Electronic Communication: The Aftermath

Although Amazon had a slight glitch with our promotional on the first day, our first week went remarkably well.  We “sold” 143 copies of our ebook — apparently, people are scouring Amazon for anything they can purchase for free.  We have also had one legitimate purchase of the book.  I have to admit, I am fairly shocked (and a little anxious) that 144 people have looked at our class’s work.  Since it seemed like too much work to set up a system in which the English Department would get the royalties, my account will be receiving the profits. I’m not expecting too many more purchases, but then again I didn’t expect 144 downloads during the first week, either.  If we do start making money from future purchases, I’m planning to donate it–probably to NSCA since that’s the organization I worked with for class.

This is likely my last post for EC457 – Good job everyone!

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We’re Published!

It’s the day I’m sure you have all been anxiously awaiting since summer started: our ebook has been published on Amazon!  Electronic Communication is available for purchase here.  The regular price is $0.99, but we will be running a 5-day free promotion starting on June 24th in honor of my birthday!*  I hope you will all check it out and get a copy while it’s free, even if you don’t have a Kindle.  At the very least, make sure to search your name in Amazon.com to see what comes up 😉

*Actually, the date is a complete coincidence.  The book was ready to be purchased today, and so tomorrow is the first day that I could begin the promotion.

Reconnecting

After being without Internet access for over a week, I am back and putting our class ebook together.  So far, I have chapters from Oscar, Dominic, Alyssa, Jess, Alyda, Kelsey, Marie, Jason, John, and myself.  I’m tweaking the chapters slightly so that they’ll be easier to edit en masse if I decide to change the formatting, which brings me to some questions:

1. Any suggestions for the formatting of the book?  Text, paragraph style, headings, titles, etc.?

2. What should we call our book?  Do we want to name it after New New Media, EC 457, or something else?

3. Any idea for cover art?

Let’s see if we can still get discussions going in the comments.

Theory, Tools, and Practice

Thanks to increasing technology (and, more importantly, the increasing use of technology), research is increasing in fields such as electronic communications and digital humanities.  Books and articles in these areas are frequently being written only to be outdated once a new type of media or tool becomes widely used.  However, rather than viewing this research as futile, it should encourage people to work harder to stay up to date on electronic communications research.  Three books that can currently help people understand electronic communications and its impact on society are Here Comes Everybody, New New Media, and The Networked Nonprofit.

Although these three books are all in the field of electronic communications, they cover very different topics and have very different purposes.  In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky takes a theoretical approach to studying electronic communications.  He studies the large impacts that technology is playing in society, specifically when it comes to forming and using networks.  Paul Levinson in New New Media, however, narrows in on specific technologies and media that are currently among the most popular and used.  Instead of trying to form a wide, over-arching theory, Levinson wants to provide students and schools with information on the media that are currently a large part of everyone’s daily lives because he feels that classes have been slow in discussing them.  In The Networked Nonprofit, Beth Kanter and Allison H. Fine combine these approaches by showing how the theory of social media and the current tools available can be put into practice by nonprofit organizations.  Their goal is to help nonprofit organizations understand the Internet and use it to increase their productivity and effectiveness.  The next section of this review will describe these three books in more detail and show what I learned from each one.

 

Here Comes Everybody

Shirky’s book primarily deals with networks and crowdsourcing.  In order to understand his ideas, you need to understand what he sees as a primary characteristics of society: “Society is not just the product of its individual members: it is also the product of its constituent groups” (14).  He provides the example of taking an individual bee and trying to understand the work that it does (17).  Much as the bee’s activities cannot be understood apart from the hive to which it belongs, studying individuals without regards to the networks they are a part of does not provide a clear picture.  Part of this network is the technology that connects people.  As Shirky explains, “When we change the way we communicate, we change society” (17), so recent advances in communicating technology has been noticeably impacting society as a whole.

In order to study technology’s impacts on society, Shirky describes several events involving networking that would not have been possible a decade ago.  His examples range from retrieving a stolen phone by using a personal website, MySpace, Digg, and a public online bulletin board to activists in Egypt communicating via Twitter and cell phones to halt traffic and negotiate the release of an arrested man.

By analyzing these examples, Shirky comes to several important conclusions.  The first is that most projects that require crowdsourcing follow a power law distribution trend (123).  In this trend, there is a major imbalance of the work done among participants.  For websites suck as Flickr and Wikipedia, a large portion of the content comes from a small percentage of the participants.  The average participant hardly does any work: for example, less than two percent of Wikipedia users contribute to the encyclopedia’s articles (125).

Another conclusion that Shirky draws is that successful networks involve “a plausible promise, an effective tool, and an acceptable bargain with the users” (260).  These three components have led to the success of systems such as Linux and Wikipedia, and failing to understand these components has led to the downfall of projects such as Microsoft Encarta.  By describing these key criteria, Shirky is providing a practical way to use the theoretical observations that are included in this book.

The power law distribution and the three components of a successful network are two of the key ideas that I gained from this book.  I also learned that the concern many people have of the Internet destroying traditional media such as newspapers and book publishers is very similar to the discrimination that the printing press faced when it was introduced, yet society learned to adapt to the new technology and will continue to do so.  By describing the Birthday paradox, Shirky also taught me how networks are much more complex than I had originally viewed them.  I also appreciated learning about media such as MeetUp and Flickr.  However, most of the information that I have learned about specific forms of media came from Levinson’s book, New New Media.

 

New New Media

The key term that readers need to know while reading Levinson’s book is new new media.  Levinson describes new new media as media in which every consumer is a producer, the users are nonprofessionals, using the media is free, and the media benefits and works alongside other media (1-2).  He differentiates this from “old” new media by explaining that websites and email are having less noticeable impact on society compared to newer media like YouTube and Facebook.  Levinson’s definition for new new media encompasses both tools and websites.  This book specifically focuses on nine types of new new media: blogging, YouTube, Wikipedia, Digg, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, and podcasting.

Levinson’s approach to studying new new media is similar to that of many users: he gradually explored them on his own, making use of the tools that seemed to benefit him at the time or that were interesting.  Because of this, much of New New Media focuses on Levinson’s personal experience in new new media and how he views their usefulness.  Some readers may be put off by this approach, especially since many of Levinson’s stories involve self-marketing.  However, Levinson does provide other examples of people using new new media.  His last two chapters are dedicated to the 2008 presidential election and to negative uses of new new media.

Although Levinson mentions several events connected to new new media, he does not consider the larger impacts on society in the same way that Shirky does.  Levinson instead focuses on events that were linked to a specific form of new new media, such as the “Leave Britney Alone” YouTube video and Rep. Peter Hoekstra’s tweets about visiting Baghdad.  In other words, instead of making an argument about new new media, he mostly is just describing them for his readers.

New New Media is very helpful for people who are not yet comfortable with all of the tools described within the book.  Personally, I learned how new new media like blogs and Second Life can be used to create profit.  I also gained more insight into the reasons people use Second Life, from recreational to business.  Levinson also made me rethink the way I viewed certain new new media.  For instance, comparing Wikipedia with a newspaper that is quickly updated was not something I had considered before.  I also appreciated Levinson’s explanation on the importance of comments in blogs: “A blog without comments is like a flightless bird: The blog may make important contributions or bring satisfaction to its writer, but it will be lacking one of the signature characteristics of new new media, interacting with the audience” (21).  I found this advice very applicable because previously I would have been wary of allowing too many comments on my personal blog, but now I see comments as a necessity for creating conversation online.  Levinson also describes how blogs can be used to connect with people unexpectedly; Levinson provides several examples of celebrities or people closely connected to celebrities commenting on his blog.  Although Levinson clearly views such connections as beneficial, he does not describe how to use the connections as much as Kanter and Fine do in The Networked Nonprofit.

The Networked Nonprofit

Kanter and Fine, like Shirky and Levinson, also begin their book by defining an important term: “Networked nonprofits are simple and transparent organizations” (3).  This might appear to be a short definition, but Kanter and Fine spend much of the book explaining how nonprofits can remove some of the complex organizational structures that inhibit participation and how they can freely share the work they are doing and the needs they have.

The Networked Nonprofit is divided into three sections.  The first section describes what it means for a nonprofit to become networked and why they should attempt to do so.  The second section describes how to become a networked nonprofit, drawing on Shirky’s work to explain how social networks form and operate.  It also echoes the advice of Levinson by stating that nonprofits need to listen to the public and respond to people’s concerns.  The final section covers how to continue functioning as a networked nonprofit once the relationships have been formed.  These chapters explain how to maintain social connections, crowdsource effectively, and request funding in a way that doesn’t alienate the organization’s followers.

One of the primary messages that Kanter and Fine communicate with nonprofits is that they must be willing to loosen their control of the organization, let go of traditional methods, and embrace the new philosophies that come with new media.  Being transparent about the organization’s activities and needs and simplifying the structure that has become an integral part of the organization can be frightening, but it allows interested people to see what they can do to help the organization and be able to provide services without going through so much red tape.

Unlike New Nea Media and Here Comes Everybody, The Networked Nonprofit is written for a very specific audience: nonprofits that want to improve their social networks and presence online.  Therefore, much of the advice can only be applied if one is currently working for a nonprofit, but as a student I still learned several things from it.  It’s descriptions of the traditional model of a nonprofit showed me the way that many organizations currently function, and I also learned how some of this model can be trimmed to make the organization operate more efficiently through networking.  Like Levinson’s book, the explanation for why nonprofits should be listening and responding to comments was enlightening.  Kanter and Fine also did a good job of showing how crowds can be used to gather information, create new products, vote, and raise funds.  Finally, a key idea that I learned from Kanter and Fine is that each new online tool has a specific function, so it’s important to select the tools that I need and use them properly instead of trying all types of new media at once.

Recommendations

Here Comes Everybody, New New Media, and The Networked Nonprofit describe the theory, tools, and practice of electronic communications, respectively.  Here Comes Everybody adds the most to the academic conversation surrounding electronic communications and provided the most illuminating examples of people using new media.  Also, since Here Comes Everybody relies more on the characteristics of society and less on the specific tools, it is likely to remain relevant for longer than the other books.  However, I do not feel it is an essential read for college students who are experimenting with electronic communications.  Instead, it is important for students to understand what tools are available to them and how the tools can be used.  New New Media does an adequate job of describing the tools, although I can envision better resources.  For example, I believe that a collection of essays in which different experts describe one type of new media that they have extensive experience with would be more beneficial than reading about one person’s experience in all of these media.  The Networked Nonprofit, although it is clearly aimed at nonprofits instead of students, is still very pertinent for this class, and it includes some of the important points brought up by Shirky in Here Comes Everybody; therefore, I would recommend that this book continue to be used in future semesters.

Regardless of my personal experience with these books, they all serve a specific function and are targeted to a specific audience.  I would not recommend that people interested in electronic communications read all of them, but I would recommend that these people consider what they want to learn about electronic communications and select the book that will meet this need.

I Still Say Nooks Are Cooler

Since Kindle seems to have the overwhelming majority (pfff, you guys are way too mainstream), that is the route we’ll go as a class.  Naturally, the next step for me is to receive all of your essays, but first I would appreciate it if you could take a few minutes and follow some guidelines I have created.  This will make it easier for me to convert the document into an ebook, it will keep our book from looking like chaos, and it will likely save me a few headaches.  Here are the formatting guidelines I came up with:

  1. Use Microsoft Word and save it as .doc or .docx
  2. Change all font to Times New Roman size 12 and left-justify.
  3. Make sure the document is single-spaced (not 1.15 space, which is the default for some computers)
  4. Your chapter title and your name should be left-justified, size 20.  Bold the chapter name.  Add a blank space underneath your name.
  5. Underline and capitalize any headings in the document and add an extra space above them (not below)
  6. Italicize any subheadings and add an extra space above them (not below)
  7. Indent all paragraphs (but not headings or subheadings) by formatting the paragraphs so that the first line is at .5″  Do NOT use the tab button on the keyboard.
  8. Remove any bulleted lists and just use dashes (-) instead.
  9. Underline hyperlinks (but keep them as black text rather than blue).
  10. Do not use any headers or footers (including page numbers).  I will add these later.
  11. For your works cited page, insert a page break (don’t use the enter/return key) and align everything completely to the left without any special indentation.  Add an extra space between each entry.

Again, following these guidelines will make my life MUCH easier.  I am open to other suggestions for formatting, so please feel free to comment.  However, I would prefer to change those formatting issues myself after I’ve collected everything rather than get a bunch of essays that are following different guidelines.  You can download my essay following this format to see what it looks like: SandbulteChapter

If there is something unique about your essay that makes following these guidelines difficult, let me know.  It’s not the end of the world if you choose to deviate slightly from this if there’s a good reason to.

Almost There!

Since the semester is wrapping up and I’m sure everyone wants to throw off anything that resembles coursework, I wanted to write a quick blog post to inform you that this will not be my last blog post.  As I get to work constructing our class ebook, I will make sure to keep everyone updated through my blog, so please don’t forget to check it every once in a while.  Also, if you haven’t done so already, please read and vote about our options.

But, since everyone else is saying farewell to the course, I also wanted to add that it’s been great conversing with all of you online, reading your blog posts, and seeing the work you’ve done for local nonprofits.  Also, to those of you who are graduating, congratulations and best of luck for your future plans!

Board Meeting II: The Approval

As I mentioned in this previous post, NSCA wanted Dom and I to create a sample website using WordPress and show it to them at their next board meeting.  That was today, so once again I headed over to the NSCA office.  Feeling that I should have something physical to hand them, I made small slips of papers with pictures of our NSCA WordPress site, the new NSCA Facebook page, and a brief description of the benefits of these services.

Before the meeting started, Abraham Malok had me show a few members the website.  I then had to sit around and twiddle my thumbs as the Board talked with another visitor who was helping NSCA with a different project.  Once that business was over, I explained to the Board what Dominic and I had accomplished so far.  When the president of the Board asked me what I wanted from the Board to continue the project, I realized that Dominic and I hadn’t articulated with each other what we needed.  This strikes me as a rookie mistake–going to a Board meeting shouldn’t be about showing off what we had done but about proposing some sort of action for the Board to decide upon.  After thinking about it for a moment, I came up with the next steps to complete this project:

  • Receive permission to make the Facebook Page public and invite people to “like” it
  • Receive confirmation on the website and permission to begin replacing the old one
  • Train 2-3 people in NSCA so they can update the website and Facebook page by themselves

After discussing this for a little while, the Board said they would make a decision later in the meeting.  They also expressed two primary concerns: coming up with a unique logo so they wouldn’t have to worry about copyright, and coming up with a way for people to donate online.  Luckily, I had briefly looked into online donating options earlier this week, so I explained a few of their options and promised to give them more concrete details later if they wanted to move ahead with online donations.  After that, we thanked each other for our time, and I headed out.

A few hours later, Dominic and I received an email from Abraham giving us permission to make the WordPress site and Facebook page official. 🙂

So You Want to be an Ebook Writer . . .

Since I am taking our Electronic Communications course as a field experience instead of a regular class, I get to do a few additional projects.  One of those projects is collecting our essays into an ebook.  Since you all have worked hard on your essays and may want a copy of this ebook, I wanted to get your feedback on the format of the ebook:

  • Amazon Kindle: As John has explained in his essay and blog, it is possible to create a book and sell it on Amazon.  This would require everyone to edit their essay to fit a very specific format so that the essays would transfer to the Kindle.  Also, we would need to charge a price for the book.  This means somebody could get money from our book, but I don’t know who that would be or how we would decide this.  Also, we wouldn’t be able to distribute free copies.
  • Barnes & Noble Nook: Pretty much the same as the Amazon Kindle, but slightly more awesome because I own a nook.  If the formats are similar enough, we could potentially do both.
  • iBook: This program would allow me to create a book that is ideal for iPads but could be used on pretty much any computer.  This could include color pictures, videos, and audio (if anybody used these).  It can be distributed through iTunes for free or for a price.  There are also options to upload these iBooks to Amazon and B&N, but they typically don’t work well with Kindles or Nooks.
  • Generic Programs: There are hundreds of other lesser-known websites that can create and distribute eBooks.  Some of them would possibly work on Nooks and maybe Kindles.  You can see some examples at this website.  Basically, this is the way to go if you don’t like the features of the top three choices.
  • PDFs: Simple, quick, but not too exciting.  Some people would argue that a PDF is not a real ebook.  On the other hand, it’s very portable between computers.

I would really appreciate it if everybody in the class could vote once.  Also, if you have other options or additional information that I haven’t included, please add comments!

Also, I might as well mention that another project I’m doing for this class is to give a 20-minute presentation on my collaborative writing essay at an authorship mini-conference taking place at NDSU.  The conference will be in the Hidatsa room from 2-4:30 p.m. on May 2nd.  If anyone wants to hear my presentation and has absolutely nothing to do during dead week (yeah right), feel free to come!  I’m the last presenter, and there will be a break around 3:15, so you could come to watch only the second half of the conference.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

I’m a little hesitant to write this post because it might just make Dominic and me look bad, but I wanted to share some ideas with the class.  Since working with the NSCA, I’ve seen several ways that we could have capitalized on events to gain more publicity.  This post stem from an earlier post I made that Kate Bladow responded to with the idea of newsjacking.  Basically, newsjacking is about taking something in the news and connecting it to your organization. While the following examples aren’t all newsjacking, they could have been used to get people to check out NSCA:

  • Simon Deng, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, gave a talk at NDSU on Tuesday.  I found out about the talk Monday morning, and since the NDSU website had conflicting information about the time, I ended up missing it.  I don’t know for sure if Mr. Deng mentioned NSCA, but it would have been nice if we could have had handouts ready that would point people at the event to NSCA’s brand new website and Facebook page.
  • An article on inforum (an online newspaper for Fargo-Moorhead) was just published about a Fargo woman who is helping orphaned girls in Sudan.  This is a heartwarming, local piece (Dr. Brooks is mentioned in it) that would be perfect for telling people in Fargo-Moorhead about the opportunity to help Sudanese refugees in their communities.  I could imagine NSCA sharing this link with people and trying to get in contact with the reporter to see if she would be interested in a followup story.
  • War is breaking out again between Sudan and South Sudan.  This is terrible and in no way should be taken lightly or as an opportunity for advertisement.  However, I would personally be interested in hearing what members of NSCA have to say about this controversy, and I’m sure other people would be interested to hear as well.  Having NSCA representatives provide comments on news sites and post reflections on Facebook would help raise awareness, allow people not familiar with the controversy to understand it better, and provide NSCA with more community support.

Unfortunately, these opportunities don’t seem feasible at the moment (from my perspective, but feel free to disagree).  The NSCA Board wants to see what Dominic and I can create in terms of a website and a Facebook page before accepting it, so at the moment we can’t direct people to anything other than the current NSCA website (which Dominic has already wisely done on Facebook while sharing the inforum article).  I completely understand why NSCA feels this way, and I don’t feel as though Dominic and I are being lazy by not taking advantage of these opportunities considering the current status of our project, so I’m not blaming anyone.  I just wanted to mention these as examples of how a non-profit organization could get more attention.

Board Meeting with NSCA

Today I attended a board meeting for the New Sudanese Community Association to discuss Dominic’s and my project.  I brought along a draft of our project plan and the WordPress handout, but I figured the meeting would involve more speaking than reading, and I was right.

After I introduced myself and explained our class project, I gave the board members the papers and explained that Dominic and I want to help NSCA connect with more volunteers and donors by creating a website that NSCA can more easily update and a Facebook page.  I told them that we thought WordPress would be a good fit for them and that we could create a WordPress site without any initial costs.

After I gave my talk, Abraham (the Executive Director whom Dominic and I had been meeting with) explained to the board that he liked this idea because they would be able to go through less hurdles each time they want to update the website.  As Abraham was talking, it occurred to me that he would not be the one to make the decision.  Instead, the most he could do was persuade the board president, a man named Simon, to let Dominic and I go through with our project.

Overall, the board members seemed to support the project.  Their main concern was that the website Dominic and I would create wouldn’t interfere or erase the website they currently have, so I assured them that their current website would be completely unaltered until they decided to officially adopt the WordPress site.  They also asked about when our project was supposed to be due.  I’m guessing there is some slight concern that Dominic and I will just dump everything on them as soon as the semester is over.  I think this is a legitimate concern that happens frequently with student projects.  Dominic and I will have to make sure that NSCA is completely comfortable updating the WordPress site and the Facebook page before we step away from the project.

Anyway, at the end of the meeting, Simon gave Dominic and I the go-ahead to start building a WordPress site.  They would like to see what we have ready by their next board meeting, which is in 2 weeks.  Time to get started!