A Week in the life of a Digital Marketing Manager

It is hard to define what a Digital Marketing Manager does on a weekly basis. They are all different, with different roles and working in different industries that bring their own ways of doing things. In this blogpost I will try and run through what I did last week. My own role is in the youth tourism industry but the organisation I work for is a Not-For-Profit. My role is also unusual because I am only one half of the marketing team. I take care of Digital and Social while the Deputy Marketing Manager (the fabulous Kate) takes care of partnerships, rates and contracts. I also double as Office Manager. This currently means that I am organising the Christmas party.
What an amazing contraption!

 

On Monday I sent off the booking processes to a web developer for a new online booking system. This is a huge project for us. Once upon a time I thought that booking a room in a hostel was pretty straightforward. Not a chance. Hostel rooms need to be able to change their layout depending on the types of groups that use it. There is a huge difference between booking a private family room with a cot for an infant and rocking up to a six bed dorm with your rucksack. Yet they are often both the same room. Instead of rooms, beds are the product and most booking systems struggle with them. Booking engines usually take information from Property Management Systems. They in turn talk to channel managers because customers often find beds first through searching the global platforms such as Hostelworld and Booking.com. It can get pretty complex and each part of the technological puzzle has to plug into the next in order to work properly. Multiply that by 24 hostels and your hair will turn grey instantly.
Image from page 202 of "Locomotive engineering : a practical journal of railway motive power and rolling stock" (1892)
I had to order flags for the hostels because the Wild Atlantic Way wind is doing what it does best and has ripped all our 2016 flags to shreds already. Part of being a charity is that we are a membership based organisation. Every week we get membership requests and they have to be processed. I share this with others in the office. At some stage throughout the day I will get many queries from the Reservations department. Today we had some scam emails that were coming through that they needed guidance with. We also discovered  that one of our email addresses was not forwarding on properly so we were losing possible enquiries. I got onto our email provider to see if they could sort it. They did, pretty instantly. At some stage I considered taking some time during the day to join a webinar but decided not to this time. Most weeks I will plug into a webinar to keep up to speed with changes.

Image from page 116 of "Bell telephone magazine" (1922)

Tuesday I have to update the council members onto our website. I make a note to interview some of these people about their hostelling experiences. Find out who they are, what they do and how I can use their stories to promote the concept of hostelling in Ireland.

One of the hostel manager gets in touch with me and tells me that Facebook is suggesting they add an old Google Blogger site from 2011 that nobody knew existed to their page for booking purposes. 2011! Cop on Facebook. I skim some forums and try to access the blog. No joy. I suggest they just ignore Facebook for now. Facebook, you great big fool.

Every Tuesday I update all my social media stats so that I can report to the board on what we are doing, what effect it is having and what that all means in plain English. This takes me a while as it is a deep dive. I have my own system but it is still like potholing. Along the way I meet some interesting folk and follow them. Some of them are hostel related. Some of them are digital marketing related. I also search for new hashtags that will be useful for discovering adventure related content. New travel bloggers appear in my feed and I skim them to see if there is anything I like.
Miners in the Kirunavaara mine, Kiruna, Lappland, Sweden

I get another note from Reservations about a website request that disappeared. It could have been a customer error or it could have been a glitch in the matrix. I log it with the website developers. I have a love-hate relationship with our developers. They speak a strange logical language that no person in their right mind would use. I have a web project manager who acts as a translator for me. Her job is to keep me calm and stop me exploding when simple things should happen but they don’t.  Reservations notice another issue with the way bookings are recorded in the hostels which is going to skew my monthly stats. This is probably due to new staff coming in and not being aware of the way I want it recorded. I have to figure out how to get that sorted tactfully without annoying staff and without the hostel managers feeling like I am trying to control them.
Andrew Stefanik, a bobbin boy, works as spare boy, November 1911

I meet with our CEO and he updates me on recent changes and anything that is concerning him. He gives me a few deadlines to put into the diary. I flag a few concerns of my own. After that I catch up on the Hostelling International presentations from two weeks ago. I jot down a few ideas about projects we could be doing that are working for other National Associations. I join the Hostelling International forum and ask for some help for a few things. This reminds me that I posted something on Boards.ie and sure I might aswell check the independent Hostel Management Forum. I phone the web developer and he goes through the booking processes with me from his perspective. He leaves me with more questions that I have to find answers to.

Good Times

On Wednesday I catch up with Kate. Wednesdays we try to make time to communicate what we are working on and what we need help with. I have to edit images for social media that came in from the hostels for the global Peace project we are part of. I also get some nice new ones of Lady Gogo, our three-legged goat in Connemara. Then we have an issue with a booking which seems to be breaking our contract. That necessitates a few emails and discussions before we get it sorted. In the meantime I post a few images up on Instagram. One of the extra things I have to get onto today is to create a record of the staff days off for the CEO. Then I receive a job application for an old position which is still appearing on one of our pages and which we have not taken down yet. After that I chase accounts for an invoice for the web hosting which is due for renewal soon and needs to be taken care of.
Chasing a pig at Gatton College

Thursday myself and Kate have put aside for our new strategy. This year we are taking a  hostel specific approach. The final result will be an overall network strategy but it will be developed from the 24 different hostels. It is more time consuming to this but it makes sense to us and we want to be able to go to the hostel managers with something that means something to them. We shut our door and spend all day at this. It goes well. We have spent the last two years making sure that systems were in place to gather data about each of the hostels so now it is just a case of plugging that all in. We pull in last years revenue, bed nights, bookings, web traffic, social media data, reviews and various demographic reports for each of the hostels. We can compare it to the previous year so we can begin to see the trends. Then we can start to do some analysis, look at what needs doing and start coming up with a plan. We will be at this for the next two months to create a report and a budget for the board.

U.S. Troops Surrounded by Holiday Mail During WWII

Friday I have to take care of the welcome and departure emails that get sent from our live hostels. I have this down to a fine art and can do it in 45 minutes if I get no interruptions. Once the emails are done in Mailchimp I start work on the monthly board statistics as they are needed for next week. After that I have a sit down with the Reservations Manager to go through the possible booking steps for the new system and get her input on them. Finally, I pull out our 2020 strategy as we are in on Saturday with all the board and volunteers and council members having a workshop about where we are with our ten year plan.
Portrait of Felix Nadar (1820-1910), Photographer and Aeronautical Scientist

I have not included the countless emails that are replied to instantly or those that go no nowhere. I have not gone into the constant strategising and taking into consideration of every department before most actions are taken . Nor have I included the parts of the job that are of no interest such as daily routines like having breakfast with customers, top secret projects and blazing rows with people due to miscommunication. What I have outlined above are only the broad strokes of the job. Hopefully it will give you an idea of what this Digital Marketing Manager gets up to on a weekly basis.

How to design album covers

The thing about Information Professionals/Librarians/Whatever is they need to have a diverse skill set. One minute you can be cataloguing books by emotion and the next you can be splitting up a knitter’s circle that has gotten dangerously loud and is frightening the children in the soft book section. You have to be able to adapt.

One of the most lucrative areas that I have found myself working in is designing album covers for bands. Like a lot of things in my life, I got into this by chance.  It started with my capstone project on classifying 1980s cassette covers using the British Catalogue of Music Classification system which I did purely to impress a hot looking library student. I put a lot of work into that.

mixtape-spine-art-00

More importantly, I get insane amounts of money for designing album covers and this helps me to be of benefit to mankind. It is still not enough to keep a book shop open so I have to work like everyone else. I get offered edgey guitar bands which suits me down to the ground. Film scores and experimental jazz I farm out to my friends.

My favourite tool for designing album covers is a Random Flickr Blendr created by John Johnston that he uses for self help book covers. This was originally used for gonzo digital media bootcamp DS106, but like a lot of things on the internet it is only limited by imagination.I give it bonus points for using Flickr cos I love creative commons.

Below are a few of my album covers.

luminosity

Luminosity

multiply

Multiply

hardlight

Hard Light

colorburn

Color burn

colordodge

Color Dodge

 

Closing the Circle

Imagine a world where all your social media profiles and online identities have been merged with personal information into one TruYou by a global company called The Circle. Imagine the freedom. No more identity theft. No more toxic keyboard warriors hiding behind anonymity. No more signing in and out. No more having to reset passwords because you forgot them again. No more Google/Apple/Facebook/Paypal jockeying. Just merge the whole lot. The last time I checked I have 106 online sites which require log in and password details and that does not include any that I use for work or any traditional personal platforms (social security etc).

Babies and deaconesses at Bethel Deaconess Hospital, Newton, Kansas, 1915

This is bigger than me though. Imagine that this company has a vision to crowdsource solutions to all of life’s problems. SeeChange are tiny live stream video cameras that were originally used by surfers to discover which waves were firing on any given day. With The Circle’s global push and boundless positivity they can be mass produced and used for everything from recording police brutality to allowing disabled children to see what it is like to climb Everest. Instantly crime drops and the world explodes with promise and possibility. This is a company that harnesses the best ideas and makes them accessible to all. Super!

Image from page 251 of "Bell telephone magazine" (1922)
What else can this company do? How about using real-time medical data to eliminate health problems as soon as the warning signs appear? Wouldn’t it be great if a company like this could access the world’s finest health services. How about ChildTrack – a biochemical trace implanted in the bone which will end child abductions and the billions of worried parents afraid to let their kids out to play anymore. If anyone is foolish enough to try and engage in criminal behavior anymore they will soon be caught using an app which connects with the hive mind to identify deviants (SeeYou). Once children reach a certain age ChildTrack becomes TruYouth which is a sort of junior TruYou that gathers all their social data and gets them ready for responsible adulthood.

Children riding a horse to school, Glass House Mountains

While we are at it, why not connect TruYou with automatic voting registration which would increase direct democracy once and for all (Demoxie)? Imagine politicians who sign up to use their tech to become transparent, getting rid of the whiff of corruption that we complain about. In our spare time we can use all this data to figure out what restuarant to go to on a first date (LuvLuv) and pay for it with CircleMoney.

Not sure about PartiRank though. Imagine an algorithm that personalises your online presence based on the popularity of the connections you make. That would never catch on. I can see where that could cause problems. The one way to create unhappiness for humans is to compare them against each other.

personalisation

 

This is the world of new Information Professionals like Mae and Annie. How awesome would a job in The Circle be? Doing something like Customer Experience where it is all about engaging with an audience. The latest cool bands queue up to play for you during your break. Top chefs create delightful lunches. It is the type of job that you don’t want to leave, even at home-time. Why would you when your every interest is encouraged even if you fancy counting the grains of sand in the Sahara or diving into personal genealogy (PastPerfect).

My God” says Mae, “it’s heaven” are the opening lines in this book by Dave Eggers. All you have to give up is access to your data. It’s not like it’s your soul. Of course, The Circle is dystopian fiction about a 21st century totalitarian global organisation. It is nothing like the world we live in.  People in The Circle’s world are always under observation through the internet and this is where the tension comes from. They feel this constant pressure to respond, to engage, to participate, to share. This is the new conformism. They either submit to the role or they buckle under the pressure and react dramatically (drive off cliffs or collapse into exhausted comas). If there are no limits to transparency where does that leave our private lives? Will toilets become the only places where we can escape Big Brother? The endgame of this logic is where even personal thoughts become visible to all.

The Fifties in 3D
The Circle is an interesting book in that it generates more discussion about its form than its content. As literary criticism, that is not a bad complaint and one could argue that Eggers was just mirroring the world of the internet. People say it is heavy-handed and one dimensional but so was Brave New World and 1984. Eggers does tip his hat to Orwell with his tripytich of organisation slogans that are used in The Circle.

Ironically enough, the only reason I read it was because I managed to take a break from social media and got my hands on the book in my local library. I enjoyed it just as much I enjoy most fictions that make me think about my relationship with organisations that offer me free stuff in return for just a constant supply of data that they can sell to advertisers.

Zing part – when Annie and Mae miscommunicate over text messages. Oh how I lolled.

Hope for the future symbolism part – when Mae paddles out to Blue Island and discovers a nest in a tree but refrains from looking inside because she knew that it would have negative consequences.

Best review – “This book is not very good but you should read it” – some dude on GoodReads

orwell quote

What did you think of it?

 

 

 

 

Alone Together

In this blog I tend to concentrate on the benefits of the internet and the networked culture that it has spawned.  However, the reason why I started the blog was because I was aware that digital life is not without its negatives.  So I was eager to read Sherry Turkle’s new book Alone Together (How we Expect more from Technology and Less from each other). At its centre is the old question of whether technology is deterministic or non-deterministic. Does it control us or are we in charge? A trained psychoanalysist who specialises in technology, Sherry Turkle has been studying the effects of digital objects on humans for 15 years and Alone Together is the result of her interviews.  The first half of Alone Together is concerned mostly with robotics and looks at how they are used to simulate caring. She discusses everything from Furbies to robot caregivers for the elderly. The second half of the Alone Together is what interested me as it looks at the networked culture. The argument about what technology wants is central to this book. Turkle argues that the networked culture is a simulation and the purpose of all simulations is immersion.

Technology traps us

Technology traps us

This comes with a price. The people that she interviews are all connected now. They stay in touch with who they want but they find that they are always waiting for something new. As Turkle says “Moments of more leave us with lives of less”. Central to immersion in the internet is identity. We all like to think that we are our authentic selves on social media but the subjects of Alone Together obviously worry about what they leave out and what they put in on each of their profiles. My own job as a digital marketer revolves around maintaining these different identities. It is like a performance that spills over into real-life. The argument that real life is just as much a performance is not the point. Yes, we all create separate identities (employees, club members, family dynamics etc) but the internet has a new speed that is relentless.

Social Collection Space

Social Collection Space

Technology also effects our ideas of space. In the past we had communal spaces but now we have what Turkle calls “social collection spaces”. I see this every day where I work. Youth hostels used to be traditional communal spaces. Now they are full of young people on small screens connecting with people far away while ignoring those closest to them.  I wonder what part of Ireland these young French and German travellers are experiencing while they are chatting to their schoolfriends back in their hometowns. I remember when I first left home and experienced London – that sense of having to find my feet on my own without the usual supports. It was scary and exhilarating. I was cut off. Do people experience that anymore? There is a downside to missing that experience. In the past communities would spring up when people felt alone and abandoned. There was a shared need. Yes, the internet is full of communities now but they are communities of weak ties. How many of us really depend on all the people in our social media communities?

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Being connected also has an effect on time. The internet gives us the illusion that we have more time by giving us whoever and whatever we want. Being human, this allows us to escape ourselves. In the past we often came to the realisation that no matter where we went, there we were. We had to face ourselves. Not now. Now we can escape by just taking the phone out of our pockets. We check our messages in bed before we go to sleep. When we are not escaping we are doing the other extreme, multitasking.

In the past, doing one thing well was the sign of mastery. Now multitasking is considered a successful attribute.  We measure ourselves by the number of emails answered, by the speed of work. We click harder, faster, despite the fact that we know it does not make us better. We get that illusion of creating more time. It reminds me of that old saying “Doing the wrong thing with more intensity rarely improves the situation”. We can be busy fools, chasing wifi signals. All the time we look longingly at slow movements. We want to switch off but feel guilty. We desperately seek time to think, to reflect. When we do switch off we feel naked. Alone Together makes the suggestion that we are the internet’s killer app.

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We want connection and the internet promises us it. Young people desperately seek it from parents who are there in space but not present. We also fear real connection. Intimate and authentic connection requires vulnerability. That seems too dangerous now. We send our kids out with mobiles so we can get in touch with them should that vulnerability turn into trouble. We never let them deal with boredom. When I left home, I often had to navigate through those situations. I gained independence that way. I took chances.  I searched for things that I did not know I wanted until I found them. I made mistakes.

Turkle uses the example of phone calls to demonstrate how we fear vulnerability. Given the choice most of us will text or email or IM. We can edit our responses that way.  Everything carries that strange premeditation that promises time but delivers only confusion. Phone calls are reserved for special or stressful interactions. Phones do not allow us to hide or to wait for empty silences to pass. We need to use those complex signallings to fully understand each other. In my own family we laugh about our peculiar way of saying goodbye on the phone (Goodbye, good luck, g’luck, g’luck now, g’luck…) but very few people learn how to close off a conversation comfortably anymore. Everything is an arrangement to meet at a later time.

Letter writing is another example of the change. I was a prolific letter writer growing up. I had cousins around the world that I wrote to and each of them would get a hand crafted missive every few months written specifically for them. I blog now, but I blog for everyone. The audience is different and the expectations of interaction are different and so the content is different. It feels the same to me, but on reflection, it is not.

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Young people are growing up with the tyranny of everything being online about them now. I grew up not having to worry about being forgotten. Turkle points out that networked technology feels private. We sit in silence on our little screens but the whole public is there too. She refers to a Peter Pan shadow of data that follows us around now. There are obvious privacy issues with this but Turkle being a psychoanalysist, argues that it is more than the issue of having to hide wrong doings. It is healthy for young people to need a private space where they can dissent. Democratic societies need it. I found it sad to hear one young person look back to a past that never existed for them ” I miss those days even though I wasn’t alive”.

Despite this Turkle is optimistic about the future. She is quick to dismiss the addiction model to explain these new behaviours. That is too easy and it is not a helpful analogy. We cannot switch off the internet. It is essential for employment, play and learning about the world around us. There is no going back to Thoreau’s Walden. The way she explains it we have agreed to an experiment in which we are the human subjects. We have to realise that this experiment is in its early stages and we have a part to play in it besides mindless consumption. The best thing we can do is start to take the time to reflect on how it is effecting us.

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Two studies stood out for me in Alone Together and made me stop and think. The first was an ongoing study by the University of Michigan since the 1970s measuring empathy scores of their students. It appears there is a 40% drop in students who classify themselves as caring about others.  Also, studies of life loggers are showing that there is a tendency to lose the curiosity we have about the details of our lives. Everything is recorded, tagged and archived but it feels like we are missing the point of it somewhat. Neither of these findings bode well for the future and I found reading Alone Together to be a sad experience. It did make me reflect on my own digital media use and that has to be a good thing.

Further Reading

What Technology Wants – Kevin Kelly

Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything – C. Gordon Bell & Jim Gemmell, 2009

The Shallows : What the Internet is doing to our Brains – Nicholas Carr, 2010

Empathy: College Students don’t have as much as they used to

Blog Audit

It has been three years since I started this blog as part of the Creating Digimedia module in UCD Information & Library course. It was not expecting it to last. This was purely an experiment. I had other blogs before it and other blogs after it for different projects.   At the start it was just a platform where I could put images to see how they changed with different camera settings. It was never meant to be serious and I a definitely had no real interest in taking photographs but somehow it kept going. It allowed me to throw stuff into a draft that I have an interest in and explore it a bit more without any sort of pressure. Looking back over the years I realise that blogs work in a very strange way for me. I dump text in the editor. While I wonder what direction I am going to take with it, I wander off to look for images. Often the images will take the text and give it a direction. Sometimes I might be looking for an image for something else but I will just know that It belongs to one of these posts. It is odd. Somehow this mix of text and images does something for me. I don’t work like this in any other area.

14767276165_e11a8ec816_b

Recently I signed up for Blogging 201, the WordPress Blogging University which is designed to focus and grow blogs. I had a few years of content and I was able to look back over it and see what it could tell me. The first thing I discovered was that I use this blog to explore information and to clarify my own thoughts. From this I began to have a look at my blogging goals. This is something I was wary of because it has operated very organically (which means that I have just done whatever I felt like doing). It turns out that my goal is to just explore whatever I fancy and have fun doing it. Identifying that allowed me to have a think about what sort of stuff (technical term for information) I wanted to look at. This gave me the bones of an editorial calendar for the future.

Looking at the sort of content that I had covered and the sort of issues that interested me in the future gave me a lens through which to look at the design of the blog. I had never given this any kind of real thought before. So I had a think about the intent of the blog and how the design matched it, or did not match it. Although the title of the blog had been Information Agent as long as I could remember, the original impetus for it was actually an information explorer. The theme I had originally on this blog did not reflect that at all though so I played around with the look until I got something I liked.

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I changed themes, had a look at more appropriate fonts and changed the background images. I  had not given any thought to categorising my blog posts and once I did this I decided to create widgets for them so they would match the overall look. As usual, I took images from Creative Commons in Flickr, transformed them with Gimp and gave them titles. I updated my about page. I even considered deleting my purpose page but after checking the stats for 2014, I realised that some people clicked on it. Digging around in the stats showed me other areas that I had never given any thought to such as the comments prompts, email and rss subscriptions. These had been set at default but there was no reason why they could not be adapted to suit the concept behind the blog. Basically, I tried to be more consistent with the visual consistency as this helps create trust for a reader. Along with enabling the related posts feature I also decided to create a new page where I could put my favourite old posts posts. This is my blog after all.

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The stats also showed me an interesting story.  In 2013 it was all about digital storytelling. In 2014 it was all about digital marketing. I wonder what 2015 will be about?

 

Organising Information

One of the reasons I got interested in Library Studies was because I wanted to find the correct way to organise information. In the old days, I worked as a tour manager. Keeping track of lots of different projects and timelines at once was my bread-and-butter. I did all of my work offline. I had master books, diaries, plans, maps, notebooks, folders, post-its and assorted filing cabinets. All tried and tested methods of organising information for quick retrieval.

Looking back on it, I find it hard to believe that I was working that way up until 2007. That is not to say that these methods were in any way inferior from their online counterparts. Far from it. I just find it amazing that things have changed so much in such a short time. I had heard of Excel and Email back then but they were for the deskbound rather than someone on the road. Being mobile in 2007 was quite different to today. However, I did know that change was coming and when I began to look at a career change, the organisation of digital information drew me in.

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

Photographer Thomas J. Wynne, 1838-1893 by National Library of Ireland on The Commons, on Flickr found here

I was disappointed when I discovered that there is no right or wrong way to organise information. I learned this in my first Information Retrieval class in SILS when each group of us classified an article about The Beatles music while the other groups tried to retrieve it using what they thought were relevant search terms. As you can imagine, how people divide up their lives has a lot of bearing on how they assess information. This was the wonderful dance between context, relevance and aboutness that has kept search engines from becoming completely predictable.  There is no perfect way to organise information. At best, all I can hope for is an efficient method that at least I can understand. For me, consistency is the key.

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth from... by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

Ruth St Denis and Ted Shawn in the Dance of the Rebirth by New York Public Library, on Flickr found here

My own personal info-organising and retrieval behaviour is what Barreau and Nardi (1995) call location based browsing. I will not use in-built search unless I cannot find what I am looking for. Whether it is a physical library with stacks and shelves or a virtual folder and file system, I recognise where I am when I get there. While some might think that this is the old male “why-won’t-he-stop-and-ask-for-directions” cliche, browsing is different to map-reading. A lot of the time I find information because it is grouped with similar information. I like information to be organised so that I can see how it is connected. Visual hierarchies like Pearltrees and Symbaloo (which I have blogged about before here) are good examples of this. So too are library maps. I can jump into stacks or branches and browse pretty quickly to what I am looking for. Barreau & Nordu agreed that this was a common search behaviour among both new and experienced searchers. However, when it came to my Information Hunt projects in university,  I was told that locating medical books through synchronicity and gut feeling was not a dependable search strategy. I agree, but sometimes books just jump out at you.

Man searching for lost item in fountain from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

Search strategy from Stockholm Transport Museum on Flickr, found here

What I have found is that information organisation has to be practical and pragmatic.  My strategy for storing information is simply to pile it into hierarchies. This allows me to chunk my information and navigate in different directions (up-down or sideways) as I need. I have experimented with numerous different ways and means of organising my own files and folders and what works for me is that I organise according to use. In most of my information systems my first level folders are divided into current or archived.

I am a weekly cleaner-outer of files and I know the working week is really done when I sort my current folder. I like to archive at the end of every working week and then open up my current folder to get ready for each new week. I also tend to work on a lot of stuff that I don’t even know what it is going to turn into until it is done. This means that anything that is in my archived folder has usually got its aboutness as tied down as it is going to be. As a browser, having a folder where I can see everything that I am working on is my holy grail.

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

Student in the library, 1981 by LSE Library, on Flickr, found here

 

I divide my second level hierarchies by ownership as Boardman & Sasse (2004) suggest. Was the information created for business?  Is this my personal stuff (e..g. drafts, random thoughts, creations)? Does this belong to someone else (e.g. articles, downloads etc)? This is my main way of remembering information. Someone gave it to me or I made it or I made it for a very specific business purpose. Finally, I create another level of folders so that I can store files by file type. I tend to know if I am looking for an image or an excel sheet or a text page so this is how I like to have it laid out. I can mirror this structure across different web tools (Evernote. Google Drive etc) with very little adaption (apart from email which has different requirements because it is about personal communication and that can get a bit complex).

Here is a rough breakdown of the decision making process involved in classifying my information down as far as the first level.

information flow

Rough diagram

Sources

Barreau, D. & Nardi, B. (1995). Finding and reminding: file organization from the desktop. SIGCHI Bulletin, 27(3), 39-43.

Boardman, R. & Sasse, M.A. (2004). ‘Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out’: a cross-tool study of personal information management. CHI Letters, 6(1), 583-590.

Khoo, C., Luyt, B., Ee, C., Osman, J., Lim, H.H. & Yong, S. (2007). How users organize electronic files on their workstations in the office environment: a preliminary study of personal information organization behaviour. Information Research, 12(2), paper 293 [Available at http://InformationR.net/ir/12-2/paper293.html]

 

 

Anonymity

When I was a teenager I predicted the importance of identity and anonymity to the internet. The Internet were a dark brooding guitar band from a small village in the middle of nowhere. Identity was a new wave solo artist that was influenced by David Bowie and 17th century Parisian fashion. Anonymity was a hip-hop duo that mixed voodoo beats with disconnected samples. They were imaginary bands that I created in the days P.I. (Pre-Internet) for my parallel Top 40 that I would dream up when I was bored (which as anyone from P.I. days will remember was a condition that happened quite a lot).

Image Credit - Flickr Nationaal Archief

Image Credit – Flickr
Nationaal Archief

 

The point I am trying to make is that I always had a flexible approach to identity. In English classes I wrote essays in a voice that did not sound like me at all. An authentic voice was something that creative artists constructed if they wanted to win the Nobel prize for literature. Dropping and mixing identity was something that I enjoyed doing. It was a form of play for me and I still use it as a lens to view the world, even if it is only in the naming of a blog as Information Agent. It gives me a freedom to say things that I might never explore. Some of us just prefer that sort of communication to the more instant face-to-face method.

This ability to create identity and set different levels of anonymity is part of what makes the internet such an interesting space. Few principles cause as much polarisation as privacy. If there will ever be a Cyber civil war, you can be sure that the flags of privacy and anonymity will be flapping about there in the middle of the conflict.  How people interpret and define the level of online anonymity that they are comfortable with seems to mark them out in much the same way as Nationalism did at the turn of the 20th century. Like Nationalism, people use it for setting boundaries and limits and it can be used in a variety of ways.

Image Credit - Flickr National Archives of Australia

Image Credit – Flickr
National Archives of Australia

Like myself,  I know plenty of students who came out of second level education without great social skills. Online collaboration allowed us to blossom.  Before I took to Twitter seriously I chanced my arm as an online neolithic stone mason in the Boyne Valley. This was a collaborative project with another archaeology student. At one level we wanted to explore what it was like to put ourselves in the shoes of a person from the past, but I think a lot of it was just messing around with online characters. I also had a Tumblr account that was curated by an Edwardian Gentleman Explorer.  Nor is it all about fun and games. I use anonymous forums when I need information that gets too close to my own personal boundaries.  They allow me to explore my own uncomfortability in a safe way.  In parts of the world where it can be hazardous to speak freely, online anonymity allows people to  fight censorship and spread word of human rights violations. Real life undercover agents (whether they are military or anti-criminal) are able to protect their anonymity to ensure that they cannot be tracked. All good stuff.

However, whenever there is a way of expressing yourself without impunity, there can be trouble. Online anonymity is perfect for attacking others. You can say what you want and not have to take responsibility for it. Just look at the comments section of online newspapers. There is something about this freedom which turns the guy next door into a troll who thrives on rising arguments to nuclear level. Researchers have found that online anonymity definitely effects how people comment online. Just last night my daughter received a scary message from an anonymous profile called “Chucky” on one of her game website profiles which was warning her not to go to sleep at night. Luckily we knew that this was her cousin trying to wind her up and she will receive a lecture in return when I get home from work.

Image Credit - Flickr

Image Credit – Flickr

People want their online privacy, for all kinds of reasons. I have friends who refuse to have anything to do with social media. Growing up in small towns makes you highly sensitive to other people knowing your business. It can feel like a sort of control. Some people don’t like the idea of commercial companies using their personal information. Some just want their privacy, not because they have anything to hide, but because they feel it is their right.  All it takes is for one group to figure out how to use your information against you and you are in trouble. This is what happened to the Dutch jews when the Germans arrived and found a perfectly good archive system in place which identified each person by religious persuasion. That was the end of their freedom.

When money is involved, there is just as much at stake. I trade my own personal information in return for access to Google’s index. I am willing to do that, but not everybody is. My online behaviour is measured and scrutinised as if I were a lab mouse. Apparently, companies can learn a lot by running a few mice through mazes a couple of million times a day in return for an information hit. All I know is that this somehow allows Ryanair to put up the price of a flight after I have researched it. In this case, my personal information is tracked and connected to personal identifiers and I lose out because of it.

Image Credit - Flickr Smithsonian Institute

Image Credit – Flickr
Smithsonian Institute

Some people have a healthy dislike of that sort of carry-on. When Janet Vertasi learned that she was pregnant, she did not want marketers targetting her with their products. This behaviour was considered so unusual that the NSA were alerted about her attempts to evade tracking. When I was studying Information in university, one of my fellow students felt so strongly about his personal privacy that he used TOR, the same channel that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden used to leak classified information.  This is a Virtual Private Network which was created by the military to help undercover agents and whistleblowers avoid capture. Although it is now funded by the EFF and it uses voluntary servers to encrypt identity instead of information, even this may not allow real anonymity. The NSA have already hacked TOR once and many of the sites on the dark web that it accesses are supposed to be honeypots for catching criminal and malicious activity.

Image Credit - Flickr National Media Museum

Image Credit – Flickr
National Media Museum

On the whole I give privacy and anonymity a bit of thought. I try to be conscious of what I share online. I grew up P.I. but my kids have a different experience. They have their own Youtube channels. I try to teach them that it is unusual to be permanently in front of an audience and that this can effect how they behave. It is a highly filtered (created, edited and amplified) experience and can be as unreal as an imaginary rock band. As someone once said on Twitter, anonymity is no longer a way to hide who you are, it is now a way to be who you are.

 

Notes

University of Houston. “Researcher finds anonymity makes a difference with online comments.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2014. .