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Robert W Gehl

Associate Professor

Department of Communication

University of Utah

CFP: After Social Media: Alternatives, New Beginnings, and Socialized Media

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Fenwick McKelvey, Sean Lawson and myself are going to put together a special issue of Social Media + Society on alternative social media. We're aiming for early 2019. Here's our Call for Proposals:

The editors seeks 500 word abstracts for proposed articles for a special issue of Social Media + Society on "alternative social media." The editors welcome proposals from scholars, practitioners, and activists from across disciplinary boundaries so long as the work is critical and empirically rich.

Our call starts with a question: what comes after social media? It is hard to imagine something other than the current configuration of social media – of Facebook and Twitter – but signs of discontent abound. Social media companies have become deputized to police and moderate whilst being accused of poisoning civil discourse. Their integration of advertising and targeting signals a new epoch of promotional culture, but no one trusts the media anymore. As Brooke Duffy argues in (Not) Getting Paid to Do What You Love, everyone can create, so long as they don’t mind going broke doing so. In sum, today’s social media is broken... but what’s next?

For the past several years, one answer to "what's next?" has been "alternative social media." Alternative social media encompasses a wide range of systems, from diaspora* to Ello to Tokumei. In contrast to what Robert Gehl calls "corporate social media," such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest, alternative social media (ASM) "allows for users to share content and connect with one another but also denies the commercialization of speech, allows users more access to shape the underlying technical infrastructure, and radically experiments with surveillance regimes."

Thus, alternative social media may be understood in relation to larger histories of alternative media, documented by scholars such as Megan Boler, Nick Couldry, Chris Atton, and Clemencia Rodriguez, and carried through into social media alternatives by collectives such as Unlike Us.

Earlier instances of ASM included diaspora*, built as a critical response to the growing dominance of Facebook in the late 2000s, with a goal of decentralizing social media data and allowing end users more control over their personal information. Later, decentralized systems, such as Twister and GNU social, came online as alternatives to Twitter. The Pinterest alternative Ello gained a lot of attention, especially due to its manifesto with the opening provocation: "Your social network is owned by advertisers." Alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have even appeared on the Dark Web (see the S-MAP for examples).

As they have developed over the past several years, alternatives decried the censorship and manipulation of content found in corporate social media. Building on this, new alternatives dedicated to "free speech" arose during and after the contentious elections in Western countries in 2016 and 2017, including the Twitter alternative Gab. Proclaiming its defense of free speech – especially against the perceived liberal bias of Silicon Valley-based corporate sites – Gab promises freedom for everyone, including the "alt right" and white supremacists, to speak.

But other networks, such as the federated system Mastodon, have been built to allow for powerful moderation of discourse, with Codes of Conduct that often prohibit hate, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or racist speech. Indeed, while they are wildly divergent in their politics, both Gab and Mastodon have positioned themselves as antidotes to corporate social media. These debates over speech in ASM echo the longstanding tension identified by alternative media scholars, where many alternative media developers seek to socialize media and bring it in line with leftist politics, but see their discourses appropriated by right-wing media organizations.

Regardless of whether they are right or left, alternative social media face a simply reality: they just aren't popular. Compared to the billions of Twitter and Facebook users, alternative sites' user bases are tiny. Whether or not their goal ought to be massive scale, the powerful network effects of corporate social media – as well as the bewildering array of alternatives – certainly have stifled the growth of the alternatives. Still, the alternatives deserve critical attention, because they force us to rethink what we mean by "social media." What tethers so many people to so few corporate sites? And what actual "alternatives" to corporate social media do the current slate of alternative social media platforms propose?

Topics that may be explored in this special issue of Social Media + Society might include:

  • ethnographic or participant observation engagements with alternative social media communities
  • software studies analysis of shifts in underlying ASM technologies * narratives from practitioners who have built, moderated, or extensively participated in ASM
  • comparative analysis of two or more ASM platforms
  • studies of ASM as political, technical or cultural discourses or desires
  • regulatory and policy discussion regarding controversies involving ASM
  • speculative proposals or fictions about new ASM that address existing problems
  • analysis of appropriation of ASM innovations by corporate social media systems

Timeline/Important Dates [subject to change]

  • DECEMBER 20 2017: 500 word abstracts and CVs/resumes may be sent to asm@robertwgehl.org
  • JANUARY 20 2018: Acceptance notifications sent to authors
  • MAY 15 2018: Full drafts due to asm@robertwgehl.org
  • JULY 15 2018: Comments sent to authors by editors
  • SEPTEMBER 15 2018: Final drafts submitted to Social Media + Society for peer review
  • FEBRUARY 2019: Special Issue Publication

Questions? Please email asm@robertwgehl.org.

Farewell, Galaxy2

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Tried logging onto Galaxy2, a Tor-based social networking site I've participated in since its inception in early 2015. It's been down for a while, and like many Dark Web sites, it looks like it's gone for good. We get a rare note about its closure, though, with a note from its founder, Lameth (see below).

Galaxy2 started after Galaxy, another Dark Web social networking site (one I've written about) shut down in late 2014. Lameth and a bunch of "Galaxy Castaways" met up on another DWSN, Visibility.i2p, and decided to start anew.

I feel very privileged to have seen these migrations and even participating in them. I'm very saddened by the end of this site. These days, social networking on an anonymizing network sounds bizarre, but of course connecting with other people via a pseudonym is as old as the Internet itself. Moreover, Lameth ran a very civil site. There were moments of discord, but overall, Galaxy2 (like Galaxy before it) belied the reputation of the Dark Web as solely comprised of criminals and pornographers.

I have documented much of Galaxy2 (as much as I could anyway) for my forthcoming book, Weaving the Dark Web, and I know other researchers have paid attention to the site. So it will not totally fade from the public record, at least.

And, perhaps someone will take Lameth's lead and make a Galaxy3...

Lameth's Message

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Hash: SHA256

So, it finally happened. The server broke down and your terrible host here (me, not the current host, mind you!) hadn't been keeping regular backups off the server... I'm trying to see what I can salvage, but to be honest with you guys, then I'm not very optimistic.

The admins and a few other users has for a long time now been privy to my plans about either handing over G2 for someone else to run, or shutting down G2 completely. Seems like the server got tired of waiting for me to get my shit together and took the decision for me.

Why? Well, a couple of reasons, really, but the major one being purely selfish. I knew I was doing a shit job hosting G2, and as it grew more and more popular, so did my guilt and stress about not being a proper host and a proper admin. I couldn't dedicate the time for running and managing G2 that I felt it deserved. So at some point I came to a conclusion; I think the mature decision was to give it up and hand it over to someone more capable, for the sake of the community. Turns out I also have a terrible habit of never actually doing the stuff I intend to do, so even the process of handing over the reigns to another host never really got further than me putting out a few feelers and questions to a few people.

So now we’re here. G2 seems to be done, although I try and find time to see if I can manage to salvage something that might make the admins and the new host capable of continuing G2.

I’d like to encourage people to migrate out to other Tor Hidden social Services, regardless of whether G2 can be recovered or not. I hope other social sites will pop up (Galaxy3, anyone?), but I believe there are still some of the “older” chat services around. They might be a good place to reconnect with other G2 users.

Even if G2 is recovered and continues, then this is the end of the road for me. I have little time to spare for this or any online community due to family and work stuff. It’s a bittersweet farewell for me. One one hand, it lifts a burden from my shoulders that I don’t care to carry around any longer; on the other hand I really did enjoy being a part of this community, of being part of the beginning and an integral part of its long existence. Three years (almost) feels like a lifetime for a Tor Hidden Service.

I might be reachable on the following mails, but please forgive my response times…:
Lameth@torbox3uiot6wchz.onion
Lameth@protonmail.com

Please use PGP to encrypt messages to me. The key below will expire soonish, but ask me for a new key once this one no longer works.

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On the Dark Web

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Small bit of news: I've finally mirrored this site on the Dark Web. My Tor hidden service is at 347k6hepharlncwb.onion/ (that's three four seven k six h e p h a r l n c w b DOT onion). And this site's on the Invisible Internet Project, too, at legitimate.i2p (that's in most jump services; here's the base32 address).

This is all for your anonymous browsing enjoyment.

Reviews of Weaving Dark Webs are in

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I received peer reviews of my book project, Weaving Dark Webs: Violence, Propriety, Authenticity today. The reviewers offered substantial feedback and criticism, and the upshot is: the project is a go! The book is scheduled to be published by MIT Press in the Information Society series in the Fall of 2018.

Thanks to the reviewers, both anonymous and named, for your feedback!

Rollin' in Zotero 5.0

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...with the ragtop down so my... ok. Enough of that.

I happened to upgrade my installation of Zotero Standalone today to discover something I usually hate: a Major New Upgrade. It seems like every software package I use will do a Major Upgrade and, well, screw everything up, from my workflow to my sense of wellbeing. But not this time. This time, Zotero gave me a Major Upgrade -- the new Zotero 5.0 -- which adds a host of new features, some of which I really wanted (WE CAN SEARCH WITHIN NOTES NOW!!!!!!!) and some I didn't know I needed (Zotero now has an RSS reader!).

The RSS reader, which I've tested out by grabbing an OPML file from my installation of TinyTinyRSS, is working quite well. It's probably 10 years too late, since RSS has been dying a slow death thanks to Facebook Imperialism, but for those journals that offer an RSS feed, I can simply flip through their latest articles within Zotero. I can not only review new articles quickly, I can add them to my library (or a group library) in a matter of seconds. This is gold, pure gold. If journal publishers let RSS live on in a zombie-like state, this will be tremendous.

But the real thing I'm going to love is searching within notes. It's a feature that Zotero users have been begging for for a long, long time. For years, I've copied and pasted notes into a text reader in order to search them. But not this day. Now, I can search a note itself, or I can search with the larger search tools -- and use Boolean operators to add these searches to others, or even do a saved search. This will definitely change how I relate to my libraries.

Another new feature: the Sync system is now library-specific, meaning I can choose to sync some libraries and not others. I am not quite sure whether or not I will use this, but I do actually have multiple Zotero installations for different libraries (some material I avoid syncing due to privacy concerns) and I wonder if this will help here. Zotero's changelog indicates that this selective sync and other operations will be more incremental and backgrounded, with the goal of performance improvements. I'm hoping this means that syncing will be less intrusive on other operations (such as note taking and tagging). At the very least, things are moving quite "snappily" in this latest Zotero -- even as I sync files, I'm adding about 40 RSS feeds and all seems to be working quite well.

Integration with Libreoffice is improved, at least aesthetically, with clearer (if a bit clunky-looking) icons.

There are still features I'd love to see, not the least of which would be the ability to install Zotero on a server of my choice, rather than routing all my metadata to Zotero itself.

All in all: I'm going to take Zotero to A1A: Beachfront Avenue!

Sorry.

Weaving Dark Webs Table of Contents

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In the last post, I announced my book project, now titled Weaving Dark Webs: Violence, Propriety, Authenticity.

I'm now reporting that an initial draft is done. Here's the table of contents:

  • Introduction: The Dark Web and Legitimacy
  • Violence, Propriety, and Authenticity: A Symbolic Economy for the Dark Web
  • The Dark Web Network Builders
  • From Agorism to OPSEC: Dark Web Markets and a Shifting Relationship to the State
  • Searching for the Google of the Dark Web
  • Being Legit on a Dark Web Social Network
  • Facebook and the Dark Web

The book will also have references. A lot of them.

More to come.

Weaving the Dark Web

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I'm quite excited to announce my book project, tentatively titled Weaving the Dark Web: Violence, Propriety, Authenticity, is now under contract with MIT Press for the Information Society series. Here's my current description of the work:

Weaving the Dark Web explores the Dark Web, Web sites that are not accessible with standard browsers. To access Dark Web sites, one must use special routing software, such Tor, Freenet, or the Invisible Internet Project (i2p) router. With that software in place, one can visit a large range of hidden services, including social networking sites, forums, search engines, and markets. Moreover, the Dark Web is built to anonymize traffic, so that it is difficult for ISPs, sites, or governments to track users' browsing habits. The Dark Web has received attention due in large part to the Silk Road drug market bust and trial, as well as Edward Snowden's revelations about government surveillance and the possibility that Dark Web technologies could protect Internet users from being monitored. Much of the scholarship about the Dark Web has focused on these topics, and it has mostly focused on the Tor Project.
Although the book engages with those topics, Weaving the Dark Web is unique in that it explores more than just drug markets, Tor, and anonymity. This book focuses on the builders of the Dark Web – the people coding the underlying software, moderating hidden social networking sites, building Dark Web search engines, and running Dark Web markets. Moreover, it offers rich histories of three Dark Web technologies, including Tor, but also the lesser-known Freenet and i2p. Weaving the Dark Web thus explores the peculiar mixture of technical, legal, and ethical elements that go into the construction of anonymous networks. All of this analysis is based on extensive interviews (50,000 words and growing) with Dark Web users and site administrators; a large archive of computer science papers, software packages and specifications, mailing list and forum discussions, and news coverage; and several years of participant observation.
Beyond analysis of Tor, i2p, and Freenet software, markets, social networks, and search, Weaving the Dark Web also explores the Dark Web's place in larger debates about its legitimacy, considering how Dark Web technologies may or may not become acceptable parts of more established communications networks, as well as how various social groups (law enforcement, computer scientists, hackers, drug dealers, site administrators, and users) might legitimate or delegitimate these systems.

More details to follow, but in the meantime, I'm busily writing about Tor hidden services, I2P, and Freenet, focusing on search engines, markets, and social networking sites. I've interviewed a number of Dark Web site users and administrators (thank you to all!) and have more lined up. I will post more in the months to come.

New book: Socialbots and Their Friends

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The cover of my new socialbots books

I'm happy to announce a new edited collection, co-edited with Maria Bakardjieva of the U of Calgary. It's called Socialbots and their Friends: Digital Media and the Automation of Sociality. Here's the back of the cover description:

Many users of the Internet are aware of bots: automated programs that work behind the scenes to come up with search suggestions, check the weather, filter emails, or clean up Wikipedia entries. More recently, a new software robot has been making its presence felt in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter – the socialbot. However, unlike other bots, socialbots are built to appear human. While a weatherbot will tell you if it's sunny and a spambot will incessantly peddle Viagra, socialbots will ask you questions, have conversations, like your posts, retweet you, and become your friend. All the while, if they're well-programmed, you won't know that you're tweeting and friending with a robot.
Who benefits from the use of software robots? Who loses? Does a bot deserve rights? Who pulls the strings of these bots? Who has the right to know what about them? What does it mean to be intelligent? What does it mean to be a friend? Socialbots and Their Friends: Digital Media and the Automation of Sociality is one of the first academic collections to critically consider the socialbot and tackle these pressing questions.

The book features essays by Peggy Weil, Guillaume Latzko-Toth, Andrea L. Guzman, Florian Muhle, Adrienne Massanari, Keiko Nishimura, Grant Bollmer, Chris Rodley, Stefano DePaoli, Leslie Ball, Natalie Coull, John Isaacs, Angus MacDonald, Jonathan Letham, Tim Graham, Robert Ackland, and David Gunkel -- all of whom make the collection awesome. Maria and I pitch in, too.

So, no matter if you for one welcome our new robot overlords, or if you grab your decompiler to wage war on the newest software agents, you're going to want to buy this book!

Job Opening: Assistant Professor of Digital Media at the University of Utah

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I'm heading up a search in the Department of Communication at the University of Utah: Assistant Professor of Digital Media. We're casting a wide net for scholars working at the intersection of digital media and communication, broadly conceived. It might sound a bit contradictory, but our ideal candidate is someone doing innovative work, but who is also able to articulate new technologies and research programs into the traditions of communication and media studies.

Here's the ad in full. Any questions? Please do contact me (robert DOT gehl [at the domain] utah.edu).

Assistant Professor of Digital Media

The Department of Communication at the University of Utah invites applications for a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Digital Media, effective July 1, 2017.

This is a broad call for applicants who are doing innovative, cutting-edge research into the histories, uses, dynamics, and implications of digital communication. We envision applicants' scholarship might include – but would not be limited to – the intersection of digital communication and journalism, history, mobile media, diversity, social media, augmented reality, social justice, infrastructures, organizational studies, ecology, software studies, methodology, critical video game studies, activism, identities, political economy, civic engagement, surveillance, politics, or pedagogy. Ultimately, we seek scholar-teachers who can reinforce the Department of Communication's emerging strength in critical analysis of digital media and help to position the College of Humanities as a leader in digital media studies.

Superior candidates will have: (1) evidence of an emerging research program, including articles in peer-reviewed journals, books, or research-based creative works; (2) the ability to contribute to the Department’s Digital Media teaching responsibilities, including undergraduate and graduate courses and the supervision of graduate theses; (3) evidence of success obtaining and managing and/or an interest in obtaining federal or foundation grants; (4) interest in contributing to the development of University-wide programs in Digital Humanities, Medical Humanities, Entertainment Arts and Engineering, Environmental Humanities, Ethnic Studies, Big Data, or Religious Studies; (5) a broad awareness and appreciation of the field of communication and the areas of research and teaching represented in the Department, as well as how digital media studies can articulate with the historical and emerging concerns of communication studies.

The University of Utah is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity employer and does not discriminate based upon race, national origin, color, religion, sex, age, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, status as a person with a disability, genetic information, or Protected Veteran status. Individuals from historically underrepresented groups, such as minorities, women, qualified persons with disabilities and protected veterans are encouraged to apply. Veterans’ preference is extended to qualified applicants, upon request and consistent with University policy and Utah state law. Upon request, reasonable accommodations in the application process will be provided to individuals with disabilities. To inquire about the University’s nondiscrimination or affirmative action policies or to request disability accommodation, please contact: Director, Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, 201 S. Presidents Circle, Rm 135, (801) 581-8365.

The University of Utah values candidates who have experience working in settings with students from diverse backgrounds, and possess a strong commitment to improving access to higher education for historically underrepresented students.

Review of applications will begin October 1, 2016, and will continue until the position is filled. Applicants must submit a letter of interest; a CV; and the names of three references to http://utah.peopleadmin.com/postings/56564. Questions about the position are welcome, and can be directed to Robert W. Gehl, Search Committee Chair, robert DOT gehl (AT THE DOMAIN) utah.edu.

Two New Publications

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I have two new publications out this week, both on topics I've been exploring for a few years now. And both are open access!

First off is a short essay, written with Julie Snyder-Yuly (a PhD student in Communication at the University of Utah). It's called "The Need for Social Media Alternatives," and it appears in Democratic Communiqué. The paper is a basic overview of why I've been working on the Social Media Alternatives Project (S-MAP). You can get it at the DC site, or here on my server [PDF].

Second is a longer piece I wrote for the Critical Genealogies Workshop, held this past summer at Denver University. This was a wonderful little workshop in which multiple Foucaultian scholars, including my friend Colin Koopman, got together to talk about critical genealogy as a method. I wrote a piece about critical reverse engineering as a possible way to engage in genealogies of technology. Simon Ganahl, the boss over at the foucaultblog, commissioned me to revise it for the blog. It's now live and clickin'.

PDFs now online

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I've posted all my publications in PDF form on this server. Get them here in ol' fashioned, hand-crafted, artisinal HTML form. Over time, I will improve linking and whatnot; I think I'll even re-do my publications page to make it Zotero friendly.

Why do all this? Two reasons. 1) I've gotten frustrated with the monetization happening at Academia.edu. 2) SSRN, the other place I often put papers, was bought by Elsevier, a company notorious for locking down scholarly publishing.

So, I'm going old-school! Putting stuff on the Web! (Eventually) adding metadata! It's all part of my Luddite master plan...

Call for Submissions: The Torist, an Onionland Literary Journal

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On behalf of GMH, founder of the Torist, I'm pleased to send out this call for submissions for issue 2 of The Torist, an Onionland Literary Journal:

In January 2016, we released the first issue of the first literary magazine hosted inside the Tor anonymity network. We knew this project would cater to a niche audience. In fact, that was precisely the point: to create an artistic outlet for the growing communities of people interested in topics such as cryptography and anonymity, and to help these technologies realize their positive potential.

Nonetheless, we were taken aback by the breadth of its success. Major media outlets including Motherboard, Lit Hub, Deutschland Radio, and the Atlantic ran pieces on The Torist's inaugural issue. William Gibson, author of Neuromancer, even retweeted an article about us—a cyberpunk's dream come true.

Buoyed by the surprise popularity of The Torist Issue 1, we're excited to release this call for fiction, poetry, non-fiction and visual art for our second issue.

What to Submit

Prose submissions should not exceed 4000 words, though there can be a degree of flexibility, for instance if your work is exceptional or is suitable to be excerpted. Prose submissions may encompass fiction, non-fiction, and reviews.

Non-fiction could include a broad range of material, for instance journalism, essays and op-eds. Please note we do not provide academic peer review.

With works of fiction, we are less concerned about genre and more about whether the work strikes us as insightful, exciting, forward-thinking, and enjoyable.

Reviews could deal with (but need not be limited to):

  • books or other publications
  • films
  • music
  • technologies
  • websites (especially in the deep web)
  • events (technology conferences, art exhibitions)

Poems should not exceed five pages in length, though there may be exceptions made for outstanding work.

Visual artwork will be used on the cover and for illustrations throughout the issue. Submissions can encompass most formats which can be sent electronically including photography, graphic design, and photographs of physical works such as paintings, drawings, and sculptures. We would also be interested in sequential art such as comics.

Your work doesn't have to address themes such as cryptography, anonymity or surveillance, though that, too, is welcome. The purpose of The Torist is to engage with communities of people interested in those topics and encourage their creativity to grow. The themes those communities address can arise organically.

How to Submit

We have two main ways of submitting: by email at torist@riseup.net or through our GlobaLeaks submissions site toristfgqiroaded.onion. If you use PGP email encryption, please make use of our public key.

We accept most file types. If we are unable to open a file, we will contact you if possible and ask for an alternative. Please only use PDFs if it is necessary to preserve special formatting; in particular, PDFs can make it more difficult to edit extended prose. For written work, it is fine either to attach the file or to put it in the body of the email.

You may publish under any name you wish, but please avoid offensive ones. If you do not provide us with a name, we will simply publish you as Anonymous. If you have a preference please let us know by putting it in the document containing your work, in an email, or in the “Full description” box in the GlobaLeaks submissions form. Providing a name is completely optional.

Key Dates

For inclusion in Issue 2, we require submissions by August 1, 2016.

We intend to produce Issue 2 by December 2016.

Find Us Online

  • Our Tor blog: toristinkirir4xj.onion
  • Our GlobaLeaks submission site: toristfgqiroaded.onion
  • Our Twitter account: https://twitter.com/thetorist
  • Our Tumblr blog: thetorist.tumblr.com
  • Our PGP key: https://pgp.mit.edu/pks/lookup?op=get&search=0x2A37AFAC9449E214

Why I'm leaving Academia.Edu

Posted on

The following is my new biography on Academia.edu, one of the several social networking sites for academics:

Hi, all --

I will remove all my work from Academia.edu in the next week or so. I barely could stand the idea of selling advertising space around my work. As a critical scholar of social media, I've critiqued that practice many times. I had the ambition of writing about Academia.edu, as well, but never got around to it.

I've not logged in to Academia often, so I've only recently started to see the call for a Premium account. This is, as you might know, where we pay to see reasons why people download our articles. So, if you download an article of mine, and write your reasons -- for free, with no compensation -- Academia can charge me to see that. This strikes me as baldly exploitative. Where most people could excuse advertising as a means to support a site, this is a step past that.

I will remove all material from Academia and host it instead on my own site, robertwgehl.org, which will be, as always, free to access. And if you have comments, critiques, or other feedback on my work, you can always email me (rob AT robertwgehl DOT org) at any time, for free.

Regards,
Rob

A Little Advice for Graduate Applicants; Or, How to Make My Job Harder

Posted on

It's time for my department's graduate program to review applications and make offers. For the second year in a row, I'm on the graduate committee, so I'm heavily involved in this selection process. But even when I'm not on gradComm, I read every application we receive. I look forward to this part of my job, because I believe that a good grad cohort can have many positive effects on our department. Grad students bring energy, ideas, and passions -- I'm not afraid to say I get inspired by their presence.

It's a tough job selecting a new cohort, but every year, I can count on applicants who actually make my job easier. They make mistakes in their applications and make rejecting them a simple process.

Here, I want to give some advice to graduate applicants, using common mistakes and to highlight recommendations. My hope is that future applicants will read this and make my job harder by improving their applications.

Please note that this advice reflects my own idiosyncratic opinions; other members of the grad committee may have different perspectives. One clear idiosyncracy of mine is that I pay a lot of attention to the statements of purpose.

Mistake 1: Saying "Education is the path towards fulfillment" or some variation thereof

I often see this in statements of purpose (SOPs). This is the single most eyeroll-inducing bromide I see in these applications. Very often, an applicant will profess a love of learning -- awoken at some young age -- that cannot be satisfied unless s/he gets the highest degree in the land. Yes, education is the path to happiness and fulfillment; I believe that and do what I do because I love the "life of the mind." However, let's consider that an assumption that doesn't need any elaboration. Instead, we want specific details about what you intend to achieve in grad school. In other words, don't make the next two mistakes:

Mistake 2: Don't explain why you want to study with us

The SOP is a great place to tell us your intellectual history, your passions, your interests. But one key job the SOP is meant to do is explain why you want to come to our department. There are many, many MA- and PhD-granting institutions out there. Why us?

But this is not just a matter of saying "Utah is a great place to be and a great fit," or some variation. Be specific. Talk about specific faculty you want to work with, and how they can help you. Whether you're an MA or PhD applicant, you will have to build a committee, including a chair, which means you will have to articulate your project with their work. No one is going to hold you to the connections you suggest in your SOP, but you have to show that you've at least considered them.

(It goes without saying -- well, no, it doesn't, because I'm saying it: don't put the wrong school name in your letter.)

Mistake 3: Don't tell us what you plan to research

This is also a SOP issue. In addition to explaining who you want to work with, you should discuss a potential line of research or project you want to pursue. Sure, we can intuit this from your past projects and experiences, but you don't want us intuiting; you want us envisioning you in the halls talking to us about your work. Much like the "who I want to work with" point, we're not going to hold you to this, but we do want to see that you're thinking about projects, intellectual trajectories, and the courses and profs who can help you meet your goals. This is especially important with our program, which is less structured than others; without some object/research project/approach to ground you, you could easily get lost and flounder. We don't want that.

----------

That's it for now. As I said, this is mostly about the Statement of Purpose. You might want advice about other things -- GPAs, GREs, and the like. But the SOP is one element you have a lot of control over (the other being your resume/CV, which I might write about later) during the application stage. Use it to show off your writing and make connections between yourself and your target department/program. Make the admission committee's work harder!

Rollin' My Own

Posted on

I really like Wordpress. I do.

However, I think it's time to move on. I've been blogging at my old blog for quite some time now, trying to post at least once a month. It's a Wordpress install with modifications to the theme. Originally, it matched the style of my "mobile" page.

But the problem is I keep changing my home page CSS, so much so that the old blog and my new, more-responsive CSS don't really sync up.

In the past, I would simply change the Wordpress CSS, but I'm starting to get tired of doing that.

Plus, I really don't get a lot of comments on my blog, so a major functionality of Wordpress is kinda moot.

So, I'm transitioning to very simple blogging software: HTML, CSS, and PHP of my making. It's a chance to learn more about PHP as well as have a bit more control over my blog.

As an added bonus, you can now read these blog posts in whatever style you please, including:

Again, this is no knock on Wordpress. It's just time for me to learn more by rollin' my own.

Over time, I will migrate the old blog contents into my new/old system. You will be able to read all my famous posts at robertwgehl.org/blog in the meantime. But check here for new posts!

Comm 7455: Web Cultures Graduate Seminar

Posted on

I’m looking forward to teaching a class on “Web Cultures” this upcoming spring semester. The course will largely focus on ethnographic and qualitative explorations of Internet and Web practices, including work on fandom, race and ethnicity, online activism, celebrity, social media, hacking, and the digital divide.

As an added bonus, I have joined the “Institutional Memory Working Group” at the Association of Internet Researchers. This group, which includes Annette Markham and Adrienne Massanari, is tasked with conducting an ethnography of AOIR, a 17-year-old academic society dedicated to Internet research. The group is encouraging students to take part of this process. More details to come, but for now I can say that this is a great opportunity for a student interested in engaging in ethnographic methods.

The readings for the course will be:

  • Turner, Fred. 2008. From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. University Of Chicago Press.
  • Hine, Christine. 2000. Virtual Ethnography. London?; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE.
  • Baym, Nancy K. 2000. Tune In, Log on: Soaps, Fandom and Online Community. Thousands Oaks: Sage.
  • Gajjala, Radhika. 2004. Cyber Selves: Feminist Ethnographies of South Asian Women. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.
  • Bakardjieva, Maria. 2008. Internet Society: The Internet in Everyday Life. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications.
  • Nakamura, Lisa. 2007. Digitizing Race?: Visual Cultures of the Internet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton University Press.
  • Yang, Guobin. 2009. The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Turkle, Sherry. 2011. Alone Together?: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books.
  • Duffy, Brooke Erin. 2013. Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
  • Marwick, Alice Emily. 2013. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age.
  • van Dijck, José. 2013. The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Coleman, E. Gabriella. 2014. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. New York, NY: Verso.
  • Pierce, Joy. 2015. Digital Fusion: A Society beyond Blind Inclusion. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Also, I’m recommending students pick up:

  • Markham, Annette N, and Nancy K Baym. 2009. Internet Inquiry: Conversations about Method. Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications.
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