Monday, November 15, 2010

A Whole New World

I would like to say my Second Life experience left me with thousands of virtual friends, but I would be lying if I didn't say I had a rather frustrating and secluded second life experience. Like the previous posts point out, a game that is designed to build community and connect people from around the world was hard to navigate and hostile. But before I get ahead of myself let's start at the beginning.

I first began Second Life by creating my avatar, Frances Serenity, who wore a pink dress and "girl next door underpants." Users can alter their avatars in every way shape and form - everything from eyebrow shape to undergarments. This is where I probably spent the most time playing around with different avatars, names, clothes and hairstyles. Once I had committed to Frances we traveled through a tutorial teaching us how to navigate inside second life. Walking, siting, talking, even flying was covered. Feeling confident in Frances' newly acquired skills, I was eager to teleport to my first destination. Before doing so, I first had to agree to a terms and services warning. I was shocked not only with the length of this agreement, but also the content. For once, in my entire life, I read every single word of one of those agreements. In my opinion the most shocking agreement I engaged in was an agreement not to bite or attack anyone in order to prevent vampire clan recruitment. Additional agreements included adherence to a dress code, along with refraining from swearing, harassing, and enslaving other Second Life members. My game setting was set to moderate, so perhaps that was why I had this agreement. Yet, I cannot imagine what else the adult setting could have possibly included.

Once I had agreed I wouldn't bite anyone in Second Life, I was off to my first destination. I traveled to Inspire Space Park which was a galactic environment full of stars and planets. I couldn't see any of this however until I changed my environmental setting to midnight, which in turn made the sky black and highlighted my surroundings. I was so excited to see so many other avatars, although none of them seemed to be doing much except wandering around. Numerous times I tried to speak to other members by saying things like, "I am new to this, can someone help me?" Out of the five or six people I spoke at, only one replied with, "Go away, I am waiting for Eric." With that I decided I was probably doing something wrong, so I clicked on a "find friends" link and traveled to a new location, which claimed to have lots of members waiting who also wanted to make friends.

After arriving at this supposedly friendly destination, I clicked on one of the names of another avatar near to me. Leanna Moralls was the first pick, but I had to chase her for a while until I got caught behind a billboard and couldn't figure out how to move. Getting frustrated, I tried a cathedral church for my next destination and continued traveling to different locations each time I played. Whenever I logged back into play it was usually the same experience, a lot of strange looking avatars who occasionally yelled at me, although I didn't experience the level of vulgarity as other classmates did, it wasn't necessarily a welcoming environment. I tried to change outfits a few times or go shopping, but quickly realized you ACTUALLY had to use REAL money. As much as I wanted to fit in my second life, as a college student, I couldn't drop any dough on the "latest virtual boots."

The Second Life lifestyle went on like this for more than a week and sadly didn't get any better. My experience could have been part of my mediocre gaming skills, but my fellow classmates' experiences would attest to the fact that navigating Second Life is challenging for non-users. There are not any tasks to be completed, such as in WoW, which left me unsure of what exactly I was supposed to do in my Second life. Second Life is undoubtably intriguing, but after playing I found it hard to imagine how players willingly and frequently return to this virtual world. I found an explanation for this virtual behavior in an unexpected place.

During another class, a guest speaker advised us all to watch instead of watching television. After taking his advice, I was pleasantly surprised when I found this talk about the effects virtual gaming has on our brains and why millions of people are motivated to participate.

Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain | Video on

I think many non-gamers, myself included, often scoff at the money and time gamers pour into these virtual worlds, thinking it's wasteful or damaging to "real" relationships and human or societal development. This talk identifies what it is people are so attracted to in virtual games and how that attractiveness can be harnessed and implemented in our "real" world to motivate people to produce positive outcomes beyond the computer screen. While I am not dying to get back to Second Life in the near future, this concept is ingriguing enough for me to take a second look.

Second Life, whats wrong with the First?

So to not be repetitive with my classmates, but I also did not enjoy my secondlife experience as much as I thought I would. After seeing the Worlds of Warcraft presentation I was bummed that I didn't get to do that assignment but excited about my upcoming interactions with secondlife because it sounded just as cool.

As everyone else said after downloading the program I was given a name "Becca Jouvenat," who I chose to be blonde with a red sweater and skirt. I followed their tutorial which I must say was cool. It was a series of rooms you had to walk through that told you how to chat, move, fly, etc and you just walked through the room and saw big billboards with keyboard instructions. This made the original tedious instruction manual much more interesting.

After learning how to chat I got really excited to start meeting some people! There was another newby in the room with me his name was bobbie raxri (or some last name like that). I typed to him, "hi do you want to be my friend," and I was immediately shut down with a big "NO." Dissapointed, I decided to venture to a realm where I could meet different people and get some conversations going. I had a hard time figuring out the rules of the game and how to switch locations but eventually I kinda got it.

I have to say I did enjoy the graphics and wandering around, and flying, but I got bored real fast. Most of the time I didnt see anyone else in the areas I was in, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out what to actually do in the game. I dont know if this is because I wasn't in the right place or didnt really know how to play the game, but regardless I had a difficult time. After logging on a few more times, I found some people to talk to. As a follow up with Carly's post, I also found that the ones that knew how to play were rude. When I asked simple questions such as how to purchase land I got short obvious answers such as, "with money." They were not very helpful or willing to help me. I tried to develop relationships with people but failed.

I dont really understand how this game works as a community since I found people to be very unfriendly. At least in worlds of warcraft you go on missions together and kill animals together. Here it was just like an alternate reality and place you can pay money to build fake things. I was also so sad to find that I actually had to pay real money to purchase anything for the game. I thought this was extremely stupid to pay real money for a shirt for my avatar or to buy fake land. I dont really understand the appeal here. Does anyone think making these kinds of purchases with real money are worth it? I would much rather play a video game that I know is fake than try to pretend this second life is real and use real money to make a world for myself on the computer. I am all for trying to get communities together online, but dont think it is healthy for people to live their lives in a game on the computer.

My "Second Life" Experience

Pick a Username-Check
Be directed to a clustered and confusing "virtual site"-Check

These are my initial interactions after first joining Second Life over a week ago. When I was assigned this topic of playing Second Life and blogging about my experience I was looking forward to it; I thought I could build a virtual "dream life" including my perfect job, wardrobe, husband, etc. My experience with Second Life couldn't be further from this.

The first thing you have to do when registering on Second Life is create a user name....they give you several bizarre suggestions, from those I chose my name to be "Annabelle Voix." I was very confused when I was directed to the site. The first thing I tried to do was buy clothes in their shopping center. When I went there I noticed that everything was priced in L$ (which I later discovered were called Linden dollars). I searched the shopping pages for something that cost L$0 and only found one pair of shoes, so I purchased them. I couldn't figure out how to make money with nothing to start off with.

Next, I tried to buy land. I found a place called "pinkland" and wanted to buy it. When I went to purchase it in my Second Life account, they translated the Linden dollars into US dollars and asked for my credit card information. When the land that I was trying to purchase translated into 20 US dollars, I decided against the purchase. This was not only a confusing experience but I also question who would actually pay money to buy virtual land.

After playing around on the site for a while, I was still very confused so I watched several tutorials they have posted on their site, which I all found to be very unhelpful. I found a tab on the top of the Second Life site that said "Launch Second Life" which I assumed took me to interact with other Second Life users. When I tried launching Second Life in Firefox it said "Firefox doesn't know how to open this address, because the protocol (secondlife) isn't associated with any program." I tried launching it in Safari and the same message appeared.

Overall, I had a pretty frustrating experience with Second Life. I found the site to be very confusing and clustered. It was not at all what I was expecting and I didn't get much of anything out of my virtual avatar experience.

I think the concept of having a "second life" is very creative and I can see why it would be appealing to a lot of people. I think the idea of experiencing a second life online could attract a wide range of people from high schoolers to moms, but I think the site definitely needs to be made more user-friendly.

I also question the community this creates. I think the Second Life experience is a similar community to that of World of Warcraft. Individuals can create a new life for themselves and find comfort in an online community. For some, this is very appealing, but I would personally rather stick to real life interactions and relationships.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I pick the first life...

Much like Oren’s experiences with Second Life, I didn’t particularly enjoy my time spent in “the grid” of Second Life. My experience began when I created my resident, their name for the avatars, Belle Arsenault. She was your average punk girl with the coolest outfit I could find. Then I entered the beginner’s realm and attempted to figure out what exactly this game was all about it…little did I know that later I would learn from a mean fellow resident that “THIS WAS NOT A F*CKING GAME.”

Anyway, so Belle and I were off to discover what as here. We journeyed from room to room trying to figure it out. Quickly we learned how to speak, gesture, dance, hula and even fly. But after an hour or so, we were both still lost in this second life. The following few times, we ventured into the game were probably just as confusing as the first. Each time, we found ourselves confused in a new place. It wasn’t until one of our final times playing that we found our selves in a chatty realm where many of the characters were actually willing to talk to us. So Belle joined in on a chat with Purity and some other people with some ridiculous name. Even one of our friends was on Second Life for a class, too! So we began asking questions about Second Life and learned how much of a dork we looked like…so much for my cool clothes. Apparently, this avid player could recognize any new person: “you all look like dorks, just walking around and gesturing.” Needless to say he wasn’t nice but did give me a lot of insight into Second Life. He explained that Second Life was not a game. Instead it was a way for people to connect with one another. I found this ironic as he went on to tell me that you rarely see the same person more than once. I know I never did.

Second Life was created in 2003. It was created for its residents to explore, meet other people, socialize, participate in activities and create and trade virtual property with its own currency. Today, there are two Second Lifes, one for ages 18+ and Teen Second Life for children ages 13 to 17. By January of 2010, 18 million users were registered. However, it is unknown how often these users actually use Second Life. I’d sooner believe more of the users were like me, who just attempted to try out Second Life.

My overall experience with Second Life was a big disappointment. I went into playing it thinking that it would be similar to the Sims, my favorite childhood game. However, it really bared no resemblance to the game. There was no house to be built or friends or relationships to be made. Instead, I found myself dancing in the corner being told how much of an idiot I looked like. In addition, there seemed to be no real point to Second Life. There is no objective or goals, no rules and no winners or losers, except me apparently according to Purity.

Political Campaigns and Social Media

Leading up to the 2010 Midterm Elections, I followed the activity on Russ Feingold's Facebook page. Early in the week, prior to the election, most of the activity on the Facebook page was posting links to either positive articles about Feingold (endorsements, op-eds, etc.) or links to videos and campaign ads that were pro-Feingold. Of note is that there were not links to any of the negative ads against Ron Johnson. There were also a few links to help voters find their polling location.

Every story/video published received a lot of feedback in the form of "likes" and comments. The minimum was about 200 "feedbacks" with some receiving as many as 800.

On election day, the campaign made a push for people to change their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter to the above image, "I Voted for Russ Feingold". The page also continued to offer help in finding polling locations. There was even a post inviting people to a election night party in Middleton.

Overall, I thought Feingold's Facebook page was run pretty well and it definitely seemed like a lot of people were interacting with the page. I even saw a few friends on my newsfeed that had added made the Feingold photo their profile picture so I think that was a good idea to help rally support on election day.

Personally, I got involved with some voter mobilization efforts in the Greek Community. I organized for someone from Organizing for America to come to the weekly Interfraternity Council meeting and explain voting procedures, how to register, where to go, etc. Additionally, I helped promote and invited people to the Facebook Event "Greeks Vote". The event set up 3 different times for Greeks to meet up on Langdon street and walk to the polls together, since voting alone is never any fun. The group was pretty successful, 290 people "attended" the event on facebook.

Social Media Political Campaigning

On election day one of my friends called me as she was leaving her last class around 7:30 p.m.

"All these people keep asking me if I voted," she said.

"Well did you?"


I was shocked. I wasn't even sure what to say. Her excuse to me was that she didn't know what she was voting for. Still shocked. Better clarification: she didn't know who all the candidates were and what their stances were. Slightly less shocked.

To her credit I agree that uninformed voters probably shouldn't vote. I was eligible to vote in the 2006 midterms but didn't because of that same reason. But there's a big difference between the two elections in question...Facebook.

The first semester of my freshman year I hadn't quite jumped on the Facebook bandwagon yet. Even if I had, candidates hadn't figured out how to use the social network to their advantage. But since Obama and his social media magic, candidates see the full benefits of Facebook.

My friend who didn't vote qualifies as a Facebook stalker. She likes my pictures before I've finished putting them up. She knows the intricacies of the lives of people we went to middle school with. Had she used her Facebook hunting powers for good instead of evil, she easily could've been informed enough to make a decision.

I looked at Tom Barrett's page for example. His wall gives you direct links to events he's attending (or supporting), articles that have been written about him (usually positive) and T.V. spots as they air. You can see what people, organizations and causes Barrett supports through his favorite pages.

I wanted to see just how far the political campaign social networking integration has come so I checked Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold's Facebook pages. I also tried to look at all three candidates Twitter feeds.

While Barrett's camp posts on Facebook multiple times a day, it doesn't look like he has a Twitter page. Baldwin has a Facebook page but uses it very infrequently and she doesn't have a Twitter page. Feingold posted on his Facebook just as often as Barrett and had a Twitter feed that may have went away after the election. I wonder if the fact that Baldwin held her seat and used social media the least is evidence that our cohort didn't vote.

In terms of Facebook use I have one suggestion. At most, seven of my friends liked a candidates page. I assume that the other thousands of people who liked their pages took the initiative to seek out the candidates Facebook pages and like them. It might have been a good idea to have someone send out an invitation to like their pages.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to: Make Tom Barrett's journey not end here

Tom Barrett’s last Facebook Page update reads:
Congrats to Scott Walker. Thank you to all of our amazing supporters and volunteers that never stopped believing in Wisconsin. This journey does not end here.
Updated last Tuesday, via mobile.

When you go to Barrett’s Facebook Page, you’re not taken to the info or wall tab – you’re taken to the Final Push! tab, where you can donate to Barrett’s campaign.

The problem is, it’s been about a week and we’ve only heard from Barrett twice since his defeat in the state gubernatorial race. The problem is, the Final Push! tab is explicitly says, ‘There are just a few more days until Election Day!’ and that’s not true.

Do you believe him when he says the journey does not end here? I don’t.

I had multiple friends working on the Barrett campaign, but I didn’t participate in flyering or giving handouts in library mall. The best I did to support Barrett before the campaign was take in his text message alerts, which I think everyone can agree, are a bad idea to opt into for any political campaign.

So I support Barrett, and I realize he is defeated, and the employees that were likely updating his blog, Facebook status and Twitter feed are probably busy looking for new jobs.

But if the Barrett campaign really wants the public to believe that the fight’s not over, that there’s still work to be done and there’s progress that can be made, they’re going to have to step it up a little.

Barrett put up a blog post entitled, ‘Thank you’ on November 4, the last time we heard from his campaign. The message the post tries to send says, I’m going to keep working for you all, and I’ll do whatever it takes to get our goals accomplished.

An admirable message, yes, but what steps should and could he be taking now that the campaign is over?

Take a few days to recover, then get back in the game!
It’s common knowledge that Gen Y eats, sleeps and breathes social media, so if Barrett wants to mobilize us in the future, the best time to start is now! Why? People are a lot more willing and less suspicious of supporting someone when that person isn’t asking directly for their help. If Barrett started tweeting like a maniac and giving his supporters concrete ways to remain active, he would give off a much less ‘defeated’ impression than he does now.

Facilitate conversation – on the blog and on the Facebook Page.
Users don’t want a one-way stream of updates from the people they follow – they would read a newspaper if they wanted that - no, they want to be engaged. Ask questions, encourage people to talk, and actively respond to questions people ask of you. With 18,558 Facebook fans and 1,707 Twitter followers, there are a lot of Barrett supporters who have already proven to be socially savvy on the web compared to their peers – why not engage and mobilize them when you need them least?

Most of all, do what you’re telling them to do. You know, practice what you preach.
Cultivating a mentality and a culture that is positive about the future of the state, Barrett can empower his supporters to share in his positive attitude so they will be well-equipped to face challenges when spreading his message.

I believe these tactics will pay off later, if/when Barrett does employ them or something similar, when he or other candidates have a dedicated, tech-savvy reserve of supporters who are ready to spread the Barrett gospel for him.

MyScottSpot and the Brown Bag Movement

Governor-elect Scott Walker convincingly defeated Tom Barrett on a political platform promising job creation, conservative fiscal policies and change for our state. While Walker obviously mobilized Wisconsin’s older conservative base that seemed to be deactivated for the past decade, he also rallied young conservative voters who tend to be in the minority.

For the past couple of months, I’ve closely followed Wisconsin’s increasingly polarized – and emotionally charged — political races. For this class, I chose to observe and participate in Scott Walker’s online community of political activists and campaign mobilization platform, My Scott Spot. This pseudo-facebook-like micro site incorporated an intuitive navigational structure that encouraged participation beyond cyberspace. In addition, I followed then Milwaukee County Representative Scott Walker on Twitter and joined his Facebook group. If nothing else, it’s obvious the Republican Party learned a thing or two from President Obama. From the mobilization efforts to “branding” strategies, Scott Walker’s campaign was reminiscent of the Democrats’ efforts in 2008.

After I established my presence on My Scott Spot by creating a username, submitting my cell number, syncing up my profile information with Facebook and requesting some conservative friends, I started to feel involved. Every day I received text messages reminding me about events, emails encouraging me to make phone calls, new friend requests on My Scott Spot and updates on other social media platforms regarding Scott’s everyday activities.

The integration of mobile technology was an interesting surprise. After the 2008 election, many critics exploited the Republican Party for its failure to incorporate new technologies and inability to mobilize young voters. While it was excessive in the days leading up November 2, I felt the mobile integration was an effective flow of communication that spanned across all supporters.

In addition, My Scott Spot had a lot of unique features that incentivized participation, which as we have learned, is a determining factor in whether or not public mobilization efforts end up being successful. Depending on your activity — i.e. make 50/100/150 calls, get 5/10/20 new people to join the movement, order yard signs, attend an event, etc — you gain exclusive membership “titles.” In addition, the campaign encouraged activity by offering exclusive opportunities to meet with Scott, spend time with campaign leaders or weigh in on issues. It seems, to me, that these were efforts that appealed to the old and young alike.

The most interesting observation of Walker’s political campaign was how he branded himself, I think. My Scott Spot was a platform that fell under the large umbrella of “The Brown Bag Movement.” The Brown Bag Movement stems from Walker’s central campaign messages and illustrates his claimed connection to the everyday people of Wisconsin.

“Two ham and cheese sandwiches on wheat with a little bit of mayo in a brown paper bag,” Walker consistently told audiences at rallies.

Weird? At first, sure. But think about who Walker needed on board, 100 percent, if he wanted to gain momentum. He needed to prove to hard-working Wisconsinites that not only was he one of them, but he was there to work for them. Paralleling this campaign message was a massive bus with a Brown Bag on the side that traveled the state preaching his policies.

While this surely appealed to voters around state-wide, his online efforts are what probably helped him win the election.

As I noted before, Walker had a strong presence on social media and utilized new technologies. These forward thinking strategies positioned Walker as someone who was trendy, more in tune with younger generations and capable of connecting with individuals who might otherwise feel disconnected with conservatives.

Jason Mattera’s book, Obama Zombies, harshly criticizes Obama’s 2008 campaign for “brainwashing” younger generations. He claims that the President’s mobilization efforts encouraged young voters to mindlessly unite (like "zombies") in record numbers and head to the polls in support of a candidate they knew nothing about. What he failed to recognize, however, was that these mobilization strategies were ground-breaking, innovative and just the beginning of a new wave of political campaigning. A new wave Scott Walker and his Republican partners clearly took note of, and capitalized on, here in Wisconsin and beyond.

Additional observations I made while doing my political campaign experience:
-Mayor Tom Barrett had similar strategies but didn’t start campaigning hard until the last two months.
-Scott Walker and Tom Barrett both sent out personalized messages on Twitter when you followed them.
-Scott Walker’s Facebook page was more complete and really illustrated the type of person that he is whereas Tom Barrett’s seemed a little bit superficial. (Scott had thousands of pictures with “everyday people” from around Wisconsin.)
-Scott Walker used Twitter to establish personal connections with followers. He tweeted about family, friends, opinions, events and more.
-Scott Walker spent a lot of time pushing campaign events and ideas through social media that would culminate in a real-world experience.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Glad to be here on EARTH.

“So you just figured you'd come here, to the most hostile environment known to men, with no training of any kind, and see how it went? What was going through your head?” — Dr. Grace Augustine, Avatar

Apparently Dr. Augustine was correct in her forewarning of the Avatar world. It’s true that new technology and futuristic concepts can be enticing, but like Jake Sulley, I didn’t expect the Avatar world to be so menacing.
The first part of my Second Life Experience was creating my own “Avatar.” The website allowed me to create my own first name and gave me a choice of last names like “Forsythe,” “Millet,” and “Dominicanus” to select from. The name I chose was Orabora Alectoris. My account was activated through my e-mail, and I was able to visit tutorial pages on how to get started— how to customize my appearance, how to connect with friends, how to find interesting places to teleport to, how to shop in Second Life, and how to create a home.
When I first launched into Second Life, it took me to a welcome screen where a few other “Avatars” were. It displayed their name, and asked if you would like to add them as a friend. My first friend was Plume Pexie. The first day playing, I spend most of my time designing my Avatar and feeling comfortable in my new life, visiting the different clothing and physical appearance options. The second day, I signed on an received a message from Plume saying “lu ^^” in which I replied “hello.” Apparently, she was speaking some kind of weird Avatar language because I did not understand anything she was saying.
I decided to explore what kinds of destinations I could transport to the next few times I entered SL. The destination network included almost every social scene— mall, movies, games, nightclubs, amusements parks, concerts, and even brothels. I entered a destination called “Hyannisport.” I soon realized I could chat with others through a chat at the bottom, even people who I am not yet friends with. I could also speak with people through the chat and hear their voices. The experience of visiting new random lands almost seemed like a joke, and a forum for haters. In one realm, people began shouting things out in the chat like “Bitch” and “Who hates Niggers here?!” Then they started speaking in weird voices and telling African American jokes. When I said “Hello everyone I am new here.” Someone replied, “I hate new fags!” After this frustrating experience, I signed off for the day, feeling severely comfortable in my virtual life.
I decided to work on my appearance the next time I entered Second Life because I felt like I had already visited different destinations and added a lot of new friends. I became pretty frustrated with SL again because changing my clothing was a difficult experience. It seemed as if the website had a lot of bugs that made it complicated to undo what you were already wearing and the new items I chose to wear looked as if they were incomplete on the body, as if part of my old clothes were still there. I gave up on my appearance and started to work on my gestures. I learned to fly, bow, laugh, and make all sorts of other gestures. The next day I signed on and tried to IM a few of my friends, but none of them were online so I could not send any IMs. I decided to add more friends and sign off for the day.

On my last visit, I decided to go to a new destination, so I teleported to “Project Donate,” hoping it would be a more peaceful forum. I added a new friend, “Chet Abrastraza.” I checked out his Second Life profile, in which he wrote, “I am just exploring the virtual SL world. SL reminds me very much of AOL chat rooms back in 90's except we have avatars and voice.” In comparison, his Real World profile said he was from the seacoast region, and his occupation is a project manager. I also added another friend named “the pink moth Schism Modan,” who was 7 months old. None of them replied to me, so I decided to walk around and visit this new destination. It was friendlier, and each area was marked with a different donation project, such as Project Unicef, where you could click to donate money to. It also announced who was currently donating to what cause, and how much they donated. I realized today how hard it was to make money (what the game calls L’s), and that it didn’t seem to be so much of a game or a social networking device. Overall, my virtual life reminded me of The Sims 3D game. I didn’t feel like it was very interactive, and it simply felt as if I was walking around and just watching others make gestures and movements in different lands.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Public Mobilization Observation

A few weeks ago I received a Facebook invite for a video screening. The film being shown was a short clip about the conflict surrounding the illegal extraction of minerals in Democratic Republic of Congo. This was part of a greater movement called Congo Week, in which universities around the country and organizations around the world vow to "Break the Silence," or get the word out about the wars in Congo.

Any one who uses Facebook gets invites often-- for games, parties, exhibition openings. But also for more important things like protests, rallies and building awareness. While it is becoming increasingly common for people to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to boost public mobilization some question the new media's effectiveness.

A 2006 Pew study called The Strength of Internet Ties, Focuses on the e-mail's impact on social networks. However many of their results can also be attributed to social media. Essentially the researchers found that social media (the internet) works in tandem with cell phones and in-person interactions to increase social networks and help people stay close to those already in their network. This allows individuals to reach more people when in need.

These results are intuitive to the people who use Facebook and Twitter to enhance public mobilization. Buttons like "Invite a Friend" and "ReTweet" help add people other than those in your immediate network.

I talked to my friend, who played a major role in recruiting people for the film screening, about her efforts to get people to attend. She has used Facebook in the past to invite people to events. For the film, she also passed out fliers and spoke in front of her classes. However turn out for the film was lower than in previous years. One of the difficulties she mentioned is that Facebook (and other social media) is great for getting the word out but it's hard to measure reception.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What is citizen journalism?

When I began this assignment, I tried to define what it meant to be a citizen journalist vs. a "real" journalist. Am I a journalist? I am in the J-School and write for the Daily Cardinal. Or do you need a physical degree in Journalism to be a "journalist?" Would my retired grandma be considered a journalist if she contributed to sites such as iReport, Helium, or OhMyNews? I think there is a blurred line to the definition of a journalist and the topic is definitely up for debate.

Jurgen Habermas defined the public sphere as a place where information is exchanged. An important aspect of the public sphere is allowing everyone to speak and voice their opinions through interactions and dialogue. I think that citizen journalism is the essence of Habermas' notion of the public sphere. The ability to post freely online where others can voice their opinions is a great advancement in our society.

Due to the fact that individuals can post their opinions and insight anonymously on blogs decreases the problem of group think because without including one’s name on their opinion, they can freely express their views. To the contrary, along with public opinion, blogs and other news sites can often be dominated by the elites or opinion leaders, overriding the opinions of some.

When deciding on what I could contribute to a news site, I thought in the spirit of Halloween, I would write a feature-type news story on Freakfest. Something that I thought would be interesting to those not familiar with the annual event. I wrote my story Sunday night and posted it on iReport. More specifically, I posted my article on CNN iReport University. This is a new initiative “offering top journalism students from across the world the opportunity to develop and hone their editorial skills, with support from CNN.” While it was not any different than posting my article to the regular section of iReport, I felt because my story was related to the UW-Madison campus, it would fit best here.

iReport is part of CNN, a place where you can "help shape what CNN covers and how." CNN posts a disclaimer saying that the stories contributed are not fact checked, edited or screened before they are posted. An element of citizen journalism?
An important thing to consider when thinking about citizen journalism is what incentive do individuals have to take their time and post an article that may never be read? As a journalism student, I found satisfaction in posting my article to iReport, but would the average citizen? Something unique I found at iReport is that CNN producers will read the most "compelling, important and urgent" iReports and once approved by producers will make them part of CNN's news coverage.

I did not find many challenges when posting my article to iReport. It was very simple to create an account and post my article. iReport posted my story almost instantaneously. I think this is a great opportunity for anyone with an opinion, anyone interested in developing their writing skills and also an opportunity to increase civic engagement. Another opportunity I found on iReport is the ability to “share” articles via Facebook, Twitter, Digg etc. While many sites do this for professional journalism, I think this is a great way to circulate citizen journalism. Individuals also have the ability to comment on articles and share their insights and opinions.

Some questions that I pose:

Do you think citizen journalism is good for society?

Can the general public decipher the difference between real and citizen journalism (regardless of disclaimer)?

Does citizen journalism delegitimize professional journalism?

What audience is going to these news sites?

Are sites such as iReport and Helium creating an echo chamber?

Citizen Journalism: Lebron James and Conservative Politics

I am a journalist, an official CITIZEN JOURNALIST. Everything I’m about to tell you is objective, truthful and may or may not have some hidden bias behind it.

Anyway, here are a few things I considered before launching my career:

-What was I capable of writing about? What did I want to write about?
-Where would I submit my articles?
-Would my articles actually be published? If so, why would they be published?
-Why is citizen journalism important? Who cares what amateurs think?

To begin answering these questions, I first took on the daunting task of deciding what to write about. Because I’m such a diverse, dynamic and undeniably interesting human, this was really difficult. Eventually, however, I overcame this obstacle and settled on politics and sports.

From there, I found two citizen journalism websites offering relevant opportunities. I wrote an article about the Lebron James “Rise” commercial by Nike for Helium. You can read it here. Then, for my article on politics, I joined a conservative community, Red State, and submitted an article about Barrack Obama’s speech at Library Mall. You can’t read it here because it is still pending. Go figure. (Note: I submitted this to a conservative site because I wanted to see if it would get published and whether or not I would get any feedback on it. I’ve heard nothing, but my account is still active.)

As far as opportunities go, citizen journalism is a great way to practice your writing skills, consider angles and topics you wouldn’t normally think about and expand your worldview. It enables everyone to contribute to online conversations through intelligent, “well-researched” and informative collaboration.

On Helium, citizen journalists have endless opportunities to voice opinions. Whether it’s submitting an article for one of their contests, contributing to someone else’s story or writing just to write, there isn’t really a downside from an author’s perspective. While composing intelligent articles is definitely time-consuming and tedious, it’s actually kind of rewarding. Maybe it’s because I’m in the J School, but I felt like I was fulfilling some sort of civic duty by writing for these sites. Also, there are a lot of incentives to write for Helium. You can actually get paid to write if you build out your complete profile and earn some credibility on the site. Or, you have opportunities to have your work showcased on the front page and potentially published by real news outlets, giving you official bylines to add to your portfolio.

Red State doesn’t offer a lot of incentives to write, but they have an intuitive platform for participation. I think, for Red State, this is a huge opportunity. This is a big assumption, but I’m guessing that the majority of contributors on Red State are probably a little older and not tech savvy. Having a website that is easy to navigate and post on is probably encouraging to someone who frequently gets frustrated by new technologies.

While there were a lot of opportunities overall, there were also a lot of challenges. I mentioned before that you could “easily” post to these sites—easy is a relative term here. There were a lot of barriers to entry. On, my articles are still pending review by a moderator. I’ve received no feedback.

I have to ask: does a moderator even read the articles? does someone just read the headline and make a decision? how can you trust anything on the site when it is all Republicans, with conservative biases, writing one-sided stories? is this citizen journalism?

As far as challenges on Helium, there is a lot of clutter. There is an overwhelming amount of ways to contribute to the site that I struggled to get started. To sign up for an account, request a headline, wait for approval, contribute to a headline, write and post my story, etc, etc took energy and effort. Seeing this first-hand, it's hard to imagine that a lot of people are willing to put in the work. Someone trying to become a professional journalism would probably be better off focusing their talents elsewhere and casually using these kinds of sites as a supplemental tool.

Overall, citizen journalism promotes a democratic-model of participation and supports the notion that cyberspace can serve as a new public sphere. It can, at times, also act as a 5th estate by surfacing unpopular but necessary points of view and holding traditional media outlets accountable. At the end of the day, however, the technical knowledge required to access the sites and the sometimes inefficient nature of the platforms act as barriers to entry, which limits participation. In theory citizen journalism seems like a panacea to society's deteriorating civic engagement but might be less practical than it was once believed to be.