.com.

Cover Memo:

  1. Summary

This digital essay is my attempt to put the project of Tweetku and the stuff I’ve learned from it into writing. I have three big objectives: to tell the story of @TheTweetku, to explore the relationship between Twitter and haiku, and to use the haiku community on Twitter as a case study for Twitter relationships in general.

I want to be able to use my specific, personal experiences with @TheTweetku to address larger conceptual ideas about digital and social media community-building on Twitter and to investigate the poetic affordances of Twitter specifically.

What I’m hoping to at least have for you at this stage is parts one and two—part one being the beginning of the personal narrative of @TheTweetku, and part two being a first glimpse into the more theoretical or researched analyses of the relationship between poetry and Twitter. This way, you’ll be able to see the two kinds of modes I’ll be working in.

 

  1. Gaps/Problems

Most likely, this first draft is not going to be 100% complete, so that’s a huge gap right there. The thing I feel that I’m struggling the most with right now is the actual analysis of Twitter data from @TheTweetku—I’ve got the personal narrative figured out, and I’ve got the high-minded theoretical discussion from secondary sources all stored, but the biggest step is synthesizing and concluding, and I’m still working on making sense of it in a way that not’s just immediately accessible but also interesting and fun.

 

  1. Feedback

At this stage, I would just like to get of sense of whether my ideas seem sound, whether the writing makes sense, if you think I’m spending too much time on certain topics more than others, etc. Or anything that you’d care to share with me.

The “Griotic Tradition” and the Multicultural Classroom

In Digital Griots: African American Rhetoric in a Multimedia Age, Adam Banks creates a new framework for thinking about writing pedagogy, and digital writing especially, that allows black students a better entry point into the conversation of digital writing:

My argument in this book is that African Americans should take this griotic tradition to their engagements with technology, becoming digital griots, bearers of this tradition in digital spaces. I also suggest that the digital griot has much to offer teacher-scholars in literacy and composition looking for relevant models of multimodal literacies for their work and that of their students. (27)

In terms of his first goal, then, it’s difficult to see how it can be immediately applied to my own experience as a writing instructor at UD for the simple reason that my classrooms are almost entirely, if not always entirely, white. As some of you have said in your other posts, this makes discussing race and creating a multicultural classroom difficult in some respects. Yet, and this is where Banks’s second goal comes into play, I would argue that creating a multicultural writing classroom, a classroom dedicated to the ethics of diversity, is not only achieved through explicit discussion of race and cultural issues.

First, let’s take a moment to recognize that diversity comes in many ways–though race may seem most readily apparent, discussions of class difference or gender and sexuality issues might be relevant and useful for our UD classrooms if the lack of racial diversity is too daunting.

Beyond that, though, Banks’s text shows us the ways that our writing pedagogy itself is infused with particular cultural values. The assignments we choose, the technology we use, the texts we have students read, and, perhaps most importantly, how we choose to evaluate and how we teach evaluation of texts are all imbued with certain cultural values and biases.

What ends up being so brilliant about Banks’s promotion of the kind of writing pedagogy grounded in the “griotic tradition” is the way that it reveals the cultural context and social significance of any kind of discourse–it reveals all discourse to be culturally dependent.

A traditional writing classroom, one that does not follow Banks, preaches a certain set of values when it comes to writing (concision, structure, linearity, clarity, etc.) that are tacitly raced, gendered, culture-ed (a pun!) but are taught as if they were inherently “good” or “better than” or “academic.” In this classroom, student’s writing is “improved” and they become “better” writers–this environment can be alien and terrifying depending on how far removed the student is from the culture of the university.

What the “griotic tradition” asks us to do instead is teach students not to “improve” their own writing (to change themselves!) but to learn and try on news ways of writing, to understand writing as essentially a performance that you can put on and step out of without compromising your personal identity and without believing in any inherent value of certain types of writing over others. So, even for our classrooms with a marked lack of diversity, we can teach an appreciation for diversity and work to undo the assumptions of superior writing skill created by white privilege.

In the end, I think that Digital Griots does offer us a way to encourage a multicultural classroom even without a visibly diverse student population OR explicit discussions of race. Through a treatment of different texts and discourses that highlights their status as culturally-dependent, inherently-valueless performances, we can at least encourage an ethics of diversity in our students.

(I apologize for the late posting.)

Digital Essay Proposal: Mapping Out Social-to-Broadcast Media

I want to respond most directly to Tom Standage’s book, Writing on the Wall. It’s pretty apparent to me that I’ve been most caught up in and enthused by the kinds of arguments that he’s making and ones I think he should be making. Really, I want to be able to forward his argument that social media has existed forever, since the beginning of time–that all media is social. Where I want to qualify is in his distinction between social and broadcast media, which he pretty clearly thinks of as a lightswitch, on-or-off. I don’t want to fall into the trap of saying all types of media are equally social, so I think my goal will be mapping out the range between active and passive media consumption.

Another author I saw making the same distinction was Lawrence Lessig in his discussion of RO v. RW culture, which I also think is much more complicated than he makes it out to be.

In terms of thinking about television specifically, which I think I will have to do, I will probably be responding most immediately to the kind of cultural studies school of Adorno and Horkheimer, who seem to read consumption as an extremely passive experience.
I will need to do more research into research on consumption and particularly more contemporary understandings of consumption.

Also, perhaps Michel de Certeau’s “tactics” would be a useful theoretical model to bring in as well. (One question I have: does a “tactic” need to be intentional?)

As for formats, I’ve been learning (or trying to) some basic coding skills at Codecademy and it offers a great space to make your own website (although you can’t access it as a website alone; you must go through Codecademy).

I’ve been playing with this particular set-up (that I created from scratch!) as a possibility for my digital essay–within it, I’m able to share the code itself, as well as include a variety of different types of media (video, embedded Google Docs, Forms, Presentations, etc.). Feel free to come check out my messy writing process for now–I’m really just enjoying playing with it at the moment. I want the finished “website” to stand alone as the digital essay, I think.

In thinking about models, I find that my brainstorming has been drawing on the “recipe book” example website that we saw earlier in the semester. I like the idea of the site itself being the text because it allows for multiple “spaces” dedicated to different kinds of activities.

Questions: 

  • What is the best way to further Standage’s argument at the same time as qualifying it, within the length of the paper? Would it be better for me to focus on television alone, or should I also make the move backwards in history to uncover the social aspect of some older media?
  • What kinds of formats do you think would lend themselves to this project? For some reason, I am so super attached to the idea of creating a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” style section out of an embedded Google Form, but I have no idea how it would fit in–I just think it’s awesome.
  • Any scholars/texts you might recommend (particularly on consumption and television/broadcast media)?

(I apologize for the extra exploratory writing and the way too early posting–I wanted to write this out as a way of beginning brainstorming for this paper.)

Fitzpatrick’s Peer Review and Miller’s “Whatever Journalism”

As I was reading through some of text2cloud, a writing project created and run by Richard Miller, I found one “blog post” (do I call it that? maybe article?) entitled “Cut and Paste Reportage: The Rise of ‘Whatever Journalism‘” that stuck with me.

In it, Miller tells a narrative about a school incident that became a Letter to the Editor at a student-run newspaper, which then became a Jezebel article, which then became a HuffPost article, which then became an MSNBC article, which then became a Daily News blurb.

Beyond its trajectory (which definitely provides another example of media that does not necessarily follow Tom Standage’s vertical/horizontal or human/impersonal central source opposition), the story offers an interesting glimpse at contemporary plagiarism practices across digital media. Miller provides an in-depth analysis of each new source’s patch-writing and/or copying practices as the story moves along from site to site. He calls these practices and their products “Whatever Journalism”: news for an audience who is “incurious,” and unwilling to devote time to discover the truth of a situation beyond its initial gloss.

(Actually, it would be fascinating to see how much I just copied from the original blog post, unintentionally and/or due to my lack of sleep.)

After reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book Planned Obsolescence, this blog post leapt out at me as a realized example of the niggling doubts I had in the back of my head during her chapter on peer review.

Her ideals of the peer review process, one in which the purpose is, “first, fostering discussion and feedback among scholars with the aim of strengthening the work that they produce; and second, providing a mechanism through which that work may be filtered for quality” (26 on Kindle), is wonderful. Yet, as an ideal, it doesn’t hold up as well when faced with actual, erring human beings.

Her discussion of the “karma”-based Slashdot, “highly male-dominated” as it was, instantly made me think of Reddit (35 on Kindle). In a forum system where you must be up-voted in order to be heard, the community-minded rules ask members to only down-vote a post/comment if they don’t think it contributes to the conversation, not just if they disagree with it. In practice, however, people are constantly down-voted for differences in opinion or even just for attempting to ask a question on an AMA post when other people want to be answered as well. The “karma” or attention greed, coupled with a lack of community-mindedness, can make any subreddit a really annoying place to be.

I was struck by the text2cloud blog post today because it provides another example of a peer review system that has failed somewhat. “Whatever Journalism” is the end result of less-than-ideal human conditions of laziness or, as Miller argues, lack of curiosity. If each member of these news source communities were the kind of tireless, community-minded people Fitzpatrick imagines, these kind of news stories would be stamped out or at least heavily criticized instead of taken as fact.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for the ideal. I do think it’s achievable depending on the size and determination of the community. But we can’t forget that the nature of “peer” review is its dependence on other human beings, wonderful, “incurious,”  and imperfect as they are.

(Then again, perhaps I’m making a logical mistake here by thinking about a subreddit or online news audience as an example of a peer review community. What do you think?)

Before-and-After Lessig: Remixing Consumption

After spending a good deal of the last couple weeks of this class arguing against false nostalgia of Read-Only culture and making a case against the idea of passive consumption, I feel a little sheepish as I take this time to amend and further my stance.

To be clear, I do believe that there is no media that exists or has existed that only allows passive consumption–I think the idea of passive consumption itself is a myth. Reading practices have always existed and, however homogeneous any community might be, the individual ability to interpret in a specific context means that any piece of media will be read in a variety of ways. I don’t think that reading is ever “passive.”

And I think that’s an important point to restate, over and over again, because of the stereotype we’ve been given about media consumption (even the fact that we “consume” media like we “consume” food–something taken in pre-packaged and swallowed down; instead, I want to emphasize the teeth, the chewing, the weird digestive strategies of the body).

(Lawrence Lessig, I’m looking at you, buddy. You can’t just footnote all your problems away (36).)

But, as I read Remix and as I have been reading our other course texts, I am struck by the distance that does seem to exist between certain media (television, for one, sadly) and digital media like the internet.

In terms of audience consumption of this media, I still fully believe that the distinction between “broadcast” media and “social” media doesn’t and never has existed. As audience members, we are able to read, annotate, and comment on all of this media actively, if with different kinds of affordances.

In terms of media creation, however, I can’t deny Lessig’s point that “other forms of ‘creating’ are becoming an increasingly dominant form of ‘writing'” (69) and thus digital technology allows for more social agency:

The Internet didn’t make these other forms of “writing” (what I will call simply “media”) significant. But the Internet and digital technologies opened these media to the masses. Using the tools of digital technology–even the simplest tools, bundled into the most innovative modern operating systems–anyone can begin to “write” using images, or music, or video. And using the facilities of a free digital network, anyone can share that writing with anyone else. (69)

Before I state my agreement, let me make a couple of adjustments to Lessig’s argument:

  • First, obviously not just “anyone” has access to this technology, and there are varying levels of access to specific types of technology dependent on geographic location, race, nationality, class, etc. Let’s acknowledge the privilege here.
  • Second, moving away from that familiar image of our generation as wholly original, I don’t think this movement of new technology allowing larger populations of people more access to reading and writing is new. In fact, we’ve been reading about it all semester (haven’t we?). This is just our contemporary iteration.

However.

Despite these modifications to Lessig’s position, I do agree that there is a significant political distance between the type of reading-and responding-practices available before and after the advent of digital technology. While I will never go so far as to call it the difference between passive consumption and remix or Read-Write culture (and keeping in mind that we must continue to reiterate the “weird digestive strategies” of reading practices), I think that Lessig’s text does offer us a worthwhile look at shifting writing practices in the age of the internet.

(I welcome disagreement though. I can’t help feeling like I’m overlooking some huge flaw in his argument here–the danger of ideology is that you never know it’s there.)