mamamusings: October 16, 2003

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Thursday, 16 October 2003

aoir presentation site

I’ve created a website for tomorrow’s presentation (part of my Tufte-inspired “renounce powerpoint” efforts).

Once the paper is a little more polished (the ending is still pretty rough), I’ll post it on that site.

And now to sleep. Wakeup call in six hours. Room service breakfast (it’s free!) in seven hours. Blog panels begin in eight hours.

(And yes, I have a copy of the presentation running on my local web server. I’m making no assumptions about conference connectivity.)

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more like this: research

open wifi in queen street cafe!

I finished my presentation, and escaped in search of lunch. Wandered down Queen Street, and into the Bishop and the Belcher, a pub that had enough people inside to indicate edible food, but not so many as to make for a wait.

And miracle-of-miracles, there’s an open WiFi network here. w00t!

As to the presentation, it went fine. Thanks for all the good wishes, and suggestions—slightly revised version of the presentation is now up. I took lots of notes about the two blog panels, and will post them later today once I’ve cleaned ‘em up a little bit. No networking at the conference (yet…Apple seems to be working on it, and we had 15-20 minutes of connectivity before it disappeared again), so no live blogging. If they get the wireless working later, I’ll see what I can do. Jason Nolan (“and his team,” he said) are doing a conference blog, too.

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aoir: "hacking women"

Sarah Stein, NCSU
“Hacking women: media representations of the technically proficient woman”

The Net and VR5 both cast women as hackers. Surprising, because women are almost absent from the real world of hackers.

What is the effect of media representations of women “transgressing” into internet and gaming culture?

Hacking is one way in which men enter and advance themselves in software development. Joy, passion, creativity are typically associated with the media image of the hacker.

Why are there no female hackers? Perhaps because men are more able to find relief from fixed time schedules and daily tasks (much of the daily caretaking and routine drudgery of life falls to women).

Shows a series of clips from both The Net and VR5. Interesting stuff. Will need to go back and watch The Net again. Have never seen VR5. Is it available on DVD or reruns at all?

The women are skillful and competent with technology, but socially inept. There’s teh big question: Does technological skill mean deficiency in “womanliness”?

In both of the narratives analyzed, the women go from asexual figures, clothed in baggy garments, to more feminine and stylish apperances.

Not sure I buy the argument that portrayals of geek guys don’t lessen their sense of masuclinity…or that the portrayals of female geeks necessarily makes them less “womanly”—unless we want to buy into stereotypical definitions of what constitutes femininity.

In both of these narratives, mothers are physically present but mentally incompetent (comatose, etc). What message does this sound? Women can go into the technical domain when they are freed from family demands—but they can only reclaim their femininity by “rescuing” their mothers, and taking on the caretaker role.

[Will follow up with her to see if the paper is being published, or will be. Can’t find a web site for her at NCSU, at least not via Google.]

Audience member notes on the extent to which gender norms are being “policed” and reified in current online environments and media messages surrounding these environments. Is there any reason for optimism?

Sarah Stein replies that the hope lies in “activist feminist” work. There’s no open door inviting revisions; we have to breach the barricade and take it on.

She references Mary Flanagan…need to find out about her work. Creating new representations of online environments.

Audience member suggests that the Internet allows us to “escape binary gender” (updated version of “on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog”?). Can we put gender behind us?

The problem is that nobody exists solely online—nor do they want to.

(Note to self: Interesting to think about the representation of maternal figures in Sarah Stein’s examples. Many of the women I’ve interviewed for the grant have described their mothers as “computer illiterate.”)

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more like this: conferences

aoir: "blogging: authors and consequences"

Elijah Wright (presenting with Lois Scheidt and Susan Herring) on the weblog genre. There’s a popular view, but it represents an unrepresentative elite. Most of the bloggers mentioned in mainstream media reports of blogging are male. “Blog Research on Genre” project (BROG), with a goal of empirically characterize the “typical blog.”

[Ack! Isn’t this like trying to characterize the “typical person”? Or the “typical woman”? Is there any value in an “average” representation? Why do we need to see blogging as an undifferentiated label??]

Defined blogs as “HTML document with entries in reverse chronological order.” (No mention of authorial voice here…so would a software revision list be a blog, under this definition??)

Used a random sample from blo.gs for their analysis. Used web content analysis,through lens of web genre characterics. Coded features of blogs, quantified results.

Hypotheses: (1) Blog content tends to be external to the author (news, links); (2) authors are typically well-educated adult males, (3) blogs are interactive, actively soliciting comments, and (4) blogs are heavily interlinked.

Blog content is mostly personal, and often intimate. authors are roughly eqully split between male and female, adult and teen. Adult males create more filters and k-logs (in fact almost all are created by males), females and teens create more personal journals.

Conclusion: Blogs featured in contemporary public representation are not representative.

They acknowledge that sample size is small, and is English-only. However, more recent samples seem to reinforce conclusions. Present several interpretations, but I find these overly speculative. You don’t know why people do things until you ask them, or at the very least do more qualitative inquiry into the phenomenon.

Jump right to predictions:

I am reminded of a line I heard from Pat Cadigan (a sci-fi author) at an ALA conference, when she warned against “the danger of predicting the future in a straight line.”

So, they ask, what then is “new about blogs?”

That last one is where my interest lies. Blurring of boundaries (just search my archives for “boundaries” to see previous references to that theme). Susan Herring puts up a graphic showing a continuum of web pages to CMC.

More conclusions:
* blogs may ultimately be transformative, but not in favoring a specific content, audience, or quality
* rather they create new affordances that will be open to a variety of uses (cf email)
* important to look at “typical” blogs as well as intersting unusual ones
* look at socio-political, social-psychological, and technical implications

I asked if they had concerns about creating a “typical” profile of a diverse population—response was that they realize they need to break it down more.

Also asked if they might consider longitudinal studies—does content change over time? Go from externally focused to internally, or the reverse?

(Update: Cameron Marlow has a wiki page with his notes on this session.)

(Another update: Elijah Wright has posted the PPT presentation from this session, so you can check my #s and find the ones that I missed!)

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aoir: "broadening the blog panel, part 1"

The blog panel I was on was so big that it got split into two time slots, and the first one was from 8:30-9:45am. I took notes for that one (no WiFi at that time), but then my computer got pressed into use for projection during my panel (for Jason Nolan and for me), and I didn’t really take notes much after that.

So, here are my belated notes from session 1, featuring Cameron Marlow (of Blogdex fame), Alex Halavais, Matthew Rothenberg, and Thomas Burg.

First Panel (8:30am)

Cameron Marlow, before we begain: “This is a giant room and a tiny audience…probably a good metaphor for weblogs.

Where possible, I’ve provided links to people’s presentations (via their blogs), or at least to the blogs themselves.

Alex Halavais led off, talking about Robert E. Park (then groundbreaking) description of cities as more than collections of people, but as an institutions. He speaks with a backdrop of a series of wonderful quotes regarding study of cities (Chicago School, etc). Nice comparisons drawn between cities and blogospheres.

Move from that to “What is a ‘blogosphere’? How do we study it?” What’s a blog? Blogs only exist in relation to one another.

Goes through Park’s essay on cities, replacing “city” with “blogosphere”.

Focus on neighborhoods. How do you find the boundaries and the texts of the “neighborhood” in a blog context?

Thomas Burg’s presentation

MonsterMedia: the monstrosities of the blogosphere. He presents a “framework from a cultural studies perspective,” using the metaphor of the monster.

monsterTheory: impurity is terrifying, especially when two categories are represented—(human and machine). A monster is created by transgression of categories, or blending of existing (exclusive) orders. The result is fear and/or fascination.

Is it reasonable to think of a weblogMonster?

Question from audience (Susan Herring, I think): In what sense is linking a disruptive technology in the context of weblogs? A: The linking of content, the “tracking back” of references is a new way of thinking about content on the web, about producing content on the web. Questioner disagrees; new, but not disruptive.

Cam chines in that he sees it as the opposite of disruptive.

Alex responds as well—a link is not interactive. Difference between reciprocal and unidirectional links. Links can flatten hierarchy and thereby disrupt structure.

Matthew points out that weblogs themselves have become disruptive in search processes, and the value of links

Audience member notes that comments and trackbacks allow for disruption.

Another question about need for reputation based filtering, a “qualitative overlay” for the quantitative information.

Question: Why are panel members negative about social network analysis; most software for sna now does recognize bidirectional and unidrectional links. The kind of “maps” we need require multiple valences.

Cam: In EatonWeb, people shunned categories, and isntead chose “personal” and “general”. Communities are not around people, but around topics—however, people are not aware of the microcommunities around topics.

[Reading this now, I think this is really important. Need to follow up on this.]

Question: perhaps content is too ephemeral on blogs; are weblogs more like newspapers in their balance of ephemerality (of individual pieces of content) and persistence (of the vehicle for that information)?

Cameron Marlow (blog link—can’t find his presentation there)

Likes the metaphor of the city that Alex raises. Evolution of the city produced a new set of social organizations not possible in other environments—to some extent, weblogs further this process. With weblogs, you engage with people who are not geographicall-colocated. Geography of interests and thoughts.

Challenges the idea that “neighborhoods” exist in the “world of weblogs” (hates the term “blogosphere”)

Weblogs are about a “culture of ego”. The individual is the unit of analysis—as opposed to environment. About creating a community around the individual.

Blogdex indexes ideas/topics spreading through the weblog world. Allows communities to form around shared topics/discussions. Individuals can find others “talking” about the same subjects.

Claims there’s not an emergence of weblog neighborhoods. No structure emerges as a “clique”. It’s simply a mesh of interconnections. It’s not like “Small Worlds,” or other networks we’ve seen before.

[My anecdotal experience doesn’t support this. I think we need to look at the data in a lot of ways before we assume that there are no emergent “neighborhoods” of blogs. In fact, I’m surprised that nobody mentions Emergence in this context…it seems very relevant.]

Matthew Rothenberg (just started updating his blog again)

Many people maintain their weblogs in multiple formats—not just HTML, but also xml, rdf, etc. Why are webloggers interested in providing this?

Highly distributed methodology—different authors, times, tools, locations. But it’s a highly referential community, based heavily on links. How can we make sense of relationships?

May be a “city”, but it’s one in which your neighbors are not necessarily visible to you. This is where social network theory fails in analysis of weblog links. Need to see who links to the same things you link to. This happens, though, in tools like Blogdex, “Recommended Reading”, AllConsuming, feedster, etc)

Difficult to see who’s talking about a resource when you’re looking at it? Talks about how to build that in automatically (My response: But do we want to do that? Regulating signal-to-noise ratio. Tools like the Technorati Cosmos bookmarklet allows for filtering/value added on that information.)

Claims that blogs are a small, insular community. [My response: I don’t buy that. Not one community, and only insular within subgroups (LiveJournal friends, etc) ]

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna