I posted a draft of the paper I’m working on on Google Docs on Friday and asked for feedback and help – and already more than thirty people have looked at it and five people have left comments – and of course some people have messaged me to let me know that they’d like to but haven’t had time to read it yet. Reading and giving feedback on a 5000 word draft can be a fairly time-consuming process. But I must say, the feedback I’ve received is really useful, and even just the knowledge that people have looked at it and not had any comments is valuable. Part of the reason I want drafts out there before it’s published is simply quality control. The article is going to be published in the European Journal of Communication, and it will be vetted by experts in communications studies and copy-edited by experts in citation technique and so forth – but the editors aren’t experts in social media. And there are only a few of them. So getting feedback from more people is bound to help improve the article.

For instance, the core of my article is probably my sorting out of different ways in which social media organise our data into stories or patterns. Here they are (and I would love feedback on this!)

  1. Patterns that show TIME
  2. Patterns that show RELATIONSHIPS (and popularity?)
  3. Patterns that show CONTEXT (is this a subset of relationships? (or vice versa)
    • Friendfeed.com ñ gathers your data from several sources, shows your friendsí data from several sources
    • Dagbladet profile (I blogged about this)
    • Spock.com (same idea as Friendfeed)
    • Tumblr.com ñ creates a public site for your gathering your info from Twitter, blogs, Flickr, etc.
  4. Patterns that show GEOGRAPHY
    • brightkite.com (check in with GPS-enabled device)

    • dopplr.com (logs travels, creates visualisations for individual users, like this one it made for me)
    • Google maps ñ the customised/hand-crafted ones
    • Flickr map view ñ see photos on map
    • Nikeís running logs, using data from Nike/iPod running shoe thing-me-gig and allowing you to add geo-data (these also show time, development of runs over time)

I’ve received a few comments on this – I’m wondering how to present it, whether the division of categories makes sense, and what to do with it. Here’s how people responded:

I’ll be getting feedback on the draft from my colleagues in my research group too, but while they’re all very savvy about digital culture in general, none of them really specialise on social media – and so I’m very grateful to all extra feedback I can get. And of course, I’ve also asked Scott for feedback, and as always, his feedback is thorough and extremely useful. And maybe more customised than most – Scott knows my writing and can remind me of what I do well and gently suggest stripping away some of the blah blah (he wants more examples and less of the general and not-very-revealing references – and I think he’s right). Here’s one of his comments on the categories:

So do you think my categories of generated stories in user data make sense? Or do you have other good examples for me? Do share, please!

12 thoughts on “writing with a little help from your friends

  1. Margrethe Aas Johnsen

    Right now, you are my savior! I’ve been looking for the documentedlife-site you linked to pretty much all day (to use in my own essay).

    Popularity and activity, as suggested, is also an important way to categorize. I may go out on a limb here, but what about privacy – like friends groups on LiveJournal (although this is the same as patterns that show relationships, I guess).

  2. Bill Wolff

    It seems to me that you are running in to the primary issue when creating classification systems: when there is an exception to the classification. When there are exceptions to the classification, we usually need an “other” category (think “other” on forms under the “Ethnicity” section of forms), or we need to re-write the classification system itself. Here, we are getting exceptions because so many Web 2.0 applications have multiple ways of sorting data. You imply this overlap above, but in my experience and research, overlap is the rule and not the exception. Facebook, for example, also shows TIME (via the news feed), CONTEXT (via the creation of friend lists), and GEOGRAPHY (via networks). I haven’t read the essay on Google docs, so perhaps you do this, but if you are going to mention these groupings then it will be important to emphasize that Web 2.0 applications often have multiple ways of presenting data.

    The best classification system is one that evolves over time to allow for developments and changes that emerge. An example of one that is struggling to evolve in the US is have we classify marriage. One that is strictly enforced despite significant evidence to the contrary is gender being classified as only male and female. Because Web 2.0 applications are continually evolving (many in constant Beta) I would suggest that your classification system be flexible, as well. That is, wen discussing it, write into that description your recognition that these could (and should) evolve as more applications are developed, as applications change over time, and so forth.

    Another question that I had was why you were choosing the applications in your examples. As of Sept, 2008, there were over 2700 Web 2.0 applications, and there have undoubtedly been hundreds launched since then. (I am in the middle of a large-scale research project that maps genres and funtionalities in Web 2.0 applications so that we might understand what users need to know and how to write when engaging with Web 2.0.) Are you choosing these applications because they are the most popular, most visited, or because you have experience with them? Regardless of the reason, it will be important to make clear how these were selected. If I were reviewing I’d want to be sure that these were, somehow, a representative sample of the kinds of applications available.

    Looking forward to seeing the article!

  3. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Hm, yes – I really don’t want to claim to be doing a complete survey of all possible categories of web 2.0 applications, and my selection isn’t representative, it’s meant to be more illustrative and perhaps explorative. What I’m trying to do is point out directions, tendencies, not absolutes. Which I need to explain in the article. I probably want to get away from the category of “categories” actually and think about it differently.

    Hm, time to do some writing.

  4. William Patrick Wend

    Love this: @jilltxt is letting people read/comment on an in-progress essay she is working on via Google Docs http://jilltxt.net/?p=2393 #fb

  5. Rhodri ap Dyfrig

    Interesting post by @jilltxt on use of Google Docs for academic writing http://jilltxt.net/?p=2393 (must have a crack at a paper soon…)

  6. Francois Lachance

    I want to carry on the line of thought opened by Bill Wolff’s concerns with classification left with a date stamp of “May 11th, 2009 at 15:17” … I think what Jill initially presents as a classification scheme can be viewed as tagging options — ways of making connections. For example one can associate a time stamp with a series (the item comes before or after other items). The time stamp can also point to place of publication if it incorporates time zone information. The person whose posting appears at 3 A.M. may of course be posting from a different time zone. In which case pattern counts a lot for if they begin to present postings that bear a 3 P.M. time stamp they may be experiencing insomnia. What I am basically saying is that “patterns” more than “categories” are what are being read through a consideration of time, place and person markers and to be able to read patterns requires not only a set of markers for a given entry but the existence, actual or probable, of a series of entries. The markers of time, person and place are what allow readers to aggregate the information and develop cognitive maps. And allow writers to playfully shift those maps.

  7. Bjørn Tore Lysnes

    Followed study group “SM” at UIB discussing Jill W. Rettbergs article-in-progress on how SM organize our data. http://jilltxt.net/?p=2393

  8. […] A recent post on ‘collaborative authoring’ caught my eye.¬† She is writing a article about social patterns that appear online through Time, Relationships, Context, and Geography.¬† I like how she relates these to trends to ’stories’ although I am still having a few problems making the leap;¬† perhaps it is because I am surrounded stuck in a world where people insists on counting things! (link). […]

  9. Craig Bellamy

    I tried to extend an empirical list of Web 2 applications (simply divided by function) that was given to me a couple of years ago, but I gave up in frustration. As you say, there are simply too many of them. I am sure this list is terribly out of date, but it will give you an indication of the scope of Web 2.0 applications.


  10. Allison Martin

    My comment which follows may seem too simplistic (or too obvious to you) but these divisions do reflect identity/space/time (in your order: time/identity/space) elements of game/play archetype. Relationship and (especially) Context (although they certainly fit with identity) may be the synapse between the other two. …just a thought.

  11. Rob Wittig

    Quick thought: Perhaps this is a sub-category of time, or perhaps it’s the part of the time element that most interests us humans, but what I see in a lot social media is: Narrative Arc. The story of parenting messages is “growth,” the story of substance-abuse treatment journals is “recovery.” Other narrative arcs include: sliding into depression, falling in love, waiting to be laid off, job hunting, getting used to a new job, etc. There’s an implicit or explicit shape to time. The daily photo game is only potentially interesting because of the differences (in terms of time, read: changes) ups and downs, tan in winter, pale in summer; at the very least the story is “aging.” So much of Twit/Face is the micro-roller-coaster of mood and blood sugar: feeling bummed, feeling great, tired, jittery, etc.

  12. […] 53 Walker Rettberg, J., 2009. ‘Writing with a little help from your friends’, jill/txt. Available at: http://jilltxt.net/?p=2393 [Accessed May 26, 2009]. […]

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