Bragging Break

I don’t often get to do this, so I want to brag on three of my graduate students who successfully defended wonderful new media theses this week:

Andrew Ledbetter defended his Ph.D. thesis in which he developed a scale to assess people’s attitudes toward using the internet as an interpersonal medium and compared the roles of face-to-face and online communication in relational (friendship) maintenance. A lot of complicated findings, but one important takeaway is that the internet is clearly not a substitute for face-to-face communication, and its use in relational maintenance did not damage (or help) relational strength (at least not with U.S. college students). Andrew is joining the faculty at Ohio University next fall, lucky them.

Kiley Larson defended her M.A. thesis. She interviewed rural Kansas in order to better understand how they understand and talk about the internet, particularly in terms of its social utility. Again, many interesting findings. Perhaps the most striking is that the women are the ones who know how to use it and to whom the men all defer when they need something from the internet. Also interesting was their strong stigmatization of the internet as an appropriate means of conducting local communication or seeking new relationships — this is a theme we see in lots of populations, but she’s got a compelling argument that it may be enhanced in the rural context.

Sun Kyong (Sunny) Lee defended her M.A. thesis which compared American and Korean college students’ mobile phone usage pattens and their motivations for using them. She found many similarities in use and motivations, some differences in usage that could be explained by looking at the contexts of these students’ lives (live on campus or at home?) or the payment plans available to them . But she also found some different motivational structures, which suggest that there are cultural influences or, perhaps, that the Koreans are in a more advanced stage of technological adaption than the Americans.

Anyhow, all three students were so great to work with, I learned so much from them, and all three theses are fascinating and well done. Plus Andrew and Kiley got honors! So it’s been a great week for Advisor Nancy.

Five Things You Don’t Know About Me…

Imagine my horror when, upon discovering that Henry Jenkins took me up on my tag to disclose his secrets to success (revealing, alas, that constant work does seem to be his main strategy), I also found that he had tagged me on the 5 things you don’t know about me thing several weeks ago and I managed not to notice. Yikes. shame on me. Bad blogger, no tags. So now that he has shared his far more interesting pieces of advice, I will humbly generate 5 things you may not know about me and then in the name of avoiding chain letters, pyramid schemes, good memes gone bad, and getting back on topic, I will set it to rest and not tag anyone else.

1. When I was 2 years old, my parents took me all over the world for a year: Denmark, Germany, Japan, Cambodia, India… When I got home, I asked where all the elephants were and why all the kids had shoes. I don’t remember any of this, though my dad, a great photographer, took many slides. I’ve got a picture in my dining room of 3-year-old me staring up in awe at carved goddesses at Angkor Wat . I attribute my inability to comprehend xenophobia, racism, homophobia and religious intolerance to that early experience of immersion in difference at a time when I must have been first learning the world’s boundaries.

2. My stepfather, a famous Keats scholar, raised me to be deeply spontaneously silly. When I was a kid there were a lot of family dinners where I’d be lying on the floor holding my sides trying to stop laughing while milk squirted out my nose on account of some hilarious thing he said. He used to park at the far end of the parking lot at fancy restaurants and do John Cleese silly walks up to the door. I laughed an awful lot at playful nonsense and it had a permanent effect on my approach to life.

3. In 5th grade, I calculated the age difference between Paul McCartney and myself and noted with despair that if things went wrong with Linda he was never going to marry anyone as young as me. And now he’s divorcing someone younger.

4. I had a profound mystical experience one sleepless teenage night. It was a total epiphiny in which infinity, the oneness of the universe, and my unity with all of this made complete intuitive sense and I felt giddy with bliss. A few months later, my English teacher brought an article from Life or somesuch magazine about mystical experiences to school and read it outloud to the class. In retrospect it seems pretty weird that she did that.

5. I took a lot of art classes as a child. This was my masterpiece:

The Chef

Unfortunately, he has no ears, but he is much beloved on his perch in my mother’s dining room, and I am always happy to see him when I travel home.

The Widgetized Self

I keep hearing that the future of the Web (“Web 3″ as some are calling it) is going to be like Second Life. We’ll all be hanging out in rich visual spaces decking ourselves out in fabulous fantasywear while making lots of money with remote colleagues. And who’s to say that’s not going to happen.

But that’s not what I think will happen. I think that we are going to move further and further away from going to websites toward using personal portals decked out with zillions of dazzling widgets that bring the web to us.

The extent to which we are increasingly spreading ourselves out over more and more online sites is just not sustainable in the long haul. It takes too much time. We have to remember too many logins (a problem that things like OpenID and ClaimID try to address). We have to recreate content in too many places (Virb goes some way toward handling this by allowing the import of flickr feeds, youtube videos and forthcoming rss importing). Social networking sites are proliferating at an absurd rate, as though there’s a limitless populace of people eager to build profiles for sport, or huge tribes of nomadic social groups perenially on the prowl for a new space to colonize (too bad for the sites in which they’ve lost interest). Fan groups are becoming increasingly distributed. There are still many fan communities at a URL on the internet with their own ways of doing things just like I wrote about in Tune In, Log On. But my sense is that more and more, clusters of fans are spreading themselves out through multiple sites. They meet again and again in fan sites, p2p trading sites, social networking sites, blogs, and many other online places. Your online community is the collective you bump into in multiple online locations (for instance: I am thrilled to find an old The Fine Arts Showcase video on YouTube, and then realize that it was uploaded by someone I know from Its A Trap, who is a friend on Last.fm, and with whom I’ve emailed several times. That’s one example, you’ve probably got your own.)

What I need, and what I think everyone else needs too (even if they want to hang out in Second Life a lot) is my own portal www.nancybaym.me that I can just set up with a collection of widgets that bring all the sites I care about to me. Start pages on steroids. In my dream portal I can read and write to all the sites I want without having to leave my page. I can leave comments on blog posts, post to an online discussion on a forum and do everything else I want to do — and make it available to others — from my own little spot. Widgets gone wild.

My vision of radical me-iffication through widgetization got a boost when I heard of this: Media Master is letting people upload their digital music libraries and display and stream it through widgets. People can publish streaming playlists or (I think) make their collection available for shuffling. It generates a spiffy and interactive widget displaying your record covers. If they then go to a last.fm/iLike/MOG-ish social network approach to turning people on to new music based on what’s in their libraries and make that happen through widgets on your own site instead of profiles on a branded site, it would be a very interesting step. Whether this particular site will work out or not, I don’t know, but the concept is golden and I am betting it is one of many services to come that depends on users exporting their information from the branded space into their space of choice rather than spending time in yet another web site.

Update: Not widgets, but Tech Crunch draws attention to Loopster, a social network aggregator. TechCrunch writes:

Sites like Loopster are a sign of a mini revolution happening with the social web, where instead of managing and linking documents, we are managing and linking personal identities. Traditional search engines like Yahoo and Google are very poor at discovering and managing this information since social relationships aren’t always hyperlinked.

5 secrets to success

I guess you’re finally IN the blogosphere when you get tagged with a meme, and far be it from me to turn down my first. So Joe Taylor has tagged me on the “5 things you do everyday that make you successful” meme, which is rather flattering since it presumes that I’m successful and that I have secrets to that which I could share… wherein lie the difficulties!

I’ve been reading what some others say in response to this meme and it reaffirms my sense that I am so Not Highly Effective! I thought about presenting the idealized version (“I schedule my time to ensure that I get the tasks done on time”) but the truth is that one of the top things I do to be successful is:

1. I rag on myself for not getting more done, not being more organized, not being more efficient, procrastinating, etc: Guilt is not going to be the subject of self-help books (Making Your Guilt Work For You!), but if I’m going to be honest, the sense that time is running out, that I haven’t done anywhere near enough, that others are doing more, that people to whom I’ve committed are going to be annoyed and disappointed by me, and that piles are piling ever higher is often my most powerful daily motivator.

And then there are, it’s true, some healthier strategies as well.

2. I sleep a lot: I’ve seen curves of the average amount of sleep that people need, and I am at the outer edge of ‘need lots of it.’ I don’t push myself to keep going when I’m tired. When my eyes droop, I’m off to bed, and it’s guaranteed that after a good night’s sleep I can do in 10 minutes what would have taken me an hour when tired. I also firmly believe that during sleep the mind is working hard on all the things I’m thinking about and making more progress than my conscious mind might.

3. I follow my creative impulse whenever I can: I always have a to-do list with many tasks of different sizes and shapes. Everything from ‘schedule a meeting’ to ‘review a journal submission’ to ‘write that book I just signed a contract for.’ I have never been able to slot out times for different tasks, though I bet it works great and I wish I could. I sit down and work on the thing that catches my interest that minute unless I absolutely HAVE to get something done before a SERIOUSLY IMPERMEABLE deadline (like the students are going to riot if I don’t get the grading done). My philosophy is that work goes quickly and well when you’re ready, and slowly and inadequately when you’re not, and eventually it all gets done, so I try to work on the pieces that appeal to me that minute as much as I can, even if they don’t necessarily belong at the top of the to-do list. I guess I have a very intuitive approach to work in this regard, I don’t plan it all out ahead, I let it bubble up out of me and try to balance what’s bubbling with what Has To Be Done in ways that don’t kill the bubbling too much. So (almost) every day I spend time on work that I feel like doing, not just the work breathing down my neck. This keeps me in touch with my creative spirit, keeps the good ideas flowing, and keeps work fun.

4. I keep up as best I can — and this is a challenge. I spend a lot of time every day with email keeping in touch with and building professional networks, I skim my feeds several times a day. The longer I’m around, the more I realize that those things they say about ‘it’s who you know’ are true. I try to know good people and to keep up with them when they make their way into my path.

5. I step away from the machine. I don’t work out every day like many who’ve answered this, though I bet I’d be happier and healthier if I did. But I do make an effort to remind myself to stand up, walk around, go outside, put on some tunes and dance in the kitchen while cooking dinner, and, most of all, spend some time hanging out having fun with my super-cool kids and husband.

6. Since everyone’s doing more than 5, I’ll posit my last thing, which is one I’ve been using as a Daily Rule of Thumb since at least 7th grade: I try to be nice to everyone I encounter. I don’t always succeed, but I have certainly found that treating people kindly comes back in spades over time.

So now I’m mulling which bloggers might have secrets to success I might want in on, so I’m going to tag: Henry Jenkins (I totally want a piece of his kind of proclivity for brilliant productivity!), danah boyd (ditto, though I bet she’s too busy being successful to do memes!) Sam Ford, David Silver, and Intellagirl, who seems to be on quite a roll these days.

Seminar on Self-Organizing Communities

I am headed off to this “international symposium on self-organizing online communities” so expect light posting for the next several days but a mind on fire upon my return.

I will be talking from a qualitative research perspective about the problem of trying to figure out where the heck the boundaries of a ‘community’ are anyway when they’re spread through so many parts of a site and so many different sites. I argue that qualitative researchers are supposed to problematize our areas of study and that there’s more to problematize in thinking about “online community” now than ever.

The talk is sort of a hybrid of thinking I’ve been doing about music fandom on Last.fm and the Swedish music fan scene on the internet and the conclusion of a book I am wrapping up the editing of with Annette Markham (tentatively titled Internet Inquiry, and due to be published by Sage Publications in 2008). The book puts together different scholars’ perspectives on challenging issues in conducting qualitative internet research and when it finally comes out, it’s going to be great. It’s got some wonderful contributors.

But in the coming days I mostly hope to be listening and learning from the stellar group of online community scholars they’ve assembled, some of whom I know and others whom I look forward to meeting. Among the participants are: Nosh Contractor, Peter Monge, Barry Wellman, Bob Kraut, Paul Resnick, and smart folks from Microsoft Research, Yahoo, and, of course, Cornell. Should be fun.