week 8 summary

I’ve been struck by a few things this week in finalising my ethnography and [reading? viewing? interacting with?] other people’s.

First, I think most of us got a bit hung up on the definition of ‘community’ and whether the things we were studying were communities or not. I imagine that this was part of the learning, and so was no bad thing. Certainly I’ve got a broader concept of community now, and I think this will help with, e.g. concerns over whether students are properly ‘socialised’ before beginning to interact online…

This led to another interesting trope–that social connections can be ‘mediated’ by shared interests. Chantelle showed this well, for example: Person A (with interest in X) <--> Blog B about X <--> Person C (with interest in X). Even if neither comment, I think the idea that the blog has a large readership in itself affects how A and C will feel about reading a blog about something they have a personal stake in. This is stretching it a bit, but likewise if A commented, I think it would be the degree of C’s interest in X (and thus how often she looked at the blog, read the comments, etc.) rather than her desire to comment herself that would give her the sense of belonging.

I think this is also linked to the fluidity of online communities; i.e., just because A is only interested in X for a year, or a month, or three days, it doesn’t necessarily make her less of a community member…

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week 7 summary

I’ve been thinking a lot about transience, as this has arisen as an unexpected theme in my ethnography. Does a community have to be sustained to be a community? For how long?

This is closely related to the question of whether people who come together to do something (exchanging information, getting someone elected, joining a flash mob, etc.) are a community, or just a bunch of people. The quote that Gina picked out of Bell, ‘compatible consumption’, suggests that we can take this view, and so Harlem Shake participants could be a community; people voting for the release of an Audrey Hepburn film could be a community; 1980s banking computer operators could be a community…

And conference attendees can be a community. Which leads to my main issue with transience this week, namely the disappearance of tweets from a hashtag search. This led me to think about other instances of online community artefact transience, and what this means to the community members. I will explore this as far as twitter is concerned in my ethnography, but it’s important to note that it isn’t unique to twitter.

Finally, I’ve been thinking about ways to produce my ethnography, and am quite taken with the idea of ethnography as subjective narrative (particularly as I was a participant, and unaware that I was going to be scrutinising the community later!).

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twits

My ethnography has hit a bit of a snag, all apparently down to twitter’s indexing policies. I already knew that mobile apps only showed a selection of tweets versus the ‘All’ option on a browser:

Mobile feeds (iPod and iPad)

Browser feed (‘All’)

…but I wasn’t aware that searches only display ‘All’ tweets from the past week ‘or so’: Twitter Help Center | I’m Missing from Search!

I’m sure I’ve mentioned similar frustrations with Facebook in that (as Mr Darcy might say) a post, once lost, is gone forever. No search mechanism at all–apart from the facility to find new friends whose posts you’re only interested in as far as you can scroll a newsfeed

Personal annoyances aside, I’m wondering what effect this might have on a [potential] community. I did think that, if I ever needed to go back for the link to someone’s presentation, or the timely article they posted during the conference, I’d be able to do so for the magic two-hundred-and-something days (which a quick spelunk around seems to suggest is not the case anymore, if it ever was…?) True, the presentations were made available to conference-goers afterwards, but it’s the more ‘communal’ stuff–the connections between ideas, the pithy summaries, the incidental info–that such a community would seem to feed on, and which seems endangered to me.

And I’m not sure if I buy the argument that it’s the same as f2f conversation, that nobody transcribes the coffee chat so why should they enshrine a few tweets about dogs, cupcakes and castles, because the conference attendees chose to tweet, not say (or to tweet as well as saying), and as we had the choice of both media, our choice of twitter is meaningful. Individual¬†perceptions of twitter, of course, might have been different; but the fact that we chose what we did to text on twitter and what we did to say f2f is not insignificant. So people who knew more about the life of a hashtag than I might have perceived their tweets as more transient; some people might have felt like they were tweeting to the world while some felt that they were tweeting to the room; but they all chose this medium for some reason or other.

So perhaps this is the angle I’ll take with my ethnography then…perception, transience…and the dogs and cupcakes too.

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