Monday, June 30, 2008

Wearable Communications

I was in a record store several days ago and I saw something I hadn't seen since the 70s: T-shirt decals and the iron press for customers to order their own, customized T-shirt. It was fun to see such dated technology still in use and made me fondly recall the heyday of T-shirt decals. These Ts were really individualized communications that many people proudly wore and shared with all that could see them and their emblazoned chest. Upon reflection, I wondered why the Internet has not done more to revitalize wearable communications?

In the 70s, these decal Ts were a huge trend. While buttons that could be pinned to clothes pre-date this trend (I fondly recall my "Fonzie" button I had as a kid) they weren't clothes themselves. So these decal Ts may be the first case (that I know of) of overt communication messages on clothes.

Yes, all clothes say something about the wearer. But most clothes offer a more subtle, diffuse message (eg. what socio-economic or sub/counter group one belongs to, nationality, etc.) but not a specific message, such as decals enabled.

In the 70s, one could pick the style, size, colour and decal - and there was huge selection available, whether pop culture, artwork, humour or sexual sayings, travel destinations, politics, etc. These decals offered messages direct and easily perceptible by others.

Sure clothes with messages on them still exist (eg. companies, sports teams, pop culture, etc.) but it seems that they are not anywhere near as popular as the 70s and they tend to be more off-the-shelf or handed out en-masse (eg. everyone at a conference gets a T) and not made by an individual actively customizing their own wearable communication.

The website Threadless revamped this concept and added crowdsourcing. They allow anyone to upload their own proposed T-shirt art and then have the site's community votes on the designs to actually make it to production. But cool as this site is, I don't see much impact from it. In fact, I don't think I have seen anyone wearing their shirts (but then I may not be in their main customer demographic).

I looked to see if there was a website where one could upload their own artwork and get it made into a T-shirt. I'm sure there are such sites, but I couldn't locate one after searching for several minutes. Regardless, I would have thought the Internet would have enabled this kind of customized, individual production. I wonder if there just isn't a market for it?

Is this form of communication dead? Why did it die out? Did we replace clothes expressing individual identity (such as this) with collective identify via brands, such as the ubiquitous Tommy T?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Internet Usage in Canada for last year

Statistics Canada recently released their new report on Canadian Internet usage.

Among the most interesting findings:
  1. Almost three-quarters (73%) went online for personal reasons last year - up from just over two-thirds (68%) in 2005

  2. Ontario is above national average at 75% (Alberta & BC beat us)

  3. Among people who used the Internet at home, 68% went online every day during typical month

  4. Digital divide persists amongst those with lower income, lower education, and older – though gap continues to lessen gradually

  5. Not a significant gender difference – but men tend to use the Net a bit more often and for a bit longer

  6. Vast majority of Net users (94%) use it at home, 41% from work, 20% from schools, 15% from libraries

  7. 88% of home users have high-speed connection

  8. Approximately 50% of Canadians (Internet users or not) were very concerned about online credit card use, 44% about online banking and 37% about online privacy
Most common Net activities (of home Net users)
  1. Email: 92%
  2. General browsing for fun or leisure: 76%
  3. Obtain weather or road conditions: 70%
  4. Travel planning & arranging: 66%
  5. View news or sports: 64%
  6. Electronic banking: 63%
  7. Window shopping: 60%
  8. Ordering goods or services: 45%
A new question this year was how many had contributed content (blogs, photos, discussion groups), which was 20%. Considering how popular Facebook is in Canada, I think that figure may be off as people probably didn't think of social networking activity as creating content.

A big change in this year's survey is StatsCan added data from 16 and 17 years olds this time which they admit skewed results in comparison to prior years (eg. a huge jump in cyberstalking totals for Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake). There was also a huge spike in the use of instant messaging, use for education, downloading music, and watching TV online - no doubt due to this new teen influence.

Playing games remained at 39% from 2005 to 2007. So apparently, teenagers aren't wasting their time in their rooms playing games online; they're studying it would seem - and IMing of course.

Of the activities that can't be explained by the new teen influence, almost none of them experienced significant gains (i.e. more than 2-3%) since the last survey. Has use of the web pretty much hit the peak for most activities?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Databasing the World

One of my textbooks for my current class is the e-Book Structures of Participation in Digital Culture (free to download). This book is an amazing read, with almost all the articles being pure gold.

I already wrote about danah boyd's Friendster article and another fascinating article in the book is Geoffrey Bowker's "The Past and the Internet". I'm greatly simplifying his work, but I think I have drawn out the key concepts.

Briefly, he posits types of communication that deal with memory, the traditional oral and the more recent electronic. This manifests itself into two means to disperse memory, the database (of which the Internet with its vast unordered, storage of data would be one) and the narrative, and quotes Manovich (pg. 2):
the database represents the world as a list of items and it refuses to order this list. In contrast, a narrative creates a cause-and-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items (events). Therefore, database and narrative are natural enemies. Competing for the same territory of human culture, each claims an exclusive right to make meaning out of the world

Bowker lists benefits of this "databasing the world" (p. 22) beyond the obvious memory aid to allowing more freedom for "holding past experience" (p. 24) as the past previous rigid structures of classification that confined, shaped, or locked out events that didn't fit the schemes and thus lead to
relative paucity of tales we could tell about our past, today the traces have multiplied and the rigid classifications are withering. (Who now does a tree search using Yahoo categories in preference to the random access mode of Google?) (p. 24).

Due to the vast wealth of knowledge our societies have now accumulated we now rely on computers for storing knowledge, for our memory. This has dangers as then our past can be reconstructed to justify the present (reflective of the elite's agenda). Yet, Bowker argues for balance between the two forms of memory for the sake of our future:
The information tools of empire (i.e. statistics, databases) lend a certain sense of inevitability to all the changes we witness - we are either enthralled by the spectacle or deadened by the difficulty of imaging change. Seeing our own past as open, so that our present is not completely determined, is therefore a political act. (p. 34)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Fun With Internet Memes

Okay, I'm still researching my project (you'll note the widget to the right counting down how many days left I have - this widget was the result of a tangent from my research).

As a complete distraction from my research, I saw this new video from Weezer on Yahoo's homepage and then I was in a full-fledged procrastinatory bubble.

I loved Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video as its homage to "Happy Days" captured the kitsch of my youth so well. There new video for "Pork and Beans" is reflective of my current kitsch, depicting a bunch of Internet memes that I have loved and cried laughing over. The dramatic gopher and leave-britney-alone were my personal favs in this.

Social Media Explained

I'm in the process of researching the role of users in creating content and noticed that CommonCraft had recently produced a video on social media. CommonCraft's videos are the best - explain new concepts in ways easy to understand and remember.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Canadian Job Posting Sites for Internet Professionals

Based on the extreme popularity (for Webslinger) of this post (despite being 3 years old), I felt it would be a service to update the links.

Please visit my updated post Canadian Job Posting Sites for Internet Professionals

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Negotiating Multifaceted Identity Online in Social Networking Websites

Our real-world identities can be multifaceted and contextually fragmented - we behave one way at work, and another when drinking with friends. Yet social-networking websites collapse “relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous ‘Friend’” (Boyd, 2007, p.134). Thus one’s online social network friends, regardless of context (e.g. work, family, church, school) all receive, by default, the same information. This online flattening of offline relationships has progressed without adequate means to negotiate this experience. For example how to present one facet of personality, or persona, to one's friends vs. one's workplace colleagues. Some users have responded by replacing “cool” customizations with those more appropriate for business, thus sacrificing facets of identity to present an overall safe, sanitized persona (Boyd, 2007, p.143). New methods of encoding and decoding online identity/identities, whether new societal norms or technological solutions, are required to allow people to enjoy these websites and avoid clashes of real-world and online identities.

Many of these issues were documented by danah boyd in her study of the rise of Friendster, the first prominent social-networking website and inspiration for the more popular MySpace and Facebook. Friendster, boyd noted, by offering users a standard template to populate allows users the experience of “writing yourself into being” (Boyd, 2007, p.145) but within defined parameters. Yet truthfulness in these profiles has varied. Some users, boyd found, enjoyed exploring aspects of their identity through degrees of fiction; others assumed full truthfulness from those in their network (Boyd, 2007, p.150).

This unresolved tension continues to hound social-networking websites as seen by the recent Story2Oh! Facebook controversy. A Toronto writer, Jill Golick, created fictional characters and set up corresponding Facebook profiles, all labeled fictional (Golick, 2008a). These characters then sent friend requests to Toronto’s web community. While such a friend request allows one to view that person’s profile, some indiscriminately “friended,” missing the fiction label and then “didn’t realize till later that these were characters and not real people….The blurring of the lines between reality and fiction caused a lot of furor” (Golick, 2008b). Some responded by indicating feelings of betrayal and transgression of online norms; Facebook responded by deleting the accounts. Similar events were found by boyd in the “Fakester” controversy, highlighting that while profiles may allow for “performance of identity” (Boyd, 2007, p.141) all users are not yet accustomed to this.

Norms and technology are developing to address these issues. In March 2008, Facebook introduced the ability to group friends by user-defined type and designate what they can see (Gleit, 2008). While this resolves boyd’s issue of singular relationship types and collapsed context, this feature only allows users to remove details from view, it does not allow one to tailor online identity as one can in the real world. Offline, people can share certain photographs with friends and other sorts with family, but this feature either turns photographs on or off based on type. Still, technical features such as this and developing user norms, such as not friending strangers, begin to enable people to express multifaceted identity through a singular website.

Boyd, D. (2007). None of this is real: Identity and participation in Friendster. In Karaganis J. (Ed.), Structures of Participation in Digital Culture (pp. 88-110). New York: Social Science Research Council.

Gleit, N. (2008). More privacy options. The Facebook Blog. Retrieved May 11, 2008 from

Golick, J. (2008a). Deleted from Facebook. Retrieved May 09, 2008 from

Golick, J. (2008b). I hear ya. Retrieved May 09, 2008 from