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analogEarlier today a friend of mine, Frank Bridges, posted a link to an article about a new Facebook app called Paper. He made a comparison between Facebook and Instagram and MTV and its subsidiary VH1, a damned good comparison that makes it a paragraph worth reading.[1]

If you go back to boyd & Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship (2008), they lay out the chronological history of the major social networking sites from SixDegrees.com (*sniffle*) to Facebook (which at the time it was published was had only been opened to the general public for less than a year).  What is clear is that the popularity of any given social networking site seems to follow a pattern. It builds, generally driven by a youthful tide, peaks, seems to collapse in on itself,  and as the popularity recedes, the “next big thing” comes crashing on-shore. (The additional part of that cycle I’ve noticed is that the big ones like Friendster and MySpace, seem to redefine themselves and come back as niche sites). Facebook came along in time to hop on the top of the mobile wave and have been able to ride it pretty steadily since about 2005, far longer than any other site.

To quote from an earlier blog post of mine:

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendancy also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

I’ve always seen their growth strategy up to about 2009 as being very simple: “how do we make the site sticky eno

Facebook addressed this in 2010 by picking up the pace of the site’s investments in technologies and sites that allowed Facebook to enhance the services it provides to users at either end of the spectrum including the  2012 acquisitions of Lightbox and Instagram (Wikipedia, 2012; “Facebook Newsroom,” 2012, “Forbes,” n.d., “Inside Facebook,” n.d.;).  (They added other functions and sites to meet the needs of other site stakeholders but we’re not looking at that right now).ugh to retain the users and seductive enough to convert the non-users ”. I think some very prescient folks realized that Facebook would lose its cachet among teens and 20somethings as their parents and *grandparents* swelled its ranks. Really, who wants to go dancing at the same club their parents go to? The Pew Internet & American Life project told us that teens are “diversifying their social network portfolio” (Madden, 2013); keeping the Facebook account while using other sites they perceive of as having less drama and fewer adults.

Instagram is their attempt to retain the lion’s share of the youth audience; it’s MTV. I know a young man in junior high school who isn’t very interested in having a Facebook account but who thinks his Instagram account is awesome.  Paper, on the other hand, is VH1 an attempt to retain the late boomers/early gen Xers who are still ambivalent about growing role technology is playing in their ability to connect with their family and friends as well as to offer something fresh and new to their original core audience. Heck, they even include a guy using a manual typewriter in their promotional video!

Well played, Facebook, well played.

References

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Contributors, M. (2012). Facebook, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Facebook Newsroom. (2012).

Forbes. (n.d.).

Inside Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2014, from http://www.insidefacebook.com/

Madden, M. (2013). Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook (Yet). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2013/August/Teens-Havent-Abandoned-Facebook-Yet.aspx


[1] “Facebook is now the VH1 and Instagram is the MTV. Years ago I remember I was watching VH1 all the time and I wondered how the hell that happened since I had never watched the channel before. Then I realized that not only had I changed, but so did VH1 and that was a planned thing, because many of my generation had stopped watching MTV. Facebook is bleeding young people at the moment, because they are using Instagram more. They are communicating with images and hashtags. FB’s Paper is a way to keep us older folks who like to read tangible objects and write with tangible objects”.

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I’m not talking about technology today.  Today I’m talking about social history, triggered by something I read that made me angry. This is personal and anecdotal but it’s a topic that I’ve give some thought to over the years.

Today, the Washington Post posted an opinion piece by Dana Milbank called “The Weakest Generation?”  Please some time to read it, it’s worth taking in his point of view.  In it he talks about his parents attending the Great March on Washington and he quotes his father as saying, “’ When people talk about Martin Luther King, that’s my connection. It’s a small connection — no handshake or anything — but I’m proud to have been there.’”

This piece is the conceit of the most privileged of the baby boom generation filtered through one who embraced their self rewarding worldview.

His thesis is both wrong and insulting. How can he say of his, of *my*, “[w]e grew up soft: unthreatened, unchallenged and uninspired. We lacked a cause greater than self.” Isn’t that the same charge leveled at his parents’ generation by *their* parents. He’s internalized Boomer bullshit and regurgitated in this editorial.

Curating and passing on history has always been the dominion of the elite and the Boomer generation is no exception. Those who tell the tales Milbank takes as truth were able to go to college and had the free time to attend events like the Great March on Washington.  When they got out of college they went into positions that afforded them to freedom to write about their experiences as though they were nearly universal and to filter the experiences of others through their lens.

Like all older generations, they would have us believe that they made a lasting, positive difference in the world.  Well, that’s true for every generation. Whether it is a World War, Civil War, assassinations, financial upheaval, or fights for voting rights, every generation has had those historical movements and moments that marked its soul and shaped its legacy.

Let me put this into perspective for you: Boomers had a good time at Woodstock, my generation had a good time at Live Aid and contributed to a serious cause.  (And, for the record, his father is no more connected to Martin Luther King, Jr than I am to Madonna just because I was in JFK stadium that blazing hot day.)

They had the BC pill freeing them to enjoy a level of sexual freedom and be open and public about it. When most of us were beginning our sexual lives, AIDS was the ugly specter peering over our shoulder.

Boomers were raised, for the most part, in an age of prosperity and relative financial security. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you were much more likely to have had 2 working parents, or divorced parents, or live in blended families. or live through periods where a parent was laid off from their job.

When we were kids, having enough gas to power our cars became a serious, tangible issue.

After September 11, 2001, we may have been told to go shopping, but I also remember in the weeks after, men of all ages *volunteering* to go into the military. I remember all of the people who volunteered to help rebuild New Orleans and those who showed up to assist at my beloved Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

No, Mr. Milbank, is mistaken if he thinks our generation is untested by trial…[and] squandering American greatness by turning routine give-and-take into warfare”. As every other generation, we have our challenges and we, like any every other generation, have risen to those challenges. Sometimes only partially, often imperfectly, but we rise and will continue to do so.

And you know something, so will the Millennials, who are coming right up behind us, and their children and grandchildren and every successive generation.

Shame on Dana Milbank, shame on him for foisting his weak, biased version of social history off on us.

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When crisis survivors[1] of begin to face the public, often they appear on the TV interview circuit: Anderson Cooper, The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.  Every host asks the same half dozen questions and every interview is punctuated by the same news footage; the only thing that changes is the set and who was asking the questions. Hannah Anderson[2] threw broadcast journalism into a bit of a tizzy last week because she (unintentionally) flipped the script.

Prior to her kidnapping Anderson maintained an account on the website Ask.fm.[3] As soon as she got home, she took to that site and answered questions from anyone who asked directly and with no filter. She also made a point to tell those identifying themselves as journalists that she would not answer their questions and that they should leave her family alone.

Why Hannah went to that site only she can answer, maybe she wanted to do something mindless, maybe this was an effort to get back to normal, maybe she wanted to see if people had questions for her. What we do know is that the questions and comments ran the gamut from flirtatious to sympathetic to prurient. At times her answers were blunt:

[q] Why didn’t you tell your parents he creeped you out?

[a] In part, he was my dad’s best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything between them….

[q] Are you glad he’s dead?

[a] Absolutely”(Wian, 2013).

Almost right away, news organizations began hitting up every psychologist, social worker and social media “expert” they could find to comment on this. Some handwringing sob sisters took to the airwaves and Internet questioning why she did this and about how inappropriate it was for her father to allow her access to social media. Others recognized that as a child of the Electronic Social Media Age, Anderson’s actions were not surprising and in fact, could even be considered healthy.  Others still just published screen caps of her account and wrote scant commentary around it. (I’m not including a bunch of citations here as the online commentary is easily googled).

This was different and I’m not sure that the media knew what to do. With her blunt talk, selfies and shots of her new manicure, Anderson didn’t fit the model of “what a victim does”. Was some of the the traditional press squawking at the thought of being pointedly and publicly, cut out of the picture? It is certain that Matt Lauer wouldn’t ask some of those questions that she answered.

According to Baym and boyd, “[P]eople… use the public and quasi-public qualities of social media to carve out safe identities for themselves in the face of legal troubles, create public memorials for the dead, [and] narrate their own stories….(Baym & boyd, 2012). Isn’t that just what Anderson did? In immediately taking to social media, Anderson (quite unknowingly I’m sure) did just that. She put her unedited narrative out there without the help of a broadcast media outlet. If you asked her why she did it, her answer might not be the same as Baym and boyd’s in letter but I bet it would match the spirit.

References

Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 320–329. doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.705200

Wian, C. (2013). Friend: Hannah Anderson discusses kidnapping on social media. CNN.com. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/14/us/hannah-anderson-social-media


[1] I use the term survivor with great intention. I refuse to call anyone who gets through something like this a victim. Increasingly I find that term diminishes the individual by casting them in the role of the captive, the sufferer. The word “survivor” looks towards their future. You are only a victim until it is over.

[2] In August, 2013, Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by a family friend who killed her mother, brother and dog. After an Amber Alert and multi state search, the two were found about a week later and she was rescued. Her kidnapper was killed after firing a gun at police.

[3] Ask.Fm is a European based site where users, who can choose to remain anonymous, can ask other users questions about pretty much anything. The answers to every question appears on the user’s home screen in the form of an extended Q&A

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This has been a busy summer. I’ve had some big things in the works that have kept me away from my beloved blog here but I’m going to remedy that. For the time being I will be using this blog to make shorter posts, maybe even Twitter sized, as a way of capturing ideas that I may not have the time to write an expanded essay on but want to return to at a later time.

My biggest news is that I am going to Purdue University 

beering

Beering Hall, Home of the Brian Lamb School of Communication, Purdue University.

for my PhD.  I’m thrilled to work with the fantastic faculty and the other students I’ve connected with have been friendly and engaging. I know I will be challenged and stimulated. I am preparing to leave New Jersey early next week and this next part of my life in The Academy begins in mid August.

My new email academic address is  pjeter@purdue.edu

While I will miss my friends and colleagues at Rutgers University, the nice thing about being an academic is that those connections are never really broken. They are now my collaborators and fellow alumni. It’s not the end but a rite of passage, a transformation,  and that excites me a great deal.

Along those lines,  I will be co-presenting two papers at the National Communication Association 99th Annual Conference in Washington DC in November. If you are going, please  look for me, I’d love to grab some coffee with you. (OK, I love coffee period but I’d love to connect with  anyone who reads my blog). I’ll discuss those papers a *tiny* bit more in a later blog. I’m not giving too much away, though, I want you to come see the presentations!

Keep watching this space; my adventure continues.

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Although my main interest in in social interactions and identity online, I am also enamored by pop culture and memes are one of the foremost manifestations of modern pop culture. In his book, The Selfish Gene (1989) Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe a unit of cultural transmission. He adapted it from the word gene which is a unit of physical attributes that are passed on from generation to generation.[1] The idea is that like genes and viruses, memes move from person to person through social contact.[2]

Radio had its Hindenburg disaster, Welles, “War of the Worlds” and coverage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. TV had its “Lucy Ricardo Has a Baby”, “Who Shot JR?”, and The Superbowl.[3] This infographic is an amusing amble through the Internet’s contribution to our collective social memory.

The radio and TV events I mentioned look dated to us was struck by how old fashioned the early memes look today, a scant 20 years later. . Consider how dated The Dancing Baby looks to people who were born in 1994. I remember how state of the art it seemed at the time, a lot of older computers couldn’t even run it at full speed. [4]  It was (by the standards of the day) memory intensive and pushed the graphic capabilities of many computers.  Today, in an age where video games look almost as lifelike as movies, the 3-D rendering of The Dancing baby looks rough and unsophisticated.

Enjoy the infographic (If it’s tough to read, you can click on it to make it larger).


[1] While things such as intellectual or musical ability may at first blush not seem to be physical traits, your genes only carry the potential for the physical capability of a person’s brain or body to be predisposed to perform a certain function better than others. Once can carry a gene that gives them the potential to be a world class swimmer.  If they don’t nurture that talent through practice and competition, that gene is still there and available to be passed on even if the carrier didn’t take advantage of it.

[2] And yes, I am including union of ovum and sperm as a type of social contact. I recognize that under some circumstances, the people contributing the genetic material have no direct social contact. I do consider the contact they have to be mediated by the medical personnel and technology that fosters fertilization.

[3] Like we really believed that she and Ricky slept in double beds. Oh 1950s TV you were so full of the lulz!

[4] You can view The Dancing Baby here-à http://www.dancing-baby.net/Babygif.htm  Go here to see The Hamster Dance à http://www.findmyhosting.com/web-hamster/

History of Memes

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In 2001 Marc Prensky coined the term Digital Native. He defined this as young people (since this was written in 2001 he was referring to people born from roughly 1985 after). Who, “spent their entire lives surrounded… all the other toys and tools of the digital age” (Prensky, 2001).

I think he made a good point, children born in the last two decades of the 20th century were born into a technological environment that was very unique. While this could be said about any generation, this group’s technological experience was colored by significant cultural changes that shaped the century.  The United States Census Bureau issued a report that stated that 1961 17% of mothers returned to work within the first 12 months of giving birth, by 2007 that figure was 64% (United States Census Bureau, pp. 13-14).

Children born in 1961 had a few ways of interacting with others, primarily telephone and US mail. National broadcasting was something that was confined to a few large media institutions. You had to be selected by one of them to be seen in a broadcast produced by others. Television and movies consumed by children and youth in 1961 were constrained in the topics that could be discussed, the use of profanity and the images that could be shown. Compared to children in 2001, the scope of their world was smaller and more closely controlled by their community (familial and geographical) and options for interaction were more limited as well as more easily supervised.

Children born 30 years later grew up in a very different cultural landscape.  They had more options for one on one interaction, along with that they had the chore of deciding which tool they would use to communicate with various members of their social network (ie. mailing a grandparent a thank you note for a present  versus emailing a parent on a business trip).  They were able to directly broadcast their thoughts and actions to national and even international audiences without an intermediary controlling the broadcast. They were using technologies that were not always completely understood by their parents and other adults. At the same time that Prensky was writing about children and youths as digital natives, Bovill and Livingstone (2001) described children in First World countries as inhabiting a “bedroom culture”. They described homes in Western societies it is taken for granted that most of the children had their own bedrooms that are filled with electronics such as radios, TVs, computers, iPods, etc.

My issue with the term Digital Native is that they aren’t natives.

In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, these are the first 6 definitions of the word native:

1: inborn, innate <native talents>

2: belonging to a particular place by birth

3 archaic: closely related

4: belonging to or associated with one by birth

5: natural, normal

6 a : grown, produced, or originating in a particular place or in the vicinity : local

b : living or growing naturally in a particular region : indigenous

All of these definitions carry with them the notion of a place where someone is born and/or bred or something that is intrinsic to who they are[1]. No one is born digital or as a resident of The Internet; living the digital life is something learned; humans need to become literate with it. This is not an odd or new concept. We are not born knowing how to use a telephone, little children may imitate their parents’ behavior and body language while chattering into a phone (and I’m looking at you my beloved nephew) but they have to be taught how to make a phone call. Children may sit in front of a TV but they need to be taught how to change the channel (Ok, show of hands, how many of you used to think that the people on TV lived inside the cable or TV itself?)

If you read the entire article by Prensky, he was specifically referring to education, K through college (Prensky 2000) but even in that case I don’t like that phrase. Aside from these phrases feeling disrespectful to immigrants, his paper seems to suggest that people who were born before the digital are will always have a handicap, he calls it and accent, navigating through digital culture and that people born in it “They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to “serious” work” (Prensky, 2001).  He implies that using technology is something that is fundamental to post digital people. I would say that, like reading, navigating and being able to vet information online is a learned skill. While it’s use is something assumptive and a necessity in today’s business world, it’s not a fundamental skill because becoming digital involves “old fashioned” skills such as reading, logic, communicating clearly, etc.

A big thing I see is missing completely is while the amount and form of media has exploded, how the human brain perceives and retains information has not. Also, sound instructional design is sound instructional design regardless of the media used to convey the message. An adjunct to that idea is that in a classroom situation, a good instructor can work with the group they are given. Look, it was so-called Digital Immigrants who designed much of the “Digital”, it’s not a foreign land but a land they designed and built.  I think these phrases just serves to create generation gap that I’m not really sure exists to the extent that he portrays.

Prensky is now talking about something called “Digital Wisdom” which means finding the best combination of mind and technology. He talks about technology as enhancing human beings. I liked this idea when Vannevar Bush wrote about Memex as a form of brain extension in As We May Think back in 1945.

References

Bovill, M., & Livingstone, S. (2001). Bedroom culture and the privatization of media use.

Children reporting online: The cultural politics of the computer lab. (2004). Television & New Media, 5(2), 87-107. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=13081297&site=ehost-live

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2012). Employment characterisitcs of families summary. (Economic Release No. USDL-12-0771). Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor


[1] While one might argue that language is not something inborn or intrinsic, I would say that language falls under definition #4. Even though a child may not be able to speak until 18 months or so, they are developing language skill from the beginning. I once read somewhere (and I can’t remember where so I’m not able to verify this) that by the time a baby is four or five months old, the noises they make are the noises they need to speak the language(s) of the people their caretakers.

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Is Facebook Doomed? is the kind of article that irks me.

It quotes a financial analyst named Eric Jackson who said, “In five to eight years they  [Facebook] are going to disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappered [sic]”. Anyone who makes the  grand pronouncement that by 2020 FB will have gone the way of Yahoo is stating the obvious. Of course it will and the most junior of students of social media can tell you that.

It’s what Nicole Ellison and danah boyd told us back in 2008. In their article “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship”, the “History” part tells the story of social networking sites (SNS). From 6 Degrees to Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, all of these sites grow, dominate their landscape for a few years (except for 6 Degrees which *created* the landscape the subsequent SNS inhabited), and then sharply contract as their users migrate elsewhere. However, they don’t disappear; instead, after a period of dormancy and realignment, they reinvent themselves. Friendster did it, MySpace has done it and there were rumors a few years ago that 6 Degrees was trying to reboot itself (but the new “invite only” iteration seems to have sunk beneath the waves).[1]

It has been 6 years since Facebook opened up to the general public. It’s already been at the top of the SNS game twice as long as MySpace was. All social media sites have a lifespan, they end up declining either because they don’t have a critical mass of users to support they become so big that they implode as new users flock to the next big thing.

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendency also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

TPTB[2] might revoke my “Like” button, but I’m predicting that the innovation that supersedes Facebook will be here within the next 3-5 years.

I don’t know exactly what it will be but it will come from an industry outsider (Sorry Google but I’m channeling Granovetter here, innovation comes into a network from without and you’re too strongly tied to the rest of big tech, you are an insider).  I also predict that when it happens the remaining users will not be young people, but people 30 and older. This is because their weakest connections are the more sentimental ones from their past and Facebook facilitates a high level of ease in maintaining those ties. I predict that older users will be less likely to move to a different platform when so much of their history, people as well as artifacts, is already embedded within the site.

Finally, I think that whatever succeeds Facebook will have a highly customizable user interface but a very stable base. Right now, Facebook seems to tweak a notable feature every 6-12 months, it changes the layout and the usual outcome is the people complain for a while until they become acclimated. I’m predicting that the successive technology will have a user interface that is modular (you can swap elements in and out as you desire), but the basic screen will remain fairly consistent. This will enable the site to add new modules for users to plug into their personal interface if they so choose. The process of changing up the interface will be WYSIWYG[3].

Aaaand I think I just described a smartphone, lol.

References

boyd, d. m., Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), Article 11.

Dimmel, Brandon. (2012) Is Facebook doomed: analyst predicts site irrelevant by 2020.  http://www.manolith.com/2012/06/05/is-facebook-doomed-analyst-predicts-site-irrelevant-by-2020/ Retrieved September 23, 2012.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. The American Journal of Sociology, 78(6), pp. 1360-1380.


[1] The stated goal of 6 Degrees was to connect with Friends of Friends (of friends of friends and so on up to 6 nodes away) for informational and/or recreational purposes. They even showed you a diagram that would look very familiar to social network analysts where you were the central node, people you knew were connected to you by a line and were at the center of their own network systems.

I found the idea of 6 Degrees making a return tantalizing though because that was the first SNS that I used. While anyone looking at the interface would recognize it as an SNS the way we are used to today, its downfall is that there just weren’t enough Internet users who used the site to sustain it.

Only about 23%of US adults had Internet access in 1996, the year 6 Degrees rolled out. Internet users were still relatively elite group technologically, socio-economically, as well as by race and gender. (Suffice to say, my sister and I were oddities in the online world.) First, they had the financial resources to purchase a computer that would have been fast enough get you on and around the Internet in the first place. Then you needed a modem (which was generally purchased separately from your computer) and the money to pay the monthly Internet access charges. They also needed the technical know-how to set up their modem (do they even still have those master and slave switches inside a computer anymore, lol).

I also wonder if a large portion of people who might have used 6 Degrees were already networking through sites like Usenet, Prodigy and local online communities like The Well.

[2] The Powers That Be

[3] What You See Is What You Get

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