Netiquette: Blog comments

Coming from a family oft referred to by others as the Flanders, blog comments were fraught with peril for me.  If posting them myself, I used to feel responsible for posting only positive, affirming words that couldn’t possibly be seen as negative – to ensure the blogger’s feelings would not be hurt, their self-esteem remain unmarred by thoughtless callousness on my part.  Similarly, checking for comments to my blog[s] was always anxiety-inspiring; what if I had accidentally made an error, been rude?  What if someone drew this to the attention of me and anyone else who might ever come across their posting – what if, in short, my shortcomings were exposed to the world?  [Dedicated to preserving information, I wouldn’t delete a post or its attached comments.]  I clearly remember the comment that reduced me to tears and drove me into a self-imposed exile from the internet for three days.

Well, I’ve grown up a bit since then.  Experience interacting with other bloggers online has helped me to see this as less of a public space for potential ridicule than a meeting area for ongoing discussion and learning.  As a result, my blog posting deadlines no longer cause anxiety.  I welcome comments that don’t echo congratulations.  They’re opportunities or me to see things from a different perspective or to investigate new areas.

So, advice to Librarians seeking feedback from users in blogs and social networking sites:  provide expectations.  Explain what the comments are for, not just how rapidly they’ll be responded to.  Clearly state that all people’s contributions are valued – because they are, and a reminder can’t hurt –  and keep  guidelines  clear, brief,  and inclusive.  [For an explanation of what I men by inclusive, try tossing out any inclinations to think less of a post written in popular netspeak shortcuts, with capitalization, grammar, and semantic errors.  These are not relevant to content value and may be an affectation by a user seeking to mask their identity that a conspicuous linguistic style may reveal.]

Comment on a blog today!


I just posted this comment on a colleague’s site: “The London Public Library has done a great job with their site – it’s current and definitely teen-focussed in look and content focus. I have to say, though, I’m still unsettled by what I see as an adult incursion into private teen space. Remember the days before advertisements appeared in the actual turf on the football field? Ah, sweet simplicity. It’s just wrong to be enjoying a pastime and have comercials – however informative – directed at you. That’s how I view MySpace and Facebook profiles such as these.”

football.jpgI know this point of view will make me highly unpopular with some folks. To clarify, I do not want to convince institutions to abandon their profiles. I’m very willing to be proven wrong by evidence that teens and youth find value in libraries appearing in these social networking sites.

MySpace, MyDeathSpace

Web 2.0 technologies enable more people to have access to creating their own online content. This results not only in blogs, wikis, websites, and social networking sites, but creative spin-offs, too. A mixture of tongue-in-cheek parodies and smart marketing exist, like the following: SecondLife is parodied by Geta(First)Life.  Bloggers with a dark sense of humour sign up for DeadJournal, not LiveJournal. Voyeurs whose itches aren’t scratched by YouTube may seek satisfaction at PornoTube.

The one that intrigues me most is MyDeathSpace. Explained in detail by Ray Pietras, this site posts details on the passing of people with MySpace accounts. The veracity of the obituaries can be tested against “publicly available information”, their front page states, as well as providing the following guidance: “We have given you the opportunity to pay your respects and tributes to the recently deceased members via our comment system. Please be respectful.”

There’s so much I want to say about this but need some time to reflect. Thoughts on online versus F2F [face to face] writing for openness and facilitating grieving; callous, disdainful comments from pseudonym-cloaked users, and the fallout of those comments. Thoughts on whether this can reduce the youth death rate due to preventable accidents and suicides, even while turning reading obituaries into entertainment…

“Kill the elderly”: a Facebook group I’ll avoid

Some investigating around Facebook by Dave has turned up some very ageist attitudes amongst those who use the social networking environment. Check out the conversation here on Freydblog.

It’s awful to read but hurts me more than it shocks; teens, struggling with understanding and establishing their own identity, are prone to putting down others: a battle for peer acceptance repeated over and over again. There are other psychological drivers at work that are beyond my understanding. Suffice it to say, I take this as bolstering my claim that most users of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace will not welcome the presence of libraries in their “friends list”.

Digi-learning: maximizing the benefits of social economies

The value of collaborative development is widely acknowledged (see proprietary software development release dates versus those of open source programs – guess which advances more rapidly). How can these proven techniques be leveraged to advance education?  Recent studies by IBM (reign in your scepticism, please) show : “hours spent playing online can hone skills related to collaboration, self-organisation, risk-taking, openness, influence and communication”.  In the article Gaming the System… Herz opines “the networked eco-system of online gaming is vastly more multidimensional than the 19th-Century paradigm of classroom instruction” due to its provision of a greater array of challenges to its users. A single player can be faced with learning the game, coaching newbies on its use, and working collaboratively to solve or further develop the game. Not only do students engage in the content, then, but are deep into “conventions of interpersonal interaction that define status, identity, and affiliation”, or “social ecology”. Doshi notes the need stated by students and staff alike to make sessions in Libraries more interactive; lectures should be molded into “knowledge quests” (Walter Scaachi, quoted by Doshi). Herz presses further: “to become meaningful, online content needs to leverage the social ecology that drives networked interaction.” Yet this does not support the incursion of adults into teen-defined social networking sites, which only reduces the amount of space left to teenagers in which to participate in their own social ecology. Students may benefit more from operating in online environments unmediated by educators’ imposed rules; like Danah Boyd riffing about MySpace, Herz recognizes the importance of defining and enculturating their own norms. (See my earlier notes on this topic.)

Instead, educational models need to develop means in which information learned should be reinvested in projects of benefit to the group. Benefits include not only the gathering of new information, higher rate of encoding in long-term memory, and advanced social interaction development, but recognition from peers (see my earlier posts citing egoboo as it relates to the collaborative activity of social bookmarking). Given the collaborative nature of the gaming world, social recognition of one’s efforts is very high; Herz contends the classic model of education lacks such effective models of team-building. [Herz sends us to Slashdot for a great performance model.]

Herz grabs my attention with the suggestion of a more nuanced model of grading: “instead of a binary framework where… requirements are either met or not met, they might be considered attributes that are continuously strengthened.” In the North American model of public education, students are graded on scales and continually throughout the academic year; the framework isn’t binary. But I appreciate his suggestion for the way in which it could serve to increase the current systems pedagogic influence. Tying grades into group performance, ongoing collaboration, as well as observed effort and demonstrated performance may not be that far from being actualized in the mainstream; after all, instructors of well-designed distributed education courses are already making great inroads into collaborative learning. Web 2.0 tools such as social bookmarking, RSS feeds, and online social networking arenas can equip learners with opportunities for sharing and reinvesting their new knowledge and derive greater results with a wider variety of learners than before.

Response to Stephen Abram on Social Networking sites and Libraries

Demi-god of internet information management Stephen Abram‘s latest monthly e-letter questions what makes social networking sites  site “sticky”, encouraging return visits, and why prods us to wonder why users “willingly create and share…without financial and assessment award”.  Danah Boyd’s presentation to the AAAS covered these questions: youths engage in these social networking sites for interaction with their peers in unmediated space.  These environments are arenas in which popularity contests are fought, norms of interaction are enculturated, individuals negotiate the terms of their identity.  By their nature, then, they are successful because they are not institutionalized in adult communication technology practices.

Christopher Harris is right to speak against Facebook/MySpace bans and instead suggest means of working them into lesson plans.  But libraries go too far when they try to insert themselves into these areas.  Librarians having pages, showing themselves as fun/interesting/interested/approachable, real people with lives outside of meatspace – great.  Advertising library services is an incursion into private teen space.

Abram raises excellent questions regarding learning from these social networking environments to leverage learning opportunities and create educational environments ‘where kids are at’.  I agree that certain aspects of the educational system could be changed to raise students’ success rates, and that SN sites are a wise place to seek gleanings.  As he points out, “Learning is essentially a social activity….skills and competencies in the greater context of society. What are
these Web environments doing right with respect to institutionalizing social networks?”  Instructors of distance education courses already utilize synchrnous and asynchronous ICT’s to link disparate elements of a group, as do far-spread colleagues and friends.  What they all share  with Facebook and MySpace is a reward to the user that is meaningful to them.  (Haven’t we all received something we had no desire/use for, something even beyond the boundaries of a Gifticus present?  To what degree to would that inspire you to continue a particular behaviour?  Right.  Zilch.)

There are a multiplicity of communication gaps, not just generational.  They exist between various levels of our human societies, between groups of different languages, income levels, geographic areas, and career- or work-related fields.  This isn’t new.  The way they manifest may be changing, but their nature is unchanged.  As Librarians, keeping abreast of developments in ICT’s and questioning their applicability to our profession can help us respond to the societal shifts that threaten to widen these gaps.  For example, I recommend checking out Scratch, a “programming environment and toolkit [that] lets kids make games, animated stories, interactive art, and share with others on the Net.”  Harris is probably using it in his classroom right now.

Text-chat vs Voice in MMOGs: questioning identity

I’ve been riffing a bit about virtual presence lately; the identity construction it represents. I’ve recently created a Facebook account, re-engaged with my old Tribe account, and am mustering up the courage to join an online gaming environment. On top of that is the omnipresent responsibility to keep feeding this blog and thus expose at least part of my soft underbelly to critique. So concepts of self are prominent in my thoughts.  Time to go back to reading Sartre, de Beauvoir…

There’s another facet to online being, now, and that’s voice chat, which gives away more about an individual than text chat indicators.  Clive Thompson was playing in WoW and agreed to switch from text to voice chatting, and experienced a relational shift with his fellow gamer as a result.  Thompson reflects on the incursion of voice chats in MMOGs:
“Ultimately, this is about intimacy — how much of ourselves we’re willing to give away to strangers. Personally, I enjoy being able to construct identities carefully in text; that’s because I grew up with text as my main online mode. It’s possible that the impending generation of gamers will simply find voice chat more natural, in the same way that teenagers today happily blog about their personal lives and post pictures and videos of themselves. They regard personal revelation not as an incursion of privacy but a marker of authenticity.”

Hopefully, though, you’ve mastered your multiplexity of personas and can share some of your insight with me.