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Tag Archives: user generated

by nathan jurgenson

I recently came across a tool that has been around for a couple of years. GenderAnalyzer claims that it can determine the gender of the author of any text that you point it to. It learns to do this by looking at thousands of blogs and the corresponding gender of the author.

Give it a try: genderanalyzer.com

As of today, it looks like it has a 63% success rate; not impressive but better than chance. Leaving aside how serious we should take this particular tool, many feel that men and women write differently. These different performances of gender through the creation of text can be documented and predicted. This study concludes,

[…] females use many more pronouns and males use many more noun specifiers. […] female writing exhibits greater usage of features identified by previous researchers as “involved” while male writing exhibits greater usage of features which have been identified as “informational”.

All of this made me think of how Wikipedia strives for a “neutral point of view” in its articles. That is, “without bias.” For fun, I picked some Wikipedia articles and ran them through the GenderAnalyzer to see if they were deemed male, neutral or female. Results indicate a strong male bias in my very small and non-random sample:

  • Male: Coffee; bell hooks; oil; love; hip hop; rugby football; philosophy; sex; web 2.0; sexism; feminism; WNBA; Ani DiFranco; men’s health; welding; women’s suffrage.
  • Gender neutral: Childbirth; bread; donuts; gravity.
  • Female: Quilt; knitting.

Whatever the validity or reliability of GenderAnalyzer, the research cited above begs the question of how Wikipedia would best be organized given different male and female writing styles. Would the ideal Wikipedia contain only the gender neutral voice? Or would it strive for a more even distribution of male and female voices throughout?

Finally, is Wikipedia’s effort to achieve a “neutrality” a male endeavor? Some feminist epistemologists (Gilligan, Harding, etc.) have argued that objectivity and value-disinterestedness are inherently male. Thus, is the neutral voice actually quite gendered? ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

Web_2_imageFor many (especially youths and young adults), attempting to quit or never start Facebook is a difficult challenge. We are compelled to document ourselves and our lives online partly because services like Facebook have many benefits, such as keeping up with friends, scheduling gatherings (e.g., protests) and so on. Additionally, and to the point of this post, the digital documentation of ourselves also means that we exist. There is common adage that if something is not on Google, it does not exist. As the world is increasingly digital, this becomes increasingly true. Especially for individuals. One adolescent told her mother, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.”

Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism argues that we are increasingly afraid of being nothing or unimportant so we develop narcissistic impulses to become real. The explosion of new ways to document ourselves online allows new outlets for importance, existence and perhaps even immortality that living only in the material world does not allow. The simple logic is that increased digital documentation of ourselves means increased digital existence. More than just social networking sites, we document ourselves on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and even increasingly with services that track, geographically, where one is at all times, often via one’s smart phone (e.g., Loopt, Fire Eagle, Google Latitude, etc).

So what?

Neon_Internet_Cafe_open_24_hoursIn this world where we can document our lives endlessly, we might become fixated on our every behavior. How it will appear to others, how it will help us with our jobs, friends, relationships, etc. Simply, self-presentation is a strategic game. Erving Goffman discussed this using a dramaturgical model where we are like actors on a stage performing ourselves. The new technologies described here mean that more and more areas of our life become part of this perforce because new parts of our lives are now able to be documented (e.g., our every-moment geographic locations). More and more areas of our life are lived subservient to the performance and identity we want to convey.

In this way, a hyper-fixatedness on our own subjectivity to create its own digital simulation (e.g., Facebook) can, to some degree, dictate how we live, becoming like characters on a “reality” show always performing for the camera. With digital documentation technologies we can become increasingly subservient to subjectivity and identity via its documentation if we are seduced by the importance and immortality that digital existence promises. ~nathan

by nathan jurgenson

600px-wikipedia-logo1The very idea of Wikipedia -the open-source encyclopedia that anyone with an internet connection can edit- has sparked many discussions about knowledge construction, such as the politics behind truth, the social construction of knowledge, the tyranny of epistemic expertism or populism, and so on. In these discussions, the Encyclopedia Britannica is often posed as the antithesis to Wikipedia. So it came as big news earlier this year that the Encyclopedia Britannica, the model of old-school expertism, is going to begin to allow user-generated content.

Users will be able to write new content, which then goes to one of the thousands of paid Britannica editors to accept/edit/reject. Ideally, Britannica wants new edits to appear on their site within twenty minutes and are planned to be incorporated into subsequent print editions.

Outside of the debates regarding knowledge production mentioned above, there is another point to be made here: Britannica is a for-profit model in contrast to the not-for-profit status of Wikipedia. There has been no indication on the part of Britannica to pay users who make good edits. The underlying point is much the same as can be made regarding “our” free labor that we donate to Facebook: that, simply, Britannica is trying to improve its costly operation and its profit-potential with unpaid user-labor. Britannica has, in part, “crowdsourced” production to its consumers, highlighting the highly efficient business model of turning consumers into unpaid “prosumers” (those that consume that which they produce). A further discussion might begin with asking how has Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia also profited from the prosumer business model (for example, by “branding” the Wikipedia name)? This will be a topic for a later post. ~nathan

128px-f_iconsvgBy nathan jurgenson

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook founder and CEO) said recently at the 2008 Web 2.0 Summit:

“I would expect that next year, people will share twice as much information as they share this year, and [the] next year, they will be sharing twice as much as they did the year before.”

The Web 2.0 summit discusses the user-generated web, and of sociological interest here is that when people are given tools to share information about themselves online, they do, often in intimate detail. The massive popularity of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook highlight this trend, where millions of users display themselves in what might seem like unnecessary detail. Sites like Flickr and YouTube are updated endlessly with photos and videos illuminating users’ everyday lives. Blogging often takes the form of an online diary or journal, but one that is broadcasted to an almost infinite audience. The increasingly popular micro-blogging tool Twitter allows users to publish constant updates of everything they are doing in granular detail. The iPhone application Loopt does this as well, and also maps where the users are at all times. This is not to even detail a whole additional set of popular self-exhibitionism tools described by The Quantified Self project.

How do we interpret this mass exhibitionism online? Do we celebrate it as the free performance of creative individuality? What else is at play? We can follow the dollars and acknowledge that ‘we’ are, collectively, unpaid workers in building an endlessly detailed database, a digital gold mine of information (note here that Facebook alone is valued at $15 billion dollars as of 2007, precisely due to the data that users donate to the site). ~nathan