Tag Archive | facebook

Google Buzz – another moral panic over “public by default”

The messages on Twitter and Facebook containing warnings regarding a ‘huge privacy flaw’ in Google’s Buzz started popping up right after the first users noticed Buzz was available. A few weeks ago, Facebook’s move towards ‘public as default’ caused numerous outcries, now Google had taken up this notion of a new status quo and provided Buzz users with public by default settings. What people keep bemoaning is clearly not a flaw but intention – why would Google launch a system that competes with Facebook but resort to privacy standards that they perceive below (depending on your view it is: above) Facebook’s standards?

In contrast to Facebook, where working through all privacy and account settings can take up quite a bit of your time, and where they seem to undergo changes every now and then, Google’s Buzz offers a simple link to your profile where you can edit it. 3 options are available, ticked by default:

  1. Display my full name so I can be found in search
  2. Allow people to contact me (without showing my email address)
  3. Display the list of people I’m following and people following me

Untick at least option 2 as viewers are actually able to see you full email address, once they click on it. Untick all 3 options and you are done with privacy.

A full list of all options and possibilities illustrated with screenshots that also show you where to switch off Buzz entirely is available on: FastCompany.com. There is also the Google Buzz Video on Youtube and more on Google.com/buzz .

Then there is an option to choose between 2 different styles of your Profile URL and a menu that allows you to add links (URLs) to your social networking sites, outside Google’s world (i.e. beyond Blogspot, Picasa, the RSS Reader etc.). You can add your Linkedin profile, your LifeJournal, Twitter, Flickr etc. So far, I found it a straightforward way to handle privacy and decide to what degree I want to keep my connections public or not. Following others is equally easy: either click on follow or unfollow in structures which resemble Twitter.

What I find a lot more complex is the ongoing pro/con debate on Twitter and subsequent blogposts. I wished we, in particular the academic and technology expert community, moved on to a tone that enabled a debate beyond the simplified notion: users need privacy [by default]. We have shown that privacy is on our mind, but not all the time. The degree, to which we post consciously personal details, full email addresses and other potentially compromising data on the web, is not static and purely based on our age, social class and educational background. Rather, we may post information, share links and leave traces that we regret at a later point – simply because we are not rational beings 24/7 (some of us tweet in pubs, in moments of overjoy, frustration, while tired or very hungry…).

We may also get distracted or experience an impatient moment when we log in a social networking site that offers an unexpected dialogue requesting us to make a yes/no or now/later decision when all we want right now is to respond to that interesting / hilarious / unfair / nasty comment one of our friends posted and it got forwarded to our email inbox. It’s all about priorities. Then we fail to remember that there was something waiting for us to make – a not so exiting, let’s be honest – privacy decision. And there is no reminder (we seem to have become used to reminders: welcome back, switch off your out of office reply; your payment is due; your deadline is fast approaching etc).

I agree with the idea that social networking sites need to offer privacy options that are easy to navigate, clear in wording and transparent in their accessibility within the site. However, I also believe that we urgently need to move on towards a more mature discussion of what we can expect from users and how we should learn to grow up within the social media that we keep using on a daily basis. We do not benefit from systems that reflect a virtual nanny state but rather, we are living in an age where choices and options can leave us somewhat paralysed (analogous to dozens of TV channels to choose from – and no one telling us to switch it off).

Once we have understood that privacy is not a vain exercise but vital to our long-term well-being and sense of control, it should become less of a controversial notion to navigate around in a new system and familiarise ourselves with the available options. Rather than waiting for the day someone annoys us with their comments or – worst case scenario – has hacked our account, it should be informed by our sense of belonging to a virtual community to do that minimal piece of homework and surf the very site we use. It’s a bit like in real life – you rent an apartment and hold the property-owner responsible for whatever does not work but you will need to take care of the keys, and ensure doors and windows are being closed on a daily basis.

I am not saying that all the responsibility lies with the user but that the world of social media is a very dynamic space and users need to continue to respond to security holes, hidden gaps, poorly structured privacy settings etc. But at the same time they also need to resist resorting to moral panics every time a new system is being launched – mainly, because this prevents system developers / providers and users from having an efficient and meaningful dialogue. It seems to create an aggressive bubble in which pro/con arguments are being traded when all we need is to look at how the system can be improved towards a standard that is acceptable (to all age groups) at a certain point in time. After all, Buzz privacy settings might become as overblown and still not fully satisfactory just as Facebook’s are right now, yet, it would be a lot more useful and socially sustainable to develop a stance as user that perceives negotiating various options and flaws by taking in more complex views – and making this the very ‘default option’.

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The presentation of self in everyday digital life

Today’s preconference at the University of Westminster, London, brought together a range of highly inspiring scholars who had re-evaluated Erving Goffman’s work in the setting of the everyday in digital life.

Heather Pleasants, University of Alabama, presented findings related to her digital storytelling project. Her illustrations of digital forms of communication were powerful stories posted on Stories for change and the paper was based on ethnographic observations framed by the works of Michael Wesch(2008), Erving Goffman (1963), Georg Simmel (1950), G.H. Mead (1934) et al. Particular audiences, for instance in education and health care, harness the possibilities provided by digital media, in authentically co-/presenting self and other. Trust, patience and respect in these spaces depend on self-representations and are constituted by the degree of authenticity. Here is another powerful example Life N Rhyme by Relixstylz linked by the Berkeley Language Center in California.

Mark E. Nelson’s (University of Oslo, Norway) presentation focused on the Space2cre8.com project and raised interesting questions. The data analysis had been based on semiotics and appeared to be reductionist in so far as user profiles produced in South Africa had been presented to users in Singapore which were interpreted from within the a certain cultural context. In more or less global networks, though, the idea to refer to one and the same system of symbols and meanings appeared to produce results limited in validity. The social, psychological and cultural embeddedness would need to be acknowledged. Also, representations and narratives may need to be accepted as ambiguously understood. In this sense, understanding would also require the dialogue between producer and audience who, in order to ensure predictive devices such as expressive gestures are understood as intended, will need to negotiate the clues given off in a non-intentional manner.

Sonia Livingstone, LSE, applied Goffman’s concept of the participation framework, production format and participant status to new social media. Goffman’s notion of modes of participations such as co-presence, bystanding, eavesdropping etc. appear to be applicable to f2f social situations as well as to online encounters. Whether participation has to be ratified as suggested by Goffman is less clear. In spaces such as Twitter or Facebook it seems to be perfectly fine to hold endless monologues which may be picked up by automated systems in order to be re-distributed. This may count as machine ratification, an entity not exactly covered in the model of the production format (principal, emitter, animator, figure – united in one agent at times). Reception roles and production roles are not clearly defined in the complexity of online social interaction (c.f. the concept of produsage, A. Bruns – blogpost and presentation
from prosumer to produser ). Impression management in mediated communication may require to address the fact that some communication online is meant to be self-reflection and monologue ‘only’, which, in contrast to offline space, does not require any ratification at all.

An aspect also discussed in Larry Friedlander’s (Stanford University) presentation – the representation as strategic action: never spontaneous, never pragmatic. In social networks the self-presentation is accompanied by anxiety to demonstrate and create status in a careful mix of showing and disguising by applying methods of evasion.

So, is it all staged, choreographed and scripted? Only if we assume people are not able to learn and grow while engaging in online social relations (even if ‘only’ with their self in reflective encounters). Narrating the self involves the negotiation of boundaries which entails self-defence as well as the growing self-confidence resulting from practising, exploring and observing what happens at the knots of connections or interfaces. However, the construction of self involves the negotiation of other, and even if only in observing monologues, non-ratified by the observed other. This complex layer of self-representation may only surface once the process has come to the point where an author determines to express a facet of their complex self.

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VKS: Ethics in (e)research Workshop in Amsterdam, Part 2

It’s a fortnight ago I attended the Workshop and the analyses of ethical dilemmas in a range of different fields explored with colleagues gained another dimension during a conversation I had last week with a friend located in continental Europe – who’s neither related to research nor sociology or internet studies in the wider sense.

I notice that a universal notion of ethics, online collaboration, self/community, individual authorship and Creative Commons equals an assumption we all see the same sky, every day. We don’t. And this is not only due to geographical location, national politics and regulation, but also related to varying degrees and facets of collective unconsciousness. The kind of public debates I do have access to here in the UK by help of traditional media including print media differ considerably from German debates (so do US debates I access online). Different types of angst feed into such discourses on macro and micro levels. Only by seeking actively to push my personal boundaries and engaging in a challenge of my own ideas as well as questioning what is taken for granted by others, something of a more personalised value system, based on eclecticism has emerged. This is a mix of nationally framed legal regulations, enhanced by ethical guidelines compiled by academic and professional bodies, plus a range of personal, in part moral, beliefs.

The questions I have in mind are:

  1. Are others similarly aware of their values and beliefs and their origin?
  2. Are they subscribing to a notion of values in flux or rather static, life-long held beliefs when it comes to moral values and ethics, in particular in the globalised virtual sphere?
  3. Where does awareness and reflexivity come from if not formally acquired, and what role do social media play in this? Is it undermining, challenging or enhancing ‘everyday ethics’?

Clashes and opportunities are produced in social networks which offer discussions in forums and groups. Large and heterogeneous groups of individuals engage in debates and become exposed to ideas, behaviours and practices they are less likely to encounter in real life in such a speedy, diverse, and dynamic manner. I recalled my own experiences and reviewed my impressions, wondering whether research can be improved in its ethical quality if more consideration would be given to the following aspects:

  • Communication skills and awareness levels are culturally embedded, they are often taken for granted and subject to assumptions rather than being explicitly discussed and reflected upon – if researchers take a reflexive approach why not offering research participants the chance to engage in a collective exercise of reflexivity too?
  • The digital divide 2.0: social media super-users vs social media sceptics – are social media super-users ethically more aware as they are more likely to be exposed to a wider range of positive as well as ethically problematic behaviours?
  • How do adult research participants learn about ethical issues? Informal learning processes (which can be an incentive for research participants as well as researchers), crowdsourcing practices and non-target driven engagement in social network sites may result in a stronger sense of authorship and a willingness to challenge practices of production of authoritative knowledge in the researchers’ world. Yet, this may be rather an exception than the norm. Would researchers and societies benefit from a more pro-active approach on the part of researchers, for instance by including such debates into research projects and making them part of the data collection?
  • Not just Twitter but also Facebook is one such major site that potentially may help to increase attribution awareness. However, as attributing practices, for instance on Twitter, evolve rapidly but haven’t stabilised yet, we cannot assume users will adjust and adopt naturally the most ethically beneficial syntax at some point. Flickr for instance offers currently 4 explicit options under the Creative Commons Licence – plus the option to not licence images and videos but make them freely available for all purposes. The advise is provided in clear language and many users may develop an awareness for authorship and copyrights, however, others may not even bother about finding out the differences between options.

What is supposed to be right or how things should be done online differs widely, conventions are emerging and are being challenged on an ongoing basis. The amount of trust gained over time by help of familiarisation with Social Network Sites and Social Bookmarking Sites as well as expertise in online commenting, eloquence and online ‘street wisdom’ separates social media savvy users from those who rather stick to e-mail and the consultation of conventional websites. This distinction applies also to researchers and academics. Awareness-building and reflexivity as well as ethical considerations should accompany the entire research process, from drafting to publishing and beyond, when participants critique the findings and interpretations. The learning could and should be mutual, without fearing the researcher’s expertise and specialist position is under threat, although it might well be under scrutiny due to the increased level of transparency. That may well be a very optimistic stance, yet, a paradigm shift towards collaboration in a partner-like manner could be beneficial and much more sustainable on the long-term and it could help to educate where institutionalised learning fails to reach out.

The key discussion points and questions raised at the workshop have been posted by Anne Beaulieu at the Virtual Knowledge Studio as FAQs which underlines the fact that ethics in (e)research is not only ongoing and iterative but also a process rather than a stage at some point of a research which means, frequently asked questions may require new answers, each time we encounter the dilemma.

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VKS: Ethics of (e)research Workshop in Amsterdam, Part 1

The Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam offered an Ethics of (e)research Workshop on
Monday 15 June, which brought together post-graduate/doctoral students and researchers from various fields and a range of cultural backgrounds.

Below are the ethical dilemmas I anticipate to encounter in due course of my future research project which will investigate Digital Technologies [as research tool and objects] in the context of informal cognitive processes embedded in online social interaction which have repercussions on real world settings and experiences.

Methodology: based on a triangulatory approach, it will include a self-completed online survey, auto-ethnographic work as well as semi-structured focus-group interviews and content analysis. Inevitably, in particular the auto-ethnographic work conducted in the blogosphere and online social networks entails a range of possible ethical conflicts which I fear an Ethics Committee may subject to a one-size-fits-all policy that won’t take into account the following particularities:

  1. Participant Consent –fully informed and voluntary (FIV) – in retrospective?
    Conversations and comments on blogs, tweets and retweets on Twitter and comments on Facebook status updates or semi-public debates via Facebook’s wall-to-wall feature: they cut across the public/private boundaries. Given that participants provide FIV consent, Ethics Committees should accept this as ethical research. However, danah boyd et al. have experienced considerable difficulties with retrospective consent in recent projects. Hence, a more ‘dynamic’ and contextualised/non-static model of ethical guidelines is still something we cannot take for granted when submitting our forms to the Ethics Committees.
  2. Public versus private, blurred boundaries and imagined risky/secure spaces
    Are Facebook status updates private, semi-public or public? If forwarded by applications that support Twitter boundaries become blurred and even participants may differ in their perceptions, resulting in different participants demanding different levels of privacy (at different stages in the research) – or, maybe also requesting to categorise rather private messages as public for they may want to be heard and gain higher ‘online status’ (for instance on QDOS which calculate your virtual footprint). Imposing privacy might indeed cause harm when participants do rather desire publicity.
  3. Confidentiality and Anonymity
    Are aspects closely related to point 2 above. Can we safely assume all participants desire anonymisation of their real name or pseudonym? How can I deal with texts/images and other media that evolve over time and contain various levels of confidentiality, for instance participant comments in 1:1 conversation (think Twitter DM [direct messaging], forwarded automatically to email, responded to by public tweet) and also in focus group follow-up interviews. I.e. naturalistic research in the first case vs. participatory research in the latter.
    Moreover: cultural differences, expectations and needs may vary across age groups, perhaps even gender, and depend on social class background/educational level. Ideally, we are giving a voice to the interviewee/participant and promoting a level of equality, i.e. avoiding misrepresentation, paternalistic attitude and harm by all means – yet, we need to understand that positions are highly contextual and depend on subjective needs of participants rather than universal model of research ethics. Have ethics committes already arrived at that point?
  4. Power and Equality
    Conducting research, collecting data and distributing findings may be greatly facilitated by online channels. The level of transparency can be high, and research participants may want to claim part-authorship for instance by using excerpts of the research report to be posted on their blog or website (or used in other media). A continued dialogue with participants, post-debriefing, may require further ethical decision-making beyond the levels common in other contexts. Again, not a one-size-fits-all ethical guideline but rather a case-by-case-based ethical decision making might be required. Will participants become involved in future amendments of ethical guidelines?

Finally, the participants’ levels of reflexivity and general awareness of research processes do seem to increase continuously while access to paths of personal and professional development of the researchers become ever more transparent and accessible. Will we need to learn to remind participants that they also need to behave ethically towards researchers? Are we progressing towards a more equal research-driven community and wider – globalised – society? Moreover, the researcher as the researched: my blog, my SNSs, my microblog, all the many profiles, traces left – can I expect research participants to act in an ethical manner in case they won’t agree with my findings (interpretations of findings, to be precise)?

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2nd Digital Cultures Workshop: Social Media Publics. Part I

On 4th June I attended the 2nd Digital Cultures Workshop: Social Media Publics #digcult09 at University of Salford, U.K. A conference, rather than a workshop, it actually took place over two days, densely packed with presentations, the organisers Ben Light, Steve Sawyer at el. had managed to include speakers from a wider range of areas. Hence, the methods applied varied and delivered additional sources for debate. Ethnographic methods featured several times with auto-ethnographic research in social networking sites such as Flickr becoming an ever increasing tool. Here, the ethical issues related to reflexivity and at least some degree of critical objectivity became subject to the Q&A sessions and further conversations during coffee breaks. Yet, they strangely seem to rarely feature prominently on the agenda – given the dominance of research conducted from ‘within’ the site of investigation, I think these issues are under-investigated and require more attention.

Some papers, based on larger research projects’ findings, made use of triangulatory approaches, for instance Daniela Bogdanovic, Michael Dowd and Alison Adam, University of Salford whose presentation ‘Golden Girls and Boys: Researching the Online Privacy Concerns of Older People’ outlined the mix of methods they had been using in their micro study. As often the case, they had given preference to diversity and in-depth data against representativeness. Hence, the inductive approach combined with theoretical sampling and grounded theory which in turn provided a foundation for further data collection gathered by help of online ethnographic research, semi-structured interviews with focus groups and a larger survey that will be repeated. I also learnt that their research was embedded in a large-scale project with researchers taking a more quantitative approach which meant that continued discussions around methodologies helped increasing awareness for limitations of one’s own field of origin and taken-for-granted assumptions in terms of ethics, practices and underlying values. To me this sounded like a very dynamic project that may deliver insights beyond the scope of the actual research objectives.

Nick Breems, Dordt College at University of Illinois, presented research conducted on Facebook, his intention was to develop strategic directions for Facebook, hence, he had investigated links of motivation and interpretation of usage and kernel meaning. He raised the question whether Facebook users are training themselves to stay away from ‘true friendships’ and the work they require. Does Facebook address the problems which lead to disconnectedness in the real work or is it just tackling visible symptoms of modern life alienation? To me this echoed the wider debate around strong ties and weak ties, emotional labour and meaningful relationships versus fastfood style connectivity and networking – problems that exist and started off in the real world due to our urbanised, accelerated lifestyles, breakdowns and transformations of what the nuclear family model, working environments/arrangements and societal changes in a globalised world, entailing a huge number of moral issues. Facebook is no remedy and was never intended to be such, yet, it may have potential to offer more than one-click-instant friendship, supposed we start thinking in more meaningful ways about whose responsibility it is to educate all age groups towards respectful and sustainable social interaction and communication. If online social practices (culturally diverse as they are) are left to their ‘natural evolution’ they may simply reflect the social ills and deficits we witness in the real world.

However, we may also start using public education and campaigns in order to indicate more meaningful ways to interact. In this regard the question of another researcher addressed to Nick wanting to know whether he would also have any friends other than those on Facebook came a bit as surprise to me – it seems even those immersed in researching the field hold beliefs about the artificial boundaries of online and offline worlds that feed into myths, hence, as Ben suggested, a lot more research is required which targets more on non-users and their notions and perceptions.

Here is how public education -decades ago – attempted to change the social practices and values lived by a broad audience, in this case the topic was ‘How to say No: Moral Maturity’.

A more contemporary illustration is India’s -pretty hilarious- public health campaign, the mobile ringtone ‘condom, condom’ aimed at normalising beliefs and tackling taboos:

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review of the OU StudentHome: connectivity, interaction and synchronisation

The OU is redesigning the StudentHome I read on Twitter this week. That was long overdue, I thought – when guyweb asked anybody who uses the Open University StudentHome to tell him what they liked and disliked about it. Thorough improvement is imminent, I am hoping…

In brief, the StudentHome contains previous and future courses which are listed with marks, submission dates and course resources as well as links to the library, data about myself, the regional centre and the current (but not previous) associate lecturers. What I find useful and pleasant to access are the course-related sites, they were designed in a clean and user-friendly style.

However, there is no way to share items in social book-marking style among students or invite others to courses you have studied, add comments, suggestions and critiques (course reviews require approval). It very much conveys a notion of: that’s your StudentHome and you are home alone. OU studenthome calendar On the left hand menu there is an empty Personal Calendar which is equipped with an export function. Students will need to add all exam dates, essay cut off dates etc themselves, and are left with an ICS file. Not sure what that’s for, the site does not provide any explanation.
There is no way to get that simply into my Google calendar – link it with Facebook events, and there is no advise as to how to synchronise with my PDA.  So I do not use it. There is also a Personal Blog option which, unfortunately, won’t offer me the option to simply synchronise my already established blog and microblog. No way to add my RSS feed, no options to see other students’ blogs.
What happens if I enrol elsewhere? Will my blog expire? This must have been designed by someone who has never used a blog, and someone who does not enjoy the flow of communication.  Now that’s exactly what is paramount in an OU student’s life: communication and interaction with peers.  So, what I hope to see after the revamp is the following:

  • Lecturers remain largely invisible apart from the odd telephone tutorial and emails sent out to non-disclosed recipients.  I really hope that they learn to play a more active part in our studies.  First of all, it would be good to see what academic affiliation they have got or some links to their publications, projects etc.
  • As I said, we are still using old-fashioned telephone tutorials (undergraduate courses offer face to face tutorials and dayschools).  The size in my current courses is fantastic, there is no more than 5 of us discussing.  But we keep wondering why the OU does make no use of Skype.
  •  Podcasts.  Courses I have studied often contain audio material with interviews, often truly excellent material.  But the CDs have been protected, so I am unable to get the files on my mp3 player.  For any full-time working/busy student that would be of enormous help.
  • RSS feeds as well as social bookmarking would make life a lot more easy and exciting.  Often, I share an article on the BBC or The New York Times in Google Reader or Delicious – other students share them on Facebook.  The OU (Social Sciences), it seems, does not share at all.
  • Wikis (possibly some study-relevant) and Group Blogs would be a great step forward.  Not least also a step towards a stronger sense of belonging to an active student community that is keen on connectivity and sharing: blogs and wikis help gaining presentational skills and will improve a sense of authorship/dealing with plagiarism.
  • The libray is now on Twitter, there is also a blog and a page on Facebook. Great.  But you will need to collect the bits as it’s all very scattered and not all is relevant to non-librarians. 
  • The OU Youtube channel, for instance, is still not linked and you will only find it if you actually search for it.  There is also a lot OU teaching and research going on in Second Life – but you will need to spend some time on finding out about it yourself.  Or hear from non-OU academics what the OU is actually doing.
  • As I am a Social Sciences students, the StudentHome provides me with a link to the SOCSCI-PROG Social Sciences Subject (what’s that?).  There are links to a number of faculty staff blogs. Wow – but not one single link to a student’s blog.  To me that conveys a sense of hierarchy, but I might be wrong – perhaps they simply do not know any student blogs.  But then they announce that “Soon we will also be asking tutors to send in their selections”, which confirms my first impression.
    Links to  “Your undergraduate study” and “Learning Journeys” are made for undergraduates and retired learners – the one-size-fits-all might suit the OU, it definitely needs a thorough re-think. 
  • Now, a truly significant point is the lack of notifications we get about conferences, workshops, symposia etc.  There is one single hidden link to the ESRC Festival of Social Science – it’s listed in Latest News, where I would hardly ever find it had I not followed the invite to review the StudentHome.  Events at the British Academy, for instance, would be interesting to a large number of students, there is so much out there that the OU could share with their students (let’s not talk about money here and the related students=clients debate). 
  •  There is also no link to the Ethics Committee and their procedures.  When I was requesting approval for access to a dataset collected and made available by a university in the USA, I contacted my faculty who was sceptic of Master students getting involved in writing papers for international conferences.  That is something PhD students would not be doing before their 2nd year.  Well, thanks for the encouraging comments – I was left chasing for approval, resubmitting the explanations and obtained it eventually seven weeks later then.  Now I know who is the relevant contact in the Ethics Committee and how to deal with them – but why not making that information accessible to post-graduate students in general?
  • Professional associations such as BISA, PSI, SPA are listed on the StudentHome, although the number is very limited: only 10 have been selected.  Neither AoIR nor MeCCSA are mentioned.  There is a list of 9 think tanks and research bodies but it is just a plain list, no further advice, updates or anything else on grant applications, ethics guidelines etc.
    At Birkbeck College, University of London (BBK) lecturers forward at least once a week the large numbers of associations’ newsletters, event announcements etc to their students.  This is not the case at the OU, here students need to be way more proactive researchers in order to not miss out on social capital and all the vital information that helps from an early stage on to connect and grow academically. 
  • Finally, there is also no advice provided as to software packages more specific to our studies such as bibliographical packages, survey tools and file sharing applications. Available is, however, a range of Word-processing and anti-virus software links. 

SUMMARY  It’s a scattered universe, pages are not interlinked, they are not tailormade for students according to their level of study. They are compiled with a very broad picture of middle-aged student in mind probably with a working class background and rather interested in finding any job than in doing research or building a non-conventional career (the Careers link is the last resource I recommend for advice on funded PhD programmes).

The OUSA FirstClass conferencing system which is linked to the StudentHome is student-moderated and urgently requires a revamp too.  OUSA states that “Our conferences span interest, hobbies and lifestyle issues ranging from the serious and sensitive to the frivolous and purely for fun. We also have study rooms so that you can meet up socially with other students doing the same course or programme.”.  Over the course of 6 years I have only ever seen 2 associate lecturers posting there occasionally.

Perhaps the OU could learn from tools such as Moodle which is rooted in a constructivist approach.  The application aimes at interoperability, syndication and the fact that learners and teachers both contribute to the educational experience.  Simply installing new tools and making them accessible to students without rethinking the underlying assumptions, internal politics and barriers towards learning and teaching will provide us with dead tools, I am afraid.

Update on 5 April 2009: The Wikipedia site mentioned above refers to an eGov site that claims the OU is building an online environment under Moodle that will be fully operational by February 2007. More than 2 years later, there is still no sign of Moodle. Nor is there an explanation for the delay, other than that the Pro Vice-Chancellor who made those announcements then in no longer in charge.

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currency exchange: let’s pay in comments

With the British Pound being at a pitiful low rate against the Euro – it’s near parity – I think it’s a good moment to bridge finance and blogging. Comments count as currency in the blogosphere. Given the comments are useful and the reader has taken the time to read through the post, beyond the first two sentences.
In a world where time is a very scarce good, it seems commenting on someone else’s blogpost is not exactly the most rewarding thing to do. So why bother? Why engage in the tiresome – and often also emotional – labour of producing content?
Chrysten Dybenko argued in June this year that only 1% of the active population would ever produce content, no matter if blog, wiki or comments on a site. Now, in January 2008 there were 59 million Facebook users which have more than doubled within the year: according to Facebook there are currently 140 million active users. All these people (individual or collective agents) produce content and demand attention. In my online sphere I see more than 1 in 100 Facebook users commenting on each others’ activities with status updates being the easiest to spot. On Twitter the rate is certainly even higher – but on blogs? That’s indeed a different story. Because the content and comment production is also more time consuming and less spontaneous?

Comments are the one core ingredient that make blogging a lot more of a dialogical activity. There is no point in telling the invisible or imagined audiences what wonderful things you think without getting any feedback. Yet, it’s exactly what many corporations still do on their top-down style websites but if you are not one of the anxious producers you are keen on hearing what readers think.

Or what your readers ‘out there’ produce on their sites. That’s what trackbacks and pingbacks are good for. That’s what produces social capital. But the one thing I am truly keen on is cultural capital. It’s the critical question that indicates someone has thought through and beyond the stuff you offered. And spotted the weaknesses. Or the strengths. And gave you food for thought. Something to come back to and make it better. That’s the material that you take with you from your online world into the offline world. That makes you post something like an answer. Online. Or talk back, offline – and to someone who does not even know you are a blogger. Bring the thoughts and comments back into different contexts. Generate new ideas.

The hybrid places where online and offline merge and we notice that what we give and get online may have an impact on our identities much bigger than many are willing to admit. And it seems, our identities are rather merged phenomenon than fragmentations…

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