The popular micro-blogging service of Twitter offers its users the possibility to update their online profiles with up to 140 characters at a time. These updates emerge on their profiles so they can be read by other users and appear on the home pages of users that optioned to ‘follow’ that particular member of Twitter. While initially the posting of updates were meant to give an answer to the Twitter-question what are you doing?, the posts that users update these days actually serve several purposes. In ‘Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities’ four main reasons for people to post on Twitter are named. The main intention of updating is indeed to share and find out what people are actually doing. Through the use of the @ signal, a conversation to a certain user can be signaled and the updates start to take the form of a conversation. For example:

RandymH @wendelldotme But Palin lost the pet owners & animal lovers with her “hunting” from airplanes about a minute ago

Two other user-intentions mentioned in the article are the sharing of information, such as URLs and the reporting of news or updating comments about current news and events. This last user intention of commenting on events and news is especially interesting since it gives a new dimension to the initial purpose of twitter as stated on the site, namely: ‘Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?’

The question what are you doing is transformed by the users to the question what is your opinion? New twitter groups are formed to share these thoughts with more than friend, family or co-workers but as a more broad platform to share thoughts and ideas on a certain topic. In election 2008, twitter updates are filtered to create ‘a new source for gathering public opinion about the election and a new way for you to share your thoughts.’ This political engagement in twitter can be seen in a more broad development of the web as a public space for sharing thoughts on political issues. According to a study by the Pew Research centre, 40 percent of all Americans have used the internet to gather information on the ongoing campaign and 19 percent uses the web to engage politically once a week. While the users of Twitter are often updating more than once a week and therefore differ from the users named in this study, the Pew Research does show an trend in using the internet as a way to engage politically. In the election 2008 debate on Twitter, the main use of Twitter is combined with this trend of engaging politically online. Due to the more immediate form of interaction of Twitter – updates are filtered for election 2008 every minute-  and the fact that users can respond to each other using the @-signal, Twitter is sometimes seen as a sort of chatroom. lthough this comparison is tempting and some replies to certain are indeed being made, most updates just take the form of a though or an opinion on the topic. The amount of updates is also a lot and the election 2008 page only contains the latest updates which would make true interaction impossible on this forum.  Some examples of updates are:

ZanP Will Obama help us become Oil INDEPENDANT?? NO!

Wickus Been a busy week, up at 5 am this morning. Trying to catch up on all the Obama campaign news and plan the week ahead

velvethammer If Obama & his supporters were so confident, why evoke racism and deal

from the bottom of the deck by playing the race card at every turn?

peggyjeanlouis Taking an opportunity to have some IHOP before I leave the Quad Cities. Wonder if McCain ate here yesterday?

These comments show the combination of the posting of thoughts, opinions but also still updates on what people are doing, such as ‘trying to catch up on all the Obama campaign news…’

While the updates on the Twitter election 2008 only contain short (140 characters long) thoughts of individuals, these short notes offer a new interesting way of discovering the discourse around a topic. Twitter and other micro-blogging media have been said to create a social landscape of a group of people: ‘They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.’ The power of the short updates on Twitter is that they are cumulative; they all add up to create an overall view on someone’s actions, ideas and whereabouts. This can be said about the election 2008 Twitter as well; the short comments may not provide an in-depth inside into a user’s option on the elections such a normal blog would do. But these engaged micro-blogs offer something of maybe even more value; they provide the reader of this blog with an overall view on the most important thoughts, opinions and considerations on this topic. The combination of the micro-blog and the more politically engaged use of the web such as in Twitter’s election 2008 provides the researcher with a whole landscape of ongoing discussions and could therefore become an important tool in research around these topics such as the elections. While politically engaged blogs indeed offer an interesting view on current debates, they cannot offer the landscape of thoughts that micro-blogging forums such as Twitter election 2008 offer. In discovering the public discourse about the ongoing elections, Twitter election 2008 offers a whole landscape of ideas and thoughts instead of just one opinion as in any opinionated article or blog.


In her essay ‘Digital Handshakes in Networked Publics: Why Politicians Must Interact, Not Broadcast’ Danah Boyd explains how politicians in the United States are misinterpreting the new options opened by current social network sites. Instead of using these SNS’s as a tool to interact with their -potential- voters, they create a site that still uses the old means of one-way broadcasting to reach their imagined audience.

Much to my dismay, American politicians primarily treat the digital world as yet another broadcast medium. They seem to think that they will be worshipped online if only they port their TV-styled material to the Internet.

When taking Boyd’s comments and applying them to the presence of Dutch politicians on the SNS Hyves it appears that the same phenomenon is happening here. This small case-study of Boy’s article shows how Dutch politicians are also still not adapting to the social rules and social possibilities of SNS’s, while they are making an effort to create a digital -Hyves- identity.

When visiting the hyves-profiles of the leaders of the main political parties it shows that a lot of effort is made to create an extensive, up-to-date profile. Most profiles contain blog posts that were recently updated. Politician Mark Rutte for example updates his blog almost every five days, mixing political news with personal content. This effort made to connect to his imagined audience shows how conscious politicians are of the power of this SNS but use it without using the tools provided by this application. Instead of campaigning in meetings and on the street, politicians could easily use the wall provided in hyves to reach out to their potential voters. As Boyd stated, politicians still use this new application through the idea of one way broadcasting.

Politician Femke Halsema actually tells her audience in one post that she often doesn’t reply to her ‘krabbels’ (notes) and is therefore missing out on the new options of communicating and connecting with her online audience.

When going to the profile of the prime minister this becomes even more clear. Here, the prime minister has posted a short film of his meeting with some of his ‘hyves-friends’ at his office. Strangely enough he wouldn’t  have needed this meeting if he just posted some ‘krabbels’ on their walls and started to engage with his hyves-friends. Here, Boyd statement that politicians do not act by the social rules of these SNS’s becomes clear as the prime minister needed to interact with these hyves-friends offline and then broadcast the film online instead of using the communication tools provided by hyves itself. As Boyd stated:

Much to my dismay, American politicians primarily treat the digital world as yet another broadcast medium. They seem to think that they will be worshipped online if only they port their TV-styled material to the Internet.

This case study has shows how not only American politicians misuse these new SNS’s, but how this is also happening in the Netherlands. Politicians need some kind of gestalt-switch to really start using the communication tools provided by these social networks. By providing extensive digital profiles the politicians do acknowledge the importance of these applications but do not use them the right way. It would therefore be interesting to use Boyd’s article ‘Digital Handshakes in Networked Publics: Why Politicians Must Interact, Not Broadcast’ and examine in what way this gestalt-switch can be made and advise politicians on how to step away from the old ways of broadcasting online  and move forward to truly connect and interact with this online audience.

25 September


Virtual spaces

The motto of this seminar is that bringing computer simulations and games into the classroom will have a positive effect on the learning abilities of students. For a new media academic this can’t be very shocking news. Modern Simulations are powerful tools that bring an alternative to the traditional linear ways how we present and understand things. Simulations and games can model systems that are otherwise too complex to deal with and give a firsthand experience to their dynamics. Also kids love games and seem to have the intuition to learn how to work with simulation tools far faster than adults. Frasca, 2001

In the world of education this doesn’t seem to be common knowledge. The implementation of simulations and games into the education curriculum is very poor, almost nonexistent. A reason could be that they just don’t know how to implement these new tools into the current basic education curriculum. Hopefully these seminars can inspire some minds to take the necessary steps to implement these tools into our education system.

Here three of these seminars will be discussed. They all deal with the theme virtual worlds and their deployment in education.

First speaker: David Nieborg

The first speaker of Picnic Young is David Nieborg who doesn’t really represents an idea or a product, but gives us his vision on the future of social and creative uses of virtual spaces. The main question Nieborg poses is what these virtual spaces can do for us and for the future of children. Nieborg starts off by showing the audience an old video (1998) about the former Dutch prime-minister who receives help with the use of the internet from a young girl. When presenting some numbers on the game and internet use of children (97% of US children play games) it becomes obvious this new medium should be looked at in more detail. While trying to answer this question, Nieborg addresses some of the point of the current new media debate. One main argument he makes is about the so called convergence culture; about the way we can order a pizza while playing World of Warcraft. Or the way Japanese World of Warcraft-players meet up to dress as their favorite characters offline. This to Nieborg is the convergence future, mixing the physical world with the virtual; here we see the blurring of boundaries between the online and offline world. This blurring of boundaries is misconceived in the Dutch media, where the discussion is often centered on the consequences of children playing violent games and therefore bringing these ideas to the real word , for example school massacres by children. But children do know this difference between the virtual and the real world according to Nieborg. And this current negative discourse is distracting the attention from the more interesting blurring of boundaries, such as friends meeting up to dress as their World of Warcraft character. While Nieborg addresses some more interesting focus points -the discussion of private vs. public, the idea of the social networking sites- his talk quite disappointing ends with the discussion of Second Life. This well known virtual world does ,as Nieborg poses, combine some of the main elements of the future of new media. For example the entrance of the ABN Amro Bank online mixed the virtual and shows that Second Life can actually be financially interesting. But the answer to the first question the audience poses is even more interesting. When asked if the entrance to Second Life was increasing or decreasing, Nieborg told it was actually decreasing. And by the end of his talk this answer sums up the overall idea of his speech; it touched on some interesting discourses on the new media, but it did not answer his suggestions on the future use of the new media. But introducing such new application or programmers is indeed something for the rest of the speakers.

Second speaker: Josephine Dorado (USA), Zoomlab

While Dorado starts off by showing some of her virtual art work, she mainly focuses her presentation on the idea of virtual play spaces. The project she uses as her main example at this conference is Kidzconnect. With Kidzconnect the social networking element of the web 2.0 is used to create cultural exchange. Through programmes such as Second Life children from different real spaces come together in one virtual space; here the cultural exchange takes place. Kidzconnect last cultural exchange program connected children in New York with Dutch children who used their avatars to exchange cultural information and therefore enhance their cultural awareness. The way the children use this virtual world of Second Life again combines the real space and space. One kid put a picture of some graffiti in his ‘real’ neighborhood on the wall of his house is Second Life. This combination of the real and the virtual in one singular space is of great importance to Dorado, who for example has put images of actual dancers on her avatars to create a more layered experience.

When the presentation’s last slide states that ‘Even if you’re just affecting one kid you are affecting our future.’ we notice that the presentation and the idea of Kidzconnect is a personal project to make the world a better place. The idea of Kidzconnect is very ideological and the idea of social exchange through social networking is absolutely interesting. Maybe the more ideological part of the presentation should have been swapped for a more practical component and some more practical tactics to continue with this idea of social exchange instead of losing the idea of Kidzconnect to some ideological statements that stand no ground and have no further value.

Third presentation: By representatives of the ‘Waag society

The third presentation introduces the project Self city from the ´waag society´. Self city is a game environment made within Second life, developed for kids who are socially impaired. The social skills of these kids are so poor that they can’t function well in groups and therefore can’t participate in regular education programs. According to psychology theory this is mainly because they are not able to adapt their social behavior to the different scenarios and settings of their daily lives. Normaly people develop different ‘I positions’ they use in a strategic manner to deal with social situations. Someone behaves different at work dealing with his boss then at a bar with his buddies. These kids however don’t know how to change their ‘I position’ according to the given situation and therefore get in to trouble all the time. Simulating different social situations with role playing games can help these kids train these skills they lack. But playing these role playing games is a group effort that requires the social capabilities they lack. In the virtual world of Selfcity however, these teens can login together with their teachers, all with their own avatar, and be part of a virtual group without experiencing it as a ‘real’ group. The virtual world is setup as an MMRPG where the player gets assignments that in order to complete them, require him to deal with challenging social situations caused by interacting with other avatars controlled by teachers or other students. To help the players through these situations they are accompanied by a virtual buddy, in the form of an animal avatar that follows the player everywhere he goes. In a conflict situation this virtual pet acts up as the players conscious and gives advice as how the player can alter his behavior to he reaches his goal. This way the player learns with the help of his trusted buddy how to modify his social behavior according to the different scenarios he needs to go through to reach his in-game goals. From here the information of this seminar becomes less clear. According to the speaker further techniques are necessary to help the player bring his newly trained skills from the virtual world to the actual world. This technique’s aim to blur the boundaries between the game space and the actual space for the players. This is done by a bracelet with a video screen where the animated computer image of the player’s virtual pet can be downloaded to. This way the players can bring their virtual pet with them in the real world. For now the bracelet is mostly just a physical reminder of the advice they received from their trusted pet when confronted with difficult social situations in the game. The aim for the future is that this portable virtual buddy will even be able to give its advice to its owner in the real world. The bracelet could monitor certain body symptoms like heart rate and body heat to react on with audiovisual messages for the wearer. The question why this blurring of boundaries is a preferable or effective way for these kids to deal with their new virtual identity was never raised nor answered in the seminar.

This was an interesting presentation that shows us how computer simulations and games can model social situations for their users to interact and experiment with their dynamics. A learning experience traditional linear ways of explaining could never give. But als leaves us whit some unanswered questions about the relations between virtual behavior and its effects on someone´s behavior in the real world.

Heleen Kerkman and Alessandro Valente (2008)

Your personalized Internet. You can add what you like and remove what you don’t like and it’s totally simple. – Pageflakes* –

Pageflakes is only one of the dozen sites that offer to personalize your internet experience by creating a personal start page for you. The amount of websites offering this personalization of these start pages reflects the need for a more personal, or even a more private part in the online public sphere. While every site tries to win over the user by stating that they are not just another personalized start page, they all claim that via this personal start page the user will be able to personalize their part in the private sphere.

One way in which these sites try to make the feel of the start page more personal is by stating that the user will be able to customize not only the content of the page, but also its form. Most sites offer the possibility to chose a specific lay-out or theme for the page. When trying to make a start page in IGoogle, the first thing that needs to be picked is the theme of the page. The site Mygetgo has even got three examples of these themes online and with that is trying to connect to three different user groups.** Apart from this theme, the form of the pages is also made more personal by the option of giving one’s pictures a prominent place on the website. The content of the personal start pages is said to be totally up to the user. Personal widgets, links to personal sites, email, favorite blogs and so on can all be implemented on the start page. When looking at some reviews, these options are considered to be an important factor in choosing where to start the personal start page. For example, the review of Favoor reads:

‘It’s three main competitors are probably PageFlakes, ProptoPage and NetVibes, all of which offer considerably more widgets (components) as well as better functionality from those components, plus the now obligatory customization options (e.g. colour themes, etc.).’***

These personal start pages can be thought of as a way to give the subject a personal place online. The start page becomes more than just an application, it becomes a home from which the user can enter the online public sphere. One site even calls itself iGlobeCityiHome: indeed being a home for the user in this so called global city. This private part in the public sphere is created through the personalization of the content as well as the form of the start page. Pictures can be hung up and notes to oneself can be left on the start page – almost as leaving a quick note at the table. The user uses the self-chosen links to read its favorite blogs, go to its online communities such as Facebook or read its email. The most interesting option one site offers is to keep some links private. In this Virtual Home one can shield of specific links from public users. The amount of websites offering these personal start pages clearly reflects the need to claim back a part of this current public sphere and customize it so it feels familiar again- like being home.

While some sites just offer the option to personalize one’s start page, more and more sites are trying to recreate the desktop on these start pages. Creating the feel of your own desktop online enhances the idea of a Virtual Home by letting your -personal- computer be accessible from multiple places. The transition from personalized start pages to online personal desktops is clearly noticeable on websites such as Goowy and Schmedley that use widgets to create the feel of an web desktop/webtop. Goowy actually offers some of the same options that the start pages offer – such as having calculator or calendar widgets – but also creates the look of a web-based desktop by the design and the possibility to upload and create files. The development of these site into offering a true webtop is still in process. At this moment, Goowy is no longer accepting new accounts and Schmedley is ten days away from being public as again as Schmedley Beta. Looking at some other web-based desktops it is interesting to see that some popular ones such as G.H.O.S.T are under construction too. In one review 21 of these webtops were analyzed and the number one – ajaxWindows– is noted to be ‘…the closest to being a usable web-based desktop at the moment.’****

One interesting feature of these online desktops is that they are able to store up to 3G of files online. Using ajaxWindows the user can browse through these files by using ‘my computer’ and old files can be thrown into the recycling bin. The feel of actually being on your desktop is enhanced by the option of opening a search engine that opens in another window as if you were just going online. The feature of customizing the personal start pages by letting the user pick certain themes for the look of the personal page can also be found at ajaxWindows which lets the user pick between different background themes. Even though this development is still ongoing it is an interesting to see this transformation from the online personal start page into the online personal desktop. These personal pages can again be thought of as the private gateway to the online public sphere. As much as the physical personal computer now serves as a ‘home’ from where to the user goes online, the development of the webtop is transforming the use of the personal computer into the use of the Virtual Computer. This personal Virtual Computer will be able to reached from every computer and make this private place online even more visible. Right now the personal start page is the beginning of the creation of online private places that is interestingly transforming into the use of the Virtual Computer as a home base in this online public sphere.


** 3 examples:






For this blog post I’ve analyzed the following sites:

In her paperback Style First, graphic artist Mieke Gerritzen directly addresses and confuses the reader by stating that ‘…this book provides no final definition of what style is about.’ Containing articles written  by media theorists as well as designers such as Lev Manivich, Hendik-Jan Grievink and Ned Rossiter, this book provides the reader with different visions within the current discourse on style. The paperback itself is in fact the catalogue of the exhibition ‘Style First’ by Mieke Gerritzen that ran from October 2007 till February 2008 at the MUDAC-Musée de design et d’arts appliqués contemporains.

Although Gerritzen has only included one article written by herself in her book, she is still omnipresent through her design of the lay-out of the articles. This form or style of the catalogue is actually a conversation about style in the contemporary society in itself. One striking division in style can for example be found in the different styles of the three languages in which this book is written. These three parts of the book contain the same articles and therefore share the same content. But while the content of the first -Dutch- part is placed in textboxes with arrows randomly pointing at them, the same content of the second -German- is placed on a background of Asian buildings, posters and pictures. And here we already find the core argument of the book; namely that style is content. The choice of the first Dutch style places the articles in a new media context, while the second German lay-out situates the articles in the context of a rising Asia. Style is a choice one makes and therefore creates meaning. On the page ‘style-making’ we find another example of this concept of style as a choice. While displaying thirty different kinds of toothpastes, the top of the page reads; ‘Style for all! Your choice is your style!’ In his article ‘Style’s cruelty’ Peter Lunenfelt even describes this possession of style as a way to establish hierarchy and as another kind of power.

Although the articles in ‘Style First’ display some interesting ideas and thoughts on the current concept of style, they don’t provide any real answers or any real insight into this matter. The articles challenge the reader to rethink the idea of style and to link ongoing changes in for example Asia to this idea of style. But they do not offer more than that. The articles do not provide any answers or any suggestions to the question which direction this discourse of style is heading or what way it should be heading. On the first page of ‘Style First’ Gerritzen tells us to imagine this catalogue is a magazine and indeed it is. It has the articles, pictures, lay-out and even some interesting content. Personally I would have hoped to gain some more in depth information about this interesting subject, but Gerritzen is right – it is just a magazine.

Website exhibition/Website MUDAC/Buy this book!

Welcome to Heleen’s blog on new media issues. This blog will be a part of my MA New Media and it will contain papers, assignments and thoughts on current new media debates.