Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Problems With The Coblog!

I am purposefully forcing a conversation out in the open so that anyone and everyone will be more informed about what is going on with the Coblog.

I received an email from Gerry (SEA faculty adviser) about his concern for the publicity the Coblog is receiving and his subsequent request that I remove certain choice pictures being fed to the Coblog that depict SEAers drinking and dressing in costumes.

The following is my email response to him (which received no reply):

"There are several problems with this request.

1. Web 2.0 is based on the democratization of content creation online.
The Flickr photo tag we have set up is created from this principle.
The very brilliance of its nature is that anyone can upload content to
Flickr that will then be fed to the coblog. By restricting what can go
up and what can not, we are regressing back to traditional web format.

2. There are serious technical issues with removing said content.
Because it is open and free for anyone to tag a photo using Flickr, the
content is then not being controlled by any central source or
administrator (the very brilliance of Web 2.0). So, in order to get
rid of these choice photos, we would have to either a.) take down the
feed and not have photos on the coblog or b.) find the person who
uploaded those images and ask them to tag them something different.
Neither of these options seem feasible of recommendable from my

3. The Coblog is intended to be a forum and tool for SEA members and
others interested in the club, the people in the club, and the content
the club is interested in. This means quite specifically that it is
NOT the face of the club. This is why we have the club website. The
website is the face of the club; that which is intended as and
functions to let the virtual world know who the club is, what its
purpose is, what its agenda is, and how to get involved. Having this
separation was done purposefully by the creators of both. One of the
main purposes behind the separation is to free us as club members from
having to overly concern ourselves with such issues as these. To
create a virtual community place for us, by us. A place in which we
are free to be ourselves and share with each other, not a place in
which we are worried about how we are representing ourselves to the
outside world (this in the end I believe is a better way to represent
ourselves anyway, as it liberates us). (Furthermore, I for one will not
be willing to participate in such a virtual community if I am
threatened with censorship. I feel it violates the very fabric of this
type of community.)

4. The choice photos in question are not incriminating. The photos of
the gun are from a Halloween party at Becky´s house in which
participants dressed in costumes (as is custom). One participant was
dressed as a cowboy and thus, had a toy gun as part of her costume.
The photos of drinking out of a gas can are specifically not
incriminating: A. it is not possible to tell What is being drunk out of
the gas can B. it is plausible that being an environmental group we
were making some sort of demonstration of our discontent towards the
use of oil C. Most Importantly: one of the things that occurs among
SEA members is drinking. Whether we want to admit it or not, it is a
part of the social aspects of the club members. Therefore, censoring
such material would be specifically misrepresenting us and what we do.

5. The coblog is currently not functioning in its ideal state. There
are really only three members actively using it (with probably three
more paying marginal attention). The fact that it is gaining any sort
of recognition from anyone is amazing. However, the reason it is
gaining attention is because of the structure, not the actual
functionality. Any analysis of what is going on would prove that the
attention it is receiving is for its potential, not for what it is.
This means that the content is inconsequential (at this point).
Furthermore, if the attention it receives from these outside sources is
because of its structure, it seems only logical that it would behoove
us to not restrict that structure and potential.

6. I do recognize the potential need for some sort of standards for
what can and cannot be put on the coblog. This will become especially
important if it is ever subject to spammers and ad-attacks. I created
the structure to handle most of this, but the inclusion of some
third-party services means we are subject to third-party policies. I
do not currently know how to handle some of these issues, specifically
this one with Flickr. Nonetheless, this request is exposing a possible
flaw with the coblog and web 2.0 principles in general. This is
something other services such as Wikipedia and Digg have had to
constantly and continuously deal with from their inception. Both of
these solve the problem with some sort of peer review. I think this
would be an incredible way to handle our problem here as well. I just
do not know how to or if it is possible to do that yet. Imagine that
cobloggers could rate or vote for photos. The most voted for photos
could then be the ones most prominent on the coblog. The main issue
with this idea is that it takes participation. Participation is the
number one problem with the coblog. In the end, none of this matters
if there is not more participation, because as demonstrated in #5., the
coblog is currently nothing but potential.

7. If this, in the end, is a more serious issue than it seems at first
glance, then I think the only course of action is to take the issue to
the club. The club can then make decisions about this specific issue,
but just as, if not more, importantly make decisions about the larger
issues of whether or not be associated with the coblog, what role it
should have if the club is to be associated with it, what role the club
website should have, who should have the responsibility of maintaining
and altering the coblog etc. (issues I have been and continue to push
for as I attempt to create something representing the needs and wants
of this group and for a new paradigm of internet possibilities)."

After receiving no reply from Gerry or any warning that this issue would be talked about at the meeting tonight, I missed the conversations had about this problem. From what little I did hear from Megan, it sounds like there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about how everything works.

I proceeded to send another email to Gerry after hearing about what happened in the meeting explaining my thoughts and feelings:

"I am upset to hear that you all decided to talk about the coblog at the
meeting without me present. I am also upset that you decided to go
behind my back and do this without responding to my email or giving any
warning that you would be going to the meeting and bringing this issue
up in strong fashion. From my perspective, this seems uncalled for.

I just got off the phone with Megan who gave me a general rundown of the
conversations. Due to the way that this has all been handled, I will
be forcing this all out in the open on the coblog including my email to
you in response. Unfortunately, it sounds like the critiques and
issues talked about all stem from a gross lack of understanding.

All this time, the coblog has been an experiment of mine. I have spent
countless hours working out technical issues, not to mention countless
hours dreaming about the possibilities. I was happy to associate it
with SEA, as I thought it would have a real place there. Due to the
sort of alienation that is occurring, I am starting to think otherwise.

I would like to restate that the only attention the coblog is receiving
is because of its structure and its potential. The content is
absolutely secondary and non-important. I am sorry that a negative
comment was made about a picture or two. However, you MUST understand
that this is not a publicity device. It is NOT for publicity.
Whatever publicity it receives is absolutely secondary. It is first
and foremost a tool for those who choose to participate (and a
potentially very powerful one at that... the reason it is receiving any
attention!). Right now, those are myself, Jeff Neel, and Hannah (with
yourself, Becky, Megan, and one or two more paying marginal attention).
It is a different approach to utilize the internet as a communication
device, the difference being that the cobloggers have the opportunity
to interact with each other face to face on a daily basis as well.
Connecting the real and virtual worlds...

In sum, Dr. Wesch will not be removing this from his presentation unless
he decides it is no longer cogent to his themes. If this means that I
must disassociate the coblog from SEA, I will be more than happy to do
so. Since its most important aspect is its structure and potential at
this point, the content, SEA being part of that, is inconsequential.

I really thought that SEA would be a welcome place to allow the freedom
necessary to operate a truly new tool of communication and
collaboration. It may still be. But unfortunately right now, the
misinformed masses appear to be hijacking that freedom and projecting
this medium onto old frameworks and old forms.

I do hope that if SEA likes this tool and likes the work that I have
done, it will engage in discourse with me, rather than alienating me.

The absolute comical aspect to all of this, and I repeat, is that no one
is using it!!!"

If anyone would like to engage me in any meaningful discussion about the coblog or this issue, I recommend using the coblog for precisely this! Maybe, just maybe, you will find it useful and might start to think that you like it! If the coblog is not the place, then I recommend that you (SEA) invites me to a meeting to discuss this.


Kevin said...

I just want to reiterate (while showing everyone that commenting is possible!) that I do not think that pictures with SEAers drinking or holding toy guns need be censored. This is a tool for us to use, it can be transformed by us, it in fact is transformed by us. Without this, no one would have even seen those pictures in the first place. 1. Those pictures are representations of who we are and what we do, why would we want to hide that or hide from that (if we´re ashamed, why do it in the first place???) 2. The coblog is for us to share with each other. For SEAers. The outside world does not matter.

*** The only instance in which I think any moderation is necessary in this regard is if someone is in a photograph and does not want it published. However, even this is already dealt with with Flickr´s terms of agreement, so it technically need not effect the coblog. But, if someone is drinking in a picture and does not want it associated with the coblog, then we can talk. Remember though, that it´s still on Flickr. So the real issue is getting it taken down from there.

Jeff S. said...

I say we let Dr. Wesch decide whether or not he wants to use the blog or not. If a majority of active SEA members want SEA's name removed from the coblog, then Kevin may do that, but I highly doubt that is the case. Our ksu website is our group's official website for those seeking info about our group. This website is for members, our members have fun together and this is reflected on the blog. The fact that Dr. Wesch is using this website as an example shows that the coblog is fulfilling its purpose in reflecting the users of the site.

Kevin said...

Futhermore, those photos are us! Not only is drinking a part of SEAers, it is almost an active recruitment device. Something that says hey, we like the environment, and we get down... in a sustainable way! I think members appreciate it too. Afterall, SEA is and always has been more than just a club. It has been about friends as much as anything. So, why be ashamed of that?

Kevin said...

I just want to make it clear: giving or not giving Dr. Wesch permission is inconsequential. He will use it if he wants. If SEA decides it doesn´t want him using it, the coblog will no longer be a part of SEA.

Additionally, Dr. Wesch is busier at this point than can even be imagined. Thus, I would prefer that this not be another thing that he need worry or concern himself about. This is precisely what I will tell him.

Hannah said...

what exactly was said to inspire such a reply? did somebody complain to Gerry? or what?

Kevin said...

At one of Dr. Wesch´s tech talks, he showed the coblog as an example as he does occasionally and I guess someone made a comment about the pictures to Gerry. The way I understand it...

Willie Wake said...

So this thing caught me off guard. I walked to work this morning listening to a very odd voicemail left by Rylan asking how I felt about removing the pictures. I was the one who took all the pictures of the gas can drinking. Though it was my camera, I in no way feel any sense of ownership of these photos. They belong to the coblog/everyone. I personally feel that if any one person has a problem with there picture being up there then we should do something about it but I don't think that we should take all of them. I am one of the people that only marginally use this coblog but it has helped me keep abreast of issues and I like to reminisce about my glory days in SEA by looking at the pictures. Kevin is the one who put all the work into this coblog, which is being underutilized, and I agree with his sentiments. It is not that often that Kevin and I agree so I think people should really consider this. I for one don't want to see this coblog disassociated with SEA, I think it makes us look better.

Rebecky said...

At the meeting last night, My solution was that everyone get on the co-blog and post any and all pictures they have of SEA, of which I know there are many more floating around. That way, it would flood the flickr with SEA pictures and make the "incriminating" pictures be shown less frequently on the top right of the co-blog.

It seemed that more people (I can't say most because only Mike, Kevin K, Rylan, Beth, Megan, Gerry, and myself were the only ones who even spoke about the issue out of the 25-ish people at the meeting) wanted the pictures moved (aka somewhat hidden) to a "leasure" time slideshow/link.

But isn't that another form of censorship?

just some thoughts, I have more, but I need to study spanish.

ps- If anything, this "issue" will get more people ont he co-blog and using it! :)

jeff :) said...

holy, moley. lots of fuss about the co-blog. perhaps, it will spurn more interest and discussion. kevin has put a lot of time and effort into developing this framework as a place to facilitate discussion in a respectful way and offer opportunities for people to connect in meaningful ways that may be lacking in our daily experience. i applaud and support his efforts and vision. perhaps, it does make sense to dissociate the site with SEA and make it more of a place-based site for the Manhattan community to discuss issues. however, the problem i see with that is a nice quality of current format and its scale is that i know most of the members participating on the site (or have some sort of connection with them) and that is a good feeling. the pictures posted in the slideshows detail some of those connections and help to develop an overall sense of community (connecting the virtual with the real world). i don't know about you, but i'm having fun chatting with kevin and hannah and getting to know their outlook and philosophies about "things." it's kind of like the idea for the quorum, only in cyberspace, and i understand kevin's hopes that both become a place of mutual respect and understanding for various points of view and experience. in my opinion, it should be a place where i can be myself and respectfully say what i think. if instead it evolves to a contrary state such as one of alienation and disrespect, then i certainly do not wish to be a part of it. i am only interested in fostering community grounded in mutual respect, awareness and acceptance.

Hannah said...

i like the idea of more photos...

Gerry said...

Hello Kevin:
I am sorry that you missed the SEA meeting. We had a good discussion about the SEAblog. I give you much credit and kudos for creating and maintaining the SEAblog. It's a wonderful site and resource.

As I mentioned to you last week, I hosted a K-State technology program that featured Prof. Michael Wesch. He has been using the SEA blog as a good example of implementing the idea of Web 2.0. Afterwards, I received several comments concerning the numerous drinking photos featured prominently on the SEAblog. There was also mention of the gun photos. Personally I was embarrassed and professionally I can not defend your actions.

As the group's faculty adviser, I am extremely proud of the group and encourage SEA to be fully run by the students. My role is to step in and provide advice when problems might occur. This has nothing to do with censorship or hijacking freedom as you refer.

The SEAblog is indeed getting much exposure, especially when Michael uses it as an example at his many international conferences. Perception is everything. It reflects on our university and the character of our group.

I think that you should personally be concerned with these problems photos. As you look for employment after graduation, would you really consider using the SEAblog as a reference of your work? Employers are very sensitive to these type of photos. This also has implications that could affect other SEA students who apply for jobs.

I hope we can resolve whatever issues there might be. As of now, I highly recommend that Willie take off the gas can and gun photos. This is an issue that the group should discuss soon. We should have a common goal for the site using good discretion and common sense.


Kevin said...

Just a thought, but could the pictures be slightly reorganized? I know the way the pictures are currently setup is that all pictures tagged with "seaksu" rotate through a slideshow. Couldn't this picture set simply be set to the bottom of the page (where it looks like it already is), and the top of the page have a new tag of more 'approved' photos (where it would, of course, take the effort of people to either add/change tags, or upload more photos). I know, as a leader of an organization on campus, that appeasing everyone in a group is extremely hard to do. But, if this web site really is going to be the SEA coblog, then it should represent the interests of SEA, whatever SEA decides. Talking with Gerry last night, it seems that he would be alright with the site as long as the main pictures don't include the questionable ones.

I'm also curious to hear what Dr. Wesch thinks of the site as it is. I completely understand that Gerry can't support this site because it clashes with his personal convictions, but does Dr. Wesch necessarily share these convictions? Like it was brought up last night, this site definitely shows a lot of good and bad with web 2.0, and why would you want to only showcase the good side of a subject (unless you're trying to capitalize on it)?

And for the record, I think both sides are being a bit ridiculous with how offensive or not offensive the pictures are. No one in their right mind would think that anyone was actually drinking gasoline, and at the same time, without any official statement about the pictures, no one is going to think that the pictures are a political statement about oil. The pictures are of college students being stupid and drunk and enjoying themselves, which is a big part of the group. As for the gun pictures, they really need captions to tell that they were from a costume party. If the costumes had been more extravagant, then they would need no explanation. As it stands, I don't see how these photos fit into any of the argument about 'having a good time'. Again, if these particular photos captured more of a party air where people are fooling around and no one is serious, then this wouldn't be a big deal. But the only people who get the photos were the ones who were at the party.

Having said this, I absolutely do not think any photos should be removed from this page, as it does completely take away from the whole concept of this site. But, at the same time, this site does claim to represent SEA, or at least to be representative of SEA members. While this site was not intended to be a publicity tool, it definitely has the potential to become one.

I guess what I am saying is that if some minor organization (not direct censorship, as in removal) can be done so that this site CAN be used as a publicity tool, why wouldn't we jump at this chance?

Also, things can always be changed in the future, whether it be short-term or long-term......

Kevin said...

Sorry....the last post was by Knabe, not Champion, just so no one is confused.....

Sir Knabe

Kevin said...

Okay, this is good. This is the type of discussion that is productive. Foremost, this is the type of attention and help I have needed all along in trying to create a tool that SEAers would like and would use.

Some technical issues:

I can very simply change the tag on the upper right hand slideshow, or any slideshow for that matter to whatever tag you/we/I decide on. This would mean that you could tag photos specifically with the tag that only shows up in the upper right. This was the vision in creating this structure, but the problem all along is that no one has been interested enough to test things out. Without anyone actually posting their own photos, it is left entirely up to me, and thus I just lump them all together.

Becky´s suggestion is a very good one. In the end, the content of the coblog is entirely up to the users. So, if you just get on Flickr and upload photos, all the "incriminating" photos will simply be pushed deeper and deeper into the feed. They will also appear less prominent because they will represent a smaller proportion of the photos.

*On a side note, despite these problems, the potential of this is absolutely amazing. I get so excited about the possibilities. But in the end, it really is nothing but a Web 2.0 publicity device without participation. With participation it is a virtual community.

I think myself and Megan are the only two who have actually posted any photos. If you want to post your own, the instructions to do so can be found here in the coblog. The photos currently up from Willie, are ones he sent to me with the hope that I would put them to use. As he said, if any individual has a problem with a photo that she is in, then we can talk about removing photos. But, there will be no photos "taken down". Reorganized probably, but not removed.

If people participate, then we are all constantly making dynamic slide shows as each person decides the content she wants to see.

So, my suggestion is that we come up with a tag name that will be for the upper right slide show. Then as we are tagging photos, we will know what specifically the tag will be going to. This will allow them to be selected differently. However, I must warn you that anyone still has the option of uploading photos that may be "incriminating" to that tag as well. So, for everyone worried about their image, this does not completely solve the problem.

Dr. Wesch has described the issue of privacy and Web 2.0 as "hiding out in the open". Yes, you put yourself out there by participating. However, you get to choose how you portray yourself. He has been giving talks and demonstrations about Web 2.0 to academia in hopes that it will get excited about he possibilities and start to exert its own influence and participation in this virtual medium. This has the potential to change the very nature of our college and academic experiences. But it is much more than that, as the coblog demonstrates. This is one reason why he is using it as an example. He did not help me create it per se, but he did help inspire me and teach me some general conceptual frameworks. What he does not know, what anyone going to it would not know without examination, is that the coblog is hollow. It is a skeleton begging to be used. So, he has been presenting it as a successful tool that this student group (SEA) has been using based on many "Web 2.0" ideas. This misrepresents it a bit because that is not actually what is occurring. But that does not really matter for him to get his point across. I am both proud and honored for him to use it, which quite frankly, has made it worth all the time and effort I have put in. He is one of the most important people in my life and someone I genuinely respect, admire, and love. In the end, his take on this particular issue is not important because I do not think this is an issue. The only problem here is that no one is using the coblog. Really simple, lack of participation. If people were using it, this would be easily exposed and modified to be more functional very rapidly.

In response to Gerry´s email today, I want to make it very clear that I am 100% proud of the Coblog and would/will use it on my resume and job applications. I understand that employers are "sensitive" to those types of photos, but I do not care how "sensitive" they are because I am not ashamed. Furthermore, I have not done anything wrong. If they choose to judge me negatively because of said photos, without discussing them with me, then I do not want to work for them anyway. As simple as that.

Last thing, the coblog is meant to unite the virtual and the real. Thus it is geared toward being a forum of people that know each other in the real world, and can use this tool to get to know each other in the virtual world. Thus the context of the photos is known, at least relationally, through this connection. This is a new concept. Think of Facebook. The reason it took off is because it successfully united these two worlds. The photos are then intersubjective and there is no need for them to be interobjective. This medium is set to be intersubjective. The SEA website is set to be interobjective. There is a very marked difference between the two and both are needed and necessary in order to have an integral and integrated experience in the Web.

Willie Wake said...

I just want to state that i further agree wth Keving. And the fact that I now work 14hr days is a little depressing.

dani el rojo said...

I want to start this open letter, telling Kevin his work on the co-blog is really amazing.
Even though I do not participate actively on it, I want express my opinion on the discussion about the pictures.
I think that all of the pictures are nice, and show the group from different perspectives.

I think is extremely deterministic to take the request of removing them as some kind of censorship...What we need to know is what is the image we want to project of the group, and what are the purpose of those pics there. And if there is a purpose, then such intention has to be explained.
I think is not necessary to take off the pictures, but to explain their contexts. Unless it is clarified with a pic-footnote saying, for example, that the gas-can is a statement about "America's addiction for Gas(quoting Becky)"...but statements have contexts.
There is nothing more dangerous than message out of context. Honestly , nobody is that fool to think that the gas tank has actual gas...But unless the context is explained, the pictures are showing a lot of people drinking, and I'm pretty sure that's not the image the group wants to project if wants people to consider the group seriously.

Since this is a space on internet, we have to realize that many people is going to visit this co-blog, and in the future is going to become an important tool to develop projects with other groups, not only in K-State or Kansas, but in other places of the country and, why not, the world. Therefore, we have to be careful with the image we project of ourselves, because that's the first impression people's gonna get.

If you don't want to move the pics, at least, contextualize those images, so they will go from inside jokes to statements...if that's the purpose. But it is not necessary to be stubborn and say that a request for moderation is censorship.

Finally, excuse any mistake in my English.


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