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Teens Who Won't Tweet

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We've all heard that teens don't usually Tweet, and a 16-year old guest writing for the Read-Write Web explains that this generalization is true. Like a few of us older adults, many teens have rejected Tweeting...but not for the same reason.

"Teens' lives are entirely built around their actual friends. Quite simply, why would teenagers bother using Twitter when Facebook exists, and offers so much more? Teens want a platform that allows easy, fully-functional communication to an exclusive social circle. That is, solely to their friends and peers. Twitter is a platform built for inclusive broadcast (to everyone), and to teenagers it offers no obvious value."

Hmm. Apparently many teens are unaware of the privacy settings in Twitter so that you DON'T broadcast to everyone (kind of the way Facebook has it). But wait, there's more...

"Can you think of some reasons as to why your average Twitter user keeps tweeting? Self-promotion and the ability to follow interests immediately come to mind.

Now let's compare these reasons against the reasons teenagers use social networks: They use them to extend their real social connections onto the Internet, so that their social lives can continue with a larger group of friends, even when they can't physically be with all of them at once. Self-promotion isn't a high priority for most teens as they don't have professional lives to think about, and the interests that they have are fed to them by their real friends."

Say what? Author Michael Moore Jones is clearly very intelligent and well-spoken, but clearly has missed what MY Twitter experience has been. Back when Twitter hit my radar, the only people you could Tweet too WERE your friends and family. It's true that people were broadcasting in public (and not in a good way), but there were no celebrites except John Edwards and Darth Vader, and there were NO corporate newsfeeds.

Today it's very different. As danah boyd pointed out at the Symposium last year, many teens associate Twitter with Ashton Kutcher and celebrity newsfeeds found on's Tweet Ticker (lower left). And of course CNN and other news agencies (once I knew Fox News had gone to Twitter, I knew it would be with us for the foreseeable future.

I mean no disrespect to Mr Moore (in fact, I applaud his honest reaction to Twitter), but his experience of Twitter is very slanted...kind of like most adult's experience with texting and Facebook is very slanted. In both cases, an audience has been exposed to the "worst" a service has to offer, partly through mass media coverage without realizing the other benefits and features that are out there.

By the way, I am not advocating that teens need to abandon Facebook, but I do think it's ironic that I, as a former Twitterphobe, have become more literate in a recent Web 2.0 technology than those a generation younger than me. Irony...such sweet irony.

Postscript - Dec 9

In the reply article Who Uses Twitter? Not My Techie, 30-Something Friends, author Mike Melanson points to a recent Pew survey on Twitter usage which reports that only 8% of adults overall use Twitter (although the figure is 14% for the 18-29 bracket, and I am still 29 myself).

Interestingly though the rate is higher among Hispanics (18%) and African Americans (13%) than among whites (5%). There is also a relatively high urban percentage (11%) than rural (5%) or suburban (11%). Part of this may lie in the fact that Twitter began as a text (SMS) to Web service. And SMS is actually taiilored for users with good cell phone service, but not necessarily ready access to a traditional computer. Similarly SMS is quite popular outside the U.S. where it is dirt cheap.

If you check the Twitter trending topics on any given day, I bet you will find 1-2 two topics that are actually in Spanish or Portuguese (Brazil!). Today Twitter told me that soccer star Sergio Bernal is retiring and that Copa Sul-America (Port) or the South American Soccer Cup was in progress. Even the death of "John Lenon" was a hot topic in the Latin world.

¿Quién sabía? (Who knew?)

Book Review: Txtng, The Gr8 Db8 (link)

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FYI - Just posted a review to Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 by David Crystal, the author of several linguistics books written for the non-specialist audience, fills in this gap for the texting (aka SMS) quite nicely on my Linguist in the Wild blog.

Although it's technically a "linguistics" book, most of the content focused on the sociology of texting both here and outside the U.S. And yes, there are some cool non-English texting abbreviations mentioned.

Getting Visitor Interaction...The Hard Way

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A concern in recent years here at ETS has been how to encourage interaction with the online community. I've stumbled on to one way to increase interaction - typos and broken links.

A depressing yet heartening fact is that I will receive about 1-2 comments per month about a broken link or typo appearing somewhere in a site I am maintaining. It's depressing because no one likes to have stupid typos on the Web (although I am very suspectibe prone to them). But heartening in that people care enough about the content to fire off an e-mail to point out the error.

I don't recommend seeding content with typos as a way to increase interaction but I can tell which sites people really care about from the error notes that come my way. There are times when higher level discussions would be nice, but truthfully, there's only so much discussion an ALT code for á can engender. It's either the right number that works, or one that doesn't.

The Interesting Point in danah boyd's Web 2.0 Expo Speech

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As some of you may have learned 2 months ago, danah boyd was rather nastily critiqued on the Twitter screen behind her during her Web 2.0 Expo keynote video.

For those of you "not in the loop", what happened was that she was presenting the keynote address with a trendy Twitter backchannel feed in the background. This can be interesting, but in this case it backfired because the audience decided that her peformance wasn't up to par and decided to tweet about it. danah boyd wrote later that she knew something was wrong (due to laugter) but didn't know what it was until later. In the meantime, she said had problems adjusting to the atmosphere so didn't give her best performance. Oh well.

Actually when I watched the official Web 2.0 video, I really only noticed some slight hesitancy (and only because I was looking for it). In terms of content, I thought was very good, although I will admit there was some jargon (but it was good jargon IMHO).

In fact, my favorite term was probably homophily

or the tendency for networks to self-segregate (or be in the process of self-segregation). In other words, the current media situation is often pushing us into smaller pockets that interact primarily only with each other. Another term for this is echo chamber.

boyd points out that many of us could theoretically receive information from multiple sources, the reality is that people often receive the same information from the same sources their friends and colleagues do. For instance, all of us here at ETS know an amazing array of Web 2.0 tools and continue to learn more, but outside of ETS, it's still a new concept.

To expand the implications - on a political level, NPR listeners often receive different information than Fox News radio listeners do (I know because I've heard hours of both). It's not that either source is lying or enacting a conspiracy, but rather that each live in their own echo chamber. Whenever information does cross the network boundary, the result is often "Wow, I didn't know THAT!"

For the record, I have nothing against getting information interesting to you from people you trust, but homophily is always something to be wary of. Are you getting information from the same sources or more than one? How can you tell? For me, if I hear two divergent points of view, I know I've hit pay dirt. It may be that one of them really is completely kooky, but at least I've had a gut check on my assumptions. More often than not, it's been good for my character.

boyd closes the speech with a plea to stop with visions of utopia or disutopia and think realistically about what this new Internet phenomenon really means. As the Twitterfeed incident shows though, more people seem interested in competing for attention rather than really listening. Too bad because it was a lost opportunity for danah boyd and the audience.

Stupid Google Doc Rediscover Email for Sharing Trick

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This one of the stupider workarounds, but given the lack of information on the Web, I thought I would share anyway. If there's a better way to do this, let me know (after you've done laughing).


I can figure out how to share a Google doc with any e-mail, but I hadn't been able to reveal the e-mail of a Doc I had already shared if they do not happen to be in my Contacts list. Here at Penn State Google Doc address are a mix of and addresses so it's kind of a guessing game.

For instance, suppose I share a doc with W. Adama once, and I need to share another one but can't remember the e-mail I used (may it's a gmail address, maybe it's not...). I could ask W. Adama, but he's generally very busy, so I'd rather extract it from the original share list.

Short Term Solution

  1. Open a doc you know you shared with person X (e.g. W. Adama).
  2. Click the Share button on the upper right and select See who has access
  3. Now for the trick part - Click link for Create Event w. these people. This opens a new tab create an entry into the Google Calendar app and add everyone to it.
  4. From the Guests field to the right, copy the e-mail e-mail address(es) you need, then click Cancel and Discard Changes No need to add anything to anyone's calendar.
  5. Close the Google Calendar tab in your browser. You should be back in your Google Doc.
  6. Back in Google Docs close your doc, create a new one and paste the address in your Share list.

Long Term Solution

You can add people to your Contacts list at To add a new contact, click the +Person icon at the upper left. This will show up in your contacts list when you need to share a Google doc in the future.

Jakob Nielsen & Twitter Usability

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If Jakob Nielsen is writing a usability article, we know Twitter is now 100% mainstream. Interestingly, this article though only covers release of corporate news information with tips for both writing punchy copy and for timing (9:01 is better than 9:00).

A little chillingly though, he indicates that Twitter "decay" (when people stop clicking) is fast. Twitter updates so quickly that messages are very quickly lost in the shuffle. As Nielsen comments "Once [the messages] scroll off the first screen, they're essentially 6 feet under." As a result, he still recommends e-mail for messages with a relatively long life span so that users can sort through their "pile" at a later date. No argument from me.

A Year of Twitter

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As we celebrate the 1st anniversary of the ETS Learning Design Summer Camp, I remember that I have another anniversary to celebrate - a year of Twitter. It was at a dinner last year that Robin2Go finally convinced me to give Twitter a spin.

One year later, I still have my account, but what do I think of it? I have to disappoint some people and admit that I still don't LOVE it, but I have come to appreciate it. As with many media (including, I suspect, the phone), the initial user base managed to put up the the silliest of messages, and we all know Twitter was no exception. Quite frankly, with a restriction of 140 characters, I didn't think it could ever evolve beyond the trivial.

But an amazingly short year proved me wrong. First it was a way for people to track the movement of tornadoes, then it became a way for a people to get out news of a government crackdown despite the shutdown of other media channels. Here in ETS it's a great way for people to quickly pass on interesting articles and traffic alerts, and yes a little gossip.

So why don't I love it? For the same reason I still don't love the phone or mail - signal to noise ratio. There are ways to manage the ratio in other media, but I haven't quite managed it yet here.

There's another issue which I haven't been sure if I should bring up, but maybe I will today. I think one reason people find Twitter and other forms "chatting" silly or annoying is that they may be observing a set of conversations that are "forced" upon them, yet cannot really participate in.

Consider something I think we all find annoying - overhearing someone on the cell phone. You may be forced to listen to intimate details of grocery lists, plans for the evening, or a review of last nights game you didn't watch. Not only is it banal, but it disrupts whatever internal thought process you may prefer instead (reading, meditation, blogging...).

Twitter shouldn't be the same, but what if it feels "mandatory"? Sure there are messages on Twitter that are relevant to me, but there are a lot of messages that aren't so relevant about what people are planning, games they watched or places they are going to. Maybe people do feel a genuine sense of community, but it reminds me that ... well I really am a dedicated introvert.

Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy conversations over coffee and in the hall. But they only take up a small fraction of my day and generally with a much smaller pool of people. I actually am able to absorb what I hear and appreciate it so much more.

Am I saying you shouldn't love Twitter? Not really. I think I'm saying that I wish I could filter out business Twitter from personal Twitter (like we can filter out personal e-mail from work e-mail). At that point I may really LOVE both sides of Twitter.

Postscript: Alternate Views (Jul 23)

Apparently I wasn't the only one reflecting on the user of Twitter at this event. Here are some interesting posts from Jeff Swain (who likes the community aspect of Twitter) and TK Lee who reflects on his Twitter note taking in a blog. TK comments that "communication has its cost" - we need communication to learn more information, yet paradoxically it's often a distraction to both produce and consume. I guess that's why "poor communication" remains a perennial in many work environments.

Why do I Duplicate So Much Documentation?

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I've been on many projects where I spend time rewriting content - both technical documentation and course content. It seems to defy logic because if this content is already created why should another version be needed? Shouldn't a link be sufficient? Are we only doing this because we don't know any better?

Actually I do believe there are rational reasons for this phenomenon of duplicate documentation, even if they are not fully articulated. I think understanding them could help us build models where we can truly build the kinds of community-driven efforts we want.

If I Write It, I Control It

Sounds like a petty copyright but consider - suppose you link to a site and it disappears, what do you do then? Symposium keynote speaker David Wiley had an interesting solution in using the Wayback Machine to link to an archived version, but even that may not be 100% foolproof.

Another issue of control though is consistent format. Some instruction or content may be coming from different sources, but the goal of most editors is to ensure that there is a consistent voice. For instance, the ANGEL docs are written by a group of 15 people, but the format is the same, the images use the same browser and a local goddess of grammar makes sure they are all comprehensible to the general user.

Similarly the online video instruction series maintain a consistent format. Although the content is presented by a number of different trainers on a number of different topics, viewers can generally be sure that 1) the training videos will be segmented into short digestable segments, 2) support files are available and 3) the trainers are going to give a rehearsed presentation. This is very reassuring if you're panicking about an exotic piece of software.

Finally, it should be noted that most do-over documentation is written is for a specific local audience. Back when I was writing blog documentation, I had to make sure that we only referenced utilities we had uploaded, included information on authentication and, of course, how to activate your Penn State Personal Web Space. This kind of customization is what leads to a lot of duplicate documentation.

I Can Do This Better!

A lot of duplicate documentation comes from frustrated users. For whatever reason, the original documentation was either not satisfactory, or maybe not even discoverable. As a result, users re-document the process (so they can perform it later). If they are being generous, they share what they know either via e-mail, a blog or even a second site.

To be honest, users are generally right. I have a case where my information on an ITS tool actually comes from the Biology department. On the other hand...user preferences vary widely, especially depending on experience. One user may want to understand a concept but not care about implementation; another may need to access all the technical details but can skip over the basics.

For instance, a lot of my Unicode doc writing arose out of the fact that what I was finding was written by programmers for other programmers. Or it was written for Windows users, but not Mac users. There was kind of gap waiting to be filled.

Today, an interesting twist is whether a video or a cheat sheet may be desired (maybe it depends on what stage you're at in the project).

Adding a Missing Piece

I think the first two pieces are the hardest to tackle, but honestly what I think most communities are interested in are collecting missing pieces, especially for complex pieces of software like Flash, Photoshop or even Microsoft Office and ANGEL. A program like Flash has a lot of options available, but not even Adobe can experiment with every scenario.

Thus, what happens is that a lot of developers work through problems on their own and then (hopefully) share what they find. Currently this happens through various social networks - large and small. A small scale version is one instructor e-mailing a tip in the same department; on a medium scale information may be shared in a users forum. The largest is probably posting on individual blogs.

The information is available, but very scattered. The question is whether it can (or should) be compiled in a more organized fashion (beyond the Google search). After all, where's the line between creativity and consitency? Who has the time and where is the reward? Are flame wars a possibility? - In some cases yes!

I don't mean to be pessimistic, but these are the kinds of questions that need to be addressed in order for any kind of community to be successful. I have participated in several joint instruction projects/communities ranging from ANGEL docs to serving on an expert e-mail panel. In each case though, I was confident of the rules of the road.

Hooray for danah boyd

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I have to say that one of the best keynote speakers I have seen in a while was danah boyd. I don't want to just gush in a blog, so just to elaborate, I respected the keynote because:

  1. We got some solid ethnographic research data (although condensed for keynote purposes).
  2. More importantly, she presented a balanced view of "change." Not as an oncoming Armageddon or the next Eden, but as something normal that happens to every culture (especially the culture likes to invent new technology).

With respect to the research point, I was surprised at how many of my assumptions following the e-grapevine weren't quite right. For instance, boyd notes that Facebook did not override MySpace, but rather that MySpace and Facebook co-exist, but are used by different socioeconomic groups.

The divide is not necessarily bad, but it is important to know that it is there when thinking about what "services" we (Penn State) provide through either platform, and what that means from a social point of view. For course work, boyd recommends a third-party "neutral" environment like ANGEL, the Blogs at Penn State or maybe Twitter.

I was also moved by how protective boyd is of her teenage subjects. A theme I seemed to hear is that despite the seeming technical prowess of modern teens in terms of Facebook, they are not techno-super heroes. She comments that they still have the same concerns, and the same fears, that we all had. The NetGen hypothesis (i.e. differently wired brains/expectations) is a common assumption, but in an extreme form, can make the next generation of college students sound a little bit like an alien species.

But boyd merely assumes they are still normal teens, with different communication devices. There will be differences, but probably nothing we can't handle.

P.S. The Swain Interview

The interview between Jeff Swain and danah boyd has been posted. Interestingly, danah boyd wonders if teens will abandon Facebook now that their parents are finding their high school buddies. They really do sound like typical teenagers.

Need a Free Green Flash Sun Photo ?

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I recently did the copyright & free graphic session of the Winterfest Digital Media Day, with accompanying handout (FindingImages.pdf). I have to confess that images hold a special place in my heart pedagogy wise. As much as I love text, there are times when nothing can replace a visual.

Like text, still images can also be "cheaper" than video or animation especially in terms of the amount of memory needed. But images can be expensive in terms of production especially if you are wanting an image of a relatively rare phenomenon (e.g. a green flash when the sun appears green just at dusk or dawn). It's often cheaper to borrow if you can.

Sun at horizon appearing green
Seriously enlarged image of a green sun on the horizon. Original courtesy of Kai Schreiber. Licensed under Creative Commons

Fortunately, the Web 2.0 world has given us more options than ever for finding legal images. For instance the Wikipedia page on the Green Flash includes a lovely photo donated by Mila Zinkova who licenses under a GNU Free License documentation. Wikipedia is great for finding both donated images and images from the U.S. government which are otherwise buried in opaque search interfaces.

Flickr is another great source. As Stevie Rocco explained in an earlier copyright seminar, the advanced search option in Flickr includes a checkbox for Creative Commons licensed items. Again, you can often good results like this image from Mike Baird.

I can attest to the power of both tools because I had to find an astonishing arrays of photos for thermodynamics including:

I'm really glad we didn't have to send a photographer to all of these locations.