Posted by kellie on Aug 1, 2011 in Case Study, Culture, Social Media, Television, Twitter, User Generated Content

Television is starting to embrace Twitter. Hallelujah! But not everyone is doing it right.

For a lot of us, talking on Twitter while we watch TV isn’t new. We’ve been talking on Twitter about televised events for years now. The 2008 US Presidential elections, sporting events, season finales, and more were all discussed among fans online using Twitter and hashtags. Then it started happening not just for major events, but for regular episodes of shows. We used to gather around our TVs in person to experience and discuss television shows together. Now we do it via Twitter and hashtags. And what’s perhaps most interesting is the mainstreaming of hashtags. In the examples that have below, nobody is going out of their way to explain what hashtags are or to specify that they are for Twitter. Consumers are just expected to know, and most of them do. Given how slow mass media can be to embrace technology (how long was it before people stopped v e r y  s l o w l y pronouncing the http://www. in a URL on TV?), this is a major moment.

So while talking on Twitter while we watch isn’t new… what *is* new is that the networks and shows themselves are starting to embrace and even instigate it themselves.

Doing it Right: MSNBC, Fox, Logo, TNT

Rachel Maddow from MSNBC is on Twitter. Her show and staff have several accounts that they update. Conversations about the show while it’s airing (and sometimes for hours after) happen at #Maddow. So when the show was putting together their iPad app… what’s the next step? A “watch party” function, of course. You can tweet directly from the Rachel Maddow Show app. You can also read the tweets made from the app, tweets from the “All Stars” (TRMS staff and frequent/notable guests), and all tweets with the #Maddow hashtag. They’ve taken what was an organic third party experience and found a way to make it not only easy and convenient for their fans, but to bring it under their own branding.

Content on the left, conversation on the right.

Other networks are starting to embrace hashtags too. A few months ago, I noticed that #Fringe was watermarked on my screen throughout the first episode (and every one thereafter) of the spring 2011 season. This was already happening organically (I know, because I’m a big Fringe nerd), and instead of trying to create something new of their own, they just promoted what was already happening. And I don’t know what the numbers were, but I can tell you from my own personal experience that the number of conversations skyrocketed. Fringe was the perfect candidate to try this out on, because the audience is most likely to be into technology and open to embracing it. (Essentially, we’re all big nerds.) I started noticing this on other shows, too… especially other Fox shows. #Glee is another obvious choice, given their rabid fanbase. (Ahem.) #DragU on Logo is also employing a similar strategy.

It hangs there, all spooky-like. Must be from the other universe.

But even when shows embrace what fans have created, well… fans keep on creating. One example of this is the show Rizzoli & Isles on TNT. (Wow, you are really getting to know a lot about my TV watching habits, huh? Sorry about that.) If you’re not familiar… go immediately and watch all of Season 1 and the first two episodes of Season 2. Notice anything? Like maybe how the two lead actresses — Angie Harmon (Jane Rizzoli) and Sasha Alexander (Maura Isles) are… well… close? Like, really close? Like, your gaydar is WHOOP WHOOP WHOOPing like crazy… close? Well, you’re not the only one who noticed. The lesbians, we went mad insane for this show (which besides featuring two beautiful and kick-ass ladies, is actually a really good mystery/crime show) in a way that we haven’t since Xena. So when the new season of Rizzoli & Isles started up this summer, just having #RizzoliandIsles was not enough. The wonderfully brilliant and hilarious Dorothy Snarker from AfterEllen decided we needed a more… specialized hashtag for all the lesbian sub-text and discussion about the show. So she created #Gayzzoli, and it’s a very lively conversation each week. The stars and people who do social media for the show know about it, and while they don’t participate, they also don’t interfere. Which is just the right thing to do.

Ms. Snarker might be a complete genius.

Doing it Wrong: Lifetime and Project Runway

So all of those are great examples of TV embracing fans and Twitter discussion. But can you take it too far? I saw one example last week that just made me cringe. And that’s the new season of Project Runway on Lifetime.

But first, a short lesson in hashtags. The value of a hashtag is that it organizes content from many different sources but about the same thing in one place. So, logically, you’d want everyone to be using the same hashtag in order to create a conversation that is active, rapidly updating, and has as high of a usage spike as you can get. You want to centralize your efforts on one hashtag and drive all your efforts toward a single goal.

And that is not what Project Runway has chosen to do. Instead of pushing #projectrunway or even something as bad as #projectrunwayS9 (for “season 9″), they created an individual hashtag for each of their 20 designers and promoted all 20 hashtags on the show. Which, to me, is just way too much diversification. They are in essence creating 20 smaller conversations instead of one big conversation. They are dividing their audience into silos instead of bringing them all together to talk about the show. They are making it about the individual contestants, not about the show.

And the format of the hashtag is awful, too. Hashtags should be short and easy. They should be accurate and representative of the subject and nothing more. So using the format #pr9<designer name> is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Project Runway is not commonly abbreviated PR, so they are basically taking all the value out of their brand name by doing so in their hashtag. I get that the 9 is for season 9, but honestly I couldn’t have told you this was season 9 if you asked, and I’ve been watching every episode since the very first one. Even to a pretty big fan, that means nothing to me. And we already discussed that each designer has their name in their own hashtag. #PR9Becky (for example) is just a horrible hashtag (but I think the designer is cool, despite the fact that I keep accidentally calling her Betsy Ross instead of Becky Ross. (Get it? Because she sews? Oh never mind.))

Hey #pr9becky, can you sew me a flag dress?

They are using it as a way to use Twitter for “fan favorite” voting, which is a cool idea. But they missed a huge issue with the conversational aspect of Twitter in doing so. It’s probably too late to change it this season, and while I applaud their effort to embrace Twitter and hashtags, I hope they adjust their strategy next time.

All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing what the fall season brings with Twitter and hashtags and online viewing parties (oh my!).



Hi. Also: Glee and Size Issues

Posted by kellie on Feb 10, 2011 in Culture, Size Issues

Where does a year go?

Since it’s been almost exactly a year since I updated this blog, I thought it was time to update my theme and say hi again. So… hi! It’s been a busy year full of work, travel, drinks, friends, and fun. Lots of things have changed in the world of online community and social media. We’ve got #NewTwitter (is anyone else surprised they haven’t forced that change on everyone yet?) and at least one new iteration of the Facebook profile. I actually really like the new profiles, and just today they’ve started rolling them out to Pages. We’ll see how that goes… I’m not totally sold on some of the new features yet.

When I started this blog, it was mostly to talk about online community and social media. I spend a lot of my time blogging and writing for my day job, and I knew I didn’t want (and frankly, couldn’t keep up with the demands of) a type of news site. What I wanted was a corner of the web that I could carve out for myself. A place to put my thoughts down (in a longer format than Facebook and Twitter allow) about things I find interesting in online community, social media, or whatever else comes my way. I didn’t think it was right to have a single-subject blog for myself… I generally don’t do well with restrictions, but more importantly, it just feels inauthentic to me. And if anything is true about community, it’s that one of the biggest sins is to be inauthentic. I am me, and that includes a lot of facets. I am passionate about my job in community and social media. But I also like to cook and travel and use technology and lots of other stuff. This blog is a little bit of everything about me for the same reason that I’ve never made different profiles/twitters/whatever for personal and professional uses. For the same reason that, even in the communities I run professionally, I’m known as “kellie”. Wherever I am, however I know you, you get me. All of the nerdy, complicated, silly, neurotic, hard-working, hard-playing, whatever that is who I am.

All of which is to say that I’m not going to be afraid to post more non-community & social media stuff here anymore. Speaking of…

One of the things I’ve become kind of addicted to this year is the show Glee. And one of the things that I like the most about the show is its treatment of fat characters. Now, the last time I wrote here it was about Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines’ “Customer of Size” policy. And while this is not going to turn into a blog about size issues (there are already many great ones out there) it is something that I notice and feel strongly about.

Mercedes, as played by Amber Riley

For those not familiar, one of the main characters in the show is Mercedes. She is a larger girl — certainly larger than most female characters in popular TV shows. Larger than the other women on Glee, at least until recently. And her size is really just never mentioned. Whether in street clothes, a costume for a performance, or a cheerleading outfit, it’s just no big deal. When she was on the cheerleading squad, there was no snickering or drama about the fat cheerleader. When all the female Glee club members are wearing the same thing, she’s right there with them. Not the knock-off, plus-sized version… the actual same thing. While that may not be very realistic, it’s fantastic to see this be a non-issue. In fact, Mercedes is one of the most fashionable characters on the show. (Seriously, how cute is that outfit?)

But it goes beyond that. In the Rocky Horror episode, she played Frank-N-Furter (the character played by Tim Curry in the movie). Which is just awesome right there. I mean, if you can’t have a little gender play in your Rocky Horror, what’s the point? Well, not only did she play the part, she was amazing. And she was wearing shiny pleather and fishnets.

Amber Riley as Mercedes as Frank-N-Furter

I mean, really. How often do you see a woman who is not TV-skinny in an outfit like this? And without even a smidgen of a mention of size? There was no “but what would I wear” or “is it too sexy” or whatever. There was no snickering about how she should not be wearing that. It just was. Without drama and without apology. She’s not treated like a fat character. She’s just treated like a person. How sad that this should be a revolutionary act, but there it is.

Another character has been introduced this season — Lauren. And she’s fat. What is sometimes referred to in size acceptance circles as deathfat. And given the generally great treatment of the Mercedes character, I had really high hopes for how they would treat Lauren. And while it’s not all bad, it’s not all good either.

Lauren is always eating. Always demanding food. It’s the running joke that’s just not funny to anyone — it’s either offensive or totally taken as a given (of course she eats everything that’s not nailed down!). She was given a box of chocolate for Valentine’s day, which she said was terrible, but ate all of. When asked about this, she said that she had to make sure they were all terrible. On the one hand, it’s so expected and typical and unimaginative that I almost can’t summon the energy to get upset about it. On the other hand, it’s really stereotypical and sad and offensive.

Ashley Fink as Lauren Zizes

But things are looking up for the treatment of Lauren. Well, sort of. One of the most popular guys in school is after her, and not on a dare or a prank. Lauren is about as confident in her body as any high schooler could possibly be, which is awesome. Lauren is not being cast as desperate for romantic attention, but instead as someone who is not willing to settle.

On the most recent episode, the glee club was singing love songs. Puck, the guy after Lauren, sang “Fat Bottomed Girls” to her. On the one hand… Queen! And an awesome song! On the other hand… WTF this is not a love song!! You barely need enough brain function to blink your eyes to make the connection fat girl + love song = Fat Bottomed Girls. Get it? She’s fat! So it’s perfect! Never mind that all the other girls get songs about how they are pretty and stuff. When the song was over, Lauren said it was the first time she’s been sung a love song, and it made her feel like crap. Which I totally got right away, but I doubt that most people did.

I want to be loved. Not in spite of my fat. Not because of it. But because I am me.


Acts of Lust, or Acts of Exploitation?

Posted by kellie on Jul 27, 2009 in Case Study, Culture, Gaming, Rant, User Generated Content

I got back from Comic Con last night. I’ve been meaning to go for years, and this was the first chance I’ve had to go. I was there with the SEGA community team, covering all the action for our fans who couldn’t attend. We had a booth in the show, next to other gaming booths. EA’s booth was a few down from us. I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary the dozen or so times that I walked by the booth. With that many people in such a small space, it was practically impossible to see anything. So it was only when I got to the San Diego airport last night that I read about EA’s “Sin to Win” Comic-Con promotion of Dante’s Inferno.

(I know. I work for a competitor to EA, so it might seem like I’m just slagging on them because of that. I assure you, that’s not the case. )

EA has already apologized for the contest, and provided a bit of explanation. I think this is an unfortunate case of having a decent idea, but having a completely insensitive, sexist, ham-handed execution.

Let’s start with the core idea. According to EA’s apology/explanation, they are designating each month until the game launch with a different “sin” theme for the month. July is “lust”. To enter the contest, you need to take a photo of yourself with one of the “booth babes” from the EA booth. You submit that photo, and EA picks one winner to have a night on the town with VIP treatment. From a marketing standpoint, I can see what they were aiming for with this. It gets people to visit their booth, to create content they can use later, it’s interactive, and they get to giveaway a prize that’s going to be desirable to most, if not all, entrants. But as usual, the devil (pun intended) is in the details. Or in this case, the choice of words and phrases.

To enter the “Sin to Win” contest, participants are encouraged to “commit acts of lust” by taking photos with a “booth babe”. (The graphic says “us or any booth babe” but unless the EA staff is wearing bikinis in their booth — something I’m certain I didn’t see — the implication here is clear.) Then you “prove it” by submitting your photo. One winner gets “a sinful night with two hot girls” and “a chest full of booty”.

Like I said, I can see the core idea here. But it’s hard for me to believe that nobody thought this was inappropriate enough to stop it before it happened. They are encouraging their  fans to sexually harass the people they’ve hired to work their booth. If someone thought of it and didn’t say it — that’s a problem. If someone thought of it and said it, nobody listened — and that’s a bigger problem. If nobody thought of it — that’s the biggest problem at all. I know (and have written about before) women in the gaming industry, and how sexist it can be. I wish the line was never crossed, but it’s nice to see some fairly mainstream outrage over this issue. Maybe some good can come out of these unfortunate incidents — to shine the light on, and change, how women are treated in gaming.

Besides the sexist overtones here, there are also heteronormative overtones. They’re assuming that their audience is not only male, but straight males. They’re probably right, but a contest like this is extremely alienating to anyone who is not in that straight male demographic. Not that gays (or straight women) can’t appreciate a pretty lady (just like I appreciate a cute boy), but “acts of lust” is farther than anyone really wants to take it with someone that’s not of their preferred gender.

I understand the pressure to market games well, and to try to give your audience what they want. But it’s so easy to get carried away in that without stopping to think about what you’re actually saying, doing, and encouraging. I hope we all stop and think a little bit more.


Homophobia in Gaming Communities

Posted by kellie on Jul 11, 2009 in Culture, Gaming, Online Community, Social Media

Anyone who has spent time in an online community, on virtually any subject, has experienced hatred. Almost all kinds of hatred grows wild and multiplies quickly on the internet. The internet is phenomenal for helping people find others who share their interests and views, and helping those groups to organize. This is the driving force behind every online community, from knitting communities to white supremacist communities. My friend Jessie Daniels has just published a book called Cyber Racism about how racism has made the jump from offline means (print and in-person organization) to the online world.

Homophobia is no different. From seemingly innocent comments like “That’s so gay” to explicit “I hate gay people” comments, it’s everywhere. But homophobia on the net is often more innocent-looking, and more difficult to recognize, than other forms of hatred. I’m not just talking about forums that are obviously dedicated to homophobia. Remarks like “that’s so gay” pass by in most every community without anyone blinking an eye. And many communities have cultures that don’t discourage that, even if they don’t encourage it. As managers, culture-makers, and rule-setters in our communities, we have an obligation to make sure our forums are free from homophobia, but we have to do it in a way that’s fair for everyone. Lots of attempts have been made, and I’m not sure anyone has found the silver bullet answer yet.

GLAAD is working to fix that. They’ve recently launched a project to combat homophobia in virtual communities, and they’re starting with a panel discussion on homophobia in the gaming community. The panel will take place from 11am-1pm on July 18, 2009 at the Electronic Arts campus, just south of San Francisco in Redwood City, California.  To RSVP, please email digitaltickets@glaad.org or visit www.glaad.org/digitalevent. You can also join the Facebook Event Page.

From GLAAD’s blog:

The first of its kind panel discussion will spotlight the issue of homophobia in virtual communities and include the perspectives of both gaming companies and LGBT gamers.  Discussion will revolve around the state of the problem in these communities, policy solutions that have been developed to address homophobia – some that are working and those that are not – as well as looking forward to challenges and opportunities in various sectors of the industry including production, policy and enforcement, financial, customer service and the end user experience.

Confirmed panelists include:

  • Flynn DeMarco (Alias: Fruite Brute), Founder of GayGamer.net
  • Dan Hewitt, Senior Director of Communications & Industry Affairs for the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)
  • Caryl Shaw, Senior Producer in the Maxis Studio (Electronic Arts, Inc.)
  • Cyn Skyberg, VP of Customer Relations at Linden Lab
  • Stephen Toulouse (Gamertag: stepto), Program Manager for Policy and Enforcement on Microsoft’s XBox LIVE

I really wish I could attend this panel, but I have a prior obligation next weekend. (My wife is having thumb surgery on Friday.) If, like me, you can’t attend the panel, don’t fret. It will be recorded and distributed for everyone who can’t make it. I’m really looking forward to the DVD of the panel.

In addition to promoting the panel on Facebook, Twitter, and the GLAAD blog, they’ve taken it one step further. Justin Cole, the Director of Digital Media for GLAAD, wrote an Op-Ed this week on Kotaku, a very popular video games blog. This is most definitely not “preaching to the choir”. As I’ve written before, the gaming industry can be a very male and hetero-oriented place. Kotaku, and its readers, are no exception.

In the Op-Ed, Justin cited this video as an example of homophobia in gaming.

From the YouTube description on that video:

Other than maybe a quick “hello” to the chat room or a request to “veto”, I didn’t say anything first or taunt anyone. What was said by these players was done with no provocation on my part. The vast majority of the times I wouldn’t even respond back so the audio would be clear. Things I didn’t include in this video are the betrayals (people on my team killing me), players asking me NOT to party up, or all leaving mid-game so that I’m all alone.

Justin also cited some startling statistics from a 2006 study from the University of Illinois “the social and behavioral demographics of gay video game players” as well as “the role of sexual orientation on gaming habits.” (Emphasis mine)

52.7% of those surveyed said the gaming community is “Somewhat Hostile” to gay and lesbian gamers, 14% said “Very Hostile.”

When asked what forms of homophobia people have seen in the gaming community, here are some of what the surveyed said:

87.7% – Players use the phrase, “That’s so gay.”
83.4% – Players use the words “gay” or “queer” as derogatory names.

52.3% – Stereotypical representations of gay characters in games.
42.5% – Refusal of game designers to include well-developed gay characters.
49.4% – Invisibility of gaymers and/or the gaymer community.
When asked how frequently players experience homophobia, those surveyed who responded “Always” or “Frequently” equaled 42%. Add in “Sometimes” and it brings up that total to 74.5%.
When asked how often those players respond to the homophobia they witness – 50.9% total responded “Never” or “Rarely.”

Given these statistics, it’s no wonder that Justin and GLAAD have chosen to focus on the gaming community first in their battle against homophobia among all virtual communities.

To see how much of an uphill battle this is, one need look no further than the comments on that YouTube video or, more realistically, on the Kotaku article. YouTube comments are notorious for being horrible, obnoxious, profane, and homophobic, and the comments on that video certainly live up to that reputation. The comments on Kotaku are at least more intelligently written, even if the majority of them are still homophobic and unapologetic for it.

I spoke with Justin from GLAAD this week, and we had a great conversation about these massive cultural shifts that are so obviously necessary. There are so many moving parts — the rules we implement about what is and isn’t appropriate in our communities, the consistent enforcement of those rules, and the people who are tasked with setting a positive example in our communities. But it’s also about the development of games (diverse and non-stereotypical characters), and the promotion of games. I also strongly feel that we need to have more diversity in the workforce of the gaming industry in order to really bring about change from the inside out. I know that’s easier said than done — at the end of the day, companies need to do what they can to sell the largest amount of games they can, and hitting that demographic sweet spot (ie: the young, straight, possibly homophobic male) is really tempting. But all of these things need to come together to move this ship forward.

Justin and I had a great conversation, and he asked me to help out with GLAAD’s initiative beyond the panel. I’m so excited and honored to be working with them on this important issue. He is interested in hearing from community managers from all types of communities, so I’ll probably be pulling in many of the people I know in the CM world to help with this project.

In the meantime, I urge all community managers to re-examine your approach to fighting homophobia in your communities. If you’re a member of a community, especially a gaming community, I urge you to re-evaluate how you treat people in the communities you participate in, to see if you can do more. If you live in the SF bay area, I encourage you to sign up for GLAAD’s panel on this issue. I urge all of you to treat people with kindness, fairness, and equality.

Tags: ,


Class and Social Media

Posted by kellie on Jul 5, 2009 in Culture, Facebook, Online Community, Social Media

I have been a big fan of danah boyd for a while. When I think about my own aspirations and what I’m interested in learning more about, her name routinely comes up in my reading. Her work looks beyond the norms in online community research — how to be a better marketer, get more followers, get better ROI. Her research delves into the architecture, the politics, and the culture of communities and social media.

At the end of June, she gave a speech at the Personal Democracy Forum called “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”. In it, she shared her research on exactly who was using MySpace, who was using Facebook, and why. The results were interesting and sometimes surprising.

Before I read her talk, I would have told you that hardly anyone uses MySpace anymore. I would have told you that most people have transferred over to Facebook. After reading her talk, I understand why I thought that, even though I was wrong.

The talk started with danah asking the audience to raise their hands if they used Facebook, and then again for MySpace. 90%(ish) of the people used Facebook, but only a few used MySpace. This reflects my experience (I was never a heavy MySpace user, but I don’t use it at all now. 90% of my friends, business associates, and acquaintances use Facebook and not MySpace, too). However, danah points out that while we’re touting Facebook’s growth, we’re missing a crucial piece of the puzzle — that just as many people are now using MySpace as they are using Facebook. While Facebook’s numbers have been growing exponentially, MySpace’s numbers haven’t changed.

Two weeks ago, comScore released numbers showing that Facebook and MySpace were neck-and-neck in terms of unique user visits in the U.S. The meta-narrative was that Facebook was winning in the States and that MySpace was dying. I would argue that the numbers can be read differently. The numbers show that MySpace has neither grown nor faded in the last year while Facebook has expanded rapidly and has finally reached the same size. Of course, this is not to say that Facebook isn’t doing tremendously. In a business environment where monetization is shaky, the only definition of success is “growth.” Given that, it’s reasonable to see Facebook as more successful than MySpace this year. But we still need to account for the fact that as many people visit MySpace as Facebook and that, as exemplified by the people in this room, that’s not because there’s a complete overlap of users. Even if you think that Facebook is winning the game, we need to account for the fact that *70 million* people in the US visited MySpace. That’s not small potatoes.

When danah dug deeper, asking teenagers which site they were using and why, the answers were astounding. Some cited feature differences, but many of the answers were around culture, and by extension, class. One teenager called MySpace “ghetto”, while others said that Facebook was more high-class, more adult.

Craig (17, California): The higher castes of high school moved to Facebook. It was more cultured, and less cheesy. The lower class usually were content to stick to MySpace. Any high school student who has a Facebook will tell you that MySpace users are more likely to be barely educated and obnoxious. Like Peet’s is more cultured than Starbucks, and Jazz is more cultured than bubblegum pop, and like Macs are more cultured than PC’s, Facebook is of a cooler caliber than MySpace.

If this language seems harsh, danah says that’s with good reason.

In looking through my data, I found that teens who prefer Facebook are far more likely to be condescending towards those who use MySpace than vice versa. Teens who use MySpace may lament teen Facebook users as “stuck-ups” or “goodie two-shoes” or the “good kids.” But they’re not nearly as harsh in their language as Facebook users are of those who use MySpace.

I agree with danah’s characterization of what happened when people abandoned MySpace for Facebook — it’s a modern-day, internet-based white flight. Whites, the educated, the suburban, the wealthier were all more likely to leave MySpace and go to Facebook. Given this, descriptions of MySpace as “ghetto” and Facebook as “more cultured” take on a whole new light here. To help illustrate this, danah talks about the sociological concept of homophily, which basically means “birds of a feather stick together”. You are most likely to know people like yourself. And how this is one of the driving forces behind why people choose MySpace or Facebook — they are attracted to the spaces where the people they perceive to be like themselves are.

This concept of homophily also shows why I would have told you that nobody is really looking at MySpace anymore. I don’t, and most of the people that I know are like me. Although my group of friends, acquaintances and associates are fairly diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation, they are almost entirely liberal/Democrat, well-educated, and wealthier. Because of who I am, and because of homophily, the people I know are less likely to choose MySpace over Facebook.

The implications of this, as danah rightly points out, are increased social divides.

We can accept when people choose to connect to people who are like them and not friend different others. But can we accept when institutions and services only support a portion of the network? When politicians only address half of their constituency? When educators and policy makers engage with people only through the tools of the privileged? When we start leveraging technology to meet specific goals, we may reinforce the divisions that we’re trying to address.

If you want people to connect around politics and democracy, information and ideas, you need to understand the divisions that exist. Many of us in this room see social network sites as a modern day incarnation of the public sphere. Politicians login to these sites to connect with constituents and hear their voices. Campaign managers and activists try to rally people through these sites. Market researchers try to get a sense of people’s opinions through these sites. Educators try to connect with students and build knowledge sharing communities. This is fantastic. But there isn’t one uniform public sphere. And if the ways in which we construct the digital public sphere reinforce the divisions that we’ve been trying to break down, we’ve got a problem.

I can’t recommend enough that you read the entire text of danah’s talk. It is just this kind of research and critical thinking that we need to understand where we are, why we are where we are, and where we are going. We need to consider a world outside of ourselves and our own experiences. Until we understand it, we can’t compensate for it, let alone work to make it better.


The Anthropology of Online Community

Posted by kellie on May 20, 2009 in Culture, Online Community, Social Media
Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/candiedwomanire

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/candiedwomanire


I’ve been thinking about starting a PhD. This is the point where everyone who knew me while I was working on my MBA starts shaking their head. Being a full-time grad student while working full-time wasn’t easy, and I’m sure being a PhD student while working full-time is even more difficult. Outside of the time, money, and sanity issues involved, I have another problem. I don’t know what to study. There are really no degrees in social media or online community. I already have a degree in business and marketing. (Also, criminal justice, which some might say comes in handy at times too.) 

I had never really thought much about anthropology until I saw this video of Michael Wesch speaking at the Library of Congress about the anthropology of YouTube. It’s a long video (55 minutes), but if you haven’t seen it and you’re at all interested in culture and social media, I highly recommend it.



Culture is one of my favorite things to speak about at conferences or when talking to people about their online communities. A lot of “behavioral” issues with members boil down to culture issues. Have a troll wreaking havoc on your forums? He’s violating your community’s culture. Your users are all being mean to the new people? They’ve gone off on their own and formed their own culture and norms. Culture is one of the most overlooked things in setting up and forming community.

It’s easy to think of the internet as having one culture (how many times have you heard the phrase “internet culture”?) but it’s not really true. The internet is full of smaller groups, each with their own distinct culture. For example, the behavior that is expected on LinkedIn is different than what is expected on I Can Has Cheezburger

Because of my interest in the cultural differences on the internet, I read this article an Microgeist with much enthusiasm. The walkthroughs of society, culture, norms, language, values, status, roles and other anthropological  items in relation to social media is fascinating, and so true. I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion — when dealing with the mostly-impersonal internet, it’s easy to forget that you’re still just talking about people and behavior. We should all keep this front-of-mind as we build, manage, and maintain communities. Because it’s what community is ultimately all about — people, behavior, and relationships. 

The article states that communities and social media have not received a lot of anthropological study. I really wonder why, because it seems both timely and absolutely fascinating. I am so inspired by Michael Wesch’s videos and work. Maybe I should think seriously about that PhD again.

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