Capstone, Journalism, Share

The Revolution was not tweeted: Tunisians in action


Twitter did not go to Tunisia and tell people to revolt. Last September I asked about power in the information age. Who has it? And what is it? If we can get access to nearly all common and not-so-common knowledge, instantly, is knowledge power? Indulge with me for a moment, and let’s say no, knowledge is no longer power. Then is our network the power?

Someone who is connected to a listening audience, who is connected to a listening audience, who is connected to a listening audience is quite powerful. That has always been powerful, but now nearly anyone with a tether to the digital world can be any of those someones. And they have the potential to be quite powerful figures. Save of course that these “powerful figures” are not always recognized as such because they flow in and out of the role as a leader if you consider Ben Schniederman’s theories about consumers and producers online.

The revolution was not tweeted. The revolutionaries in Tunisia were just on Twitter. They spread their ideas fast which got them up, out and in the way faster. Twitter just made it easier for the People to say, “Listen to us, now.”

Matthew Igram via GigaOm writes

But is anyone really arguing that Twitter and Facebook caused the revolutions in Tunisia or Egypt, or even the earlier public uprisings in Moldova or Iran for that matter? Maybe cyber-utopians somewhere are doing this, but I haven’t seen or heard of any. The argument I have tried to make is simply that they and other social media tools can be incredibly powerful, both for spreading the word — which can give moral or emotional support to others in a country, as well as generating external support — as well as for organizational purposes, thanks to the power of the network. As Jared Cohen of Google Ideas put it, social media may not be a cause, but it can be a powerful “accelerant.”

Did Twitter or Facebook cause the Tunisian revolt? No. But they did spread the news, and many Tunisian revolutionaries gave them a lot of credit for helping with the process. Did Twitter cause the revolts in Egypt? No. But they did help activists such as WikiLeaks supporter Jacob Appelbaum (known on Twitter as @ioerror) and others as they organized the dialup and satellite phone connections that created an ad-hoc Internet after Egypt turned the real one off — which, of course, it did in large part to try and prevent demonstrators from using Internet-based tools to foment unrest. As Cory Doctorow noted in his review of Evgeny Morozov’s book, even if Twitter and Facebook are just used to replace the process of stapling pieces of paper to telephone poles and sending out hundreds of emails, they are still a huge benefit to social activism of all kinds.

In October, Gladwell said the revolution would not be tweeted. He said our thousands of weak ties won’t make change happen. Soon after, I questioned the power of (Facebook’s) algorithm that aims to reduce information overload and weed out irrelevant content. Doing this, however, there’s no way to protect yourself from over tweeting. The conversation is always streaming and always linear. So then, if you tweet often are you more likely to get ignored or at least get some views.

It depends if you’re a loud, verbose person at a loud party or a quiet person, at a quiet party, saying one, striking thing every so often. The problem here is that everyone is at a different party. Then why, if everyone is at a different party, did the demonstrators catch word so fast?

It’s the two-step flow, 2.0. The beautiful flow of information that embraces the idea of human agency to share knowledge and information. But now, unlike ever before, anyone has the potential to have the power the mass media once had.

We can’t help but keep asking if participating in social media is activism. Does changing a Facebook Status or Twitter profile picture make a difference? Some argue it brings awareness to an issue. But it’s passive activism, it’s enough to get points for “caring” about an issue for a fleeting trend.

Why then is a riot, a protest or a lunch counter sit in considered considered activism, when it too, is also just spreading awareness about an issue? Because it causes disruption. The actions do not ask the community to stop what they are doing and pay attention, they require it. It gets in the way, it upsets people and it makes people talk about the problem.

No. The revolution will not be tweeted. No the revolution was not tweeted. But yes, our new tools inspired conversation that empowered people to put the problem in the way. Whether or not that is Good is another question.

The revolution happened on the streets.

Capstone, Design, HCId, Journalism, Share

Design sharing tools for the creative process

Narrative (The Creative Process)

Sharing a news story usually seems like simply flicking a click of a button, scribbling out a quick thought and going about your merry way.

But news consumers, who once, were only news consumers are now also producers. Beyond the blogger, only recently has design and technology facilitated the tools to empower the lay consumer to interact with content in a creative way. They are now work as editors, writers and broadcasters, in their own social right.

John McCarthy and Peter Wright compose a fantastic book on experience design, Technology as Experience. “Experience is ever present,” they say. “We are always engaged in experience even when we are trying to stand back from it to describe it.” McCarthy and Wright reaffirm how it important it is to think about and the holistic experience of anything when designing, and in this case, sharing a news story.

Browsing through news stories is absolute active participation. Unlike watching news TV or even reading a print publication, the reader has choice more choice between on and off or skim or not skim. In the current content consuming paradigm, beyond a news summary, the reader must actively decide to click, and almost navigate to a new page to get immersed into a story. It takes a significantly greater commitment. The reader then must actively make a judgement, “do I want to consider reading this article?” If yes, they click, if no, they keep skimming headlines and photos.

This is the first step of what I’m referring to as an editing process, where the reader is flexing their judgement skills. Moving forward, they continue to do this when they’ve consumed enough of the article or graphic and decides to share it. Only now, after all of these hurdles, have they come to the act of sharing something. That standing on the assumption that the sharing interface (and logging in process for that matter) is seamlessly easy to understand.

If the article inspires and resonates with the reader, it’s likely it has a high share-ability. That or it speaks to the readers’ audience, the audience that is comprised of their network. Of course, considering, most people don’t think about the Facebook News Feed is developed in such a way that it’s difficult to overshare to your network, according to Aditya Agarwal, Facebook’s Director of Engineering. Though, they are hoping people will learn and stop worrying about overshare.

In Erik Stolterman’s book, Imagination and Communication, he talks about imagination and communication. The reader takes ideas from their minds eye and must make it communicable, he says, which is part of the creative process.

Once the reader has read the article and formed some kind of thought and new meaning, it still exists in their mind, in their imagination. Once they have taken that vision, explored and then written their thoughts, they have led to “new truths” cited to Erik Stolterman. Their new truths, that are “possible to share with other people.”

And beyond all of this, conscious or not, these readers are engaging in civic and cultural participation, which Jean Burgess, author of Vernacular Creativity cites.

Culture is the means by which we, as individual citizens and communities, experience what the world is like, how we fit in it, and importantly, how we relate to others who are different from us at the same time as we seek out opportunities for belonging.

Where participatory media opens up space for us, as ordinary citizens, to speak and represent ourselves and our ways of being in the world, and to encounter difference, then it’s also a space for the everyday practice of cultural citizenship  in that context, everyday creativity is civic engagement, in a sense.

It is not even the writing process itself here that is creative and expressive. It is the development of new truths, personal meaning and broadcasting in a cultural context to an audience, especially at such a mass scale, that has never been done before. Participating in every day media, like Burgess says, helps us develop our own identities, how we see ourselves and how we fit into our worlds. All the while we are making judgements about the what the people in our networks share, say do, and don’t do and how they fit into the world. That has always been a part of civic engagement.

When designing a share UI, designers must consider:

  • The overall experience from arriving to the article in the first place. How did the reader get here? RSS, Website, another shared link? Think about where they are coming and possibly where they are going afterwards.
  • Consider when they are likely going to want to share.
  • Design the UI with enough space that supports an emergent writing and editing process, like a resizable window.
  • Think of the reader as a media producer. Is your share UI a pop up or modal dialoge? Will they lose everything they wrote if they go to reread a section of text, navigate to a new site to get some information or another link or copy and paste something?
  • Reduce the amount of choices they must make. The New York Times does a nice job giving commentary a high position in the visual hierarchy, while still giving their consumer/producers the autonomy to hit recommend without saying a word, which still says something.
Capstone, Design, HCId, Journalism, Share

The shared experience

Gorilla Sharing 2

Sharing a post seems simple enough. Copy and paste a link, click the like button or recommend a story. Seems simple enough–not too complicated. There is a lot more happening behind these 1 and 2 step flows. When we share we are defining our identify, building our social capital and simply speaking, expressing ourselves.

Takin the action to share, or not share, by whatever process is an editorial process. Creative tools like Facebook give people who were once only consumers a more liberal opportunity to also be producers.They are using their personal judgement to select or ignore what they choose to broadcast to their networks. Each post is a reflection of  their values by showing what they consume and promote and thereby constructing their identity.

Schniederman and Hochheiser discuss the transformation from readers to leaders in social media. Social media users are constantly shifting from roles as passive readers to very active leaders: those who move conversations in the community forward. In between they act as contributors and collaborators and are constantly negotiating their role and identity as it shifts even from post to post within their greater social communities online.

Sharing to a community also builds on social capital. Journalism history researcher discusses the orientation of text in his book Communities of Journalism.

“When a reader writes a letter to the editor, they are speaking to the public, speaking to the editor and to the self,” he says.

Nord’s statement here supports identity building while interacting with news. What also happens here is engagement with the community. Posting and sharing certainly speaks to a public, especially as the web is becoming more open. Friends in the network work as editors, they critique, comment and build on what has been stated. As a person shares to their network, the public and editor are one in the same as they are building their social capital.

In a recent study done at Michigan State University, Ellison, Stenfield and Lampe found significant social capital benefits from college students on Facebook. They found students used facebook “primarily to maintain existing offline relationships or to solidify what would otherwise be ephemeral, temporary acquaintanceships.” In doing this, they found “indices of psychological well-being, such as self esteem and satisfaction with life.” Sharing and engaging in these communities not only pass time and serve as passive news to read about friends, but also builds socially beneficial experiences.

Malcom Barnard quotes Roger Fry in his book Approaches to Visual Culture. Barnard writes:

Fry believed that message of the work is described as’a whole mass experience hidden in the artist’s subconscious’ Conscious or unconscious, the matter is still that of expression.

When someone share to their network, whether or not they are conscious and aware of their expressions does not take away from them expressing themselves at are. When they post, and especially with commentary,  they are engaging in editorial, creative work and the process of communication.

In doing this, their expressive nature directly relates to their identity that is always in progress of being crafted and the social capital in which they are building. The individual does this across their networks, their community while every other friend in their network is simultaneously making the same conscious and unconscious negotiations.