Thursday, March 17, 2011

Susan Herring's plenary at GURT 2011

I've just got back from GURT 2011.  All the plenary speakers gave wonderful talks.  To help me reflect on what they said, and to share some of the concepts with those who didn't get to go to GURT, I'm posting some summaries of ideas selected from the notes I took.  The first up is Susan Herring, whose inspiring and influential work remains right at the forefront of CMC.

Susan Herring proposed a new concept which she described as Convergent Media CMC or CMCMC. This is defined as: Text based CMC that takes place in convergent media formats in which it is typically secondary, by design, to other information or entertainment-related activities.

CMCMC overlaps strongly with web 2.0, but it raises issues for those of us studying the discourse which emerges in these contexts. These include

• Convergent media CMC discourse and language and language use in CMCMC environments

• Content: tags, updates, annotations

• Contexts: location based SNS, new audiences, localization of SNS

• Usage patterns media co-activity (the use of multiple platforms within one genre)

• Media affordances such as walled gardens, friending, social tagging, recommending, awareness indicators

• Adaptive strategies: e.g. #, @, RTs, performed interactivity (e.g. in blogs)

She proposed a three part lens for approaching this, using the distinction between the qualities which are:

• familiar,

• reconfigured,

• emergent.

These are not simply chronological distinctions, but reflect the complex ways in which genres relate to what has gone before and what is genuinely ‘innovative’. It is inspired by Crowston and Williams’ (2000) classification of reproduced, adapted, and emergent web genres, and reminds of the dangerous tendency to claim newness when there are historical precedents for a form (e.g. blogs, in relation to handwritten diaries).

Examples of different types of reproduced, adapted and emergent web genres include:

• Reproduced – course syllabi, scholarly articles

• Adapted - news sites, geneology sites, e-journals

• Emergent – hot lists of links, homepages, blogs, wikis

There is a trend over time for web genres to shift along a continuum from reproduced to adapted to emergent forms, where older genres appear to become more new over time. For example, the SNS Facebook, comes from the print facebook genre but reworks this in novel ways. This observation is nothing new, and social informatics reminds us that new technologies are first put to old uses until new uses of the technology emerge.

Web 2.0 which is Familiar

Herring argued that media convergence results in qualitatively different text types, but that there are many familiar aspects of web 2.0 discourse that remain current including the study of:

Textuality, interactivity, nonstandard orthography, gender differences, code switching, flaming, email hoaxes/scams, etc.

She reminded us that familiar phenomenon are often overlooked in favour of newer, more exotic forms of CMD and that the ‘innovations’ may be mistaken for new, or assumed to be different by virtue by virtue of the passing of time. When we study web 2.0 we need to trace relevant antecedents to gain perspective.

Web 2.0 is Reconfigured

Reconfigured genres include:

Personal status updates, quoting, retweeting, small stories, ad spam,

For example, Facebook updates not innovative forms which emerged out of the blue. Rather they date back to emotes in MUDS and MOOS (Cherny 1999). But in Facebook the updates are reconfigured as core content, not peripheral, and presented as threads in a multimodal site. Reconfigured phenomena can be tricky to identify as they can be mistaken for emergent CMD. In order to see that the genres are reconfigured, the analyst must apply comparative insight, comparing the functions of one genre with another

Web 2.0 which is Emergent

Emergent web 2.0 has no antecedents. Examples include authorless discourse (e.g. wikis), Multimodal UGC (voicethread) video blogging and exchanges (you tube), computerised programs for forum posters (link builders).

In summary, Herring argued that some apparently new phenomenon have online or offline antecedents, and as analysts we need to be aware of these. We should then question why certain discourse phenomenon persist, adapt, or arise anew in technologically mediated environments. She contrasted the influence of technological, social and linguistic factors, arguing that interaction seems most likely to be reconfigured, so while social identities are already formed, the format for turn taking structures can change. We might find new formats for online talk (in Retweets, updates voice over threads) but the gendered styles for example, might stay the same.



Anonymous Susan Herring said...

Nice summary!

12:41 PM  

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