JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

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My bookmarks on del.icio.us linked to below

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aaajlesage

artandliterature

autobiography

blogs

bookmarking,users

  • education

  • filmandculturalstudies

    Internet

    news

    socialconcerns

    The Internet today, or
    how I got involved in
    social bookmarking

    by Julia Lesage   

    Tips on reading the essay: open the links, which will pop up in a new window, as you read along.

    When the Society for Cinema Studies changed its name to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, I enthusiastically supported the name change. Yet the film studies profession itself has been slow to embrace new media in practice, which will probably only come with the ascendance of younger Internet-generation academics in the field. I myself had long settled into a comfortable routine for Internet use, consisting of regular visits to Amazon.com (to buy used books), the Guardian newspaper for daily news and book reviews (guardian.co.uk), the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com, the bible for our profession), Google (link here is to all the ways you can use Google), Wikipedia (especially for contemporary topics), and email (provided by the University of Oregon).

    Academics and the Internet

    Interestingly, although the Internet provides a way of distributing free knowledge, relatively few U.S. academics in the area of media and communications had developed expansive web sites to distribute most of their writings to as wide an audience as possible. Exceptions are Douglas Kellner and Howard Becker. Kellner, a prolific author in the area of contemporary critical theory, also specializes in critical pedagogy, and his website has long been a model of sharing his intellectual life with a broad audience. Since 2002 Kellner has also maintained a political blog, BlogLeft. Becker, a sociologist of art and author of Art Worlds, also maintains a home page, visually simple in style, that provides the text of many of his writings. A further example of a long-standing web site, one that has particularly useful to me in my teaching is that of artist, writer, and teacher, Fred Camper, an authority on avant-garde film who directs readers to many useful resources about that genre. One particular essay of his, on Su Friedrich's autobiographical Sink or Swim, frequently finds its way into my classroom not only as an astute observation of Friedrich's work but also as a rhetorical example of how to write a cogent and clear essay on a "difficult" film.

    Currently many college teachers use proprietary e-learning software like Blackboard to set up course sites for their students (link here is to U.OR tips for using Blackboard). For those who have never used the Internet in an interactive way with classes, the prospect of having students conduct an ongoing online discussion related to course content may seem both exciting and overwhelming (link here is to a PDF guide to generating effective online discussions on course web sites like Blackboard ).

    However, for many, Blackboard's expansion on campuses is vexing. Monopolistically Blackboard won a copyright suit to gain ownership over much comprehensive e-learning software technology, and it bought out its main competitor, WebCT. Also problematic, Blackboard has proprietary software, yielding large fees from educational institutions, and its philosophy is one of closed communication, with most sites open only to students and teachers within a class. In March 2007, after much pressure on Blackboard, freely available open-source e-learning programs such as Moodle have won a "patent pledge" that the company will not assert patent rights to sue them.

    What is at stake is not only money, but also the philosophy of open communication across the Internet. Whether or not they use an e-learning program, teachers should consider the intellectual and social value of placing most of their teaching materials online (link here is to course documents online, often media courses). While Blackboard-style discussion boards should probably remain limited to students and teacher — to allow students practice in writing and communicating in a relatively free-form way — many teachers could easily move their teaching documents, including project assignments and exam questions, to a separate web site of their own — perhaps with the assistance of an instructional technology person from the university. I myself developed a personal web site but have paid little attention to updating it except every few years.

    Although my U.OR web site changes slowly, my participation on the Internet has increased. First — was it really over twenty years ago? — e-mail became my preferred way of communicating with students. Then, both the Internet and e-mail provided a way for personal and professional communication and information gathering. Later, in the late 90s, I learned Internet site design and began managing the Jump Cut web site and became even more committed to free knowledge sharing and learning. However, all that learning from and about the Internet still did not dramatically alter the way I taught. Only more recently did I grasp the seismic shift in how learning occurs and how far ahead the students are from their teachers in understanding this.

    Blogs

    Two years ago I taught a course on Autobiographical Film and Video. At that time, I knew the genre of autobiography itself had changed with the advent of blogs, but I knew very little about that specific phenomenon, so I asked library personnel to provide me with a speaker who would conduct a class on personal blogs and blogging. Annie Zeidman-Karpinski, a reference librarian who herself writes a blog for U.OR reference librarians, worked with me to provide an introduction to the subject, and in the process she inspired me and one of the grad students in the class to pursue a whole new research area related to the Internet. In the class discussion that Karpinski led, having the class themselves define "blog," it became clear that the students have a whole other life of knowledge gathering and information sharing than I and my peers give them access to in the classroom. For that reason, it seems essential that we teachers stay informed about how the Internet changes and expands, even if this is always an ongoing task.

    In setting out to explore "the Internet today," first I looked at blogs, especially those related to education. I also tried to explore blog theory. As Karpinski explained to my class, blogging software privileges the contemporaneous, relegating past entries to an archive. Furthermore, the free web application provided by Google's Blogger, for example, is so attractive and easy to use, it has largely replaced other forms of the "home page," a term that now seems archaic. The structure of privileging today's entry, however, creates a new kind of flow different from the home page, which usually led to a more static kind of site that grew by updating links and gradual accretion of new elements (which characterize my, Fred Camper, and Howard Becker's sites, mentioned above). In addition, most blogs generate accumulated user comments, to which the blog owner regularly replies. Thus, over time, a single blog entry might generate a long interactive discussion. In media studies, one of the most widely cited and linked to bloggers is Henry Jenkins, authority on gaming, youth culture and the Internet; and author of the book, Convergence Culture.

    Media studies academics keep blogs to a lesser degree than one might anticipate, although there is a wonderful community of film bloggers who can best be called "lovers of cinema" and is composed largely of cinephiles, media makers, and media teachers. This community regularly discuss each others' entries and often write on the same topic one day a month, participating in a "blogathon." (On other kinds of sites it's also called a "carnival." I recommend the carnival of feminists and the teaching carnival.) In the film blogging community, an avant-garde blogathon, August 2006, produced one of my favorite film criticism round-ups. The above entry on the blog by"girish" gives a good sense of the kind of accumulated comments that this community of film lovers regularly post. What makes such blogathons interesting for me as a film scholar is the thoughtfulness with which contributors discuss what they might like to write on, their actual posts, and then the conversational dialogue on media that takes place in the many comments they write about each others' posts. It represents a new kind of processual knowledge-building around film that stands in contrast to the kind of academic essay-writing and publishing most common among my peers.

    Academic communities that have formed a large blogging presence include rhetoricians, attracted by the idea of public writing; law professors, often discussing Constitutional law and again writing in a clear way because they have a sense of public mission; and K-12 teachers, encountering and often reveling in the way young students have a flourishing Internet life. Blogs originally began with the computing community (there are many kinds of computing blogs; this link is to those blogs dedicated to Internet use). And it is no surprise that both librarians and those in instructional technology have a lively ongoing intellectual discussion in blogs. Of special interest to me in this area are those blogs and sites dedicated to explaining how to do a better Internet search. Some academics in the humanities and social sciences keep intellectually oriented blogs. Also valuable are anonymous, more personal ones, like that of Profgrrrrl, which entertains as it provides insights into the lives of tenure-track academics and discusses how teachers, especially women, try to find that precarious balance between home and work.

    I myself have little patience for consistently writing a blog with regular, perhaps bi-weekly, entries. In addition, the software's privileging of contemporaneity is off-putting to someone like me who prefers to read about and hopefully develop somewhat enduring explanatory structures intellectually. I would have to find another way to participate in new forms of collaborative knowledge-building on the web.

    This "new," more collaborative Internet that I was now studying was called by many Web 2.0. In terms of technological developments and characteristic structural elements, the term Web 2.0 refers to the proliferation and use of social software, which relies on user-generated content and the building of an interactive community as integral to the site. Amazon.com, for example, does this both with users' reviews and with "others have bought these items," etc.. Web 2.0 sites also incorporate user-generated keywords or tags as a form of making connections or doing searches. Tagging refers to user-built classification systems and user-created terminology for classification, whether of films in a genre, linked-to content in a blog archive, or materials in a personal collection. The by-now ubiquitous practice of tagging, incorporated into most of the social web's software, has generated a large amount of theorizing in social psychology, librarianship, and computer theory. To give one example of the kinds of questions raised by tagging or folksonomy, as the larger phenomenon is called, ask yourself: What are its advantages or more important, its disadvantages, when compared to current forms of library classification, which are standardized, top-down, and slow to change or grow?

    Although I have friends who keep blogs or write reviews for Amazon.com, I am comfortable with neither of those kinds of Internet presence for myself. I have long had a website, rarely updated, with my vita and publications, usually in their beloved early form before condensed by the demands of editors and publishers. And it has puzzled me why more academics do not put up most of their work for free distribution online, since very few of us receive more than a pittance for what we write. Intrigued by the concept of a more social, even gift-giving web, I looked at many sites dealing with Internet use.

    The information on these sites led me to focus in on a specific example of Internet-based collaboration, that is, a new social use for bookmarks or favorites, previously accumulated on individual web browser software. In that area I found my own Web 2.0 avocation, social bookmarking, and developed a page of annotated links to useful Internet sites. The site I chose, del.icio.us, is one of the oldest and largest social bookmarking sites, with about 1.5 million users. Visually it is spartan but useful. And, like many other Web 2.0 endeavors, my own del.icio.us page bears the mark of time, since my interests have changed since I began it two years ago and my entries reflect that.

    A del.icio.us journey

    The links to the left take you to that site and the tags under which the links are organized.

    I began my del.icio.us page by pursuing examining and linking to sites that dealt with understanding the new social web, as seen in the many tags under Internet to the left. In particular, I was interested in the topic of Internet use and theory of the Internet. Along with that, I looked at many kinds of blogs and found the kind that most interested me: those from rhetoricians and litblogs (I teach in an English department), sites — not just blogs — around film, television, and cultural studies, and sites around news, especially participatory or citizen journalism, and around politics, with a strong interest in seeing what leftists and feminists were writing. Also because of my work with Jump Cut, I wanted to take a look at ejournals in humanities and communications.

    Some things I discovered along the way, and the insufficiency of my tags reflected this. For some reason, I had dismissed YouTube as having poor video production values and so did not even have a tag for "video." I just clumped video along with "television." However, this year I am teaching Experimental Film and Video, and the students in that class are doing a Blackboard discussion group specifically around experimental visual material on the Internet. Once again, I learn that the students know an immense amount about creative works on the Internet that I was never aware of. Their interest and enthusiasm for online video has led me more recently to revisit all the new, more community-based search engines that I had tried to see how I could use them using the tags: "experimental video art" or "experimental animation." In addition, I discovered yet more sites telling me how to do more efficient searches for other research areas as well.

    Also slow in coming for me was a separate tag for audio. I discovered that among the diary or personal narrative sites I found on the Internet (links to narrative, first person, personal) , some of the most appealing include what are called audio-slide shows, sets of photographs with a personal narration. In addition, we have run several essays in Jump Cut on audio. But most of all, I came to the realization that my avoidance of what I considered "sloppy" or "uninteresting" audio-visual material on the Internet was my own teacherly judgmental attitude toward this material which came from teaching video production over many years.

    Because I had neglected audio in general, I also neglected podcasts, which is an area relatively unexplored on my site. Essayistic podcasts often consist of how-to shows, news commentary or reviews independently produced by radio professionals or garage audiocasters. Significantly, podcasters usually broadcast their work to individuals via syndicated feeds that get downloaded ito subscribers' computers and iPods on a regular schedule, usually by RSS technology (link to Wikipedia on podcasting). Apple's iTunes has a limited podcast directory, but there are also larger podcast search engines in sites like Yahoo (link to Yahoo podcast search). In terms of my own taste, I enjoy listening to music on the computer and iPod, but so far have found podcasts' delivery of spoken information slow; if I am reading on an Internet site, I also have the luxury of reading fast or skimming for main points.

    Using del.icio.us has an immediate payoff for me but it also has a network effect, with an accumulated archive and the capacity to let users share each others' knowledge. For example, if I type the "ejumpcut" URL into the search box, I get back a page to let me know how many people have bookmarked Jump Cut. If I click on that phrase, "saved by 47 people," I am led to another page that tells me what descriptions, if any, these people annotated their Jump Cut link with; and links to all their sites, including the dates when they made a link to Jump Cut. When I find a del.icio.us page whose owner frequently links to sites that also interest me, I can put that user name in my "network." Del.icio.us then maintains several "in" boxes for me, one labeled "network" and one "subscriptions" where I will find links forwarded for my inspection each day, either to sites newly bookmarked by those in my network or to new sites that del.icio.us found that correspond to tags I have preselected and instructed del.icio.us to look for.

    Experiencing the social web

    Does social bookmarking then entail participating in a new kind of community? Not quite. Rather, those doing social bookmarking engage in collectively filtering what's good on the Internet. I deliberately use a mix of tags that proclaim my interests, and with them I also "filter" those del.icio.us users to choose for my network: do they share my tags, either professional ones like "narrative," "newmedia," or "filmblog," or political ones, like "left," "feminist," or "participatory journalism"? Furthermore, I judge Internet sites with the rapidity of someone using a television remote, knowing at once what's not for me. In collectively establishing a social bookmarking site, relatively like-minded viewers use their mutual concerns to build up a list of highly recommended sites as well as ferret out new finds relevant to the subject area or tag at hand.

    Bloggers have a different way of building community, through reading each other's writing and commenting on it, often in dialogue with a group whose voices and opinions become known to each other. The comments sections on blogs often maintain a kind of low level but serious interaction akin to a conversation in tone, with many of the participants concerned to set up a climate of mutual respect. Of course, on the political blogs, the comments can be far more hostile, reflecting the nation's political divide. But the basic element in the social web still remains the building of trust.

    Just raising the issue of how explosive or divisive political allegiance is on the Internet reminds me how much I find Internet use to be a solitary endeavor, often narcissistic and surely subjective. In fact, when I started using del.icio.us, I fantasized finding another user very similar to myself. But that has not happened. Instead, I have discovered the way that the Internet is based on a gift economy in which people readily share their knowledge around craft, social and personal issues, mutual problems, political analysis and action, and intellectual life. What happens during the course of a life online, however, is that the net surfer discovers just how much learning is an ongoing process, not something summed up in a few high-brow places. The very process of online learning may require of me a constant process of intellectual reorientation, as new avenues of exploration open up, new technologies develop, or new young people born into the age of the Internet develop new mediated identities in ways I could never imagine before.

    As a teacher, it is fascinating to see how many K-12 teachers have an online presence and understand this new kind of identity formation among young people. Just on a technical level, the Internet changes education as, more fundamentally, it has already changed learning. Its archiving function, massive information flow, and fantastic collapse of time and space make it not only an adjunct to education but a shaper of it. Now teachers have to reconceptualize their role within a collaborative learning process. Their students move in an Internet environment where no one person knows it all, where there are shifting, decentralized bodies of knowledge and communities of learners, and where young people appropriate and reuse electronic material. How does a teacher use what she knows and teach evaluative and communication skills, while teaching subject matter or computer skills she might not know much about at all? My own process of exploring the Internet, especially the social web, has made clear just how located we are historically in our own time and place as learners, and thus also as teachers. If only as a modest beginning, we can explore that fact with our students along with the subject matter we teach.

    The idea of located learning brings me to my conclusion, which is what a friend of mine pointed out to me when I first asked her to look at my del.icio.us page. This page is an intellectual footprint of how I use the Internet. In linguistic terms, it points to what we could call an idiolect, an individual's characteristic use of the basic structures of the language. I have long thought that each user has a basic, individualized way of using a computer. Yet, having spent two years constructing a site around what I thought was an objective research project — the Internet today — I am surprised to find out how much it has become an individualized portrait of my own intellectual concerns. Not that I am the only one who knows this, however. My favorite sites do as well: Amazon.com, StumbleUpon and now StumbleVideo (to see a new site I've never visited that could delight me), and Pandora.com (to hear music according to a "genome" of my musical tastes).

    Such sites all know and are exploiting our patterned Internet use. It is we who teach Amazon and Google and so increase the complexity of their databases with every search we do. Because of our focused attention in using these sites, Internet businesses become more accurate in targeted marketing. In such an unobtrusive way, the Internet becomes tailored to individualized consumption just as it becomes more democratic and open to user input. Because I am convinced that we have much more to gain from the open circulation of knowledge than from its inhibition, I have embraced this more interactive Web 2.0 as a way of contributing to and learning from a community of my peers.

    Notes

    If you wish me to add material to my del.icio.us annotated bookmarks, please send an email to jlesage@uoregon.edu.


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