Technology and Culture

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Gender and Open Source

What follows is one of the articles I wrote for The Encyclopedia of Gender and Information Technology. It was accepted pending revision, but I decided to withdraw it. The deadline was just about to pass, and I suppose I could have asked for an extension, but the changes the reviewer requested ended up requiring more research on the history of women in computing than I have time to do, unfortunately (must spend time on dissertation only!). Plus, this is much more of a nonacademic position paper than an objective, informative academic encyclopedia article. I wrote two other articles for the encyclopedia anyway, which is probably enough. So, enjoy. Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know before; I hope so. Not being a software developer myself, I'm sure I'm wrong about some of the technical matters I discuss here, and I'd appreciate any corrections.

UPDATE: See also the playlist I created on this topic. It contains a few sources I found since writing this.

UPDATE: There's a thread at Linux Weekly News about an article in NewsForge titled "Getting in touch with the feminine side of open source."

UPDATE: Máirín has a thoughtful response you should read.

Introduction: Proprietary and Open Source Software

The software most people use every day – common applications like Microsoft® Word®, Adobe® PhotoShop®, and the like – is proprietary. That is to say, we pay for the use of it, and suppliers pay programmers to write the source code. Consumers purchase the software, install it, and use it. While consumers can use the software applications, because they are only sold the executable files, they cannot view or alter the source code. This means they cannot write new modules or tinker with existing features; for example, consumers can't make changes to a proprietary word processing program's bulleted list feature to add a new style of bullet or write a module that would make the program recognize a given file format it does not currently recognize. In proprietary software applications, the code is under traditional copyright, and because the corporations only sell the executable program file(s), the user cannot view or build upon the source code. Instead, the user must wait for the next version of the program, hope the company has added the features she wants, and pay for the upgrade. Programmers who work for software corporations must sign confidentiality documents agreeing not to share the source code with any unauthorized personnel.

Method, artifacts, and other dissertation-related notes

It's been too long since I've done a dissertation post (one week and five days, according to the list of categories on my sidebar), and I'd like to remedy that. So, first, a progress report: Several days ago, I sent out interview questions. The questions were, as you might recall, intended to help contextualize the "where are the women" discussions. Response so far has been better than I expected; I was afraid that no one would be around given that it's summer. At least two people that I know of intend to post about my project (as in, post my questions and their responses). I expected that going into it, and I assumed that some people would post their responses without talking to me first, so I'm telling those who do check with me that it's fine. And it really is fine, to be sure. Of course I do worry a little bit that people with very high Google page ranks will rip my research to shreds and their posts will be right there at the top when folks Google me, but it's a necessary risk. It'll be interesting to see how such a public research process will go.

I've been thinking a lot about process lately. Right now my committee members want me to include, along with my chapters, at least three appendices: a weblog primer, one on my project's implications for composition pedagogy (they're not requiring this one, but they said the pedagogical implications could go in an appendix should I choose to write about them), and one that's a kind of reflexive essay about my doing this project as both a woman and a blogger.

It's that last one I keep getting hung up on. I think I have a chapter's worth of stuff to say about that topic. I hope that will be okay with my committee; my guess is it will. I envision it as a chapter that addresses several issues related to method:

  1. A review and critique of methods used in previous qualitative internet research (not all of it, mind you, just the work on gender and computer-mediated communication in which I'm situating my research)
  2. An explanation of new methodological challenges presented by studying blogging (e.g. expectations of privacy) and common methods scholars have used to study them so far
  3. A definition and justification of my methodological choices (this would include defining a "feminist rhetorical approach" and what I mean when I say "rhetorical criticism" (Cf. Warnick*) and explanation of my purpose in doing interviews
  4. An autoethnographic narrative about my experience with blogging (as it pertains to this project -- e.g. why I blog, what it's been like doing my research in public, etc. -- it would also entail writing a blurb about autoethnography)
  5. A reflexive examination of my roles as feminist woman, blogger, and researcher studying gender and blogging (this would include issues of situatedness, degree of advocacy, and research ethics).

Feedback is, as always, appreciated. Now for something fun, which will definitely be an appendix in my dissertation: all the little artifacts I'm collecting, like the representations I wrote about recently. Here are some more quiz images, which I haven't had time to write about yet but hope to soon:

Many more below the fold:

"The personal," disrupted

I think I just had, to use Sam's term, a duh-piphany. Let me explain. Michelle's comments here in response to the recent pair of articles claiming that blogging will hurt one's career ("the mere act of opening up could cost you a job") made me think all of a sudden about what Mike has been saying about personal writing, and I finally put my finger on something. I'm sure it's blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but here's my new understanding: Due in part to blogging and other kinds of quickly, easily, and widely disseminative self-publication that the internet makes possible, as well as a complex confluence of factors in the social and political milieu (shifting notions of public/private, to offer one example), and the market (imaginary rather than material capital, middle class' living paycheck to paycheck, carrying debt, depending more on the market's caprice*) the context and meaning of personal writing have changed. "The personal" is becoming a site of struggle. To put it another way, "opening up" is set in opposition to "corporate values,"** and I'll admit that "the demonization of the personal" is a strong phrase, but judging from the articles in the Chronicle (and the subsequent forum discussion) and The New York Times, the personal is obviously seen by a lot of people as being to a considerable extent verboten.

So "the personal," in composition theory, can be conceptualized in terms of rights, as something at stake to which students have a right, a right that they should exercise. In the current context, I think one could make a persuasive case for this.

Viewed in this manner, any personal writing, regardless of subject matter, is political precisely because of its status as "the personal," which is in a very dramatic political and economic sense being called into question.

* Not to say that living hand-to-mouth is anything new. I'm probably way off on this point. I'm thinking of stories like Prof. B.'s, just to provide a reference.

** Edited to clarify: not just "corporate values," but one's status or potential status as a producer, one's means to make a living, as well as the right to express publicly an identity other than "worker."

Interview for _Uses of Blogs_

I was recently interviewed for the forthcoming collection Uses of Blogs. They probably won't be able to use everything I wrote, so I thought I'd post the whole thing here as a kind of appendix.

Genre

1)What kind of blogging do you do? Do you feel your blogging falls into a particular genre of weblog?

Well, I blog under my real name, and I don't write much about my personal life; I try to stick to my research and, to a lesser extent, politics. I'm acutely aware of discretion and the invisible line between public and private, and I rarely blog about friends and family. My family members are very private people, and they'd like me to be as well. I know they read my weblog, so before posting, I imagine what their reactions to my words might be. There are also the guidelines “don't say anything that you wouldn't publish on the front page of the newspaper under your real name” and “don't say anything you wouldn't say in front of your grandmother.” If my weblog falls into a genre, I'm guessing it would be a knowledge-log, or klog. I've seen people put links to my site under the heading “Klogs,” so at least some others see my weblog that way too.

2)How do you see blogging genres evolving in the future? Will there be a point when we'll speak of these genres as distinct forms of publishing in their own right – ie a scenario where 'blogging' is no more meaningful a term than 'publishing'?

I think that even now “blogging” is only slightly more meaningful a term than “publishing.” With blogging, the special meaning is that what you're doing is self-publishing without an editor or other gatekeeper. When I first started studying weblogs in 2002, I quickly realized that making claims or generalizations about weblogs was like trying to say that X is true of all books: Maybe you can make a claim about all books, but it wouldn't be a very meaningful one. Jim Oliver, a colleague of mine, has said that a weblog is not a genre; it's a technology. [NB: He may not think this anymore.] I don't know if I agree that generic conventions are all that separate from specific writing technologies, but many genre theorists – including Carolyn Miller, Amy Devitt, Carol Berkenkotter, and Thomas Huckin – have argued that specific social contexts allow communicative genres to emerge and that emergent genres almost always have some kind of antecedent. For example, you'll often hear people compare weblogs to political pamphlets or broadsides, or to personal diaries. Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd (2004) point to the “democratization of celebrity” and its accompanying genres, including talk shows and reality television, as part of the larger cultural and generic foundation for blogging's emergence.

In the future, with the rise of podcasting, vlogging, large collaborative audio projects like [murmur], the joining together of interactive online art and graffiti (Grafedia.net), and who knows what else in the pipeline, there are going to be plenty of other ways to publish besides keeping a text-based weblog. The term “citizen media” is inclusive enough to encompass all of these technologies while still retaining the self-publishing, unedited by larger organizations aspect of this phenomenon.

Democracy

3) How do you conceptualise the blogosphere - is it a network, are there clusters, hotspots? How is it organised?

I haven't done a lot of research using network theory, though I am learning more about it, but based on my experience, I would say there are hotspots where the same people comment regularly, communities form, and readers get to know each other. Bitch Ph.D. and Crooked Timber are good examples of hotspots in the greater academic blogging community, and Chez Miscarriage is one place where a lot of women who blog about infertility come together. I find other bloggers in my referrers, on other people's weblogs when they link out to others' posts, on other people's blogrolls, and in other people's comment threads.

4)How 'democratic' is the blogosphere? What do you think about the idea of 'A-list' bloggers?

I attended a panel recently in which Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, pointed out that there are far more readers in “the long tail” of the power law distribution than there are readers who read the Technorati Top 10, so it's not as though if you're not on “the A-list,” whatever that means (the “higher beings” and “mortal humans” in The Truth Laid Bear's Ecosystem?), no one will read your weblog, or that if you start a weblog, it will be all that much harder to garner an audience than it was four or five years ago. If one thinks of “democratic” in this sense as having equal opportunity to speak and be heard, I believe the blogosphere can be democratic, at least to an extent, if the blogger reaches out and joins a conversation, writes herself into the network (Walker, 2003) by linking to other weblogs, commenting at other weblogs, and making use of trackback.

However, I would argue that the bloggers who get the most traffic are in a privileged position. They amplify the voices of the writers to whom they link and expose their writing to a much larger audience. I am not trying to say that popular bloggers have any particular responsibility to link to, for example, feminist women or people of color, but I believe it's in the interest of a democratic blogosphere to seek out and bring in minority positions and issues.

I also don't think one can talk about the blogosphere without talking about its uptake in mainstream media and its representations in popular culture. In the United States, I find this to be a problem. The bloggers who get the most positive attention from major news organizations as well as opportunities to publish in other venues tend to be white men. Political, filter-style weblogs are masculinized, personal, diary-style weblogs are feminized, and the two types are overly bifurcated. Personal weblogs about parenting [Actually, blogs about personal life, whether the writers are parents or not] are represented as narcissistic and confessional, and blogging has also been portrayed as activity associated with stereotypical teenaged girls (silly, overly dramatic, self-centered). Herring, Kouper, Scheidt, & Wright (2004) found that while a majority of bloggers write personal, journal-style weblogs rather than more impersonal, filter-style weblogs, filter-style weblogs are overrepresented and taken more seriously in mainstream American culture. Insofar as “online” and “offline” life are lived by the same people and can't be separated, I would argue that the discussion about the blogosphere as well as the discussion taking place within the blogosphere contribute to its perceived measure of democracy.

Information

5)How do you evaluate the quality of information on blogs? How much danger is there of misleading information spreading through blogs?

Credibility is very important online. It must be earned, either through “real-world” credentials such as an advanced degree or other evidence of expertise on a topic or through an established pattern of writing with fairness and accuracy. If a blogger publishes something he or she knows to be inaccurate, or is proven later to be inaccurate, it can take a long time to live that down. Writers who take blogging seriously do not want to lose their credibility or their audience, and they tend to correct publicly any errors they make. Most people I know who keep weblogs consciously or unconsciously follow Rebecca Blood's set of weblog ethics. At the same time, though, some bloggers write fiction, or intentionally embellished impressions of real life, and do not want to be held to an ethical standard grounded in journalism (Delacour, 2003). Bloggers feel varying levels of accountability to their readers, so the responsibility of verifying information often falls on the readers. As with any information, print or online, it is best to question facts and interpretations and read critically.

6)Is blogging changing the way we write?

One of my colleagues, Charles Lowe, claims that he can see blogging's influence on Lawrence Lessig's writing style in his most recent book, Free Culture. For my part, I think blogging has helped me to see what kind of writing people respond to best. My writing style has always been fairly clear, but through blogging, I've learned that even in scholarly essays that have set conventions, readers appreciate some creativity and imagination in the form of narrative. I think that has carried over into my other writing. Also, through writing for such a public and vocal audience, I am much more careful about what I say: careful to define my terms and qualify my claims.

What we still need are some longitudinal studies assessing student writing before and during blogging. Composition scholars are studying the influence of blogging on student writing, but the studies that I know of so far have only assessed student writing over the course of one semester, toward the beginning of which students started blogging, so getting a comprehensive baseline assessment of students' writing was difficult. I hope a group of composition scholars will do a longitudinal study on blogging's influence on writing using on a large group of students who are new to blogging, starting with a holistic portfolio assessment of each student's writing and ending with another portfolio. Even then, it will be hard to identify criteria to track and to pinpoint which improvements are directly related to blogging and which are more attributable to students' overall intellectual development. Several teachers would have to evaluate the writing, and students would have to be interviewed at various stages in the study to get a sense of where blogging fits in.

Technology

7)How do you make your blog? Do you use RSS, and if so, how? Do you use Trackback, and if so, how? Do you use metablogs such as Daypop or Technorati, and if so, how?

My weblog runs on Drupal, which features a built-in news aggregator. I use aggregation for the same reason most people do: It makes it easy to keep up with a lot of weblogs and other frequently-updated sites. I use trackback too, but not every time I link to someone. I try to imagine a reader perusing a post on another weblog a couple of years from now. If I consider my participation in the conversation to be significant enough to be co-archived on my site as well as someone else's, I'll send a trackback. In recent months, spammers have been abusing trackback, but I have no plans to get rid of it on my own site; I think it's a great way to join posts together.

I search for my blog on Technorati, too; sometimes I don't catch weblogs that link to me in my referrers. Technorati is a good tool for finding out a little more about your audience. The tagging in Technorati is valuable as well, but when I browse folksonomies, I tend to go to del.icio.us or de.lirio.us.

Personal

8)Who is your audience?

My longtime, regular audience consists of academics in my discipline, rhetoric and composition, feminist women, and friends and family, but I can see from my referrers that a lot of other readers find my weblog in Google searches. When posting, I try to anticipate what search terms in my post might lead to my weblog. This exercise in anticipating search terms, taken with my trying to imagine how readers will react to what I write, helps me fine-tune what I say and use terms carefully. If someone finds my weblog in a Google search for a specific term, I don't want him or her to come to my weblog and find misinformation or sloppy thinking.

9) Why do you blog?

I've always been a pretty open, extroverted person, and my weblog is just an extension of that quality. I blog because it's a good way not only to get my ideas and scholarship into circulation and get feedback on them, but because it's a good way to make new friends.

10) What impact has blogging had on the rest of your life? Has it been dangerous/detrimental to expose your life to complete strangers in this way?

Blogging has had a significant impact on my career, for the better. Because of my weblog, reporters have interviewed me, I've been invited to give lectures and review manuscripts for scholarly journals, and I was even offered a scholarship to the Internet Law Program, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard Law School. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education warned graduate students that blogging almost certainly will hurt their careers. I hope that won't be the case with me. I rarely mention coworkers, family, or friends when I blog, and when I do, it's innocuous and complimentary, so I haven't gotten in trouble for anything I've written. I enjoy reading other people's personal writing, but I don't do too much of it myself. It's emotionally risky, even if you do it anonymously; readers can make remarks in comments that hurt regardless of whether or not your real name is connected with the writing.

More on H20

The more I explore H20 Playlists, the more impressed I am. Prepare for proselytization. You can search the playlists for a specific term and then subscribe to the results via RSS. You can also subscribe to individual playlists if you want to be notified when new items get added. It's clear to me that they want this to be kind of similar to Open CourseWare; many of the playlists are associated with courses -- so far I'm seeing Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard represented a lot. Also, each item on a playlist has a box next to it that you can check. You can add checked items to your library and then make your own playlists from them. They want us to mix up these readings in all kinds of ways!

Here are some of the many neat playlists I've found so far:

User Innovation

Open Education

Public Spaces/Public Spheres

Introduction to Social Anthropology

Cyberlaw

UPDATE: More:

Wayne Marshall's Music Playlist (Good hip-hop and reggae links)

Digital Cities: Urban Processes and Urban Futures in the Information Age

Community Based Production

Women In Business Resources

H20 Playlists

I'm excited about H20 Playlists:

H2O playlists are more than just a cool, sleek technology -- they represent a new way of thinking about education online. An H2O Playlist is a series of links to books, articles, and other materials that collectively explore an idea or set the stage for a course, discussion, or current event.

H2O Playlists make it easy to:

transform traditional syllabi into interactive, global learning tools

share the reading lists of world-renowned scholars, organizations, and cultural leaders

let interested people subscribe to playlist updates and stay current on their fields

promote an exchange of ideas and expertise among professors, students, and researchers

communicate and aggregate knowledge -- online and offline.

See also their philosophy. They take basic tagging and kick it up a notch; notice -- here's a sample playlist -- how you can leave comments on others' lists, view derivative playlists, rate playlists' influence, and view playlists with the same tags. I love it. Even though I created my own playlist but it wouldn't let me publish it ("An unknown error has occurred."). Oh well, it's still in beta.

UPDATE: It works for me now, and my first playlist is up.

Via Copyfight.

Firefox 1.0.5 is driving me crazy

Yesterday I installed Firefox 1.0.5 and, like a dolt, didn't keep 1.0.4 around. I'm having the most infuriating problem, one that they're talking about on the forums: I can't open links in new tabs. When I right click and select "Open in new tab," nothing happens. I can't open links in new windows either. I have to copy the URL, open a new tab, and paste it in. I don't know if I can take this anymore. I've tried selecting the option that makes all links open in new tabs, and that didn't work. I tried installing the new version of Tabbrowser Extensions, and that didn't work either. I've looked online and can't find an earlier version of Firefox to download. If you can find a link to a place where I can get 1.0.4, please post it in a comment here. Or maybe they'll fix the problem in this imminent new release.

In a related story, SpreadFirefox.com was hacked.

Privacy, blogging, ethics, and oh yeah, that Chronicle article

I recently ran across Bloggers' Expectations of Privacy and Accountability: An Initial Survey, published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. One theme that jumps out at me is the researchers' findings about how blogging affects bloggers' careers; I found it especially pertinent in light of the now-infamous Chronicle article (my emphasis):

When asked to explain the kinds of problems they had encountered because of materials published on their blogs, respondents described the following situations:

A message that I posted insulted a co-worker at a non-profit where I work. The non-profit suspended me from my work for three months.
- a male blogger from New York

I got 7 extra weekend duties for criticizing an army officer, even though I didn't name him, but merely alluded to him on my blog. - a male blogger from Singapore

A TV station that I worked for […] found my writings about people at the station, from a personal standpoint and said that I had spoken to some in a (subjectively) non-flattering light. After seeing these public entries in my blog, I was fired.
- a male blogger from North Carolina

These stories echo those found on newspapers and magazines about bloggers who have lost their jobs because of materials they published on their sites (Bray, 2004; Phillips, 2003; Sarnataro, 2003; St. John, 2003). Clearly, the notion of what defines "socially acceptable behavior" on blogs has yet to be collectively defined.

[. . .]

Bloggers write not only about themselves but often also about other people with whom they interact. When asked whether they sought other people's permission to blog about them, 66% of respondents almost never asked permission, and only 3% said they always asked permission first. Interestingly, only 9% of the survey respondents said they never blogged about people they knew personally. Thus the great majority of respondents write about people they know but most of them never ask their permission to do so. Furthermore, no correlation was found between how private the content of an entry is and whether authors ask permission to write about the people they know. In other words, respondents who tend to write about more private situations or experiences do not ask permission from their friends or acquaintances any more frequently than those who do not write personal entries.

[. . .]

Will companies read candidates' blogs before making hiring decisions, similar to what happened with Usenet newsgroups in the past? One of the respondents in the survey alluded to this kind of situation:

Early on in my job hunt, I applied for a low-paying job and then agonized [on my blog] over whether to take it. The next day, I noticed several hits to my journal from that employer, and they never called me back. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I suspect my blog post may have cost me that job.
- a female blogger from Massachusetts

[. . .]

Despite the emerging privacy strategies described in this study, authors reported having difficulty negotiating privacy boundaries under certain circumstances. The workplace is one setting where such problematic situations regularly occur. Bloggers' privacy boundaries in the workplace have yet not been clearly established, either socially or legally. As the quotations in the previous sections illustrate, this is one area of conflict that greatly affects bloggers, at times resulting in authors being fired from their jobs. It is likely that, while disagreement over what constitutes acceptable blogging material persists, bloggers will continue to be reprimanded and employers will continue to be frustrated by their employees' blogging activities.

[. . .]

One recommendation that emerges from the findings of this study is that companies should share the responsibility of articulating what constitutes acceptable blogging behavior and what they see as problematic practices. Some companies have already started to enunciate blogging guidelines for employees. A few companies have posted written policies concerning personal blogs on their Web sites, including clear, point-by-point suggestions addressing issues that are sensitive to the company but that may not occur to employee bloggers when they choose to discuss matters related to the company's technology or business.8 Such policies could serve as the first step in a broader process of negotiation between employers and employees as blogging practices continue to evolve.

Now I'd like to point toward some of the considerations in the AoIR Ethics Report:

One broad consideration: the greater the acknowledged publicity of the venue, the less obligation there may be to protect individual privacy, confidentiality, right to informed consent, etc. (p. 5)

[. . .]

A broad consideration: the greater the vulnerability of the author / subject - the greater the obligation of the researcher to protect the author / subject.(p. 5)

[. . .]

Alternatively: Are participants in this environment best understood as “subjects” (in the senses common in human subjects research in medicine and the social sciences) – or as authors whose texts/artifacts are intended as public?

If participants are best understood as subjects in the first sense (e.g., as they participate in small chatrooms, MUDs or MOOs intended to provide reasonably secure domains for private exchanges), then greater obligations to protect autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, etc., are likely to follow.

If, by contrast, subjects may be understood as authors intending for their work to be public (e.g., e-mail postings to large listserves and USENET groups; public webpages such as homepages, Web logs, etc.; chat exchanges in publicly accessible chatrooms, etc.) – then fewer obligations to protect autonomy, privacy, confidentiality, etc., will likely follow. (p. 7)

That's it for now.

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