Praxis makes perfect.

This week, I’ve been learning a lot about investigating digital interfaces (sorry to break out the big vocabulary words so early in the week.) I spent the weekend analyzing three different Twitter platforms – Twitter on Google Chrome, Twitter on the iPad and Tweetdeck for the iPad – and digging deep into the different services they do and don’t provide.

Side note: I am very proud of this blog post’s title. Praxis is most easily defined as an established practice or custom, and I have learned that in order to understand an interface’s inner workings and history, I must understand it’s praxis (praxes?) Before that, though, here’s a basic breakdown of the way I use Twitter on the Mac.

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This is the first thing you see when encountering my Twitter profile (the above picture links to the profile itself, by the way.) This is not the profile of a very active Twitter user, although according to my account I manage to tweet at least twice a day. I also consider my following list to be small, but only because I have tried to whittle down the list several times. A strong majority of the users I follow are somehow related to Virginia Tech or journalism, and the rest are simply friends or organizations I am strongly interested in hearing from regularly. My followers, in comparison, are a colorful mix of random spam accounts, friends/coworkers and people who have found me through stories I’ve had published. Because I am a stubborn curmudgeon, I refrain from using hashtags on Twitter in most situations (it’s a personal vendetta against the hashtag and it’s use on Twitter, not because I don’t like engaging the Twitter community.) This probably accounts for my visibility on Twitter, although I don’t really mind. Now that you have a little insight into my own personal praxis, I can explain the three applications/extensions I analyzed.

Twitter was a great platform to begin with because several apps and interfaces have been created to help users interact with Twitter to the fullest extent. Using Twitter as I normally do on my computer was also a familiar exercise, because I have explored their website in my regular use. Twitter for iPad was almost as easy to use, with some exceptions. I try to keep application use to a minimum when using the iPad to save battery and stay organized – it’s like keeping a desk clean, but virtual – and interacting with some of the features on Twitter opened applications that I didn’t want to use (I’m looking at you, Safari.) I never felt truly lost using either of these applications, despite the wide variety of tasks I tried to figure out.

Then came Tweetdeck, one of the most impressive-looking Twitter platforms I’ve ever used. In the past, I’ve used Tweetdeck on my iPod Touch (along with HootSuite and Twitteriffic.) Tweetdeck is meant for users who want to dig deeper into Twitter and really use it to the fullest, but it expects the user to come to the table with a lot of knowledge. Tweetdeck feels like a waste if users don’t create several customized lists to fill the wide screen space it allows. Tweetdeck also seems to drum to a different, more literal beat when it comes to the idea of live-tweeting. Updates scroll by themselves on Tweetdeck, rather than waiting for users to refresh their pages. The inattentive user might get lost in the ever-flowing river of tweets if they are following a significant amount of users.

I don’t think the point of this was to pick a favorite, though. Even though I don’t like to spend too much time on Twitter regardless of platform, I enjoyed truly investigating my options. We live in a world were certain options are marketed to us much more than others, and as a result we lose sight of the variety that exists in the digital world. We are a group of people who learn and use interfaces in a variety of ways, so why not use them the way we use fashion and create our own styles? Some of us will definitely become the fashionistas of the digital interface world and develop our own applications, it just takes steps like this to get closer.

Exploring Social Media

I’ve recently been acquainted with the social media scheduling platform HootSuite to manage the Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress for a local toy store. This cool site makes it easy to schedule posts for a variety of social media outlets. It’s easy to use, convenient, and takes the stress out of having to write that perfect tweet on the spot. Especially for local business owners who have the upcoming holiday season to worry about, tools like HootSuite can help make their digital lives much easier.

Today, I taught the store owner and manager, both middle-aged women, the what, why, and how of Twitter. It was neat to see them get so excited over 140 characters- a limitation they were previously scared of. It is exciting, really, when you find that you can have such influence online by simply tweeting at, replying to, or retweeting another user. As my two new friends said to me today, “the Toy Experts are now Twitter Experts!” I’m glad I could finally get them on board to this new platform.

The toy ladies from the store will be accessing their Twitter and HootSuite accounts from a laptop, iPhones, and an iPad. This means they will be working within the parameters of three user interfaces. From my experience, the Twitter mobile app is my favorite. It’s so easy to see the newest posts, write a tweet, and view notifications. I don’t often go on Twitter from my laptop, just because it’s more convenient from my phone. I experimented with the HootSuite mobile app today, and it was not hard to figure out. Granted, I did have some prior knowledge of how the site operates from its web-based format, but the idea and execution were basically the same.

My next project is an analytical essay about the user interface for the movie editing app PopcornMaker. I am currently investing how it operates from a user standpoint, what its limitations are, and how it’s used. Diving this deep into an app is something I’ve never done before, so I’m looking forward to it.

 

 

Tweeting for Toys

imaginations

Imaginations Toy Store

Now that the whole world is digitized, social media of all platforms is becoming more and more prominent. What was once used solely for social online relationships- friend connecting, story-sharing, photo-pasting and the like, has now made its way into business life.

Twitter, for example, has become a lucrative outlet for social media marketing and advertising. Everything from car dealerships to dairy companies use this platform to not only promote their products, but to connect with their customers. This connection is what is important, because company feedback to a consumer is key.

Losing a customer is the last thing a business wants, so creating and keeping them is priority. Companies big and small have begun interacting with their customer base through mentions on Twitter. It’s a way of letting the customers know that they are being listened to and that the company cares.

This fall semester, I am working with a peer team to manage the social media accounts for a local mom and pop toy store- Imaginations of Blacksburg. Imaginations has been around 16 years, and run until now on traditional word-of-mouth advertising. We’re gearing up to launch their new SMM platform this Tuesday! A new WordPress site has been created, Twitter page ready to go, Facebook tweaked, and promotions planned. We’re quite excited! Stay tuned for more updates along the way.

If @Horse_Ebooks isn’t real, what is?

Is nothing sacred? Two days ago, the New Yorker broke a story revealing @horse_ebooks’ true identity. The internet’s favorite horse is NOT an automated spam account, it’s the work of Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Since then, news publications like Salon.com, Buzzfeed, the New York Times and CNN have chimed in with articles and tweeted responses to the unmasking of @horse_ebooks’ authors. Here are some reactions from Twitter that might put this announcement into perspective (for those of you who are giving your screen a strange look.)

@TheAVClub: “Everything on the Internet is a lie: @Horse_ebooks was a ‘conceptual art’ piece all along avc.lu/1alpc8b”

@paezpumarL: “It’s unfortunate the horse ebooks thing happened this week because it’s been a ‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH’ week.”

As it happens, @Horse_ebooks was indeed a conceptual art piece put together by Bakkila and Bender, who revealed their work in order to promote their next project. Was @horse_ebooks  an extremely long-con that worked nights as a viral marketing scheme? If so, they lost a lot of credibility and respect in the process by being arrogant jerks to a reporter who was trying to help them out. To quote the horse, “unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.” In my opinion, disrespecting a journalist who is spreading the word about you is a really rude move. The Washington Post also posted an article about artist Burton Durand, who created Horse Ecomics. This, in my opinion, is the true loss we’re experiencing by losing the mystery behind @horse_ebooks.

The mention of Durand and Horse Ecomics helps pave the way to the point I’m trying to make about art and hoaxes. So does this tweet by Twitter user Dave Lozo.

@DaveLozo: “I hope the point of horse ebooks was to show how something intentionally dumb can gain popularity by people pretending to understand it.

Let’s take a quick trip back to 1944 Australia. Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of a literary/art publication called Angry Penguins, is working on publishing his next issue of his journal. Harris named the publication after a poem he had written himself, the narcissist. He also stirred up lots of drama with Angry Penguins on campus at the University of Adelaide by angering fellow students by publishing anarchist sentiments. Enter Lieutenant James McAuley and Corporal Harold Stewart – the masterminds behind the Ern Malley hoax.

These two mediocre traditionalist poets, both in the army and stuck in the Victoria Barracks with lots of time on their hands, decided they would be the ones to teach Harris a lesson.

McAuley and Stewart essentially did the same thing that @horse_ebooks did – they created bizarre poetry from random lines of text and published it as authentic works of art. However, when Ern Malley’s true nature was revealed, the response was different.

After the prank was revealed, the hoaxers said their work had no literary merit – and that was the point. Harris, however, stuck to his guns. Whether they liked it or not, he asserted, McAuley and Stewart had written their best poetry, their only poetry of real genius. The assumed persona of Ern Malley had liberated them.

The subsequent issue of Angry Penguins largely was devoted to analyses of the poems – with contributions from Sir Herbert Read, Geoffrey Dutton, Reg Ellery, A.R. Chisholm, Brian Elliot, Adrian Lawlor, Albert Tucker and many more.

Whether they intended it or not, the creators of @Horse_ebooks made poetry that we, as an online public, connected with. We loved seeing random words from ebooks come together to form strange, if not poignant, pieces of wisdom. To paraphrase what Dave Lozo said, something made to be intentionally stupid can absolutely gain popularity by being filtered through our streams of media. And that’s not a bad thing.

Let me try and make my point as transparent as I can – sometimes it’s nice to be duped into believing something is more serious and poignant than it is. Sometimes the little things that we encounter in our lives, whether they be pieces of art or random sentences that enter our consciousness in some way or another, become big things that matter to us. If @horse_ebooks isn’t real, what is? The fun we had in following him. The days that were brightened when a tweet inspired laughter. The idea that art, however it is manufactured and inspired, can mean anything to us. In the words tweeted by the horse himself, “We speak and breathe everything.”