Lifestream, Pinned to #mscedc on Pinterest

Description: CYBERCULTURE [noun] the culture that has emerged, or is emerging, from the use of computer networks for communication, entertainment and business. It is also the study of various social phenomena associated with the internet and other new forms of network communication, such as online communities, online multi-player gaming, social gaming, social media and texting.
By Renha
Pinned to #mscedc on Pinterest

While perhaps more suited to cyberculture than ‘community cultures’, this image stood out to me as I had been reflecting on embodiment/disembodiment, and popular narratives which deny the situatedness of online participants. Lister, et. al (2009, p. 217) note:

critical thinking about ‘cyberspace’ should begin with the assumption that it is no more separate from the material world than any other kind of mediated experience and indeed precisely because of its ubiquity may in fact be more seamlessly and intimately stitched into everyday life.

and later (on p. 217), commenting on real relationships which start online:

our engagements with CMC are every bit as embodied and embedded in social reality as our engagement with any other media. The problematic dichotomy only arises when identity and social reality are assumed to be entirely material as opposed to discursive, and when ‘cyberspace’ is assumed to be entirely discursive rather than material.

To connect this with community, and dispersed online community in particular, I need to do a bit more ‘unpacking’. Can one have discourse without materiality, or materiality without discourse? What I mean is, the material world only exists through discourse, in that it is re-made through – or shaped by- the discourse of whomever ‘witnesses’ it (through their cultural lens). Similarly, discourse has to be enacted, or materialised, in order to exist, and presumably, it can’t ‘be’ without something to ‘be’ about. In this, discourse and materiality are ‘co-dependent’, or ‘co-constituent’ (forgive the rambling – this is new thinking for me).

The social and cultural forces I’ve examined here often emerge into stable patterns within a group. It is these stable patterns of social meanings, manifested through a group’s ongoing discourse that enable participants to imagine themselves part of a community.
(Baym 1998, cited in Lister, et al., 2009, p. 215)

Is it fair to construe this as people’s ability to see themselves in a community being dependent on them having a similar discourse about the material? That regardless of their material experience, they need to be open to each other’s discourse of that experience/each other’s experience? I’m tripping myself up, though, in this ontological rabbit warren: this dialogue supposes discourse and materiality are separate. Back to the thinking step..


Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: “moot” (Christopher Poole) @ TED 2010 – part 1/2

via YouTube

This video caught my interest because in it Poole talks of the community of 4chan, in which users are anonymous and there is no site ‘memory’ or searchability. He suggests that with the proliferation of social networking sites (remembering he is speaking in 2010), and the persistent identities and lack of privacy that comes with them, the Internet is losing something valuable.

It’s at this point that I have to admit to not really understanding 4chan. Admittedly, I have never spent time there, but it just seems so alien and discombobulating to me. From the site’s FAQ I gather: “content is usually available for only a few hours or days before it is removed”. In some ways, it sounds like an event you don’t really want to go to but can’t miss, in case ‘something goes down’ there. In this sense, could the site be said to have ‘eventedness’? Where would it sit in a diagram charting co-presence and eventedness?


Lister et al. suggest that anonymity allows us to “experiment with other parts of ourselves, take risks or express aspects of self that we find impossible to live out in day-to-day meatspace'” (2009, p. 210), but equally Baym (1998, as cited in Lister et al., 2009, p. 215) reminds us that many online community participants seek to integrate their on and offline lives. 4chan users do not seem to be exceptions despite their anonymity, as demonstrated by the Anonymous Scientology protests, among other events.

Image from Anonymous’ Scientology protest in New York. I may not get 4chan – but I near fell off my seat in laughter when I first saw this.

Poole’s point about the move  towards SNSs, persistent identities and privacy concerns correlates with a point made by Lister et al. (2009, p. 216), about the potential for data tracing to enable network mapping by both researchers and (in what they refer to as a “dark” side of Internet use) corporations. In this vein, it’s interesting to note that 4chan has been reported to be in financial trouble (October 2016 – the daily dot, the guardian, etc), and is now accepting donations, which it apparently hasn’t done since 2005 (see images below). Its economic woes, despite an apparent 27 million unique visitors per month and a million new posts per day (Hathaway, 2016) demonstrates the role of commerce in sustainability online, and just one of the ways the virtual is grounded in the material.

The reason 4chan can’t make any money, of course, is that it is the dark, disgusting underbelly of the Internet. For every LOLcat, there’s a dead cat. For every photo of a cute girl in punky clothes, there’s seven of people with no clothes. It’s content no advertiser would ever put its brand near.

Carlson, 2010



Week 5 Summary

This week in my Lifestream and in #mscedc in Twitter I’ve witnessed:

  1. An increase in ‘social’ posts
  2. An increase in conversations (as opposed to just sharing links) in Twitter
  3. Convergence of conversations and areas of investigation/inquiry

The increase in social posts could potentially be explained using Kozinets’ developmental progression of participation, which suggests that with increasing time and number of communications, participants’ communications move from topical information exchange to become coloured with ’emotional, affiliative and meaning-rich elements’ (Kozinets, p. 28).

Increased ‘conversations’ may arise out of increased trust in the learning potential or capability of our ‘learning partnership’ (Wenger, 2010), or perhaps from frustration with ‘shouting into the void’ in our chosen MOOCs for the micro-ethnography (at least, in mine).

Core themes which converged were moderation or policing of community values within online communities and the ability of ‘private’ sites with commercial interests to serve the interests of community. Alongside this, multiple conversations about whether community participation is necessary to success in MOOCs (and on courses in general) also converged.

Two conversations on participation converge:

Click the image to go to Thinglink and view the image, which has links to posts and media from the week


Conversations and inquiry into the role of moderation of communities and the significance of community infrastructure being privately owned and profit generating converge:

Click on the image to go to Thinglink


So far, my micro-ethnography notes remain offline as I’m conscious of inadvertently revealing more details about the data’s origins than I plan to.

Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: Chris Poole part 1/3- ROFLCON 2012 – Solo Panel

While not wishing to make any comment on the value or lack thereof of 4Chan (the heated comments in youtube were enough for me), I felt Chris Poole (and audience) raised some interesting ideas about community formation online, and potential differences between that formation now (or rather, back in 2012) as compared to ‘the good ol’ days’ of the Interwebs.

via YouTube

In this first segment, Poole suggests that the interest-based web has given way to the friendship-based web, with social networking identity-based communities leading to the demise of ‘old’ communities. Rather than just nostalgia, Poole’s claim seems to be based on the investment that people had in ‘old’ communities, because it took them so long (‘weeks, months’ [7:40]) to find it. Poole raises this point again in the second segment [10:00], when he notes (not verbatim),

in order to become a member of a real community, you accumulate social capital just by being there. It’s a long process of you lurking, seeing how things work, dipping your toes in the water, making a post.. people yelling at you and you thinking, oh shit, I’ve got to lurk more. Finally you post a thread, and you get replies, and you think, I’ve won.. Can I do it again? Then you try again, and no, it’s going to take another year…

He uses the metaphor of pitching one’s tent: one used to have to look for the right village to pitch it in, but nowadays people can pitch their tent in the desert and then import their contacts. By morning, their tent is surrounded, the village has come to them – but it lacks the qualities of being a ‘particular’ village; it is ‘the’ village, the one that follows them through their contact list.

I wasn’t about on the Internet during the 90s, or even much in the 2000s, so I don’t have any direct experience of the earlier communities to which Poole refers, but it makes sense to me that the level of investment has a significant impact on sense of community, and committment to it. It is, I feel, related to Walther’s 1997 assertion about the significance of ‘anticipated future interaction’, which Kozinets (2010) refers to:

If participants believe that their intraction is going to be limited and will not result in future interactions, then their relations tend to be more task-oriented. If, however, a future interaction is anticipated, participants will act in a friendlier way, be more cooperative, self-disclose, and generally engage in socially positive communications.

What I think Poole’s comment adds, however, is the importance of ‘reading’ the community, and coming to understand its norms, and how if you are invested/anticipate future interaction, this is part of the process. While Kozinets does write of this pathway to group membership (pp. 27-28), the richness of the communities Poole talks about is also found in these communities being makers or producers of cultural artefacts, rather than just social networks.

Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: Chris Poole part 2/3- ROFLCON 2012 – Solo Panel

via YouTube

In this segment, Poole suggests that ‘net culture doesn’t exist anymore’, and that while we speak of ‘mainstreaming Internet culture’ what is really happening is ‘internetting of mainstream culture’. As a result, Poole suggests it has (or, its communities have) lost some of its (their) ‘richness’.

A member of the audience disputes this, because

  1. some young people will always find sub-culture
  2. the evolution/location of culture is cyclical:

A second audience member comments that while the Internet has more users, it seems to be shrinking because people visit fewer sites regularly. As such, she continues, it has become rewarding to find your place away from the mainstream. For me, this is probably connected to having a voice, and the impact of scale on community. What is the maximum scale in a community, for participant to still feel they have a voice?

I’m drawn back to a Dave Cormier’s video on success in  MOOC, and the need to ‘cluster’ with people with similar interests / who are focused on what you are interested in. Managing community participation seems to be about connections, but also about filtering so as to manage scale and maintain a voice.

Lifestream, Liked on YouTube: Chris Poole part 3/3- ROFLCON 2012 – Solo Panel

via YouTube

In this final segment, Poole suggests an ecosystem for content:

Poole suggests that, with increased use of the Internet, most ‘people joining the web fall into the bucket of consuming’.

It occurs to me that what Poole counts as ‘real’ community is that of the ‘creators’. When I look at the strongest communities I know online, this – being creators – is frequently (though not always) a characteristic, whether they are creators of visual artefacts, or of scholarly ideas or social movements.



Lifestream, Tweets

In following links ‘down the rabbit hole’,  two of my paths of inquiry this week converged: investigating the tension between public and private led me back to community moderation.

My original thinking on privately owned, profit generating digital social infrastructure was connected to ownership of user-generated data and the manipulation of relationships through the use of algorithms (i.e. a corruption of ‘community’ because it is, I feel, a thinly veiled quest for data and profit). However, since many ‘community’ platform providers also rely on user input for moderation, concerns can also be raised about unpaid digital labour.

users are, in the words of labor researcher Kylie Jarrett, their “digital housewives”  — volunteering their time and adding value to the system while remaining unpaid and invisible, compensated only through affective benefits.

Part of the problem seems to be that we use civic-minded metaphors to describe the spaces our communities inhabit online, despite them not being ‘ours’ (they are owned by companies, and our activities ‘there’ generate profits for those companies):

Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform, says, “I’m struck by the fact that we use these civic-minded metaphors, calling Google Books a ‘library’ or Twitter a ‘town square’ — or even calling social media ‘social’ — but real public options are off the table, at least in the United States.” Though users are responsible for providing and policing vast quantities of digital content, she points out, we then “hand the digital commons over to private corporations at our own peril.”

The article also made me aware of a dark side to web 2.0 that I had never considered: the outsourcing of moderation of the worst, most violent images to the global south:

Many US-based companies, however, continue to consign their moderators to the margins, shipping their platforms’ digital waste to “special economic zones” in the Global South. As Roberts recounts in her paper “Digital Refuse,” these toxic images trace the same routes used to export the industrial world’s physical waste — hospital hazardous refuse, dirty adult diapers, and old model computers. Without visible consequences here and largely unseen, companies dump child abuse and pornography, crush porn, animal cruelty, acts of terror, and executions — images so extreme those paid to view them won’t even describe them in words to their loved ones — onto people desperate for work.