Monthly Archives: October 2008

Managing Identities: Part 2 (Netvibes)

The smallworlds project aims to introduce emerging online research tools, such as Twitter and Delicious, at a grassroots level to early stage laboratory students at the University of Leicester. For many of the students that we met at the introductory sessions last week, this was their first encounter with these sites – and it was clear that they were slightly overwhelmed by the amount of websites they had signed up to at the event (the smallworlds wiki, twitter and del.icio.us to begin with)

Even as an experienced user, I still find it quite hard to grok a tried and tested method of organising and adding to my online accounts.  My biggest issue is what to do when I am using a computer that is not my own – something that can happen frequently when you are at University. It’s convenient to set up your personal computer to receive information the way you like it. However, when I am using a University computer I cannot download and install desktop clients, such as Twhirl, to manage my online accounts. Furthermore, I now possess more than one account for several of my communities (See: Managing Indentites: Part One) - something that can get very confusing when it comes to adding and responding to my contacts.

A Possible Solution?

I came across sites such as Netvibes, iGoogle and Pageflakes about a year ago. They are personalised and social homepages – where you can create small, movable versions of all aspects of your web environment and save and arrange them as your own personal homepage – which is also compatible with most browsers. You can add modules such as your personal email, your favourite RSS feeds, your twitter stream and Facebook accounts – whilst each section will collect, “pull” and update the information from each website you are add to your homepage. Essentially, you can check your emails, your twitter page, read news feeds and update your Facebook status – all from your homepage. This overcomes the issue of not being able to download applications on University machines – and also allows you to check all your accounts from one location – updating as soon as new information is available.  Furthermore, your personalised page is assessable from any machine – regardless if you set it as homepage or not – you log in and it logs you into everything thing at the same time.

My personal favourite has been Netvibes – I feel it is the most functional (and prettiest…) – There are two separate features that allow you to manage your online identities effectively: Private page and your public page. You can access my public page here.

Private: Identities

[All screenshots can be seen closer by clicking the image..]

 

 

Modules, such as email, are accessed on the private area of your netvibes page – for obvious reasons. The private section allows for the user to construct an area for the daily web activities. Content is added by searching for relevant “widgets”, dragging them onto your page and inputting your log in details into each section.

 

 

I find this section particularly useful for organising my twitter accounts. I have both accounts (caffeinebomb and jennifermjones) separated by a twitter search module (see screenshot for details) - which is customised to only bring tweets with the tag “smallworlds08″ (this is so I can see what is being discussed related to the project) You can set up as many twitter search modules as you want – each one provides a quick pulse for your subject area. This is only one way of constructing a netvibes page – and as you can see along the top – you can create many different page tabs. This is a good feature if you are juggling not only many online accounts – but using multiple accounts for multiple projects. Finally, I like the fact that it will pull information, lessening the need to constantly refresh – and even if you do what to refresh, you can refresh each section separately. I leave netvibes running in the background with its own browser tab.

Public: 

 

The public netvibes page has a very different purpose. For example, you do not see the same twitter module as you would on your private page – the public page, like your public twitter page, will only display your tweets – not the rest of your network.

I feel that a public netvibes page is a good place to display different online accounts. I guess it could be used as a dynamic data collection exercise. Again, like the private pages, users are only required to input log in details and netvibes will collect the data from each website automatically – creating a page which will update automatically when the user updates the site remotely. Again, like the private page, this is only one use – and I am interested in how other are utilising sites like Netvibes – particularly in a university environment.

What’s next?

This is only a very basic introduction to Netvibes – as the premise of the website includes the possiblity to generate a personalised homepage, the possibilities are endless. I would recommend to those who are new to the smallworlds project, and to sites such as twitter and delicious, to have a look at websites such as Netvibes in order to develop your own understanding of how to display and manage your online identities – I find that they are user-friendly and fun to play around with – ideal if you are new to the social media environment. Think about the separation of private and public and what each section can be used for. Some may find it that it makes cuts down on time – others may find that they benefit from having a page which contains their online identities in the one place. Remember that this is only one suggestion and it may not work for everyone. I am interested to hear any feedback from those who have tried netvibes – or indeed anyone who has anything to add!

Managing Identities: Part One

It was decided when we started the small worlds project that those involved would create an alternative twitter identity from that they were currently using day-to-day. When I set up @jennifermjones - it got us reflecting on how separate twitter identities would be managed practically (to come shortly). In particular, it could me thinking about my own online identity management and why it would be beneficial for myself to separate my online accounts from each other.

Background:

I’ll use my own Internet presence as an example:

At 23-and-11-months, I’m probably part of the last generation to remember a time without the Internet being commonplace in our day to day lives – along with the fact that I’ve grown up online – leaving a trail of teenage angst and misguided opinions strewn across the online social landscape. We had to learn about context from experience (and growing up!) , for example, public discussion (read:arguments) on BBS forums were moved to locked, friends only livejournals - where me and a bunch of friends all learnt how much is too much to share amongst strangers. I’ve had people misunderstood the context of particular websites and call me out (offline) about things in ridiculously embarrassing situations – situations, when I originally wrote a blog entry, did not expect for these posts to surfaced on google – or infact be read by anyone other than the other sociopathic teenage geeks like myself. I, and many others that I knew, learnt a set of BIG lessons regarding confidentiality. 

However, despite a history of nearly 7 years using the same username- I still use the nick “caffeinebomb” for most of my online stuff. For example, If you could be bothered googling it- you’ll find a rather cringe-worthy display of forum posts from a website called altnation.com, a glasgow based alternative community, which I’ve been a member of since 2002. This nests within all my gmail, wordpress, twitter and delicious accounts.

In the past 2 years, I’ve been more aware of my online identities and regularly purge and tidy up what is out there that represents me online (especially when I went ahead and did a MA in New Media!) – however altnation.com does not allow me to delete any posts as (I believe..) they like their forums to be searchable and if you start allowing accounts to be deleted, you start to lose the original essence of conversations.

So there is 5 years of online conversations, banter, flirting, arguments, making up -  most of the stuff discussed trivial, the emotion behind the text all but dissolved, sitting online and I’m not able to go and remove myself from it. Even then, do I want to remove it? Yeah, some of the stuff that is on there is so “of the moment” that I can barely remember writing it – and perhaps is a bit too honest (talk of drinking, swearing and other not very nice, potentially incriminating behavior) – and perhaps a lot of it I feel no attachment to anymore (teenage dramas, gossip and social experiments gone wrong) – but I can’t help but feel that a lot of it relates directly to the life-streaming and twittering that we get up to today, where a lot of it is streaming by so quickly, do we even care that we are sharing so much of ourselves anymore.

I also see a whole new wave of people who were never online before – they are all coming to terms with the sort of things we were getting to grips with 5-10 years ago (my generation anyway!) The things we had in common back then was a shared love for mucking about on a computer - now people don’t need to know that stuff now to get online. Now additional to online forums – you’ve got an extensive range of social networking websites, all of which  displaying the same show of angst, drama, love etc that you saw on these original places to begin with. People are experimenting with their online identities, making mistakes, adding and removing elements of their profiles – they are observing what their peers are doing and adapting accordingly. 

So how do we manage identities? 

Well, until recently, I was under the impression that I had to stick with the username I had and work with it – be aware of what I was sharing online and aim to bear responsibility for anything that may be deemed inappropriate by those who perhaps do not understand the purpose of different websites. I think I felt this way because I was unsure who my “audience” was – and – I am used to having to explain (or cover up) relentlessly my “secret” life online. Now I’ve been asked to take up a second identity (jennifermjones – wow, my actual name – something that used to be a bit of a taboo on some communities of the past) – it’s got me thinking about why I actually need a username like caffeinebomb in the first place.

Perhaps caffeinebomb represents the web 1.0 (yuk!) element of my online life – where you write yourself into being, where I wasn’t connecting to the people I already knew, I was experimenting with my own identity and meeting new people online. I didn’t feel I needed to be particularly a cautious about what I was putting on the web as I saw a firm distinction between online and offline. It was when these two “identities” collided that I experienced problems (embarrassment mainly) because I didn’t expect the people who knew me offline to be online (and to begin with, they weren’t!) You almost never put your real name online – whereas now people demand a real name to confirm identity (see Facebook.) 

Now, I continue to use my caffeinebomb identity, more than ever before these days. It is my main email address (but I do have a “professional” email address that I use to send emails to people who might not appreciate my teenage wildhearts obsession) I used to worry about the links to old forums that are still visible from the google-sphere. Now, I don’t worry too much – for I think as people begin to become more savvy to SNS, they’ll start noticing their own distinct trail and they’ll be a mutual awareness to the past – and a greater understanding of the importance of date, time and essentially context of what was written. 

However, I do think it is important for me to begin to work on my JenniferMJones identity. It is this identity that is going to carry my Ph.D., which will represent my work and will be used during employment and professional duties. Part of this is me coming to terms with my own knowledge and responsibility and part of this is about gaining the confidence to represent myself online. This all bottles down to a general awareness of my “audience” (even if my audience is only 1 person..) – and being clear about what is needing to be conveyed. 

I think, just like real life, these two (or more) online identities can exist synchronously. That cannot be denied – but the ways in which we manage these multiple identities -in an environment which is notoriously fluid and requires transparency and openness for it to thrive – is something that needs to be explored further. We shouldn’t be scared to share, but we need to be aware of who is watching.

Tomorrow I’m going to look at the practical ways I’ve been managing different accounts (yet still feeling a tad overwhelmed) – does anyone have anything to add?

Wordles on Paper.

 Wordle as an AbstractWordle as an abstract

So here is the front pages of my MA dissertation. I ended up using a wordle on my front page, instead of an abstract – putting the abstract on the 2nd page instead. I understand that they have some clear and obvious distinctions in their role – however – I think for an item on the front page, the wordle (next to the title) gives off a clearer idea to what the dissertation is about. 

I don’t know, what do others think? Do different disciplines make a difference? 

And so it begins…

I’ve finally finished and submitted my MA dissertation (woo, yay!) recently started working as part of the Small Worlds project (which is associated with the University of Leicester) – AJ Cann launched the project yesterday – and I think his short seesmic video sums up the gist of the project pretty well.

I’ve not quite started my Ph.D – my supervisor felt it would be best that I postpone the start date until January, as I’ve only just finished my Masters – however, my role in the project is somewhat of a online student “mentor”, giving a wee bit of encouragement and help to those who have joined the small worlds project and have began to use sites such as Twitter, friendfeed and del.icio.us for the first time.

As a almost-phd-student, albeit not part of the science faculties – I’m also looking forward to connecting to other students on a similar journey – and as it is an open process, it will be interesting to see how my media and sociological background is going to fair alongside the hard scientists.

I’m armed with my Small Worlds moocards and trying to get into the habit of tagging everything with #smallworlds08 – as well as subscribing to all the RSS feeds that should make my life easier. ;-)