Thursday, April 19, 2012

Important Concepts Throughout This Semester

We’ve covered plenty of topics in lecture, but there are several that seem to keep reappearing in some way or another. Privacy is a big one of course, and it all begins with social network sites. I think that Dannah Boyd’s three-part definition of a social network site is important because it gives a good platform for determining what constitutes a SNS: “1. construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, 2. articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and 3. view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd). I also believe that the terms “networked publics” and “imagined audiences” are relevant because they occur within almost all SNS platforms, although probably most with Twitter. Since we focused a lot on Twitter, I think that the easiest way to sum up the material is to consider the argument between Malcolm Gladwell and Leo Mirani. Both have important stances on privacy within social network sites, and both have strong feelings about the importance (or unimportance) of Twitter and slacktivism in today’s volatile society.

I think that the next big takeaway would be the fact that others can easily obtain sensitive information from a user’s “private” internet profile. One of the most important things we’ve learned this semester is that privacy can be bought and sold, often without the user’s knowledge. Nothing is really private anymore, and I think that the most important article from that section is Zizi Papacharissi’s, in which she states, “The balance between privacy and sociality takes on new meaning as Internet–based platforms, like social network sites, afford sociality for privacy, at the expense of personal autonomy” (“Privacy As A Luxury Commodity”).

Another interesting topic we have covered is copyright law, especially when viewed in the context of remixing and sampling. It’s hard to focus on key concepts from this section of the class because there are no clear answers. Lawmakers are still trying to decide what is considered “stealing” and what isn’t. But there are still some terms and topics that stand out. For instance, “fair use” and “copyright” are terms that are crucial to have a strong understanding of, as are “commercial economies,” “sharing economies,” and “hybrid economies.” Besides copyright law specifically, another big concept from this last section is the three keys to success (long tail, little brother, and lego-ized innovation) which shows how commercial economies operate.

As for the important concepts from the last section (Exam 1), I believe that participatory culture and convergence, crowd-sourcing, and the organization of digital material are still the most important. These are the concepts that have carried forward into the new material we have discussed during the second half of the semester. Participatory culture, convergence, and crowd-sourcing can relate to remixing in sampling in ways that we didn’t explore when we first viewed these topics. Likewise, the organization of digital material that we discussed at the beginning of class can easily relate to copyright law and privacy, because the new methods of organization allow for such ease of access. These, along with the topics I identified from the second half of the semester, are what I believe to be the most important concepts so far.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sampling: Creative or Criminal?

Sampling is definitely a tricky subject. Personally, I believe that remixing and sampling is fine, as long as only a small portion of the original song is used, and that it is repurposed in a way that makes a completely new piece of art. When I think of what it would be like if all sampling were to be outlawed, I realize just how much great music would be lost. Some of our favorite songs (probably most of them) sample a different artist’s original idea and we don’t even know it. I think it’s important to realize that these artists aren’t necessarily taking samples and claiming the whole song as their own. Rather, they are putting pieces together as a collage, and that is the creative and original aspect of it. Keller talks about this quite a bit, stating, “The first point is about collage as a technique: the selection, arrangement, and juxtaposition of the found bits of prior culture is the art” (Keller). A collage using pieces of newspaper or pictures from a magazine can be considered art, so is music sampling really any different?

For example, most of us are familiar with EMINEM’s song, “My Name Is” which first gained fame in the late 90s for its provocative lyrics. What most people don’t know is that he sampled a Labi Siffre song from the 1970s entitled “I Got The Blues” in order to make it. To say that the two songs have a completely different vibe would be an understatement. Still, the underlying beat of both songs is the same. So, did EMINEM steal from Labi Siffre? I really don’t think so. I never would have recognized that they were the same and that in itself is pretty impressive. It takes a lot of work to be able to pull apart a piece of music to its bare bones and make it into something completely different and unrecognizable. As Miller states, “To specialize in either music or literature you need months, years of reading or listening to music” (Miller). I don’t care what people say about originality, it takes skill to be able to do what EMINEM (and countless others) have done with sampling.

Now, there is a fine line between sampling and stealing, and I do think that some artists take it too far. In my own opinion, if a song obviously contains another artists sample without giving credit to the original artist, then it is unacceptable. Hints or whispers of previous beats and lyrics are okay, but exact copies are not. Many people argue that all of this is irrelevant because stealing is stealing no matter how the stolen goods happen to be used but the law currently doesn’t follow this mindset. Here is how Keller explains it: “The law limits the rights of intellectual property owners, and grants the public rights to share in the intellectual property's value, in ways that would be unthinkable for tangible property like cars or bushels of wheat” (Keller). This is true, but music (in this sense) isn’t cars or bushels of wheat. It’s music. It’s intellectual property, and there are reasons why intellectual property laws have to be different than tangible property laws. It’s often impossible to prove who thought of what first and how recognizable the stolen copy is to the original. Like I said at the beginning, sampling is tricky.

Overall, I believe that sampling is perfectly fine. In fact, I love remixed music and would be devastated if it were ever banned. But there is definitely a line between sampling and stealing. I’m just glad I don’t have to be the person to figure out exactly where that line is.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Key Points From This Week's Readings

The underlying theme of this week’s readings is that in order to keep our personal information private, we have to be very smart. In fact, we probably have to be smarter than we ever thought we needed to be. As we saw in class with, our information is out there whether we want it to be or not. This is more than unnerving to a lot of people, and I think that the purpose of this week’s readings was to show just how vulnerable we all are to these kinds of privacy invasions. In my opinion, the key points from the readings are that Facebook is not as private as we think it is, and that companies are more than capable of using our online information to learn more about us.

According to Zizi Papacharissi, many people are once again thinking about their digital privacy, mostly due to Facebook changing its privacy policies in 2009. She states, “The revised, default architecture prompts users to be more public with their information. While it is possible for users to edit these settings, the code that belies the structure of the network makes it easier to share, than to hide information” (Papacharissi). I honestly do not have a problem with Facebook prompting its users to be more public; after all, that is what the site is for, sharing information with the public. But as our readings have shown, the trend seems to be an ever-growing lack of communication between Facebook and its users about just how much information is available for the taking. According to the Forbes article by Chunka Mui, a group of CMU researchers were able to discern a great deal more information from people’s Facebook accounts than they probably intended. In his article he states, “Drawing upon previous research, they (CMU researchers) were also relatively successful at guessing individuals’ Social Security numbers. From there, of course, it is just an automated click to your Google profile, LinkedIn work history, credit report, and many other slices of private information” (Mui). For me, this crosses a line, and it illuminates the key point that we should all be more careful about what we post on the web.

This leads to a second key point from the readings: Just about anyone, from potential new employers to advertising companies, can view our online activity and use it to their advantage. According to Leah Betancourt, author of “How Companies Are Using Your Social Data,” there is really no limit to who can view someone's online data, as long as they have the resources to obtain datamining services (Betancourt). She states, “Entities such as airlines, politicians, and even non-profits can use this data for finding new customers or targeting products to existing ones. Financial services companies such as banks and lenders are also using the same datamining services for marketing purposes and to make lending decisions” (Betancourt). Some view this behavior as beneficial, because it allows advertising companies to target their ads so that they are more relevant. To others (like me), it’s just offensive, because there is a great deal of generalization and guesswork that goes along with that.

My own personal take on privacy is that if something says it is “private,” then it should be. My Facebook profile is set to private because I want only my friends to be able to see what I post there. Advertising companies are not my friends, nor are the many datamining services available to just about anyone. I may be a little paranoid, but my sister had her identity stolen two years ago and is still fighting to get everything straightened out. Everyone that has helped her with the situation has said that the individual probably obtained all of her information from the web. The only online profiles she had were a Google account and a Facebook account, which was set to private. Still, as our readings have shown, Facebook and Google are not the only offenders. According to the article, “Facebook Retreats on Privacy,” “Myriad online services and companies are developing sophisticated tools for observing people's behavior online and profiting from the personal information they provide. In recent months, the FTC has been signaling that privacy is on the top of its enforcement agenda” ( Angwin, Raice, and Ante). It’s comforting to know that the FTC is attempting to fight this battle, but the problem is, once our information is out there, it’s there to stay. My stance on privacy is that at this point, it’s in our own hands. It is our responsibility to not post anything on the web that we wouldn’t want everyone to know.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Woods Coffee- Use of Social Network Sites

The business that I have chosen to follow is The Woods Coffee, which is a coffee shop based in Bellingham, WA. The Woods Coffee (TWC) is fairly new to social network sites, and uses Twitter for their online customer and employee interactions. They do have several Facebook pages, one for each of their different locations, but they do not seem to update them as much as Twitter, if at all. Still, I think that they are using social network sites effectively, at least through Twitter, and that they have invested a noticeable amount of time and effort into making social network sites a successful part of their advertising strategy. With a total of 2,507 Twitter followers, they seem to be doing quite well with social network sites usage, especially for a smaller business. As is evident from the readings we have done in class, this is a crucial practice for all successful businesses in today’s digital world.

TWC uses Twitter in a number of ways. Most evident is the fact that they respond to questions and comments that customers have left in a very timely fashion. For instance, a tweet from March 7th states, “Coconut Almond Latte @WoodsCoffee! This place never ceases to amaze me! #bravo,” (Holowaty). Just a few hours later, TWC responded with, “ah thanks :)” (The Woods Coffee). Surprisingly, they responded just as quickly when customers posted criticisms, too. To me, this shows that TWC is actively watching their Twitter account, and making a strong effort to take advantage of this aspect of participatory culture. According to Henry Jenkins, “Producers who fail to make their peace with this new participatory culture will face declining goodwill and diminished revenues. The resulting struggles and compromises will define the public culture of the future.” (Jenkins, 24). So, I believe that they are effectively using Twitter to benefit their advertising strategies by interacting regularly with customers in an online, participatory environment.

But, they do not use Twitter for customer interactions only, they also use it for friendly advertising. A tweet from March 10th states, “Don't forget to set your clocks ahead tonight! And when you're tired in the AM due to lack of sleep, we will greet you with a smile :)” (The Woods Coffee). Not only are they giving a friendly reminder about daylight savings, but they are promoting their business at the same time. Unfortunately, this friendly demeanor and active communication does not translate to their multiple Facebook pages, which remain fairly empty and out of date. Not a single one of their Facebook pages was updated during the time that I followed them online. This is something that they should definitely consider fixing. Henry Jenkins explains that convergence culture, and the spread of information across multiple media platforms is essential, stating, “In the world of media convergence, every important story gets told, every brand gets sold, and every consumer gets courted across multiple media platforms.” (Jenkins, 3). This seems to speak to TWC because they, like all other businesses, want their brand to be sold and their story to be told. By spreading their communication across many platforms (including physical advertisements such as flyers and posters), they would surely increase sales for their company.

Despite their lack of involvement on Facebook, I still found that TWC makes a concerted effort to promote a friendly, neighborly persona to their Twitter followers. Much like the tweet that reminded followers to set their clocks ahead, TWC uses cordial language and a very positive attitude on a regular basis. A tweet from March 18th states, “We have the best customers. Just thought you'd like to know. We win.” (The Woods Coffee). This came after about 24 hours of no questions or comments. TWC’s constant attention to their feed seems to show that they post cheerful tweets both as a way of thanking their customers, and as a way of keeping their Twitter feed active. So why do they fail to do the same for their Facebook accounts? Well, according to Danah Boyd, “Self-presentation on Twitter takes place through ongoing ‘tweets’ and conversations with others, rather than static profiles” (Boyd, 4). This helps to shed some light on why TWC might be using the communication features available on Twitter, rather than those on Facebook.

Besides, TWC seems to have no trouble connecting to their audience, and they seem to have a good idea of who their audience is. Connecting to customers and other employees seems to be the main focus of TWC’s Twitter involvement. These people can therefore be considered their imagined audience. However, I would argue that they probably make up the majority of the actual audience as well, seeing as there are many responses from customers and employees visible on TWC’s Twitter feed, and very little from other people. Still, this does not mean that these are the only people viewing their Twitter account. Again, Danah Boyd comments on this issue by saying, “Given the various ways people can consume and spread tweets, it is virtually impossible for Twitter users to account for their potential audience, let alone actual readers” (Boyd, 4). I, for instance, am reading the TWC Twitter feed but I am not an active customer or employee. TWC most likely has no idea that someone like me is reading their feed, so they do not consider me a part of their audience at all. So, I would agree with Boyd in saying that there is no way for an individual to know who is viewing their public Twitter account, but I still think that TWC is reaching out to the appropriate imagined audience.

Overall, I would say that TWC uses social network sites very effectively, but only because of their Twitter usage. Still, even their choice to use only one social network sites seems to have been done consciously. TWC chose the social network platform that can offer them the most customer interaction, and to that end I think that they have made a wise choice. They respond quickly and courteously to customers, and even answer employee questions. Even so, they manage to keep their Twitter feed varied so that it does not look like the only communication they do is in reference to customer complaints (which can look very bad for a business). Over the course of the time that I followed TWC, I became more and more impressed with how they used Twitter to advertise and communicate, and I believe they will have no trouble at all keeping up with the rapidly changing pace of the digital world in the future.

Works Cited

Boyd, Danah. “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience.”New Media & Society (2010): pg. 4, Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

Holowaty, Jacques (jholowat). “Coconut Almond Latte @WoodsCoffee! This place never ceases to amaze me! #bravo,” 7 Mar. 2012, Tweet.

Jenkins, Henry. Introduction: “Introduction: Worship at the Altar of Convergence,” Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. (2006). Pg. 3, 24, Web. 14 Mar. 2012.

The Woods Coffee (WoodsCoffee). “ah thanks :),” 7 Mar. 2012, Tweet.

-“ Don't forget to set your clocks ahead tonight! And when you're tired in the AM due to lack of sleep, we will greet you with a smile :),” 10 Mar. 2012, Tweet.

-“ We have the best customers. Just thought you'd like to know. We win,” 10 Mar. 2012, Tweet.