Thursday, January 18, 2007
Criticism of "Live(s) Online: Narrative Performance, Presence, and Community in LiveJournal.com" by Kurt Lindemann
While it sounds interesting and relevant to my Division 3 (especially since it was published in 2005 and is therefore pretty recent), I found this article confusing because it directly contradicted/ignored a lot of theory and generally important facts.
Lindemann starts his essay by explaining some of the uses of online journals. He says that “online journals provide the means and opportunity for presenting one’s self to a wider audience than ever before in increasingly complex ways, from homeless individuals keeping in touch with their families to gay men and women coming out.” (P. 354) While he cites three sources after this statement, it still raises the question of how do these “homeless individuals” have access to computers/the Web/LiveJournal? Libraries could provide internet access to those without it at home… but this is still a puzzling statement that needs more explanation.
Lindemann also provides a confusing and seemingly incorrect statement about weblogs which he attributes to Kristen M. Langellier and Eric E. Peterson and their book Storytelling in daily life : performing narrative. He says that Langellier and Peterson “distinguish “blogs” as short bursts of writing activity while characterizing “journals” as extended narratives or stories (160), explaining that “weblog” is a fitting term for both blogs and journals as the term implies a ‘web log of activity’ that can be used to describe an online log that links to other websites as well as a journal or log that is published on the web (160).” (p. 356)
Basically, they are drawing a distinction between “weblog” and “blog,” with “blog” being a subcategory of “weblog.”
Upon reading this, I checked two sources: David Bell (et al)’s Cyberculture: The Key Concepts and the Merriam Webster dictionary. Cyberculture defines the term “blogging” as “Short for web logging, blogging is a recent and fast-expanding form of web-based writing and publishing” (p. 10) This means that David Bell (et al) find that blogging and weblogging are the same thing, and that it’s just a matter of abbreviation. Having read David Bell’s Introduction to Cyberculture, I consider him to be a reliable source for new media studies.
Merriam Webster states that the etymology of the word “blog” is “short for weblog”. (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/blog) Thus it would seem that Langellier, Peterson and no unfortunately Lindemann’s feeling about the distinction between blogs and weblogs is poorly uninformed and just plain incorrect.
Lindemann goes on to discuss the idea of community on the web, yet another concept he has a poor grasp on. Despite how Lindemann uses the phrase “imagined community,” he doesn’t seem to understand all of what it means. He says that
Some claim that the use of the term “community” to refer to online social networks is inaccurate and unfaithful to the more traditional notion of community because: technology inhibits democratic involvement among members; computer networks isolate users from each other; and connectivity with others is more imagined than “real,” due in part to the anonymity available in computer-mediated communication.” (p 359)
Benedict Anderson’s work would have been informative to his argument, yet is conspicuously absent from his references. In fact, Anderson says that “all communities larger than the primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined” (p. 15) I’m also curious to know what his definition of a “more traditional notion of community.” So this poached argument is weak at best, and not worth mentioning.
From here Lindemann moves onto his next error, which is an improper, or at least too narrow, definition of multi user domains or MUDs. He claims that in MUDS, “users navigate avatars (e.g., a cartoon, a picture of a celebrity) and communicate with others in various visual settings” (p. 360) Something seems wrong about the stressing of the visual aspect of MUDs.
Again I turn to David Bell (et al) and Cybercultures. It explains that, first of all, MOOs which are multi-user, and object oriented are a subtype of MUDs. Most well known of MOOs is LambdaMOO, the setting for Dibbel’s (1999) "A Rape in Cyberspace", which was not a visual environment, and instead relied on textual descriptions of the environments and characters. So, there’s one MUD that’s not visual. Cybercultures also defines MUDs as “virtual text-based worlds in which participants interact.” (p135)
The next part that I found confusing is when Lindemann talks about the review feature on LiveJournal. “LiveJournal users also engage in online activities under the auspices of community and community building. The most prominent of these is the review of users’ journals by other users, in which users volunteer themselves for reviews by others whose own ‘success’ in the review process has qualified them to function as reviewers.” (p. 360)
I am frustrated by this as there is not enough said about it to learn exactly how it works, and there is no information about it in the LiveJournal FAQ. There is a way to suggest a journal to appear in the “spotlight section” on the main page of livejournal.com, but anyone can do that, seemingly even if they are not a member of LiveJournal. He doesn’t expand enough to say that he isn’t talking about a specific LiveJournal “community” or users who just take it upon themselves to review the journals of others that seem to be asking for it. There are, however, LiveJournal Communities centered around review journals and finding the ones “worth reading” such as the LiveJournal Reviews community at http://community.livejournal.com/ljreview/. He later talks about such things as “the Random Review page, which boasted over a million hits in 2003-2004, The Reviewers, which has upwards of 30,000 posts since it’s creation in 2003” (p 361). From the terminology he uses, it would seem that “the Random Review page” is an actual website, whereas “The Reviewers” is a community journal. That almost clears things up a little. Only not.
And let’s just ignore the fact that he uses the word “site” instead of “journal,” which makes it easy to think he is talking about an actual personal website instead of the focus of his article, which he earlier very definitively described as “online journals.” The most flagrant is when he analyzes the review of the journal of user ufp0275 and describes what you see on his “homepage”. He does not link to a homepage in his profile, so this was confusing. He then quotes a passage you could see on his “homepage” with the citation of “(Curtis’ Journal “Off MC”) (p. 364), which is actually titled “Off MC, Done with Xmas Shopping and misc” for those trying to find it in his archives. But now I’m just being nitpicky.
It was at this point I realized that Lindemann was conducting some sort of analytical experiment that lacked a summary of a methodology in the beginning. As you read his findings and analysis you find out how he went about his work little by little, which is really difficult to follow. Also, in the end, you find out that a lot of his explanation of online community and/vs social networks isn’t entirely pertinent to his final exploration.
So perhaps it’s my own fault for looking to Text and Performance Quarterly for new media-based research with some sort of technological background, but hey, at least the title sounded useful.
Monday, January 15, 2007
Definitions from the book Remediation:
Remediation – the “anthropotropic” process by which new media technologies improve upon or remedy prior technologies. We define the term differently, using it to mean the formal logic by which new media refashion prior media forms. Along with immediacy and hypermediacy, remediation is one of the three traits of our genealogy of new media.
Immediacy (or transparent immediacy) – A style of visual representation whose goal is to make the viewer to forget the presence of the medium and believe that he is in the presence of the objects of representation.
Hypermediacy – A style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium.
Okay, so clearly the personal website has been remediated by profile-based networking sites such as MySpace and deviantart.
I’m stuggling with the idea of “immediacy” as defined by the book Remediation and the more immediate response you get from MySpace “friending” and messaging as opposed to guestbook connections and e-mails as described in Cheung’s explanation of “cyberfriending” in my last post. This goes beyond simply “visual” representation.
However, I do see this visual immediacy in the MySpace page itself. You don’t have to search for information about anyone on MySpace: it’s all on one page, along with the guestbook-like comments from friends, links to friends’ MySpace profiles. You also have the option to send a message to the user, add user to friends, instant message the user, add user to a group, forward user to friend, add user to favorites, block user, and rank user all in one panel. There is also no HTML coding necessary to create a MySpace page, another aspect of the internet medium that is dropped to make the interface more widely useable and making the profile less like a page on the World Wide Web and more like a representation of self.
MySpace combines many popular elements of the web: blog, guestbook, quick profile (age, sex, religion), pictures, instant messaging, e-mail, “about me” biography section, literal “cyberfriending” capabilities, even music embedded in the profile, all of which is linked right on the front page.
Feel free to tell me if I have this totally wrong, Div 3 Committee members. This could just be me trying to fit something in a mold it doesn’t belong in: it might just be that MySpace is simply revolutionizing the idea of self and expression and has noting to do with the set of terms set forth by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
The essay I'm writing about tonight is "A Home on the Web: Presentations of Self on Personal Homepages" by Charles Cheung in the book web.studies. While clearly this essay is about homepages, a lot of it can be applied to profiles, especially on MySpace. In fact, perhaps MySpace is a remediation of the personal website. I'll go back to Remediation and maybe I'll write about this more on Tuesday. No, it totally is a remediation... I just can't expand on that yet.
Back to what I did read today: After describing what a personal homepage is, Cheung begins by briefly discussing self in late modernity as explained by Stuart Hall (which might be another useful piece to read). His bulleted overview starts by talking about how self as having range of identities in terms of gender, nationality, interests, political alignment and so on. The profile format allows for a simple way to display these identities and facets of identity. For example, a typical MySpace page has a section for "Details" such as [Relationship] Status, [Sexual] Orientation, Hometown, Ethnicity, Religion, Zodiac Sign, Education [Level], and so on and so forth. It basically gives a short, table format to present parts of your identity. There are also spaces to list favorite TV shows/movies/music/books, heroes, groups the user is in, who the user would like to meet, and an "About Me" section, all customizable by the user. Similar to a personal website, MySpace users can also add images and change the layout of their profile with a little knowledge of HTML.
Cheung talks about how "homepage self-presentation is a wholly voluntary affair where we choose our own target audience, or audiences, and decide which part(s) of our 'selves' are most suitable for presentation." (p 45) This once again brings me back to the selling of self. In a very basic way, this sounds like advertising to me and an attempt to appeal to others. However, there's still the empowerment of choosing how to present yourself and having a self-dictated fist impression of sorts. (An interesting dichotomy!) Cheung discusses the "emancipatory" aspect of the personal website, as it gives the author the time and freedom to work on their "outward appearance" that they would not get in a face-to-face encounter. And, after this personal website impression of the author, if users "like what they see, they may establish contact through e-mail, or via the site's guestbook or feedback forms. Cyberfriendships are made this way." (p. 49) MySpace has a much more immediate way of handling "cyberfriendships," if a MySpace user likes what they see on another MySpace user's profile, they just need to click "Add to friends". You don't even need to write anything: you just click the button. This act has been termed "friending" someone. You can also message the user and connect that way. There is also a guestbook-like feature where other MySpace users give shoutouts, messages and testamonials about the user in their profile.
So, MySpace incorporates all these aspects of personal websites in terms of self presentation, but does so in a way that's easier to work with for their users than HTML and webpage makers.
On a related note:
As I was working tonight, two of my friends have each spent about 5 minutes trying to find the best photo to put on their blog. "I want to find a normal picture of me; my committee is going to see this," one of them told me. While the people who their blogs are intended for already know them, they still put a fair amount of effort in their self-presentation in the optional profile sections of their blog.
I'll revisit some of these ideas later. Despite the notes I took and how much this essay gave me to think about, I'm not sure I have much more to write. Plus, I've been in the library building for 5 hours now, so I'm kind of groggy.
Friday, January 12, 2007
So I just finished reading "Threaded Identity in Cyberspace: Weblogs & Positioning in the Dialogical Self" (2004) by Vincent W. Hevern. It got me thinking about the "selling of self" to in the eye of the online reader (in terms of Lears), which I've been thinking about a lot lately. The part that reminded me most of this was on page 331 when he said: "The decision to publish a Weblog engages a blogger actively in an array of self-presentation strategies within the public environment of cyberspace." Well, if that's not an attempt to sell yourself, I don't know what is. But then, he goes on to say that:
"Weblogs are inherantly public and the posting of items on a blog is a social act of positioning that, minimally, bids
readers to encounter some aspect of that self that fashioned the item. Unlike other media, the use of hypertext links in
Weblogs also invites the reader to assume the perspective of the author by experiencing what the author experienced at
that link. Weblogs usually provide avenues by which readers can further the encounter by entering into explicit
conversation with the author."
The author is displaying the self, but he/she has control of what they display and use it in a way to share their world with their readers, to enlighten them to their ides and positions. That sounds a lot more empowering than the sale of self to the Other.
"The blogger crafts and preserves in and across time multiple positions, both internal and external to the self. These positions demonstrably evolve, shift focus, and interact with other positions in the rhythm of the author's life as chronicled daily." (p 331) The author leads the reader into their experience in a way representative of how they experience it, especially since the author can use HTML to include images and links (even color and sound) into their representation. He quotes David Weinberger as saying that "the Web is an unnatural world, one which we have built for ourselves". So I think I probably ought to check out David Weinberger. I also think that blogs are a powerful tool in self expression in this "world" we created.
The blog tool I want to focus on in my Div 3 is LiveJournal, "LJ"s, as they are sometimes called, tend to be a bit more personal than other blogs. And someday I even plan to have statistics to back this claim up. Hevern's article gives me a great way to define what I call personal blog posts and what he (probably more precisely) describes as "Self Focused" (p. 327). He lists three kinds of "Self Focused" posts:
- the "self-description list": He uses an example such as "100 things about [Author's Name]", but I think this encompasses surveys and memes... which will also need describing in my final paper.
-the "diary-like narrative": Basically describing the author describing what he/she did during their day. What they ate for lunch, an interaction with a friend, what they did after work.
-the "diary-like self-colloquy": This is where the author writes as if talking to her/himself aloud, reflecting on things, discussing their thoughts.
Hevern also talks about "the social encounter of individuals who find the activities of others online meaningful" which I am completely taking out-of-context because his wording made me wonder "Well, what makes one blog author's activities meaningful to others?" This could connect back to sale of self. Networking and connecting with others using the "comment" section of blogs (another thing I need to clearly define when talking about blogs/LiveJournal) is one way to do this, or at least to direct readers to your blog. This lead me to remember a blog I read in high school on a site called OpenDiary, written by a guy with the pseudonym of TheOmnipotentRodge. I think I found this blog from a comment on one of my own blog entries, from Rodge himself. He was very good about interacting with other bloggers, especially the ones who read his blog. And the way he wrote was fascinating. He could draw the reader in and make menial activities into something, well, meaningful. He played the guitar in a band, and often titled his posts with references to songs such as "Shine on, You Crazy Diamond". His presentation of himself was great, but the main hook of his blog was that he was an exceptional writer, which seems much less about consumption of someone's identity and more about the authors skill at storytelling. But, to be honest, I'm not sure what final conclusion to draw from this.
I also enjoyed the fact that Hevern talked about the Weblog of Wil Wheaton, the actor who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Wheaton talks about his life, often in light of his character on Star Trek, and Hevern goes on to say that, "by using cyberspace to reveal selected aspects of his daily life, Wheaton offers the public a kind of intimacy that would not be possible in person." (p. 330) While I may be reading too far into this, this seems to connect to my post on MySpace and Project Runway. Fans of these shows don't have a way to connect with the stars in person, so a blog or MySpace does create "a kind of intimacy" so that the fans feel closer to the stars and the show.
That's what I've go for now, I'll post after the next good article I read. Tell me what you think!
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
zefrank and LonelyGirl15 are kinda similar in fundamental ways. And what better place to discuss this than my Div 3 blog?
Both projects attempt to connect with the viewer on sort of a one-on-one level. Lonelygirl is speaking directly to you, as is zefrank in his advice videos and other video-based projects. zefrank also has a page that has a little flower animation paired with text explaining how the site was made for just "you", not all those other people who log on because they don't understand him like "you" do. You can view this here.
Lonelygirl focusses primarily on one medium for connection: the video blog, whereas zefrank has created many projects to connect with his viewers. You get to know zefrank through a series of lists, videos, animations, general connections to the plight of the common man, and he even has a link to his birthday wishlist.
In addition to getting to know LonelyGirl, you get to know her best friend Daniel. In addition to getting to know zefrank, you get to know his cat Annie. (Wait, zefrank isn't the lonely one??) zefrank has a bit more grounding in reality though: he has info on how to hire him to do stuff, as well as a link to his old band's website. LonelyGirl relies on her consistant "presence" on YouTube to make her seem real (it was found out in mid-September that this was a fictional blog), whereas zefrank has some grounding in reality. LonelyGirl does, howeverm have the added benefit of the viewer responses to her video posts too add to her credibility as a real person.
Regardless of whether or not zefrank or LonelyGirl are really who they say they are, the viewer connects with the personalities they project. LonelyGirl might not have actually had a lazy eye as a child but viewers who have experienced having a lazy eye feel some sort of bond with her, and perhaps with eachother. zefrank could have photoshopped the image of all the junk mail he received with the same subject line, but we can still laugh over the fact that junk e-mail has become more and more ridiculous and we all feel similarly buried by it.
At this point you may be asking: "So what? You can connect with a stand up comic or a writer or a television show based on having similar experiences to those described, whether they actually happened to the person they said they did. What makes this any more noteworthy than watching Sex and the City when you're having relationship problems?"
My answer: accessability. You have control of how you get to know LonelyGirl or zefrank. You can "access" them at any time and get to know them in whatever order you please. You don't need to wait for an episode of LonelyGirl, or you don't have to watch it at all and instead you could just read the responses. You don't have to watch all of zefrank's weird instructional videos to connect with him, or maybe that's all you see of his website. In fact, a lot of people only know zefrank through his latest addition, a video blog known as "The Show".
That's right, zefrank even has his own video blog. This is a fairly new feature. I found out about this blog from a friend of mine who sent me a link saying he just started following it and that "this guy" was hilarious. When I clicked the link I saw the familiar face of zefrank and informed my friend that zefrank and his website had actually been around for years. But back to my point: While he talks directly to you, the viewer, he doesn't go into personal aspects about himself as much as he does on his website. I personally feel that the connection the viewer feels with zefrank is enhanced by viewing his website. While the point of the blog is that he's making it every day for you, the viewer, it seems like there would be a bit more distance if the viewer hadn't been there to see his silly dance instruction videos, his statistics, and prior interactions with viewers based on e-mail. Again, it's all in how the user chooses to get to know him.
And I guess here is the point where I sum up my seemingly unwieldily-bloggy arguement: The viewer/user creates a connection with LonelyGirl15 and zefrank in very similar ways. One, they connect to the user one-onone to share personal aspects of their lives with their viewers and seem to be creating for their viewers. Two, they both have aspects of user input and have some (at least) loose ties to the real world. Three, they bring people together with similar experiences and relate with general human plights. And, finally, they use the medium (ooh, or is it media?) of the web to make themselves accessable to the viewer and allow them to choose how they get to know these online personas.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
"For his part, Sebelia has lashed out at the allegations--and those who reported on them--in a posting to his MySpace page, after a commenter brought up the rumors.
"Thanks for your concern," Sebelia wrote. "But all I have to say is be careful of what you read and also of what is presented in the press."
MySpace is now a credible replacement for an actual interview? Heck, MySpace actually being considered a serious and credible source for anything is strange to me. This is not remediation here, this is just silly. I tried to find his MySpace (yes, I have a MySpace account) and this post, and while I found a MySpace page for someone claiming to be Jeffrey, the quote from the article was not there. However, I found a bunch of other designers' MySpace pages, including last season's oddball designer, Santino Rice. I couldn't help but wonder if these MySpace pages were indeed legitimate, or perhaps another Lonelygirl15 or Marshall McLuhan gag. There were usually tons of posts from other users on each of the designers' blogs. This makes me think back to the statement the people behind Lonelygirl15 made after being found out about working towards removing "the line between 'fan' and 'star'". While they didn't exactly phrase it in the most coherent way, they seem to be talking about giving the fan more access to the star, which is exactly what these MySpace profiles for the Project Runway designers are doing. Fans leave messages of encouragement on current contestants' MySpace comment sections, and to former contestants fans leave comments as if they were old friends. For example, on Santino's MySpace a fan posted a comment that read "Hello Santino, I hope everything is going well. You are my favorite designer. Keep me updated with any events or things that come up okay? hugggz good luck to you =)". Perhaps without even realizing it, MySpace and the Project Runway designers are also achieving the goals of the LonelyGirl15 team with their use of YouTube.
Back to the MySpace quoting, has MySpace remediated the interview process? Interviews can be influenced by the presence of the interviewer, not to mention there's the hassle of getting the interview in the first place. A reporter can get commentary from the people involved within seconds of news breaking just by checking MySpace. Of course, this brings up an issue of credibility. I could not find the commentary on the MySpace page of Jeffrey Sebelia, and how do I know if that was the actual Jeffrey or someone pretending to be him or perhaps it was the ghost of Marshal McLuhan. So what does this mean? Are these reporters barking up the wrong info source or is this the middle of remediation? Does it take a while to refine a remediation? Bolter and Grusin have yet to talk about this in what I've read of the book. They do, however, make it sound like it's a sudden process, but that seems a little too magical for me. I guess we can only wait and see if the face-to-face interview (or phone-to-phone or even e-mail to e-mail) will be remediated by statements in online forums on the web.