Social Media and Higher Education

My final blog post revolves around my research topic; you guessed it: Social Media and Higher Education.

I chose this topic for several reasons: (1) I work in higher education, (2) I have observed an increase in social media usage since I began college 6 years ago, and (3) I was really curious to see what research had been done on this subject so far.  Without further ado, here’s my presentation:

As I mentioned in my presentation, I am not fully done analyzing my data, but the data that I have is showing inconclusive results.  I hope to continue to do research on this topic in the future, as it is very interesting.  Additionally, I am interested in seeing if there will be any studies published soon on this topic as social media usage continues to grow and evolve, as do our college student populations.

If you have any questions, post them below!

Thanks for watching!

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Future Trends/Issues

The Andreessen Horowitz article highlights some of the most important trends in digital today.  One of which is big data (Troung, 2015).  Data has always been a part of online journalism, but it looks different today than it did even 20 years ago.  The Internet is a great source for data, if you know where to look for it.  The companies and organizations that can find and utilize this data will, I predict, be the most successful.  The key to this success, though, is to make the data tell a story.  We can see how effective this strategy when looking at BuzzFeed.

Another important trend for the Internet is mobile.  Especially as Generation Z begins to come of age.  Youth are getting cell phones much earlier (partly because they didn’t really exist in the same way when Millennials were growing up), but also because they are used to having technology at their fingertips (Levit, 2015).

Generation Z use mobile apps in a way that the other generations are just starting to figure out.  They use apps to filter through information to determine what is pertinent or interesting to them without consuming every news story or social media happening in sight.  As Finch states in his article, Gen Z makes up 25% of the U.S. population and will account for 40% of all consumers by 2020 (2015).  If tech companies cannot keep up with the trends impacting this generation, they will lose out on profits.

This brings me to a related trend that is building the future of Web: online marketplaces (Truong, 2015).  Online marketplaces are continuing to pop up on an almost daily basis and these new marketplaces are focusing on niche markets and social trends to attract their customers.  Their innovation attracts consumers young and old, and for those companies that get on the online marketplace bandwagon, they should benefit by serving an ever-increasingly digital and mobile world.

A final issue that is important as the Internet becomes more integrated into our society is security (Truong, 2015).  Security issues are much bigger than viral attacks on personal computers.  As Weiss mentions, the treats are moving “to the cloud and mobile” (Truong, 2015, para. 10).  As technology shifts platforms, security measures must too shift to ensure that information stays protected.  This is a potentially new area of research for professionals in the field and an opportunity for companies to explore how they can provide better security measures for phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Digital technology changes at a rapid pace.  Is it changing too fast?  Some people say yes, some say no.  Regardless of which side of the coin you’re on, digital tech is changing almost constantly.  This article sums up how rapid changes in mobile are affecting marketing.

In a Wall Street Journal article from 2009, the author discusses how innovation is being transformed by technology (Brynjolfsson & Schrage, 2009).  In reality, these changes in digital impact our society in more ways than just rolling out new mobile apps and the creation of niche social media sites.  Digital impacts our workplaces, how we communicate, the news we consume, how we view healthcare, and even how we vote.

How our society will deal with this rapid digital change in the future is a bit of a mystery.  Digital is changing almost faster than we can consume the modifications.  But one thing I know for certain, ignoring the changes will not make them go away.  Maintaining a “From Pencils to Pixels” attitude toward changes in digital will not do our society any favors.  A few strategies I can think of to “keep up” with these changes are to: (1) Read the Technology articles in whatever news platform you use – these articles contain much more than biomedical advances that you don’t understand or tech jargon that you can’t process – they tell you what is happening in technology and how it will impact you as a citizen and a consumer; (2) Maintain professional contacts on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – you can learn a lot about changes in your field or just technology in general by connecting with people in similar professions as you, or even with people who have your dream job; (3) Don’t be afraid to try out what’s trending (and this is coming from someone who has never blogged or tweeted before this course) – by learning what is currently on top, you can see what your co-workers, students, classmates, or even kids are engaging with online.

There isn’t much our society can do to slow down these rapid technological changes, so I suggest not fighting the current and find a way to enjoy the ride.  There’s a lot of ways to enjoy using new technology innovations, and they can go a long way to making our lives easier.

Throughout this session, I have learned a lot about the digital world; more than I could’ve imagined.  The three suggestions I gave above are the top ‘take-away’ messages I got from this course.  The most important of which, in my opinion, is number 3.  I didn’t want to use Twitter, I got rankled hearing people talk in hashtags (although this part still hasn’t changed much), and I definitely didn’t think I had anything important enough to say that I should broadcast it in a blog.  But I learned a lot about the digital world and myself through this process.  I have set up my twitter to be much more than broadcasting what I had for lunch today.  I have created another professional networking platform by following organizations and people who are influential in my field.  Now, my twitter is a way for me to consume news that impacts my job as an educator.  I now have a healthier respect for social media, and I understand better why my students use it and what they get out of it.

All that being said, for my final social platform, I chose to try out Snapchat.  My youngest sibling and most of my staff and students use it, but I’ve never played around with it.  I felt the need to know the draw of this platform and see if it is as interesting as they say.  I tried just figuring it out on my own with directions from the app, but I became very confused, so I called in reinforcements…and by that, I mean I texted my sibling, B, for help.  As I write this, I haven’t managed to figure everything out, but I’m working on it – I know enough to send photos.  I think using Snapchat will be useful for me to stay connected with B since they are in Wisconsin (and still in high school), and I’m in Texas.  I don’t think Snapchat will ever be a very professional social platform to use for communication, but it’s fun for recreational use.

Photo courtesy of http://www.snapchat.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.snapchat.com

I expected to be able to use Snapchat to take and send photos, and allow me to make modifications similar to the Instagram filters.  This expectation it has met, although it took me a while to figure out if the photo actually sent, if I’m being completely honest.  Thankfully, B (who is only 15), was able to help their 24 year old sister out.  It was fun trying it out, even if it made me feel a little inept.  I’ll have a lot more fun with it now that I’ve figured out how to use it (mostly).  And B will be on standby for tech support while I play with it.

Legal/Policy Issues

The mashup master, Girl Talk, is an artist, in my opinion.  I think that mashup artists should be allowed to record and sell their work because they spend a lot of time and put in a significant amount of effort to find samples of songs that match beat with other songs.  It’s a long process and in the end, only snippets of actual songs are recognizable.  The point of a mashup is to put multiple songs together and create something new.

Given the small time length of the samples that Girl Talk uses, it is possible that one reason why Girl Talk has been able to continue to make his music is outlined in the “What is Fair Use?” article.  “The Amount or Substantiality of the Portion Used” is an interesting argument that states that “the more you use, the less likely you are within fair use” and, in this case, the length of the song used is “usually evaluated relative to the length of the entire original” (para. 8).  So does this mean as long as the snippets are short there’s not copyright infringement? Not necessarily.  It states that the work is also evaluated qualitatively, looking at the “heart of the work” (para. 8).

Girl Talk not only takes small snippets of songs, but it also remixes them, oftentimes making the song almost unrecognizable.  This furthers Girl Talk’s argument about Fair Use because, as Peter Friedman states, “he has transformed the copyrighted materials sufficiently” (Masnick, 2009, p. 3).   Whether or not Girl Talk will be sued in the future remains to be seen.

I think one of the most important legal issues associated with digital interactions is privacy.  In a society where people simultaneously share every minute detail about their life online and demand privacy from the government and corporations, the protection of user information is a very hot topic.  So where do we draw the line?  We saw earlier in the semester in a news article about people posting private information about other people online in the McKinney case.  Where do we draw the line in the legal gray area?  If someone posts information about another person or calls someone out on the internet, and that person is a victim of violence or retaliation because another individual used that information, is that considered a crime for the person who called them out?  Or just “bad luck”?

Many other issues with privacy exist as well.  Our nation has seen several companies have security breaches in their systems, forcing thousands of people to quickly change their credit card information to deter identity theft.  As we become more digital, we need to be aware of not only what information we are unknowingly (or even knowingly) putting on the internet, but also, what are the ramifications of our information getting into the wrong hands?  Especially when hacking has become the favored hobby of many.  In fact, a simple Google search of the word “hacking” reveals first a Wikipedia page, then some images, and the very next result is a website titled “How To Become A Hacker”.

Net neutrality is another issue present now.  As Chairman Wheeler stated, “The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules” (as quoted in Wilhelm, 2015).  While there has been a lot of contention and worry about net neutrality, the purpose is to attempt to eliminate corporations from controlling access to the internet.  Wheeler goes on to say “This plan is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech” (Wilhelm, 2015).

One additional legal (and moral) issue in our digital world revolves around cyberbullying.  Schools and communities want the criminalization of cyberbullying, but how does this impact 1st Amendment rights?  There are very important criteria that cyberbullying must meet in order to be considered a legal issue; a statement must be threatening, libelous, or considered an invasion of privacy in order to be considered illegal.  However, private schools are able to take action against students for cyberbullying because they are not governed by the 1st Amendment.

These issues are important because they touch on not only legal considerations, but moral ones as well.  Which of course means they are more frequently debated and an agreement will be harder to come by.  I think that privacy regulations will have a large impact on our culture.  As I mentioned before, we are simultaneously giving away our information and asking for it to be hidden.  I think that society will continue to be divided on the issue of privacy, perhaps until a larger security breach occurs that impacts more people.

Net neutrality is extremely prevalent to society today.  Regardless of how you may feel about the FCC and the Obama administration putting net neutrality forward, it will affect how our society functions in the future.  It received a lot of support, but it also has experienced pushback.  We want protection against faceless corporations having control over our actions, but do we want that more or less than government interference?

In terms of cyberbullying, well, it has already changed our culture in a lot of ways.  It used to be that “mean girls” only talked about you behind your back with their friends, but now they can do it with their friends and with everyone else that has an internet connection.  The prevalence of the internet has changed how we interact with people, for better and for worse.  I think that there should be some form of regulation on cyberbullying because it is such a huge issue.  Even if the bullying doesn’t reach the point of ruining someone’s reputation completely (and thus becoming an illegal act), it still causes psychological damage, making the gray areas of life broader and less definitive.

Business and Entrepreneurship

Long Tail & Free:

The Long Tail is about the success of “misses”.  While most in our economy focuses on the “hits”, Anderson points out that even what we regard as “misses” still have their place; they fill a niche that some people have, even if it isn’t the majority.  As Anderson stated in the article regarding obscure videos on Netflix, “almost anything is worth offering on the off chance it will find a buyer” (2004, p. 3).

Another example Anderson gives is Amazon.  I, for one, very consistently utilize Amazon in this way.  When I buy an e-book on Amazon, my confirmation page includes “people who purchased [insert book title here] also purchased [insert second book title here by an author I’ve never heard of]”.  I will then click on the recommended books to see if the description sounds interesting to me; this introduces me to a more obscure book that is elevated by my earlier purchase.  This is similar to the Into Thin Air/Touching the Void example given in the Long Tail article (Anderson, 2004).

Amazon also allows you to scan the barcode on any book and purchase it,

all from their store app, as shown in this video

“Imagine if prices declined the further you went down the Tail, with popularity (the market) effectively dictating pricing. All it would take is for the labels to lower the wholesale price for the vast majority of their content not in heavy rotation; even a two- or three-tiered pricing structure could work wonders. And because so much of that content is not available in record stores, the risk of channel conflict is greatly diminished. The lesson: Pull consumers down the tail with lower prices” (Anderson, 2004, p. 4).

Free is about things that are, well, free.  At least seemingly so.  The idea is one that started with King Gillette in the early 1900s.  Give something away for free (or a severely discounted price) and sell the other components for a higher price.  As Anderson mentioned in Free “there is a huge difference between cheap and free.  Give a product away and it can go viral.  Charge a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business” (2008, p. 3).  The idea that someone can obtain something for nothing versus having to shell out even a dollar is an interesting one, but I know that I “fall into” this trap all the time.

Photo courtesy of http://algetler.com/

Photo courtesy of http://algetler.com/

As mentioned before, I read a lot of e-books from Amazon on my tablet.  Amazon (and its e-book authors) really have a great system in place.  On many an occasion, I have downloaded a free book that sounded interesting that I ended up LOVING.  So, then, at the end of the book, I find out that it’s the first in a 6-book series.  Each subsequent book costs $4.99 or $5.99.  But I’m already invested in the series!! So I almost feel obligated to shell out the money to purchase the next in the series because I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!  This is how you get hooked.  You are sucked in by the psychology of “free” only to get pulled in further by an excellent marketing strategy.

The other piece of Free is the illusion.  Take Google for example: we don’t pay any money to use Google, yet they make more money in a month than I will probably make in a lifetime.  How?  They sell ads.  As Anderson puts it, “they’re selling readers to advertisers” (in reference to newspapers) (2008, p. 4).

Free and Long Tail bring to light less traditional business models that are starting to come into practice more and more in the realm of online consumption.  As businesses move online, they also bring in new marketing strategies.  People are more likely to try a product if they can get it for free at first.  Then you can charge enough to make up for the initial hit you took once people are sold on your product.  This works for e-books, Netflix (and basically anything else with a free trial), supplements, etc.  And our society soaks it up.  Nothing is better than something for free.  Heck, I use it all the time for programming.  If working in higher education has taught me anything, it’s that if you advertise free food, college students will come.

In terms of the Long Tail, marketing exists in scarcity.  Want something that most people don’t have? We’ve got it! Focusing on niche markets will provide a steady inflow of customers for a longer period of time than a hit that only lasts 4 weeks before being replaced by the next one.  This could revolutionize how businesses run, if only they paid attention to it.  So many businesses are focused on making it big, they don’t realize how many large companies worked slow and steady from the bottom to where they are now.

Internet has the power to completely overhaul what we think of when we hear the word business.  More often than not people still think of a physical building when they think business, but it’s slowly changing.  And for the businesses that don’t have a .com associated with their name are quickly getting on the bandwagon. Why? Because online traffic brings more in-person traffic.  For example, I just saw a commercial introducing Aarons.com.  My first thought was “Aarons didn’t have a website? That’s not very smart”.  The internet has changed the way we advertise and market products to consumers, and it will continue to change how we sell things.

To use Amazon as an example (again…), they have added another level of user convenience.  They have added the “Buy now with 1-Click” convenience for online purchases. For their customers that use Amazon.com frequently and trust the company, they’ve made purchases easier.

Photo courtesy of amazon.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.amazon.com

Just doing a quick Google search with the keywords “media” and “entrepreneurship” produces a lot of interesting results.  First off, there are now entire Master’s programs about Media Entrepreneurship.  Didn’t know that!  Here’s an interesting article that I found from that search about the Media Entrepreneurship program at Syracuse University.  One of the biggest take-aways from this article (and this module in general) is that media and business are becoming synonymous in a lot of ways.  Media is necessary for the success of business and businesses must run efficiently for media to reach its intended audience.

I think that media will continue to grow and evolve as the nature of the internet changes and mobile apps continue to rise to the forefront of media consumption.  I predict that the businesses that lead the race will be the ones to be the most profitable.  If a company is constantly having to ‘catch-up’ to its competitor(s), it will eventually lose.  But for those companies that are willing to take risks and try new things, they likelihood of success is higher than those who follow.  While the risk for failure is lower, as is the risk for striking it big is too.

Additionally, as companies begin to compete more in an online market, creativity and design will be of key importance.  If you’ve got a great product but do not know how to creatively market it, what good is it?  Moreover, if you have a great idea but no one on your staff that is willing to take the idea and run with it, it will go nowhere pretty fast.  The tricky part is finding the right balance.  People claim to want simple, and many do, but others only think they want simple, but really, they want something that looks better than it really is.  They want status without having to pay a hefty price, and they want everything they consume to be as convenient as possible.

Mobile:

My mobile creation is an addition to a social media platform that already exists: Pinterest (© 2015).  Pinterest is a quite popular web and mobile app company designed to allow users to “pin” items that they like and create boards of related items.  My creation, Pinterest Pantry, would take a device-specific approach and exist only as a mobile app, at least in its infancy.

Pinterest Pantry Logo

Pinterest Pantry Logo

Because Pinterest already has a mobile app presence on both Andriod and Apple devices, it would be fairly easy to integrate into mobile usage.  Furthermore, it could exist as a link in the original Pinterest app and web page for promotional purposes.  This would give Pinterest a bigger brand, and likely have a larger following.

The premise of my app is to create the ability to search among Pinterest recipes in various ways with ease.  The Pinterest Pantry app allows users to search for recipes through four basic means: search by meal type, search by available ingredients in the user’s own pantry, search within a user’s own pins, or search for pins within the user’s follower circle.

Home Screen

Home Screen

Let me walk you through a few options.  If you tap on the “Search by Meal” icon, you will be brought to this screen:

pantry 3

From here you can select a food or drink category that fits closest with what you are looking for.  So, if, for example, you are looking to host a fancy dinner party, you can browse appetizers, cocktails, and dinners to get ideas.

Let’s go back to the home screen by hitting the menu button in the upper left-hand corner and selecting “Home”.

Home Screen

Home Screen

Now, if you wanted to search for food ideas based on food you already have, tap on “Search by Ingredient”.

pantry 4

You know you have chicken and some fresh mushrooms, so you do your initial search with those two ingredients typed into the “Stuff I Have” boxes.

pantry 5

Here are your initial results:

pantry 6

You click on the first meal by tapping “See RECIPE” along the right side of the entry.  This takes you to the source’s page in Pinterest where the recipe is posted.  If you decide against this recipe, you can just hit the back button (not shown).

Say you decide against Chicken Marsala and aren’t really in the mood for pasta, then you can tap “Modify Search” to return to the ingredients page.

pantry 5

You decide to modify your search by adding pasta and asparagus (just because you don’t like asparagus) to the “Stuff I Don’t Have/Don’t Want boxes.  Then you decide to add a third ingredient, rice, to the “Stuff I Have” boxes, because rice actually sounds pretty good.   So you tap the “ADD INGREDIENT” button at bottom of the “Stuff I Have” section, and another text box will be inserted for you to type rice into.

pantry 8

pantry 7

Then you can tap search again to see what comes up instead.

pantry 9

As you can see, a few new recipes have popped up since you modified your search.  The third and fourth recipes have not changed from your first search because they still contain all the desired ingredients and don’t contain the unwanted ones.  You can scroll through the list to see what else has popped up with your new search.  Once you figure out which recipe you’d like, you’ll have several options.  You can copy the recipe and email it to yourself (or someone else), you can pin the recipe, or you can save the recipe in your “Recipe Box”, which is located in the drop-down menu.  Recipes pop up based on the number of times they are pinned by Pinterest users.

As you can see, Pinterest Pantry has a pretty simple, yet sophisticated, user interactivity.  I chose to keep it simple to echo the simplicity of Pinterest, but it takes some of the clutter out of using Pinterest for meal ideas, but still allows you to surf through all food pins that Pinterest has to offer.

Online Journalism: Social Media and Data Visualization

I think that as society changes and our ideas about what media and news are, the field of journalism will continue to change.  Look at BuzzFeed, for example.  This site began pretty small and built up to a ‘what would we do without it?’ status.  BuzzFeed is notarized for being a full-stack start-up, meaning the company built all of its components instead of borrowing from someone else, or hiring another company to do if for them.  This has contributed to its success (Wohlsen, 2014).  And while BuzzFeed has plenty of quizzes about your soulmate and which kitten is cuter, along with self-made videos that are often hilarious, and other times, get to the heart of a rather serious issue.  But BuzzFeed also has the most popular stories written by serious journalists and has a presence on many other social media sites.  BuzzFeed is a viable form of journalism, and the company has found a great way for people to digest news in a more palatable way.  It is, in my opinion, the best of many worlds.

Photo courtesy of buzzfeed.com

Photo courtesy of buzzfeed.com

BuzzFeed has truly changed the way people look at and consume news.  I think BuzzFeed and other platforms that are able to adapt quickly will determine the future of journalism.  A statement in Marc Andreessen’s article “The Future of the News Business: A Monumental Twitter Stream All in One Place” really resonated with me.  He says “Ask yourself, would you rather be right or successful? That needs to be top of mind at all times because times change and we change. You want strong views weakly held” (2014).  If news organizations are not willing to be adaptable, they will fall in the way of many newspapers of late.

Journalism as a profession must become more innovative.  And creativity and innovation need to be encouraged by leaders in the field.  In order for journalism companies to succeed, they must be continuously adapting to the changing culture of our society.  According to the Duke Reporters’ Lab report, newsrooms need to take better advantage of digital technology.  Even for news organizations that have a digital staff, they “still focus much of their energy on reproducing traditional news stories –digital versions of newspaper copy” (2014).  But if one thing is clear in all of the reports presented in the last decade about journalism, it’s that: traditional news doesn’t cut it anymore.  Most traditional newspapers have moved to an online presence, and for those who haven’t, they have either already gone under or are hemorrhaging money.

Photo courtesy of the Pew Research Center

Photo courtesy of the Pew Research Center.

Check out the article associated with this photo here.

Benton’s article “The leaked New York Times invocation report is one of the key documents of this media age” stated that the New York Times re-purposed old content in a new format: on social media.  The result was more views in six days than most articles have ever gotten in a month’s time (Benton, 2014).  Looking at how frequently individuals consume information on social media sites and apps, I think news needs to be updated in more of a “live-feed” manner like Twitter.

You should check out this article as well. An interesting read on the future of social media in journalism.

As Chris Taggart states in the Data Journalism Handbook “our lives are increasingly data” (Chapter: Introduction; ‘Why Is Data Journalism Important, 2012, para. 20).  Data is becoming a much more prevalent aspect of news.  Given the amount of public data that can be obtained, it’s important that journalists know where to find data, what good data looks like, and what they can do with data they collect.  While journalism has often been focused on obtaining their stories from other people, I believe that data also tells a story.  This statement is echoed throughout the Data Journalism Handbook.  Furthermore, this handbook describes just how important data is to journalism and society in general: “data can be used to create deeper insights into what is happening around us and how it might affect us” (Chapter: Introduction; ‘Why Journalists Should Use Data’, 2012, para. 4).

As little as 10 years ago, journalism wasn’t inherently technology.  But as Cindy Royal states in her Nieman Lab article, whether we like it or not, journalists are working in tech now (2014).  And in order to succeed in the field, you must be able to use data you collect and do something with it.  As Nguyen and McCollum state “you can have all the data science you want, but if you can’t make it real to an editor or advertiser, it doesn’t matter” (2015).  Journalists have to know how to make their data tell a compelling story to engage their audience.  This can be as simple or complex as you want it, whether infographics or data slide shows presented in the Journalism in the Age of Data video.

This is where creativity and innovation come in.  Innovation for journalism is a “combination of process, structure and culture” (Silverman, 2015).  Even rearranging how things may look on a page can impact the appeal of an article.  They must create articles that catch THEIR eye and that THEY would want to read.  Programming is a big part of this.  Understanding how data programs work and how to manipulate HTML, are crucial to presentation and page design.

Unfortunately, many journalism programs are focused on more “traditional” journalism in a digital world.  Journalism schools who don’t provide adequate training for their students in digital media and innovation are doing their students a disservice.  Students need to be comfortable using all media platforms and not be afraid to try new things as they come about, which is something I have learned from this course.  Even if I don’t plan to use many of these new social media apps, I need to know why others may want/like to use them to better relate to and understand them.  This stands for all journalists.

Journalism education needs to broaden to encompass all facets of digital.  The emerging future of journalism is visual and interactive data.  In order to create this kind of interactivity, journalists need to have a working understanding of how to use Adobe Flash Player, JavaScript, and Microsoft Silverlight (Journalism in the Age of Data, 2010).  If students aren’t given the basic programming skills, they cannot keep up with the changes in technology and journalism.  Schools must adapt by requiring a core set of courses focused on digital media and offering introductory courses on computer science and programming for students to expand their understanding of technology (Lynch, 2015).  Journalism schools must teach their students how to analyze data to tell a story, then take that story and present it to their audience in creative and meaningful ways.

Gender and Diversity in Technology

I think that gender and diversity manifest different in some ways online than physically, but others are the same.  The online world has the added bonus of anonymity.  For example, MUDs (Multi-User Domains) allow people to interact with others without necessarily disclosing gender, race, religion, etc. (Turkle, 1995).  Online gaming allows for the same.  Usernames can be gender-neutral, allowing all genders to interact without bias.  There are more ways to interact with people online without disclosing demographic information unless you decide.  However, in the world of social media, more often than not, people will disclose their race, gender, religious views, and political affiliations whether it’s in their profile or photos, or simply by what they post and who and what they follow, like, etc.

Whether online or in the physical, gender equity is very disparate.  Just watching Megan Kamerick’s TED Talk shows the hard truth of our society today.  In the media, Facebook ads, even radio ads, women are highly sexualized.  And while there are many a commercial that shows shirtless men, statistically speaking, women are more frequently sexualized than men.  It’s such a common phrase: “sex sells”, but the result is that our society has become desensitized to the barrage of partially clothed women.  We’ve all encountered it at some point but most people don’t even realize it anymore.

Take these two photos for example.  These ads are for a modem and a phone.

camera

Photo credit: Sony Ericsson Cyber-shot Phone

Photo credit: Penril Modem Family

Photo credit: Penril Modem Family

Reading about the disparities in gender and diversity in technology was frankly not surprising.  Coming from an undergraduate institution with more women than men, my degree program still only had 5 women out of a 60 person cohort.  I majored in Chemistry.  The world of science and technology is still heavily male and White.

While statistically, Asian Americans make up a decent percentage of tech workers in most of the large Silicon Valley companies, this recent LA Times article indicates that they are being promoted.  The story concluded that White women have a better chance of being promoted than Asian men.

One of the challenges in the lack of diversity in technology is that minorities simply aren’t being hired.  Tech companies claim that there aren’t that many minorities earning degrees in tech, but it’s just not true, according to this analysis done by the USA Today.  In order for the diversity to change in Silicon Valley, companies are really going to have to make the effort to recruit and hire diverse populations to their companies.  I think that tech companies have failed to make much of an effort to recruit outside of top tech programs or Ivy League schools, which has hurt them.

The tech industry has the ability to make a profound impact on society.  Technology is the industry that has bucked convention from its very birth, so the argument of “that’s how it’s always been” shouldn’t really fly.  One issue I think the tech world faces is the management and hiring processes.  If these processes can be changed to create a more welcoming environment for people of all backgrounds, it could really make a difference.  I think that if these top tech companies can show the initiative to promote diversity, they can be the start of social change for others.

The Social Media Revolution

The Facebook – Google Battle:

Today, Facebook is Google’s biggest competitor.  After Facebook publicly decided to allow Microsoft to invest in the company instead of Google, a rivalry perhaps even greater than that of Apple vs. PC was born.  Facebook and Google will compete for the future of internet.  Vogelstein states that the Google-Facebook rivalry is over “the future of the Internet – its structure, design, and utility” (2009, para. 6).  While Google has a large presence in search ads, Facebook is hoping to conquer the market Google hasn’t cornered yet – branding campaigns.  The very ads that Google was hoping Facebook would assist with drawing in has become a race to the finish for the two competitors.  Additionally, Facebook has access to a lot of personal information about its users; much more than a Google search analysis could ever hope extract.  Facebook intends to use this information to create a much more personal online experience, claiming that Google’s algorithms produce an impersonal environment.

The Realm of Social Media:

The next big thing in social media, in my opinion, is messaging apps.  Snapchat and WhatsApp have become quite lucrative by offering their services free of charge and charging minimally for extras.  This philosophy, while perhaps seemingly unwise, has the potential for great profits for these creations.  Successful players in the social media game will be those that aren’t afraid to absorb heavy costs of obtaining the hot new start-ups like Snapchat and WhatsApp (aka Google, Facebook, Twitter, and maybe Yahoo!).

Photo courtesy of http://www.whatsapp.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.whatsapp.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.snapchat.com.

Photo courtesy of http://www.snapchat.com.

One strategy that I think will continue to be successful for social media is that of creating awareness systems, as described by Hermida (2010).  Also, the continued ability for people to share their thoughts as well as relevant news articles, photos, and videos.  The growth of mobile applications will continue to promote the usage and innovation of social media (Arceneaux & Weiss, 2010).  Those companies that can create a seamless transition from web to app will have the most success in the social media business.

Given the current rivalry between Google and Facebook, the idea that they’ll stop competing in terms of social media is unlikely.  With Google trying to stay on top and break through the social barriers is hasn’t yet successfully done and Facebook out to debilitate the search giant, the race to the top will continue (Vogelstein, 2009).  Additionally, I believe that Facebook and Google will continue to compete for the top internet spot, but it is also possible that Yahoo! may make a comeback, as referenced by Tate (2013) in the article from module 5.  Yahoo! is attempting to play the social media game by obtaining Tumblr, and if they play it right, I think Yahoo! could get back in the game and be a force to reckon with.  Furthermore, I think that Twitter will continue to have a place in social media but will decline as newer, flashier apps and sites come into existence.

If social media platforms not currently owned and/or developed by Google, Yahoo!, or Facebook want to compete with the giants, they will first have to find effective ways to generate revenue without alienating users with excessive annoying ads or hidden costs.  Additionally, they will need to, obviously, resist the temptation to sell.  The big companies are starting to realize that if they want to buy what they want, they need to offer more than what these smaller, often start-up, companies are worth; offer their potential rather than their current price.  I personally think it would be interesting if some of the smaller companies that are doing very well on social media merge themselves to create a bigger threat: combining a messaging app, a photo app, and a commenting platform incorporating the successes of smaller organizations to create more formidable competition.

Browsers and Search

The Power of Google:

Google makes money through advertising revenue using AdWords, an auction system that sells ad space to companies and organizations in a cost-per-click service.  Google retains its customers by providing custom sponsored ads for searches, ensuring that users are not bogged down by spam ads that are not relevant to answering a specific query (Levy, 2009).  Google’s ability to customize their advertisements to a user’s needs helps keep them a step ahead of their competitors, mainly Bing and Yahoo! And who could forget Ask, formerly AskJeeves.

Given the fact that Google used Overture as its basis for the success of its advertisement model, it is feasible that other organizations could attempt to adopt this same model.  However, I believe that the power of Google may prevent the success of other search engines attempting to use the same model.  In a world where we say, “I don’t know, Google it” when a question stumps us, breaking the cycle could prove incredibly difficult.  In the same way that we refer to facial tissues as Kleenex, regardless of the actual brand, Google has become the word synonymous with ‘search’.  Another challenge that many would face in attempting to utilize this business model is that an organization must have the software and the manpower to effectively analyze the data collected from their customers and ensure users aren’t overwhelmed with irrelevant paid ads; this is something that Google has worked hard to perfect, and something its competitors have yet to master.

Search Engine Optimization:

To improve Search Engine Optimization, first, the content of the website must be strong.  This includes ensuring using keywords and synonyms in the title and/or headers to help prompt your page.  Another method is to increase the number of sites that link to your page.  This can be done by utilizing link exchanges.  The trick is finding a balance so a search engine doesn’t think you are trying to trick the system.

The Future of SEO:

According to the article “Expert Insight on the Future of SEO”, linking and great content may become irrelevant as time continues.  Companies will “need to embrace creative content development and outreach methods” (Ann Smarty, para. 5).  Additionally, SEO will need to continue to advance mobile and app searches.  Marcus Tandler predicts that search will become a “push” service with engines attempting to predict user interests instead of simply responding to them.  Additionally, Rand Fishkin predicts that optimization through organic searches will be harder to come by, and paid ads will become a much more prevalent commodity (Lyngbø, 2014).  I agree with Smarty, Tandler, and Fishkin.  In order to continue, companies will have to become more creative and to continue to follow trends, then attempt to predict trends.  They must do what they do well in order to stay alive in the online world.

Digital Media Research

Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Media Research:

Karpf (2012) states that the largest challenge with digital media research is that the field changes so rapidly that by the time a researcher publishes a study, the data is outdated, and oftentimes the results are lacking because of changes since the original research was done. It also violates the ceteris paribus assumptions of media research methods because media can undergo rapid adoption and adaptation.   This causes challenges with research; in order to do good research, one must be meticulous. To ensure that data hasn’t become obsolete, one must produce work quickly. How do we bring these two ideas without compromising the research?

A challenge both Karpf (2012) and McMillan (2000) mention is the difficulty of studying and collecting data on the content of websites. Karpf used the example of studying blog content; blogs are most often personal opinion and anyone can create one, and the information shared in blogs has begun to vary beyond critiques of current news happenings. It’s very difficult to conduct studies on the content because it can change by the hour. Blogs have become elusive in this sense, as well as other forms of digital media, making it difficult to research.

While the rapid changes in technology, digital media, and online content cause challenges for research in the field, they can also be viewed somewhat positively.  Because the internet is always changing, it provides a vast array of research topics.  One can research usage of social media in political campaigns seemingly for the rest of their professional career. Social media continues to change and is used in different manners. So while the data and trends may seem obsolete by the time publication comes around, examining past trends can help to predict future patterns in research.

Additionally, Karpf mentions the presence of spambots and how fake accounts “game the system” (2012, p. 650).  This causes inaccurate usage data on many sites, which skews website analytics and causes false promotion, most often for financial or political advantage.  A potential opportunity that can come of this issue is that professionals can continue to develop programs to help weed out the spam activity. Sjøvaag and Stavelin’s article addresses an issue that is simultaneously a challenge and an opportunity. These researchers state that traditional analytical methods for broadcast news do not suit digital content, which is a challenge because there is an increased presence of news online and should be studied.  At the same time, because there haven’t been many instruments developed at the time of this article, the authors, and other researchers, have the opportunity to explore what best suits the medium of online news, which leads to further innovation.

Defining Interactivity:

There is contention among researchers because depending on who you ask, interactivity is viewed as a way to describe a medium and/or a gauge of people’s perception of the medium or content (Kiousis, 2002).  Kiousis (2002) defines interactivity as “the ability of systems to simulate interpersonal communication” (p. 367).

Downes and McMillan (2000) describe the concept of interactivity in terms of the direction of communication, flexibility of timing, creating a sense of place (message dimensions), perceived level of participant control, the responsiveness of communication, and the perceived goal of communication (participant dimensions).

After exploring the readings and doing a little research of my own, I would define technological interactivity as the individuals’ perception of their usage in terms of how they would communicate with other people without such an interface.  In other words, individuals perceive the interactivity of a media in terms of how similar their interaction would be had they communicated with another human being instead of technology.

This TEDTalk takes interactivity with technology to an interesting level.  Let me know what you think!

Studying Interactivity:

Because interactivity is so participant dependent, a study to test interactivity would, in my opinion, require a mixed methods approach, using both questionnaire data and observation, as mentioned by Kiousis (2000), as well as conducting follow-up qualitative interviews.  I would use two forms of the same medium (say perhaps two different search engines), one that is public but perhaps not well-used and another that is not public, or is a “home-grown” version of a public interface.

I would formulate a list of tasks that each participant must complete using first one version of the medium and then the other without disclosing which is being utilized. The sample population used would have to vary among age groups, education levels, and perceived skill with technology to get an accurate assessment.  Participants would evaluate how interactive each task per program was based on their experiences using it by answering a series of questions, which would be coded and added to the researchers’ observations, followed by overall their overall perceptions of the programs they used.

Interactivity of This Course:

Just a few thoughts on the interactivity of this course.  Between TRACS, Facebook, and the blogs, I feel like we are doing well with simulating an in-person discussion.  The challenge is the lack of debate.  It’s hard to debate a topic through comments online because we are not constantly monitoring our Facebook pages and blogs (well, I’m not, at least), but there are topics I would love to have an in-person conversation about with you all, which isn’t feasible at this time.  However, the convenience of taking this class online (as I sit on my laptop in Wisconsin) outweighs the challenge of minimal debate.