Quicks Comments Off on Presentation

Here is our entire presentation, successfully recorded live on Ustream. My part of the presentation lasts about 15 minutes, and I come on at about 119:15. No buffering required! a framework for intelligent online discussion boards

Concepts Comments Off on a framework for intelligent online discussion boards

(As you read, you may follow along with the Adobe Flash supplement)


The Internet is an opportunity for people to interact however they desire. Some desire to share pictures and videos. Some desire to invent lolmemes. I desire to engage in intelligent conversation. In an ideal world, I could join the “Brain Chain” discussion board and come to Copernican revelations with other thinkers of the highest caliber from around the world. Unfortunately the world is not ideal.

As we had discussed earlier in the session, bringing bright minds together with the hopes that they will come to profound realizations doesn’t really work. You would think that a campus of champions would come together to breed a generation of wisdom. Instead they collectively gripe about the greasiness of their food. Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer articulate this problem pretty clearly. “In the most carefully constructed experiment under the most carefully controlled conditions, the organism will do whatever it damn well pleases.” You can bring people together and even tell them what to talk about, but the will of the individual takes over in the end.

This is a problem for any online discussion board that wants to debate intelligently about the world. If an online discussion board is unregulated and open to the public it is likely to suffer from massive idiocy. Yet regulating the discussion board would be laborious, and privatizing it would limit its amount of perspective. The project is a quest for the best of both worlds: creating an effective and self-regulating online forum for intelligent conversation. In this presentation, I will lay out the overarching aspects of this new forum model which I have divided into three main categories: identity, constraints and reciprocity.


It is characteristic of the Internet to make opaque your identity. With the exception of the IP address[i], users generally start their Internet experiences with a blank slate. They have no faces, no histories, no identities. They are anonymous, until they themselves fill in their identity by registering usernames, uploading pictures and videos and writing up biographies. Even then, when they have disclosed themselves on one website, they can still be just as anonymous as a user on another website. Web 2.0[ii] may help with this problem by aggregating multiple websites, but as long as there is no centralized identity per person there will be no panacea for anonymity.

Anonymity is a problem because it allows users to cause chaos if they desire. The lack of identity can relieve inhibitions and encourage users to say whatever is on their minds; in a sense, users become intoxicated. If nobody knows who you are, what does it matter if you cuss somebody out or spew out racial slurs? Anonymity allows animosity. Creating identities on the Internet is a way to humanize its users and to ensure their integrity. We don’t want to centralize our identities throughout the whole Internet, so we’ll have to set up an identity creating system within the framework of our new forum model.

One of the simplest ways of forming identities is by creating a unique and appropriate aesthetic for the website. A website that is sleek and professional will make contributors feel they are part of something sleek and professional. A website that is quirky and odd will make users feel a bit more casual. Giving the website an identity will give users something to conform to, like a dress code. At your job, you wear professional clothes to remind each other to get stuff done. With your friends, you wear causal clothes to remind each other to chill out. Give the website a dress code to tell users what do to, which for would be tones of sophistication and humility.

Newsvine Code of HonorCreating a code of honor is a way to form identity as well as a social contract. The Honor Code here at UMW exists not just as a reminder to do our own work; it exists within our culture. From convocation to commencement, the code becomes a part of every student. Its cultural impact is evident in the title a popular UMW Facebook group, “Yeah Your School Has a Football Team, But We Have the Honor Code”. Newsvine also adheres to a code of honor, symbolized by a green shield, that all users must pledge to upon registration. The effect of an honor code is close to immeasurable, but given its symbolic intensity, it deserves critical consideration for being implemented into our new forum model.

But the most important aspect of identity to consider is reputation. Reputation gives users a goal. A user can develop a reputation for uploading the most interesting videos on YouTube, or for creating the most expressive art on deviantART, or for writing the most informative articles on Newsvine. Attention needs to be given to how exactly a website’s reputation system works because it will determine how users will use or abuse the website to achieve their egotistic goals.

Measuring reputationReputation is most accurately measured when measuring the collective appreciation of a user, not the activity of a user. Consider the post counter feature of many forums. With every post the user submits, the post counter increases by one. And as posts are rarely deleted, the post counter almost never decreases. The appreciation of a user, however, is constantly subject to change. A user might enter a forum and bestow valuable wisdom, then several months later might unexpectedly start flaming race or religion. But prejudice wouldn’t matter to a user with a million posts when post counter is measuring reputation, because recognition and veteranship would be attained only through the act of posting.

To shift the motivations of our users, we must measure reputation through appreciation. This is trickier because appreciation is subjective, but one possibility would be to have a follower counter instead of a post counter. Generate an RSS[iii] feed that keeps track of the contributions of a user and keep track of how many other users subscribe to the feed. This is an objective way to measure a subjective concept. If a user is contributing to a forum in such a way that the community appreciates, then theoretically more users would subscribe to that feed to receive updates. Detestable users should theoretically have no followers. Thus the quality of contributions, a vital aspect to our project, would be protected.

With reputation focused on the value, rather than the number, of contributions, an online community would experience less spam, trolling and flaming and more innovation, care and productivity even if the motives behind the contributions are egoistic. In the case of, egoism and status become a catalyst not for trifles but for knowledge.

Newsvine Vineacity

Newsvine has a noticeably effective way of measuring reputation. Their goal-based system measures the activity and appreciation of users in six unique steps. The “Random Act of Vineness” is interesting in that it is a reward bestowed by the editors at Newsvine; however this would not be in the best interest of which seeks to self-regulate without editors. Still, a blossoming “Vineacity” is not easy to attain. Boasting one would surely indicate a strong and admired commitment to the community.


Beyond the psychological tricks of this new forum are physical constraints that must be enacted. By constraints I simply mean what a user physically can or cannot do, not what they should or shouldn’t do or what they want or don’t want to do. Some examples of constraints would be Twitter’s 140 character limit, or Facebook’s lack of WYSIWYG[iv] editors, or a completely customizable and open-ended form for posting on discussion boards.

Notice how each constraint is a medium with its own message. Twitter’s 140 character limit implies spontaneity in posting, not to mention its incorporation of cell phone text messaging. Facebook’s text-based and HTML[v]-free commenting system emphasizes its refined, uncluttered heritage. Unrestricted discussion boards allow for almost the full range of human expression. The project would want to set constraints in such a way to emphasize, even enforce, intelligent conversation.

Trolls[vi] and spammers can be weeded out with a dynamic permissions system that restricts certain features from certain users. Newsvine’s initiation period is a fine model of dynamic permissions. Each newly registered Newsviner must go through a short period of initiation, during which they are restricted to what they can say and where their articles will appear. After several of their articles have received some positive feedback from other users, they will gain full admittance to Newsvine. Such a system keeps abusers in check by requiring appreciative activity. It also helps to build a cohesive community which should communicate better than a disjointed one.

Reference listing is a useful concept that is sometimes overlooked on the Internet. Certainly it would add a scholarly dimension to the forum. Referencing can be brought to attention by including input fields below the main body form designated specifically for listing and linking to sources. Custom markup tags[vii] could also be integrated to indicate a footnote, as with Wikipedia’s <ref> tag. They could even link to the footnote or display it in an AJAX[viii] popup for convenience. Of course not all user contributions would include other sources, so it would be unnecessary to require references in every contribution. As long as a reference medium is established and visible, its message will ring.

Another thought would be to set a minimum word length for each contribution, which would be determined by the thread initiator. The minimum word length would function on the discussion board just as it would for a school paper. To meet the minimum requirement, contributors would have to force themselves to think in new ways. Users may have to move beyond the thought they meant to articulate in response to another user and express themselves in multiple, different ways. This would make every single discussion intellectually rigorous, which may seem daunting even to the most astute of minds. Any aversion to this, however, can be remedied with the last and most significant aspect of the forum.


Reciprocity is an unusual concept for the Internet, but it is a fundamental facet of our new forum framework. It is through reciprocation that self-regulation is possible and that we may attain our desired results, which in our case is intelligent conversation. In a reciprocative environment, the communicative system must be dependent upon the desire of the users. To received a desired service, users must give the desired service to others.


Urbis is perhaps the first website to root its discussions in a reciprocative system. This is a social network for writers to share and critique each others’ poetry and prose, but what makes the network unique is its complex crediting system. Unlike traditional discussion boards which only limit what a user may or may not say through a list of rules, Urbis uses a credit system to regulate the content of posts much like a market economy.

On Urbis, each new writer is granted a number of credits. As one writer uploads a piece of literature, other writers can critique it. Each critique remains hidden to its intended writer who can reveal it only by spending an amount of credits relative to the word length of the critique. Credits may be received by critiquing other pieces of literature. The amount of credits earned is relative to the word lengths both of the critique given and of the piece under review; so to write a longer critique would yield a greater credit income and thus more critiques may be read. Some checks and balances have been put into the system prevent abuse. If a critique is truly helpful, the writer can mark it as “helpful.” If a critique is bogus, skimpy, or unhelpful in any way, the writer can report it as inappropriate and refund his or her credits.

This crediting system is designed to promote constructive criticism. Writers join Urbis to perfect their abilities and to know what others think of their literature; more specifically, they desire to read critiques of their literature. Urbis focuses on that desire and offers it to those who offer it to others. Writers give critiques to read critiques or else go bankrupt. In theory, this whole process of constructive criticism should cultivate better writers.

If you compare the reciprocative system of Urbis to an unrestricted commenting system like that of deviantART, you will notice stark differences in commenting diligence. Most Urbis comments are lengthy and substantial, whereas a typical deviantART comment consists of a mere pat on the back, a trivial emoticon, nothing intellectually beneficial to the artist. The most a user can do to receive useful criticism on deviantART is by attaching an image that says “Advanced Critique Encouraged.” Such a mere request is often ignored because it does nothing to enforce its message. You can see what a difference the reciprocative system makes in the table below, which lists the comments I’ve received on one poem through Urbis and deviantART.



1. “this is confusing. It seems your narator shifts roles from beginning to end. How did the sandwich pass hands? And why on earth would he give the narator, who already had a one, his sandwich in exchange for pen and paper? it is okay just hard to follow.”

2. “I like this work. There is a unique flow about it that reaches out to me. Also, the subject is a great one, one of understanding and non-judgment. I commend you on your accomplishment.”

3. “Thank you, sir” he said
as he unwrapped his sandwich
and gave it to me.”
Am not a poetry expert.
is this called pathos?
whatever the poetic term… it is simply brilliant.”

4. “I like this, it flows, it has personality, life, and ends well. I got from it the sense that this man uses his words to get what he wants, which is in essence what you, as a writer, also do. It needs maybe a few more drafts, but you have good stuff, keep it up.”

5. “I love the conversational style of the poem. It almost reminds me of, like, beatnick poetry but with this even MORE contemporary twist. It’s got that religious undercurrent to it (emphasized by the title) that you see in a lot of contemporary poetry. I cannot say that it is one of the best that i’ve read, so don’t take it too harsh when i say that i was a little distressed at moments toward the middle of the third stanza. Your words and structure here sort of lose focus…i guess in the midst of all the other text surrouding it. I think if you broke stanza three up at the line beginning “Now, without…” it would flow better. Despite any of that… I am impressed and stricken by the poem. You guys on Urbis know how to say what you want to say.”

1. “lovely piece….loads of effort obviously put into it constantly brilliant, well done!”

2. “YES”

Hopefully you can see the potential of reciprocity. How to integrate the credit system into our forum is the next problem. But the concept is actually very simple. First we must identify the common desire of the users. In our case, the desire is to have intelligent conversation. With that variable defined, it would follow that in order to read intelligent posts, users would have to write intelligent responses. Assuming all the aforementioned features are in motion, from the minimum word length constraint to the credit earnings system, intellectual discourse would begin to glow on computer servers around the world.

Let’s simulate the process. Juan and María both join and each are given 3000 credits by default. Juan starts a thread in 100 words arguing that computers are conscious beings. Being a thread starter, he neither gains nor loses credits. María responds with a 500 word rebuttal, earning 500 credits for writing a 500 word response plus 50 credits for responding to a 100 word post. María now has 3550 credits. Juan sees that somebody has responded, but the response is hidden from him. He spends 250 credits to reveal a 500 word response and now has 2750 credits. Disagreeing with María, Juan writes a 1000 word argument and earns 1000 credits plus 250 for responding to a 500 word post. Juan now has 4000 credits. María decides not to spend 500 credits to reveal his response, so she responds to some other posts. Discourse augments throughout the community, and the process goes on.

What about the users who do not desire to have intelligent conversation? How effective will the credit system be for them? For one thing, users who do not share that common desire probably won’t join the forum anyway. The system naturally attracts people with a common desire. But in the event that, say, students are using such a forum who need to keep up with posting, the credit system would inevitably require all the students to respond to each other either intelligently or not at all, regardless of whether or not they share the desire for intelligent conversation.


This sort of discussion board is specifically designed to spur intellectual thoughts, although many of its concepts could certain be applied for other uses. But it wouldn’t suffice for every website. It would be unnecessary—even counterproductive—to integrate this system in a community where intelligent conversation is not desired. Websites like I Can Has Cheezburger, Facebook or Flickr are all preoccupied with colloquial chat. For these, the maximum freedom of expression is desired and therefore required to thrive.

It’s also important to remember that is a hypothetical model. Even though it’s comprised of mostly preexisting concepts that appear to have worked in the past (and indeed everything would be functional within the existing framework of current web technologies), the combined effect is still untested. So to prove its effectiveness, this model would have to be built and tested among the public. Putting into action would be the final step of the experiment, a step that would demand hours of clever programmers and dedicated users.

Figure IV.F - RegenerationI trust this design would be nothing short of revolutionary. It’s a new method of invention which is really a new method of thinking. It forces users to rethink their thinking, which in turn alters the products of their thought. A form of bootstrapping which Engelbart has been so keen on (see Figure 8.4 from IV.F of Augmenting Human Intellect), the forum pushes people “to develop means that will make them more effective” at conversing intelligently. Such a forum might find its uses in education, academia or think tanks along with the general public. Students, educators and thinkers of all sorts would benefit from its mentally demanding structure and come to fascinating realizations about life, for pleasure or for action.


deviantART Inc. 2007. 25 July 2007. <>.

Engelbart, Douglass. Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. Excerpted for Summary Report AFOSR-3223 under Contract AF 49(638)-1024, SRI Project 3578 for AFOSR, Menlo Park, California: Stanford Research Institute, October 1962.

McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium Is the Message.” Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964.

Morningstar, Chip and Farmer, F. Randall. “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat.” Cyberspace: First Steps, 273-301. Edited by Michael Benedikt. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.

Newsvine, Inc. 2005-2007. 25 July 2007. <>.

Urbis, LLC. 2007. 25 July 2007. <>.


[i] From Wikipedia, “a unique address that certain electronic devices use in order to identify and communicate with each other on a computer network utilizing the Internet Protocol standard (IP)—in simpler terms, a computer address.”

[ii] From Wikipedia, “a perceived second generation of web-based communities and hosted services — such as social-networking sites, wikis and folksonomies — which facilitate collaboration and sharing between users.”

[iii] From Wikipedia, “a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated content such as blog entries, news headlines or podcasts. An RSS document, which is called a “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”, contains either a summary of content from an associated web site or the full text.”

[iv] From Wikipedia, “an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, used in computing to describe a system in which content during editing appears very similar to the final product.[1] It is commonly used for word processors, but has other applications, such as Web (HTML) authoring.”

[v] Hyper Text Markup Language. From Wikipedia, “the predominant markup language for the creation of web pages.”

[vi] From Wikipedia, “a person who is deliberately inflammatory on the Internet in order to provoke a vehement response from other users.”

[vii] From Wikipedia, “the semantic structures delimiting the start and end of an element” such as <b> for bold text.

[viii] From Wikipedia, “a web development technique used for creating interactive web applications. The intent is to make web pages feel more responsive by exchanging small amounts of data with the server behind the scenes, so that the entire web page does not have to be reloaded each time the user requests a change. This is intended to increase the web page’s interactivity, speed, functionality, and usability.”

CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate

Reflections Comments Off on CNN/YouTube Democratic Debate

8 democratic candidates face a new kind of questioning with queries straight from america’s living rooms


This has been a defining moment in political and New Media history, and I’m glad I could experience it in an academic environment. CNN and YouTube held a two hour debate on television for the Democratic presidential primary candidates. For the first time, webcam wielding citizens have been able to publicly question politicians on television.

What this at first means, of course, is that American citizens have gained a new political power through the Internet. Given weeks of preparation, citizens had time to organize and refine their questions, and practice and edit their questions. Not only is this is especially important for the less communicatively savvy citizens who have less of a voice in politics, it gives citizens an edge in the debates by thinking through exactly what they want to say while the candidates must respond spontaneously. True, all the videos were publicly available and could have been studied and prepared for, but the number of questions was massive and most addressed the big, expectable issues.

But it’s not perfect yet, because the news media decided which of the videos made the cut. Of the thousands of user submitted YouTube videos, 37 were selected by CNN for the debate. So the news media was still capable of tweaking the event as they see fitting to their agenda. Indeed, the candidates were given unfair amounts of speaking time. When Obama is allowed to speak four times longer than Gravel, there is obvious favoritism at play that is not necessarily of the people. Though I am not a fan of Gravel or some of the other less popularized candidates, they still deserve equal opportunity in the debate.

Were this a truly democratic event, the YouTube users would have been able to select which of the videos would be presented to the candidates. There would be bias, but it would be of the people. And the bias could have been controlled by including a tag comparison algorithm to ensure that various issues were covered and all the candidates were equally addressed. Just let the people choose. This was supposed to be a chance for citizens, not the news media, to publicize their voices in politics.

In any case, we are stepping in a new and good direction. What’s highly significant of the YouTube debate concept is that people from around the world, let alone from across America, could participate in the event. In essence, it is an international town hall meeting with internationalized personal messages. Sick and disabled people can stay home and still have a say. People with complicated questions can draft them multiple times. In an hour one can virtually travel to the fifty states, talk with people and return home. The spectrum of our nation comes together at a common point, aggregated into a single discussion. That is democracy at its best.

Internet culture brings another new facet into the political picture, because these videos and responses are crystallized and available to the public. This means that an Internet user can see see all the questions, selected or not, and answers at any time they want. They can also mash up and remix the videos in a creative way to form their own message, whether serious or satiric or just plain hilarious. This is the voice of the people murmuring behind the scenes of the television screen.

The YouTube debate also marks a generational shift of power. Much of the Internet is dominated by the youth, which have had a history of apathy towards politics. With politics entering the blogospheres, the youth may actually become interested in their country an even vote. I have personally seen a lot of political activity on Facebook and Newsvine, including simulated elections with hundreds of thousands of simulated votes. Candidates have set up profiles and have the support of tens of thousands of Internet users, many of whom are between the ages of 18-24 or even younger.

I’ll end with one final point. When you factor in all the socioeconomic levels and so forth, television is still the most commonly used means of information gathering among citizens. With the YouTube debate, we see the Internet fusing with television. Really what that means is the most expressive and democratized medium is speaking through the most public medium. Just think of the potential of that combination!


Concepts, Quicks, Reflections Comments Off on Curricula

Curriculum based education was a hot topic Thursday night. Should schools adhere to a curriculum or should they turn laissez-faire and let the students frolic? I have some personal insights to throw out. But first let’s whip out the dictionary. There are two etymological roots for “curriculum” listed at

  • Origin: 1625–35; < L: action of running, course of action, race, chariot, equiv. to curr(ere) to run + -i- -i- + -culum -cule2
  • Latin, course, from currere, to run; see current

Our two common denominators here are “course” and “running” as in a track course that one would run on. Reconnect this with curriculum based education. Should we systematically train students on a track course or should we let them run free on the open terrain? If the conceit of running to learning is accurate, let the student run in every way. Train it on the track and follow it through the field.

The track and the open terrain are different environment and each serve a difference purpose. The track is measurable, level, optimized and monotonous. On it a runner can easily set a goal and measure its progress. The open terrain is less predictable and poses more of a challenge with the wind, rain, sun, and bumpy grounds. It can definitely be more exciting than a track and makes a runner more adaptable as opposed to optimized.

This is basically a parallel for conservative education vs. liberal education. Each has its advantages, but determining which is better for you depends on your goals. For me, both are necessary. I have a destination both as a runner and as a student, but I also want to see what else is out there. I have goals that I reach and raise both as a runner and as a student, but I also want to round my body and mind in other ways, too. I try both to be a quick sprinter and a strong jogger and to be a logician and an innovator.

Be all. That’s the surest way to know all.

ICHC social phemonenon

Concepts Comments Off on ICHC social phemonenon

I knew I wouldn’t be able to quit the blogging for long. I had a few hours before class, so why not? ICHC simply must be talked about.

What is?
I Can Has Cheezburger? (ICHC) is a WordPress archive of cleverly captioned photographs of cats and other animals. As of today, the archive holds about 860 captioned pictures and grows at a rate of about three pictures a day. These pictures are collected throughout the Internet or captioned and uploaded on the spot via the Cheezburger Factory. Once submitted, visitors can comment on and rate the hilarity of a picture on a scale from 1-5 cheezburgers (as opposed to stars). They can also tag, save and share pictures using ubiquitous Web 2.0 utilities like

Roots and lolculture
I Can Has Cheezburger?It all began when a couple of guys on the Internet found this image you see to the right. Its humor was so simple yet so insanely perfect that they decided to set up a website to house and create similar pictures. The term “lolcat” soon entered the social vernacular as captioning funny cat pictures became a larger Internet meme.

The exact origin of the lolcat meme is difficult to trace, but we do know that it had its roots in online forums. The funniest pictures on the forums would be submitted to mass media websites like fark, fazed or ebaumsworld, where the pictures would be exposed to millions of users a day.

Memes like lolcat are fueled much like an artistic movement. A novel image inspires one person to create and share something similar. Online memes are unique in that they spread incredibly fast. Everything public on the Internet has the opportunity to be seen by everyone at once. Look at lolcat. A picture can be modified and uploaded in a matter of minutes and can be exposed to thousands of people in a single hour. The first accepted picture I had captioned and submitted was the ninth most popular entry on WordPress. After one week, the picture has received 1146 votes, 114 comments and 8 links.

Online communities come together with the development of memes, but the lolcat community appears to be especially cohesive. Most comments are supportive and are often additive, suggesting, in the native lolcat tongue, alternative captions. And comments, too, are rated just as the pictures are. The norms of this community seem to have just spawned on their own.

Tha funniez
What makes a lolcat funny?

The original lolcat, being the seed of the revolution, would be a good place to start thinking about lolcat humor. Let’s break the image down. There is a cat. There is bold white text above the cat. The text, a single phrase, is a question, so it is probably said by the cat. Already we have a form of irony, personification.

The cat asks, “I Can Has Cheezburger?” Note how the syntax, grammar and spelling are slightly off. Let’s see what the exact differences are between that and “May I Have A Cheeseburger?” In the captioned image, “Cheese” has been phonemically simplified to “Cheez” and “Have” has been replaced by the third person singular “Has”. The article “A” has been dropped. “May” has been changed to “Can” as in the common vernacular, and “Can I” has been flipped to “I Can” making the cat’s question ambiguous as to whether it is requesting a cheeseburger or if it is confirming that it is allowed to have a cheeseburger. These linguistic changes suggest:

  • Inferiority, lack of education and childish demeanor (singular phrase, simplistic spelling, incorrect grammar)
  • Informality (vernacular)

A context must also be linked between the text and the image. In this case, the cat’s smiling facial expression and tilted match with the text in a way the makes the cat appear innocent, spontaneous and sincere. The request for a cheeseburger complements the size of the cat, mischievously akin to a chubby kid. And the idea that a cat would even request a cheeseburger is absurd, hence the further irony.

So while lolcat humor is deceptively simple, it’s governed by a sophisticated play on linguistics and culture. One could divide the humor into several categories: labeling, recycling, emphasizing and contextualizing. These categories tend to have a lot of overlap, but each has a distinct feature.

Labeling simply describes what the picture portrays. Each lolcat is obvious labeled, but some labels are more straightforward than others. It can be difficult to label a picture straight up and still be funny, because humor depends on irony. Since there is little to no irony in labeling exactly what is seen in the picture, the label needs to be articulated in a unique way. Unique articulation can be achieved through spelling changes, grammatical changed, syntactical changes or vulgarity, and the tweaks should have significant ties to the image. Here are some examples:

Recycling perpetuates an idea from a previous image. Most lolcats perpetuate the main idea of simpleton humor found in the original lolcat. That is the driving force of the movement. But as more lolcats are grown, new ideas create new legacies. Any image that recycles an old idea, however, should contribute some new tidbit of humor lest the idea become exhausted. Here is a couple commonly recycled themes:

Emphasizing is a special kind of labeling in which the caption brings to light a detail in the photograph. That detail may or may not have been apparent at first, but an emphasizing label will bring it to light in an obvious and exaggerated fashion. Some examples would be:

Contextualizing makes winning lolcats. Context is the heart of captioning because it is where irony can manipulated. Rather than simply labeling what you see in the picture, you create a situation, provide a before and after, and essentially set up a small story. The Monorail Cat is a classic example of contextualizing because it suggests that the cat is actually moving along a track on its belly instead of just sitting there, giving you a richer and more ironic imagery. Some other good examples of contextualizing include:

Why da cats?
Why da cats indeed? What made cats such a perfect creature to pick on for shared online image macros? It might just be a tradition built upon a haphazard selection. Even if so, it’s significant that the meme persisted through the use of cats above all other animals. Probably the lolcat pidgin depended upon the image of the cat, as the cute or childish appearance of the cats complemented the dumbifying captions. What? Cute little fuzzers taking over the world? Yes! Whatever the reason, lolmemes simply would not have been the same without cats.

Read Moar:


Blog break

Quicks Comments Off on Blog break

Yup, it’s time for a blog break. There’s always something interesting to review in the Internet world, but it’s time I focused all my New Media brain power on this project for a while. So, Serena, I give you permission to critique the culture and linguistics of I Can Has Cheezburger. In the mean time, I’m going to figure out how to really cultivate intellectual discourse on the Internet. I’ll report back in a few days or so.

Was language the Big Bang of our demise?

Reflections Comments Off on Was language the Big Bang of our demise?

The suspicion came to me today during Sociology, shortly after having been asked what was the biggest cause in environmental destruction. The burning of non-renewable fossil fuels, my group and I first thought; more than just the pollution that emits from them are the dangers of ozone depletion, which theoretically fuels Global Warming, and wars over obtaining every last drop of oil. Apathy, another group thought, because we don’t care to stop the destruction of the environment. Government and corporations, said the third group, because they are the only people with significant power to the end environmental destruction they cause (which would ultimately be a suicide).

I’m not sure that any of these get to the heart of the problem, though. The genealogy digs much deeper into the ground. We burn fuel for energy. We use energy to build and to mend, weave, harvest, transport, illuminate, communicate, i.e. produce. We progress in our production to make our lives all the more convenient. Because in the beginning our lives were not convenient. In the beginning there were no computers, light bulbs, markets, houses, cars or clothes. It’s a miracle we humans even exist, because evolution seems to have dealt us a bad hand. But we had two trumps. One was the opposable thumb. The other, with immeasurable potency, was language.

Language is what makes us uniquely human, and it gives the illusion that we are the only animals to use reason. But language is no more than the expression of thoughts. What makes human communication so powerful is that it can share, with a fine articulation, abstract thoughts. A human could describe an elephant to another human who has never seen an elephant, and that human would conceptualize an elephant even if the schema is not entirely accurate. Every utterance is an education of a thought.

Language is naturally educational, and it is education that saved the human species from extinction. With language, we could teach ourselves to build shelters, prepare food, or cooperate. Each successful generation would bequeath its archive of knowledge, so that generation would build upon generation and the efficiency of humans would boost exponentially. This correlates with the exponential growth of human population. As humans create new and better means of survival, we increase longevity and the opportunity for birth.

Hence overpopulation. A greater mass of people demands more resources. It seems to be in the over-efficient nature of humans to suck the marrow of one area and migrate to the next. To quote The Matrix,

Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

Humans have become over-efficient, and this over-efficiency scourges the Earth as well as ourselves. Unbalanced, we overglut our resources and end up fighting for the final tidbits—in vain, of course, because the spoils of the victor would be consumed just the same.

Let’s take a moment to recap. Language involved education, education fostered overpopulation, overpopulation gluts the Earth’s resources, and the lack of resources will lead either to death for all or to war and death for some. With this trend, though, the population simply must collapse at some point.

Was this all inevitable? That depends if language was inevitable. Perhaps language was the effect of an even more ancient cause, but tracing that genealogy any further becomes difficult. Certainly the desire for survival couples with language, but to blame survival as the Big Bang of our species’ demise would be inaccurate. We see all other species struggle for survival while maintaining a balance in the ecosystem, which humans have not and probably cannot do.

But here comes the ironic twist. We use language and education to try to fix the problems that were originally caused by language and education. Is this possible? Do language and education function like the brain that can reach into itself to solve problems? Or will we ultimately worsen our greater situation by fixing one of its smaller building blocks?

Let’s consider some things. If language is an expression of thought, and if language is congruent to education, then education naturally involves thought. If the brain uses thought to solve its own problems, then, like the brain, language and education could indeed be used to solve its own problems. The only difference is that, unlike the brain which solves problems internally, language and education solves problems socially.

It’s hard to come to a conclusion after all this. It’s possible that the computer will either be the most important or the most destructive medium for solving the world’s problems. An instrument of cultural diffusion, it can bequeath knowledge unlike any other tool humankind has ever experienced. The computer is the culmination of past technology, the zenith of progression. But is that good?

No sacrilege here. Just questioning.

Tweet Generation

Concepts Comments Off on Tweet Generation

Culture has ever evolved, and ever it evolves. Temporal circumstances seem to fuel this constant evolution of culture. We saw scientific advancement fuel the Enlightenment, and we saw the Enlightenment fuel Romanticism. We saw segregation fuel the Harlem Renaissance, and we saw the Civil Rights movement fuel integration. We saw war fuel existentialism, and we saw existentialism fuel postmodernism. This summer we’ve been studying culture as it is fueled by New Media.

The creation of the computer was as revolutionary as the light bulb, the printing press, the pen and the cosmos. With its light-speed capabilities came an explosion of usable time that would have otherwise been wasted on calculating, page riffling, walking or talking. The computer also provided a new and infinitely faceted means of creativity. The creation of the World Wide Web then sparked a revolution of accessibility compounded upon speed and creativity. And with the conception of Web 2.0 came the polygamous marriage of speed, creativity and accessibility to society. Communication and expression evolved from speech and writing into an almost telepathic cross-culture of blogs, information sharing and social networking.

TwitterTwitter is a pedestal example of culture as it exists in the age of New Media. Twitter symbolizes our society and foreshadows the future meandering of its evolution. Sounds intriguing. But why Twitter?

Twitter is not the most popular Internet application by far, but it’s a meme that captures the essence of Internet culture. It exists to answer the question, “What are you doing?” Users update their status in 140 characters or less, enough to be submitted from a text-messaging cell phone. Obviously, a single update can’t reveal much about a person’s life like a normal blog entry would. But Twitter is not a blog. It’s a microblog. Blogs contain long and subjective entries that reveal an author’s own sense of self, whereas Twitter contains snippets of time that expose an author’s naked psyche. As Clive Thompson puts it, “Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.”[1]

The function of Twitter is to gain an awareness of the spontaneous collective society. This is beautifully apparent in Twittervision, which allows you to witness with your own eyes the spontaneous existence of Tweeters all over the world. This new mode of perspective signifies the pivotal change in our global culture, our “awareness” of society at large.

Twitter also exemplifies the concise and transient nature of Internet life. Let’s say a Tweeter wants to tweet a new poem. That poem would be constrained to a single line less than 140 characters including spaces and punctuation, and it would be doomed to fade into the depths of Twitter archives as new updates push it out of existence. The value of such a poem would exist not immortalized in the present but always in its original, fixed point in time, as a cloud of cherry blossom leaves would billow and disappear. As the present slips into the future, time forgets the poem. And indeed, time forgets much of what exists on the ever fluctuating Internet. All things good on the Internet exist not as diamonds but as exploding fireworks, both dazzling and doomed.

And so it is that we have fluttered into the Tweet Generation, tweeting among ourselves, unconcerned with time but flying forth always into the new.

1. Thompson, Clive. “Clive Thompson on How Twitter Creates a Social Sixth Sense.” Wired Magazine. 26 June, 2007. <>. 08 July, 2007.

An inspiration

Reflections Comments Off on An inspiration

Today I walked out of a movie theater, having just seen Michael Moore’s SiCKO, with a renewed political and humanistic vigor. It might sound odd, but I had a New Media epiphany shortly after watching that documentary on corrupt American health care. It happened while I was standing in line at Potbelly’s, waiting to order a sandwich. I saw the people around me, without that tense shouldered social anxiety I normally might have felt. I thought about their lives. I picked up my sandwich and I smiled fluently at the cashier.

A man in the film said that putting your life in danger was living, and the rest was television. He was referring of course to putting your own life on the line in hopes of saving another, as with a firefighter. Interesting, I thought. It was then, thinking about that quote while eating my food, that I remembered Walter Benjamin’s concept of the “aura.” Things in the material world have an aura that is lost through duplication. The Mona Lisa has an aura that you can only experience at the Louvre; all photocopies or images on the Internet lack this unique aura. I believe this aura exists and applies to people and social interactions. There is a richness in face-to-face conversation that disappears even in webcam communication. Maybe it’s that third dimension, or the natural lighting, or the smell of hair.

Something, something special in the real world, disappears in the artificial world and can never be fully reproduced. While I must say I am sparkling at the neurons here studying the hyperbolic advancement of social networking and computer technology, I admit that I feel we’re in danger of slighting something even more valuable: real human interaction.

Risking our lives for others is living, and the rest is television. Television as escapism? It’s true, more or less, that we on the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum strive for safety and self-actualization. We have the means, the time and money and spirit, to fulfill our desires. We can spare an hour for YouTube or social networking. We can work towards a new degree of hyper-creativity and expression. But grokking at my heart is an uncertainty. I feel it every time I see the dejected men and women who I know could never spare a buck or an hour to tantalize themselves on the web.

Maybe I’m confusing unrelated issues. But this, fleeting though it may be, is my concern today. bookmarking made easy

Concepts, Quicks Comments Off on bookmarking made easy has two nice little widgets that combine 34 bookmarking services and 22 RSS feed services into single buttons, perfect for “Web2.0 Social Media Optimization.” I’ll provide an example:

AddThis Social Bookmark Button AddThis Feed Button

There is also a WordPress edition which includes a plugin and a conveniently integrated drop-down menu.

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