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A break from social media ~ reflection

After I took a week off from social media, one of the first posts I came across on Facebook contained this video. The post was followed with a series of comments about the use of phones and our loss of connection with being ‘in the moment’. Prior to my break from social media, I would have agreed that the phone is the issue but after my self-imposed break, I discovered that without the lure of social media, I rarely reached for the phone. Instead, the phone lay dormant on the table attached to the charger for hours. My break from social media, indicated it was the lure of social connection and interaction that kept that phone close at hand.

I have come across a few articles recently, debating the negatives and positives of social media. One article highlight’s narcissism, and self PR campaigns, in the individual use of social media as a misconstrued need to display a sense of constant awesomeness. On the other hand, this debate in the New York Times points to the virtues of access to an audience, self publishing and instant interaction as presenting opportunities for individual growth.

Interestingly, being without social media is not all positive, just as being constantly connected is not all positive. A friend (from my social media world) joined me in my mission to abstain from social media for a week and we shared insights about the experience via SMS. He shared this article ‘I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet’. What is interesting in this article is how the writer chronicles his personal experience of taking a year off the internet concluding that the positive/negative divide is not straight forward.

I decided to switch off social media for a week, beginning just two days before New Years Eve 2013. Celebratory times often attract increased posting, so it was going to be a challenge. The decision was spontaneous and partly based around my perception that my contributions were tired and felt somewhat laboured in the month of December. You see, I had been online since the end of 2011 diving into many social media apps including; Instagram, Facebook, Momentage, Backspaces, Twitter, Vine, Picyou, Eyeem, taada, Streamzoo, Wattpad, lightt, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Pheed, Scoop.it…

and the list goes on…..

The majority of these apps were a process of trialling for evaluation purposes, so my presence was short lived. However, my presence on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Vine have been constant. I’m not certain how much time I spent online with my phone, but it was definitely daily and on all four platforms. I would check each app every morning and participate in conversations, contribute content, check events, click on posted links and read/view content shared, read collated stories from Zite, share to targeted and appropriate social networks and so on and so forth… I’m pretty sure that was just two hours in the morning. I haven’t calculated time throughout the day nor the relax time after the evening meal when the kids are in bed… To say the least, four hours of online engagement may be an underestimate….. if I was being honest… (jaw dropping to the floor in realisation!)

I was feeling socially exhausted and needed to retreat, to think and refresh. The need to question the value of my contributions, the purpose, my connections and interactions seemed quite strong both online and in real life. Even with interactions IRL (in real life) I often feel the need to retreat and gather strength so that I can be social again. I suppose the virtual world had reached that point too.

Without social media, it became apparent quickly how few my connections are. SMS, email and phone are definitely much less active and interactions come from fewer people. The world felt somewhat silent. On a positive note, I relaxed more and just took time out. I even finished a novel in one night (it was a short novel). My time with my kids was less interrupted and seemed more positive. More than anything, my kids loved how unhurried I appeared. As a qualifier, this was the holiday time so relaxation was on the menu regardless. I actually started to feel relaxed and recharged too.

I found my thought processes seemed less hurried and distracted. I could think about what ‘it’ is about social media that is positive and consider the benefits of social networks online. I certainly missed my interactions and conversations with people that I connected with online and was looking forward to the time I could interact again. I discovered finding articles of interest, with no-one to share, made the conversation and knowledge construction seem far less interesting and rewarding without the social media platforms.

Without social media, the web is very static. Just reading articles and not contributing to conversation and adding to knowledge is something I tire from quickly. I suppose, knowledge is constructive and involves conversation. Social media has enabled this. With the networks that are formed, based around communities of interest, we are able to obtain various insights and access to information that is pertinent to specific interest areas. This helps to build on our thoughts, triggering connections with ideas we have come across and prompting further sharing and knowledge construction. In my social media networks, my communities of interest have developed around street art, writing, information access, arts, filmmaking and activism. With these areas I’ve connected with groups and conversations specific to these areas. Not all the people I connect with are connected with each other. Instead communities exist as various circles of interest that sometimes intersect but mostly remain distinct. Ultimately, this is what I view as a positive aspect of social media alongside the possibility of extending online relationships to real life relationships and vice versa.

So in 2014, one of my key resolutions is to increase my collaborative creative efforts with people from my social media world with a focus on improving both online and ‘in real life’ interactions. It is this aspect of social media, over the past couple of years, that has provided the most rewarding experiences. Clearly, this is the ultimate positive enablement of virtual communities.

Another resolution is to take breaks from social media. After a week’s break, I came back feeling refreshed, filled with ideas and wanting to contribute again. I’ve identified social interaction in the virtual world as no different to social interaction IRL, in terms of the need for retreat to replenish… in my case anyway. Just as I need a break to recharge IRL I also need this in the virtual world. Otherwise, I start feeling exhausted and unable to contribute.

 

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Video sharing apps – Vinestagram Lightt

Yesterday Instagram released the 4.1 update incorporating the ability to upload video content from your camera feed. This is a significant step, distinguishing the app from Vine and Lightt. Whilst still restricted to 15 seconds of video, the ability to upload video makes it closer to YouTube than the other two apps. This means footage that has been pre-recorded and edited can now be uploaded. You can upload snippets from different video footage, manipulate the length of the footage and create a montage for 15 seconds. Thus the ability to utilise the app as a basic editing tool has also been enabled. Comparisons between Vine and Instagram have been quite rife with some predicting the demise of Vine. This review –  Instagram vs Vine: Battle of the short-form video-sharing apps indicates the depiction of the two apps as being in competition.

When Instagram first launched video, a few like minded individuals including myself, came together and formed an account dedicated to capturing stories in 15 seconds. 15secstory is an international collaborative account purely dedicated to the Instagram video format. Interestingly, the contributors to this account connected via the Vine app and continue to be avid Viners. In this respect there is a useful purpose for both apps and each has its strengths

Within the initial instagram format, the challenge of capturing a story in 15 seconds was difficult. However, it became apparent you could preview, as you filmed, delete clips if they didn’t work and reshoot. You could work with the limited filters to alter the look of the final clip. Thus the ability to utilise post-production techniques was built into Instagram from the outset, even though limited. One thing Instagram didn’t have was the ability to have a fine-tuned stop-start recording feature enabling stop-motion and time-lapse clips to be created as effectively as you can with Vine. With Instagram stop-motion just seems a bit clunky to achieve as you are not able to capture miniscule segments of footage, as you can with Vine

The comparable app, to this initial version of Instagram, is Lightt. Lightt allows the filming of footage with the benefit of manipulating individual clips for sound, image, duration and effect. You can reverse clips, cut and paste and move them around on the timeline. You can post-record sound and apply simple effects like echo for individual clips. A particular bonus is that you can manipulate individual clips with more options than you can on Instagram. In terms of post-production abilities, within an app, Lightt is superior to Instagram even with the current Instagram update. Post-production ability with instagram is limited to duration of clips, deletion of most recent clip posted on the timeline and the application of a filter across the 15 seconds. There is no ability to move clips around a timeline or even work with asynchronous sound. Unless… post-production occurs elsewhere… Which is what the new update is about.

With Instagram’s new update, you can effectively record the whole interview outside of instagram and edit it down to a fifteen second snippet to upload later if you choose. This is quite a remarkable change to the process. If you wish you can utilse Final Cut Pro X to edit your video and then transfer to your camera. Effectively more time, resources and capabilities are utilised but the opportunity to share highly polished videos in this instant social media format is there. This is where Instagram becomes comparable to YouTube even though it is a short-form video format.

I decided to test the new ability to upload clips to Instagram from my camera. I chose three vine clips that were on my camera feed and uploaded them. I then altered the time of two clips so that they fit within the 15 second limit and posted the final clip. If you consider this process and what it actually consists of, the time factor comes into play. I haven’t utilised any post-production software in this process at all, just two social media apps that allow video sharing. Following is the final clip that was uploaded yesterday.

Vine video upload  to Instgram

My first uploaded video to Instagram composed of three Vine clips. Click on the image to play.


The overall process consisted of planning my individual Vine clips, setting up and filming these clips utilising the Vine app and posting to Vine. To upload to Instgram I selected three of my Vine clips that were saved to my camera role. I manipulated the duration of two of the clips and posted the final version. The majority of the creative process occurred with the Vine process where the clips were created.

With Vine there is no post-production ability. Essentially, Vine is the most restrictive of all the video sharing apps. There are no post-production options. You cannot upload content. There are no filters you can apply, there is no ability for asynchronous recording or editing. Preview is the last stage before you post and you can’t delete clips and reshoot segments. If you choose not to post, you lose the ability to post that clip. Gone. Just like that.

I have worked on stop-motion clips for Vine for over two hours and lost everything when the app crashed because of a low battery. I often shoot and reshoot a clip over twenty times before I am happy to post a final version. Sometimes an earlier version is better but because I wasn’t satisfied with it at the time, it never made it to Vine. So it sits on my camera roll. Sometimes I never see what a clip looks like whilst in the process of creating a clip, nor am I ever able to until the end and it’s impossible to recreate. This is often the case with stop-motion Vines. With Vine, the process is similar to in-camera editing. It is restricted to stop-start and that is all. Once posted Vine is a six second format that continuously loops. There is no delay in the video starting when viewing as I have experienced with Instagram and Lightt.

The restrictions or limits applied by the Vine app have proved to be incredibly liberating at the same time. The focus has shifted to pre-production. I find myself questioning what do I want to film, or as I’m journeying, an idea pops up from stimulus around me. I look at the world around me and start seeing visuals that work. I question how do I want my final six seconds to look? What do I want to convey and how can I achieve this within these limits? I get inspired by other creative Viners and wonder how did they do that? I feel propelled and compelled to experiment and to push boundaries. I’m almost certain that this wall of limits is movable… This is the mindset that Vine has inspired.

Over time this process of incredible experimentation has become evident amongst many who are participating in the Vine video-sharing community. This is evident with the use of Assistive touch by many focussed on stopmotion wanting to squeeze in more frames in the tiny six seconds offered. It is evident in experimenting with physical lenses to apply desired effects including the use of coloured crystal glasses, experimenting with stretching soundclips so stop-motion sound seems more synchronous in the recording process and so forth.

As the first video sharing app, Vine captured the imagination of those focused on the filmmaking format. Adam Goldberg is one example of the incredible talent that transformed and inspired many with the boundaries overcome by the incredible Vines created. With limits you become resourceful. Failure is not crushing, just another learning experience, it becomes a dialogue with the others in the community that have been inspired by the limitations and determined to achieve a great little six second story.

I’m not so sure this will happen on Instagram. Instagram is first and foremost a photo-sharing app. Video seems like an added feature but not a focus as it is on Vine. Lightt has a focus on just video sharing and provides an interesting approach where all the clips stream one after the other. Effectively, over time, a whole movie can easily be created with this app. Because of this Lightt has interested me and is certainly an app worth exploring.

 

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The benefits of the hashtag aka #

Having just completed a subject devoted to Describing and analysing information resources as part of my studies, I can now look back at my initial understanding and chuckle. It was limited to MARC and Dewey, an idea of subject headings, authority lists and a very vague idea of Z39.50. Oh dear, how little my knowledge base was….

Whilst, there is still a great deal to know in this field, concerns about what is relevant seem unchanged since Younger (1997). Younger asserts that the basis of cataloguing is still the same, in that resource creators want their resources to be found and information seekers want to be able to find resources (p.463). Furthermore, it is clear that a uniform approach is not an easy achievement, nor even a desirable one. Information agencies have different requirements in terms of resource description. Hence “One size does not fit all” and a focus on interoperability between standards becomes the imminent aim (p. 465).

This post, however, will not be focussed on the different standards. The weblinks embedded in my blog provide examples of the standards. Instead, the focus is the benefits of keywords or hashtags, as provided by ordinary people, in the facilitation of information retrieval.
Guy and Tonkin (2006) define folksonomy as “a type of distributed classification system…. usually created by a group of individuals, typically the resource users. Users add tags to online items, such as images, videos, bookmarks and text. These tags are then shared and sometimes refined.” Furthermore, hashtags are a useful addition to formal classification though not a replacement. Moulaison (2008) points out that the application of tags is defined by the purpose of the tag and ranges from personal retrieval needs with exo-tagging to promotion of user generated content with endo-tagging (p. 101).

In assessing the usefulness of tagging for web retrieval I have chosen the mobile photo sharing application Instagram (IG) that can be viewed online via web.stagram or with statigram. The experience of tagging in IG corresponds to Moulaison’s (2008) concept of endo-tagging user-generated content in the form of photographs that are uploaded and shared with the larger IG community internationally.

Moulaison (2008) suggests that user generated content that is uploaded such as videos or with photo sharing apps the tags can be “more stable and long term”. (p. 107). This is definitely the case with IG where the app has a search function embedded. You can search by users or tags to find either contributors or actual photos in defined categories. The result of the tags, and this search function in IG, is a system where the majority of contributors apply mostly accurate tags that benefit all. Beyond this, the tags applied are endo-tags by the contributor of the photo and they can be modified or added to at any point. This ability to modify at any point is great because you can correct misspellings. Other users will often pop in to comment feeds and provide suggested tags that may have been missed or the contributor may not have known, for example an artists name of the artwork photographed. This tag is often then applied enabling this photo to be located in this category or location.

Critiques of folksonomy include the perception that they are imprecise, inexact and too personal (Guy & Tonkin, 2006). Moulaison (2008) citing Tennis (2006) also mentions the idea that social tagging is for personal benefit (p. 108) as a type of filing system where one can locate resources quickly at a later time. In IG elements of personal benefit are evident with the more obscure rogue tags assigned that only one person contributes their photos to. This is evident with some travel photos shared for instance where the tags incorporate the name of the person contributing the photo and place eg #sarahinparis.

In my photo-sharing experience with IG, the tags assigned are often agreed tags by the larger community. However, as there is no limit to the amount of tags you apply, you essentially can incorporate a mixture of tags that are both for a broader benefit, where everyone can search and locate the photo with other similar resources, to more personal tags that an individual can search to locate their own personal category where the photos are only contributed by that person and pertain to something specific. An example may include a series of photos that act as a photo essay and grouping them together with a specific hashtag such as #photoessayeiffeltower2012. However, as Guy & Tonkin (2006) point out the use of single purpose tags are not the dominant. As the purpose of IG is to share to a wider audience the consensus on shared meaning becomes the norm.

Another critique of folksonomies is the argument by Shirky as cited in Guy and Tonkin (2006) of the lack of synonymous relations. In IG the manner in which some users have tagged photos suggests the idea of synonymous relationships as present. As an example, #wheatpaste, #pasteup #poster provide the relations between these three words as being synonymous with each other and act as descriptors of the same type of art within the broader category of #streetart and #graffiti, two tags that are also often applied as synonymous categories. Users often apply as many synonyms as possible thus enabling the photo to be located in each of the tagged areas in IG. This is very useful when searching as a person may only be aware of one term and yet still be able to locate this resource because the different terms have been tagged. Beyond this, as an international app, often the tags from contributors in countries where English is not the dominant language will have tags ascribed in both English and the language of the home country too. Potentially multilingual descriptors could be applied.

Tags in IG demonstrate a type of hierarchy with broader categories and narrower categories. They enable relationships to be defined between terms for example defining the photo as streetart (what it is about) tagging what type of street art such as “stencil” or “pasteup”, tagging the artist name of the streetart (creator) and tagging the location (geography) from broader to narrower #Australia #melbourne #brunswick #laneways #zombiedancelane and so on. Effectively, tags supply metadata and the more tags supplied in IG the more specific is the description.

Some tags also suggest what equipment the photo was shot with eg #iphone #iphoneography #nikon300, the shutter speed and may indicate if the photograph has been modified with filters or even with apps. The interrelations of users can be indicated via tags too. For example there are IG meetups organised, where groups do a photo walk and then post the results to the tag of the #instameetup with place. Another example is #mobilephotogroup of photographers dedicated to the use of mobile phones in photography. People share photos with each other by making them available to specific hashtags dedicated to the purpose of taking and modifying or altering the original and then reposting the result. They organise exhibitions and have dedicated hashtags that repost the happening or attendance.

In resource description the focus has been on controlled vocabularies as a process of increasing uniformity in description and disambiguating terms. Consequently, the use of natural vocabulary or folksonomies is perceived as problematic. A point worth mentioning,  is the suggested solution by Hider (2008 p. 183-184) of the imposition of a selection of controlled vocabulary terms that can be chosen by users for tags. However, having participated in a number of photography sharing apps including StreamZoo, PicYou, Tadaa, EyeEm and mobli, the apps that have provided a designated vocabulary list to choose from and, imposed limitations on how many tags to assign, produce description results that end up being too broad and less specific.

As an example, EyeEm only allows the assigning of one category for the type of photograph and the assigning of location. It does not allow further elaboration except what you may include as a title for the photo. If I took a photograph of street art that is a Paste-up of a deer by the artist Kaff-eine in a particular laneway at Fitzroy, Melbourne, Australia, with EyeEm all I can assign is “Streetart” “Fitzroy”, “Melbourne”.  This is very limiting and not specific enough. Whilst the resource is placed in the broader category of Streetart and the location, these are the only two areas I can search to locate the work.

The audience base and user generated content of the other photo sharing apps appears significantly smaller than IG thereby it is still easy to locate the specific resource. However, on IG, Streetart, as a broad term, produces a result return of over 500000 photos. Consequently, the need to search more specific terms becomes paramount. In EyeEm there is no ability to search for the artist or the specific type of art either, which may produce a more accurate and specific result.

It is very useful to be able to search by artist for a streetart piece as well as by sub genre and even for far more specific locations. This is the advantage of applying more tags; as the description becomes more specific and enables the resource to exist with other resources that are also identified as having that specific category too.

This just touches on some aspects of how tags are utilised within IG and some of the purposes that tags demonstrate. The benefits of tags in web environments are certainly evident and not just related to a personal filing system. I suspect like other types of classification systems tagging or folksonomies will continue to evolve with purpose and function. Tags in IG do indicate an ability to effectively apply descriptions and can increase in specificity of description because there is no imposed limit on how many tags can be applied. The ability to title work or even contribute a mini or longer write-up about a photo further contributes to the description.

Guy, M & Tonkin, M. (2006) Folksonomies: Tidying up tags? D-Lib Magazine, 12(1)

Hider, P. (with Harvey, R.) (2008). Organising knowledge in a global society. (Rev. ed.). Wagga Wagga, NSW: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.

Moulaison, H.L (2008) Social Tagging in the Web 2.0 Environment: Author vs. User Tagging, Journal of Library Metadata, 8:2, 101-111.

Younger, J.A. (1997). Resources description in the digital age. Library Trends , 45(3): 462-481

 

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