Lessons learned in Milwaukee @ AoIR Conference.

“Best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” can explode in your face. I was supposed to arrive in Milwaukee yesterday at around 1 PM for the Association of Internet Researchers conference. Instead, I ended up missing my flight and being stuck in Detroit, where I was treated to some very strange public art. They probably figured that having thousands of travelers swoosh around on those belts, in a tunnel decorated in Plexiglas and lights, while serenaded by esoteric music, was soothing. It was not. Frankly, it was just plain strange, and unnerving.

But I finally did make it, and I learned something: never underestimate how long it will take you to clear security checkpoints, and make sure your cab picks you up at the right address. Otherwise, you end up somewhere you never expected to go. “Best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men”.

Of course, that is not the most important thing I learned from attending this conference. I presented a paper on Family Guy and online fandom. My argument was that we should consider the ways in which corporate websites structure fan participation. I’m not sure how I did in the delivery, basically because I can’t remember presenting. Conference presentations get my adrenaline pumping, and that tends to erase all memories.

Except for the important ones, mind you. Today, I learned about communication design. The cliff notes version thereof is that websites are designed to support specific functions. For example, we don’t go to twitter to stream video; we go there to link video. Furthermore, communication and participation themselves can be designed to support specific practices. By this I mean that the ways in which we invite participation to a site may influence the responses that we receive, and what people end up doing there. I will definitely be reading up on that, so I can understand it better. It will be very useful for my dissertation.

The other important thing I learned today involved the #ir10  back channel. I had heard about back channels before, but had never used them so extensively. I found myself twittering incessantly about what was going on in the sessions I attended, and was also able to keep tabs what was going on in other sessions. Moreover, I think I could write a fair reconstruction of the ideas that stood out for me the most if I go back to my twitter feed. Here are some highlights:

  • Social networking may not be as social as I thought. Design issues limit users ability to converse coherently (Panel on Convergent Media).
  • When activist use social media, they using something they have limited control over. Bandwidth, accessibility, and especially terms of use can constrict the potential of social media. However, even if social networking sites are not perfect, they should not be dismiss (Panel on collective action).
  • New trend of advertising targeting women. Technology products promise serenity now, and the Palm Pre is like a Quaalude (Feminist Political Economy panel).
  • According to @michaelzimmer Discussion of AoIR research ethics guidelines boiled down to this: “don’t be a dick”. I wasn’t there, so I’ll take his word for it. Plus, good advice for life anyway.
  • Here’s a post from the back channel @janelle_ward: Brilliant! Geek Feminism Blog asks “Where are all the men bloggers?” http://bit.ly/15daAd
  • If your presentation is about immigration, and you get a question about zombies, smile and nod. “Best laid schemes o’ mice n’ men.” Robert Burns was right.
  • Sex on Second Life. It’s not surprising. Humans are sexual beings. The question to ask is what the implications are. What does it tell us about the division (arbitrary) between Real Life and Second Life? Your avatar does not make decisions; you do (is that from Nakamura?)
  • We — academics, that is — need to pay more attention to writing out our methods. Academic writing and publishing is also about teaching others about research practices. If we limit ourselves to statements like “this is an autoethnography,” we are falling short.
  • Blackbird, a web browser for African Americans?

Fantastic conference. Great learning experience. Definitely a lot for me to think about.


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