Thursday, April 19, 2012

Blog 6 - Essentially, these are the essentials

Since our midterm exam we’ve primarily explored social media from numerous angles. We’ve also talked quite a bit about DJ culture, “the remix”, copyright law, and intellectual property. I sort of feel like the issue of remixing/sampling, for me, has been kind of beaten into the ground (see footnote), so I’d like to direct this blog towards a discussion of social media, its use, its function, best practices, and how important it is that we maintain an effort to continue to evaluate how social media might be changing the way we operate in society.
            Throughout the second half of the semester we’ve covered social media topics such as the elements and attributes of social network sites (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter), the ways in which most people use these services,  how non-profit organizations use social media, how businesses, both large and small, use these public websites to promote products and build customer relationships, as well as privacy issues and how we (the class) respond to our understanding of what online privacy means to us and how businesses such as Google collect our personal information. (That was a long sentence. Sorry!)
            I think the fact that just about everyone we know uses some kind of social media site on a somewhat regular bases demonstrates how entrenched in online social activities we’ve become in the last decade or so. By this I mean that so many people are using the Internet so frequently, and that a lot of us, just about every time we log onto the Net, check our Facebook. Or we watch a YouTube video. Or maybe we just got online to send a TED talk to a friend that would really be interested in the topic. Because of the change I’ve seen in the way people use the Internet since I was younger, I think that it’s kind of strange that Internet users use these services as frequently as we do, but at the same time I think that this really isn’t strange at all. Keeping in touch on Facebook doesn’t seem so far away from keeping in touch with people via email, or snail mail, or even through phones. Social network sites simply allow us to be more involved with communicating in new and interesting ways.
            Non-Profit businesses have been using social media services to connect with people in new ways as well. Organizations like PETA have developed an incredibly strong Internet presence by creating expansive profiles on all the major (and probably minor) social media sites. PETA wants to be seen by the public. And thanks to the multiple social media sites available, they have a way to provide people with numerous ways to connect, engage, and explore their organization at little or no cost at all. Users who are really interested can continue to explore additional sites to get even more info, become more immersed in the groups efforts.
            Similarly, for-profit businesses use social media to promote services and build customer relationships. Companies know that people like to surf the web and explore new things. We’ve got a million different things out there to buy and companies are only too happy to make those products and services available for us to browse, explore, and BUY! Additionally, social media services allow companies to communicate with their customers or fans in ways that build stronger relationships, right the wrongs, and advertise, advertise, (you know we can never get enough ads), advertise.
            Social media is also a great tool for building a behind-the-scenes profile about you as a consumer. When we think of how companies are tracking who we are, where we go, and what we do online we often feel a little stressed out. I don’t think any of us really love the idea that Google can tell us where we are at any given time (or that this info could be obtained by people we don’t even know), but we do appreciate it when Google tells us to avoid a potentially bad traffic jam, or that it is indeed 5 o’clock somewhere and happy hour just started at a dive around the corner. As we continue to become more immersed in the Net we need to be increasingly aware of our increased online visibility to others and subsequent vulnerability as well.
            The most important thing that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about this semester is an overarching understanding of how significantly (not to mention rapidly) the Internet has impacted our lives, our society, and our culture. Times are a-changin’! I feel that it is extremely important for us to constantly examine and evaluate the influence that digital technologies are having on the way we operate in society, and how our technologically enhanced society influences the way we operate within it.

My personal opinions on this matter are fairly cut and dry. I think that it is impossible to avoid creative or artistic influences, and I also think it’s great to rethink/refresh/remix old ideas. The legality of the issue is something that fewer artists are concerned with and is primarily an issue with, believe it or not, people that have no creative abilities at all and only hope to gain by suing people who do create art. However, artists that do use material from other artists should definitely consider the importance of crediting their sources – and paying up when necessary.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Authorship and Originality

I've done some poking around on the "Who Sampled" website and haven't really come up with anything specific that is worth describing here. My feeling is that no matter how much digging around on the site I won't find anything new and interesting that I haven't already noticed about what this site does. As far as I can tell, the site mainly focuses on 3 types of sampling: actual audio clips (vocal or melodic) that were "borrowed" from past musical works; audio clips that were "borrowed" from pop culture (film/television/broadcast radio/etc.); and drumbeats, basslines, guitar hooks, etc., that sound very similar to another past work.
I think that this website is pretty great because as it becomes more complete it demonstrates the huge scope of the issue of sampling and borrowing old ideas. Unfortunately, I also feel that this site can never be complete because we can't really point out every single idea that has ever been reused. It would be impossible to us to determine ever single instance of an idea or riff that was inspired by an older artist, or a dramatic scene in a movie, or an interesting relationship between members of a story. It would be (I believe) impossible even to make a list of every audio clip that artists have sampled simply because of the huge variety of artists.
I've mentioned a little in class about my appreciation for Industrial music. The genre relies heavily on samples found in pop culture. One of my favorite KMFDM songs does not have any vocals. The only text in the song is a montage of samples of political leaders, televangelists, commercials for "The Best of Guns!Guns!Guns!" and dialog from a hog hunting TV show. The members of the band could probably never tell you where they got the samples. It probably just isn't important. The words used in the music serve a purpose for the musicians and that's the only thing that matters.
Daphne Keller quotes Thomas Jefferson in her article, "The Musician as a Thief": " individual may exclusively possess [an idea] as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone" (Keller 2). The ideas that those political leaders, televangelists, and hog hunters shared in their respective broadcasts were taken by KMFDM and shared in a creative way. Their ideas were not "stolen", they were reproduced. I don't believe you can claim to own an idea, and I also don't believe that artists will ever be able to disassociate themselves from what inspires them.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Facebook Privacy Settings

I think Facebook is doing a good job of making information available about how they collect and use information about their users within their privacy policy page. When we agree to use a service like Facebook we agree to whatever terms they have set up and we maintain that agreement by continuing use of the service. Facebook isn't holding any secrets about the fact that they are compiling huge amounts of information for each and every one of its users and selling it to – well, they don’t tell you who exactly they’re selling it to, but more than likely it’s: product development, advertising, lending institutions, etc.  Facebook is collecting data about what its users are doing when we're not even actively using the Facebook website. They’re logging information the websites we use, the people we associate with, where we get our news, our political interests, the things we like to buy, etc.
I think it kinda sucks that companies are collecting information about my comments/photos/browsing/buying habits because I value privacy and I wonder if my browsing habits could somehow have a negative effect on me. On the bright side, if whoever is reading the information they've been logging about me is actually paying attention, they might learn that I'm 100% resistant to advertising and might just give up on me completely. Data-mining individual information isn't really a new thing, but is definitely cropping up in the news more often now - probably because the ever increasing popularity of social media sites in conjunction with the technology to more effectively build profiles for everyone using the Internet. 
It’s seems pretty obvious to me that Facebook, like Google/Google+/Youtube/Gmail and their new privacy policy, is making their new policies really obvious to their users because they would like to avoid any potential backlash. If consumers suddenly became aware of what these companies are doing in regards to collecting and selling our info they might freak out. If, on the other hand, social media sites are open about what they are doing they can basically just tell us that the “new” privacy settings are really just there to improve the service and to improve our user experience within consumer culture.


After reading the additional articles I'm really starting to get the bigger picture of how deep the issue of privacy really is. We can start by thinking about privacy on a "ground level" where we have utilities on sites like Facebook that allow us to limit the amount of information that we share with other Facebook users (ie: public versus private accounts, comments that only some users can see, etc.). Next we consider privacy on the level of what we think companies like Google and Facebook know about us (interests, online shopping habits, gender, religion, household income).
Most Facebook users would probably agree that we have a fair amount of control over what we want other users to see, but it's still really difficult to determine what our "behind the scenes" online profile looks like. Most of us would like to know how much an advertising firm knows about us. We'd also like to know how much information can be hacked from these profiles by predators or scam artists. One of the articles mentioned the Obama administration making efforts to regulate the amount and types of information that companies like Google should be allowed to document. I feel like this is a necessary step because Internet users seem to be increasingly vulnerable in terms of real privacy.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Following Dunkin' Donuts on Twitter - Best Experience EVER

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are becoming increasingly important tools for marketing groups within companies both large and small. Many companies are starting to utilize these sorts of websites because of the high frequency of user traffic that social network sites generate. These websites have become a valuable marketplace for companies to advertise to their fans as well as to build stronger customer relationships.
            Over the past week or two I’ve been following Dunkin’ Donuts on Twitter, and I’ve also been paying attention to the way Dunkin’ Donuts uses Facebook. In this essay I’ll explore some of the strategies that I’ve noticed Dunkin’ Donuts has been using and how I perceive these strategies as they affect the public perception of the company.
            Unlike many of the other companies that I casually browsed on Twitter, Dunkin’ Donuts seldom creates unique posts about new products, images, or casual fun tweets. The greater majority of their tweets are simple, positive responses to other users’ posts (i.e., “@marybethphotoss great picture”! – response to:  “Love my @dunkindonuts on this beautiful day (link to picture of product”). When DD responds to a user post, they typically use words like “we” or “our” to indicate to the user that the Dunkin’ Donuts Twitter representative is an ambassador for the entire company instead of a single employee. This is important because the company needs to maintain a company image rather than a company that just has friendly employees.
I think that this type of engagement with the user is, at a minimum, doing two things for DD’s image and customer relationship: they are creating a more personal relationship with individual fans of the company by maintaining a friendly dialog with people who are trying to communicate with them, and they are also dropping their business name in as many places as possible. This second aspect of DD’s Twitter and Facebook use is probably the most important because fans of DD already like their brand – it’s when the fan tells their friends about their positive experience that promotes the growth of their fan base as well as the growth of their customer base.
            The Dunkin’ Donuts Facebook page is a bit different that the Twitter page because there are more posts that include daily deals and images of products. It doesn’t look like whoever is running the Facebook page is actively responding to fans. This is probably because Twitter is a platform that makes responding to users that use the “@user” feature much simpler. The Facebook page does allow for a collection of images, as well as a “profile pic” that shows up on the front page. The current profile pic is an image of the “Dunkin’ Donuts Fan of the Week”. This is a weekly competition of sorts that encourages fans to submit images of themselves enjoying DD products. It’s pretty obvious that this competition not only encourages people to go out and buy more, but it also encourages people to invest personal time into trying to win a chance to be featured on the DD Facebook page (and what an honor that would be).
            In his article 7 Ways to Create a Memorable Customer Experience With Social Media, Dave Toliver describes some important elements of social media use that businesses should acknowledge. Toliver points out that by creating a place for customers or fans to talk about the company they’ve opened the door to user compliments as well as complaints (Toliver). This is OK, according to Toliver, because the bottom line is that people are talking about your business. In the cases where people are making positive comments about DD, the DD Twitter team retweets and responds to the user post in order to highlight and showcase a positive customer experience. When users post complaints about service the DD Twitter team has an opportunity to respond to the user in order to rectify the experience or to “make things right” so that they don’t lose a customer.
            Recently, a story broke out where a New York DD branch refused service to members of the US armed forces. Navy Seals ORG tweeted the story (which has since been debunked by local news and an internal DD investigation) and many of their fans retweeted the message ("We heard about the US Military members being denied service by @dunkindonuts in Elmira NY owned by Middle Eastern people. Reverse Racism!"). Because of the handy “@” feature, DD was able to respond to each user post individually with a simple message that included a link to the story (We take matters like this seriously & immediately looked into the matter. More info: ^JG). If Dunkin’ Donuts wasn’t making use of social media this rumor could have spread all over Twitter without any chance for Dunkin’ Donuts to defend itself. They would have had to depend on other users to debunk the rumor – which would likely not happen on the same scale that DD was able to respond.
            Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd discuss imagined audience in their article I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately. In this article the authors talk about how Twitter users imagine their audience when making posts. I think that a strong understanding of ones audience is important for individuals when making comments because we sometimes forget who is actually reading what we have to say. This is even more important for businesses because their image is something that can be easily tarnished by a few bad posts. Dunkin’ Donuts seems to be adhering to a strict method of responding to positive comments with appreciative responses and acknowledging complaints when they arise with suggestions or by making an effort to rectify the problem. Whoever DD imagines their audience to be, they can probably rest assured knowing that anyone who is reading their comments and posts are likely to think that the DD Twitter team is respectful, appreciative, and acts as an ambassador for the DD company.
            It’s difficult to gauge how much of an effect Dunkin’ Donuts’ use of social media has improved its relationship with its customers. It seems likely, however, that by using social media sites like Twitter, DD has improved its relationship at least with those people who are willing to follow them on Twitter or become fans on Facebook. I think people like to feel that their business with a company is appreciated, and social media sites make individual communications like this possible.
            In addition to making connections with individual fans, social media is also a great way for companies to drop their name over and over again. For advertisers, having the brand’s name pop up in as many places is incredibly important. The frequency in which people talk about your company is also paramount to increasing customer base. If DD responds to a positive comment that a user has made about the service they got with an appreciative comment, the original user may retweet or show their friends the personalized response that they received. This improves Dunkin’ Donuts’ image for the original customer as well as their image for the friends of that customer. The bottom line is that social media provides a new avenue for communication on a personal level and new means of advertising to people. Clearly, social media is an important element for advertisers and marketing groups of any business.

Boyd, Danah and Alice E. Marwick. “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately: Twitter
Users, Context Collapse, and the Imagined Audience”. New Media Society 2011 13:114 Web. 7 July 2010.
“Dunkin’ Donuts” Twitter. n.p. Web. 22 March 2012.
Toliver, David. “7 Ways to Create a Memorable Customer Experience With Social Media” Mashable. n.p. Web. 22 March 2012.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Researchin' PETA

Before visiting the PETA website for the first time I had a fair bit of knowledge of what the organization is about. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is a pro-animal rights organization that encourages people all over the world to respect the livelihoods of animals in captivity for research, for animals used for food, animals used for clothing, etc. The group uses public demonstrations as well as a large number of online resources to encourage the groups growth and to spread information on the issues with which animal rights activists are concerned.

The homepage of the website features articles, videos, news about celebrities and their opinions about animal treatment, links to information on vegan recipes and clothing options, as well as a donate button and details about membership. The navigation bar at the top divides the largest areas of the website and includes a tab for information on PETA's position on animal rights issues, how to take action, how to live animal product free, and - probably most importantly for this assignment - a tab for making connections with  the friends and followers of PETA via social network sites like Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, etc. This tab, in addition to the respective links for the aforementioned satellite websites, provides information on how users might interact with the other online PETA sources. The 'Connect' page is especially convenient for me as a researcher (or as a person interested in the group) because I don't have to go hunt all over the Internet to find ways to share my "like" or "interest" in the group.

The way that PETA is using web space is pretty impressive. The website itself is fairly encyclopedic in the information is has to present and covers a fairly wide variety of topics that individual users might find interesting. Beyond the website, a live Twitter feed keeps fans updated on current issues and successful projects. The Tumblr page has a pretty long list of similar content with pictures and videos. PETA's Facebook page has nearly 1.4 million likes.

The producers of PETA's online media seem to really be trying to get people to become fans of their group by showing funny cartoons, videos, games, and other interactive media while simultaneously hosting a large database of information about animal treatment. People who already support animal rights are going to feel right at home when they find the PETA website and it's community. A Twitter follower or a new Facebook like is going to greatly increase the sites exposure to new people. PETA is definitely taking advantage of social media to support their organization.

Does it matter when people "like" PETA on Facebook? Is the organization and it's followers gaining anything from social media? I'd say that Leo Mirani's position on this subject is a little more accurate. PETA uses social media to increase conversation on a topic that a lot of people are already concerned with, and a lot of other people would be concerned with if they only had access to the information that PETA provides. In this way they are successful.

Monday, January 30, 2012

So far this semester...

I think some of the most important takeaways that I’ve come across from the readings and group discussions in this course so far this semester include understanding the multiple elements of Web 2.0, crowdsourcing, media convergence, the concept of cognitive surplus, and the difference between communal and civic collaborative efforts.
Web 2.0 is a kind of umbrella term that is used to describe the many ways in which people use the Internet. Web 2.0 is a new level of web usability that encourages audience members to become active participants in the development of websites and applications in order to create a more robust online experience for everyone. The concept of the perpetual beta describes the limitless potential for improvement to individual sites or apps – meaning we no longer see applications as having a final form but instead we have the opportunity to continuously update and improve content and applications. As users generate more and more content for certain sites (such as a restaurant rating application for a smart phone) a web-community develops and blooms into a stronger and more effective utility.
Crowdsourcing is a term used to describe our ability to use the Internet as a place to recruit people from all over the world in whatever goal you’re trying to accomplish. In the example of the lost/stolen taxi-cab phone, one person was able to recruit an entire of army of followers who were willing to support his cause. With the help of a few million readers and a number of helpful law enforcement officials, one man was able to get a lost/stolen phone back for his sister.
            Within the new framework of Web 2.0 we also see the emergence of media convergence. This convergence is the site at which media producers and their audiences meet. Once content is created and presented to the world, people with access can comment and often engage with the content in a way that might influence future works by the author. The rate of exchange between the two parties is faster than ever before because of digital communicative technologies.
            Cognitive Surplus is an idea that describes our ability to contribute and collaborate with one another within a global online community. All the free time that the people of the world have to collaborate on projects is lumped together through digital technologies and the Internet. The web provides the platform in which the large scale efforts can take place for virtually any type of project. People with similar interests in working on projects are no longer separated by geographic distances because the tools for online collaboration connect everyone who wants to participate in any specific effort.
            Collaborative efforts that take place within online communities can typically be classified as either communal or civic efforts. Communal efforts, such as lolcats and other popular Internet memes, have value which is created by participants for participants of that web-community. In other words, members of this type of community that value lolcats humor can also generate new content to contribute to the community. The other major type of collaborative effort is a civic effort. In this scenario, producers of media do so in order to enhance or improve society in a new way. An example of this type of effort is