Daily Archives: October 26, 2009

Week 5 Summary – Mobile, Distracted, Down with the Meme

One of the weird interesting things about reviewing your online activity every week is that you really start to see what you do all day, all evening, through the week. You think you know and then you look back and find new things out. This week I see that I have been really quite distracted from my studies, on one night that was because I was caught up in the Twiiter phenomen du jour, but other less digital distractions are discernable too. The other area I’ve been super active this week was in looking at the mobile web and that has some really interesting contextual issues around it so I’ll come back to that later in this post.

The one piece of activity you won’t see anywhere in last week’s streaming is the main bit of module participation for this week as we’ve gone to the dark enclosed web of the discussion boards which has made me, for the first time this module, have to remember to log in to see class content. If I’m honest I’m happiest with the open material but I can see others are happier taking part in some discussions in private so it’s interesting to be in the part of the course where a major proportion of chat is ring-fenced and only a minority of additional chatter is taking place on Twitter or via blog comments.


Whilst I don’t have a Google Latitude-enabled phone it wouldn’t take a genius to stalk me based on my lifestream. This week I was at a Bat for Lashes gig one evening, at an Open Source Geo Scotland meeting another. If anyone was in any doubt what homework I was/was not doing then my Tweets and bookmarking gave me away. And the tricky thing is that I’m very aware that these things are visible to friends, course-mates and colleagues and do wonder what impact that has. If I’m behind on homework I’m old enough and mature enough to say so but not arrogant enough not to feel guilty and a bit embarrassed about getting behind. Ethically though I wonder how students younger and significantly more vulnerable/concerned about monitoring than me (especially school or undergraduate level) feel about being findable and traceable online.

I certainly feel weird posting my latest thoughts on a bad TV show or film when I feel I should be back at my laptop summarizing my week or catching up on readings (I tend to find I get enormously absorbed in the occasional tasks so they prove easy to get lost in for hours and hours of guilt free studying fun). As every post is timestamped, searchable for and publicly made my lifestream is a really big commitment to behave appropriately and acceptably for every corner of my life since all elements are bound up together. I start to see why “the kids” don’t do email and don’t seem to do blogging in nearly the same way as stats suggest they use much more private and ephemeral instant messaging systems and texting…

Mobile Web

One area I’ve been working on in my day job this week is the mobile web. It’s been an exploratory week but thinking about where and when you access the internet is a real game changer in a lot of ways. Right now search is the lynch-pin of the web with real-time status updates (Facebook and Twitter largely) emerging as an important referral system but not really challenging how central Google is to most people’s navigation and literacy of the web. But if you look at any TV ad at the moment you will find a raft of smart phone adverts and all you can eat data packages and multiple platforms of mobile apps and that means one thing: it is becoming normal to access the internet on your phone, anywhere, any time. That change has to be making a difference to how the internet is used, experienced and integrated into daily life. For a start search looks clunky on a small screen – hence the types of codification I talked about in week 2 becomes really useful but so do “Location Based Services” that use GPS, gyrometers and compasses built into phones to enable real time interactions with the local context of the phone user.

So that means you don’t tell a restaurant site/app your address or country, it detects your location and brings back only the relevant results and can give you directions to your chosen venue (e.g. UrbanSpoon); or it means you can have an alarm clock for commuting that wakes you when you arrive (e.g. inap); or an augmented reality apps that overlay something useful – tweet locations, mapping, cross sections of buildings etc – on a live camera feed from your phone’s camera. This is clever stuff that makes the old static PC or (relatively static) laptop relationship to the user and to the web seem outdated. Phones are personal, discreet and portable, and they can transmit data to ensure you only receive contextual information. The problem is that cuts off everything that isn’t enabled for this sort of use. And there are some cross-platform compatibility issues. And you place a lot of trust in how your location information is used, and how things you are looking for are filtered for you. Nonetheless I think this method of access is increasingly impacting on what works on the web and how our relationship to the internet will develop in the next five years.

Facebacuook hooks up to phones, as does Twitter and a number of web services are providing ways to share images, sound, video files via direct upload from mobiles. A few weeks ago I went to a talk on a college that had provided every first year student with an iPhone or iPod Touch allowing, effectively, the basic informational part of teaching to be shared via virtual file distribution and podcast, so that class time could be about discussion and work around that teaching and with the phones allowing searching in class, allowing work with real existent data sets online and enabling real time polling and feedback connections between teacher and students. Some of these would already be possible with laptops but other aspects – particularly the fact that academic materials/connections co-existed alongside regular day to day address book information, silly pictures at parties, music etc. – really encouraged students to think of studying as part of their day, something that continually buzzed in the background even when they weren’t in class.

I think this experiment hints at the kind of outsourcing to the cloud/web/technology that a mobile and more contextual web may allow. You trust your data to be on the web and accessible, you trust your technology’s ability to access your own and related data, and you let your phone or portable computing device to be your memory so you can focus on being the complex analytical, more holistic and human perspective on top of the information you want to use. It’s perhaps the realistic short term version of the sort of man/machine hybrid we considered in the #mschuman work earlier in this module. In any case it’s fascinating to look at what the mobile web does and does not work for, who uses it and where it’s potential and limitations lie. Which is why I’ve been poking around looking at apps, ideas, etc. all week.

Down with the Meme…

Talking of the mobile web brings me to the busiest part of my week on Twiter. This was the much covered appearance of Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, on BBC One’s Question Time on Thursday 22nd October. I was vaguely following the news but not taking a great deal of interest on Twitter until an enthusiastic friend asked me for help starting a Twitter sensation to boycott the beeb and deny Griffin publicity.

Since the BBC got the show’s highest ratings in years on Thursday I think it’s safe to say that we failed spectacularly but it was interesting to try approaching Twitter from an overtly short term goal orientated perspective rather than for subtler long term networking. Viral Marketing 101 was what I warned my friend he was embarking on. I pointed out that a hashtag was essential, following and engaging others was essential, targeting key networked Tweeters would also be essential. And if he could piggy back on a relevant trending tag/meme so much the better. It was only a half-baked last minute plan but it sucked me into Twitter for several hours as I noticed that tags like #stopthebnp and #bbcquestiontime were trending and were full of good quality real time reporting with various journalists flagging up on the scene protesters and uploading instant pictures. Despite loads of security and a very early filming slot (even the panelists were not, apparently, told what time they would appear) Twitter allowed the real filming time to be revealed, reported on, and spread. A teenager on the scene instantly saw a spike in followers after a journalist flagged up his real time coverage (probably to the teen’s mild horror as it was retweeted with comments about how “cute” the enthusiastic posts were) and it kicked off quick a nuanced Twitter debate about whether it was better to engage or ignore the BNP.

When the TV show started it all really kicked off on Twitter with real time microblogging, comments, opinions, cheers, boos, and debate rolling in parallel to the show. Question Time tweets were about 95% of my incoming messages whilst the show was running and, because the show had attracted lots of new/infrequent viewers, the comments also covered the following show, This Week, as many viewers discovered it’s surrealist charms as a collective experience because, just as they were about to switch off, a Tweeter would point out the ludicrousness on screen.

And, in case you were wondering where I am going with all this, this brings me to my last major element of lifestreaming this week: thinking about a community to study online. Well actually I’m not sure how much this is reflected in the lifestream as, as I mentioned above, much of this was on the discussion board but it did pop into #ededc tweets so it is present.

Looking Ahead to my Digital Ethnography

I had various thoughts about communities to look at but, after some very useful feedback on the discussion boards and some quick sanity checking from my partner (another crucial element in my life and study who barely features in my traceable online activity but has huge importance to decisions made) I’ve decided that I want to look at the Torchwood Twitter community. I was particularly thinking that, if available, the Tweets that took place in real time during/after the screenings of Series 3: Children of  Earth in July would be really interesting to look at as this was an intense week long 5 part series leading to intense involved Tweeting. Although most science fiction has a pretty good Twitter backchannel of one sort or another (for instance last week I received a random Twitter telling off after expressing dismay at the quality of episode one of Defying Gravity) the Doctor Who and Torchwood communities are particularly active and the time lag between UK and International showings of the shows causes particular tensions around cliffhangers and spoilers.

If I can find a tweet archive for July this is what I was hoping to focus on but in looking at current activity I found a movement to bring back a character  had so far raised £10,000 (for charity) in a Twitter protest campaign and I’m now thinking this may be an interesting alternative (contained) view on part of the Torchwood Twitter community. I’m going to have a final further trawl tomorrow and then focus in for some proper examination of what it is to be part of this community and how the regular members and transient members coexist at the occasional flarepoints (usually key events including DVD releases, screening dates, etc.) that bring them together.