Week 11 of the first year Journalism Technologies class at the University of Huddersfield was all about direct messaging, a form of communication that seems even more pervasive than the major social networks. Which certainly helps explain why so many have become dominant players, not least Facebook’s own Messenger and WhatsApp, which it memorably bought for an absolute fortune almost four years ago. And when better to look back than in the week when texting turned 25.
Snapchat has been the focus of a lot of scrutiny this year, after turning out repeated overtures from Facebook and going through an IPO. Early highs have been followed by a few months of downbeat news, with reports of less interaction with power celebrity users and a possible dwindling of interest in its key under-25 demographic, mainly because of the way in which Facebook has ruthlessly copied many of Snapchat’s central features for its own Instagram platform. There’s no evidence of it in my seminar groups – Snapchat remains almost unanimously used, and in many cases by far the most popular app around.
With references to the Uses and Gratifications Theory and the 2016 paper by Vaterlaus et al on why teenagers in particular actually use Snapchat, posing this question to students drew some interesting responses. But if there was one theme above the others, it was that Snapchat was the best way to communicate with a select group of maybe four or five friends, often in a group chat, and often using just text. In a sense not much different from WhatsApp or Messenger, and students said they quite regularly have the same friends in chats on those platforms too. All very confusing if you’re my age and older but then, Snapchat’s still not really for us.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged AOL, Brian Acton, Evan Spiegel, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Jan Koum, MSN, SMS, Snapchat, Uses and Gratifications Theory, WhatsApp
Journalism Technologies moved on this week to direct messaging, encompassing everything from texting to an area of much less familiarity to men in their 30s like me: Snapchat. In the lecture, I noted some notable similarities and differences between the developments of these particular technologies, compared with those looked at in previous weeks. As is so often the case, universities were involved: whether M.I.T. as with the Compatible Time Sharing System back in the 1960s, or Stanford (alma mater of Google and, at a push, Apple) through Evan Spiegel’s Snapchat.
One interesting difference comes with texting. Never a big deal in America, this was initially conceived by a Finnish engineer, while the first SMS was sent between two British engineers in 1992. The Finns helped popularise it though, thanks to all those almost-indestructible Nokia handsets which were everywhere from 1999 onwards, when users began to be able to text friends on different networks. Even though Twitter was initially designed as a form of public text messaging, some in the office hadn’t even heard of texting when the idea was first mooted there in the mid-2000s.
Even now, the world’s biggest messaging platform, WhatsApp, is not an especially significant player in the US. Only 7% of American internet users have the app, while that figure is a third in Europe and significantly higher in Africa and the Middle East. That last point, its penetration in areas which in many cases missed out on the desktop computer revolution almost completely, helps explain why Facebook paid such big money for it back in 2014.
This week’s theory was UGT: Uses and Gratifications Theory. It’s a body of scholarship which examines why we use particular forms of media, and what we get out of it when we do. A classic example is a 1949 study of newspaper readers, deprived of their daily read by a strike, who told interviewers that it was the ritual of reading the paper they missed, rather than the actual content of the articles. An interesting 2016 study by Vaterlaus et al applied UGT to Snapchat, asking students at an American university why they liked it so much. Something well worth presenting to my own first year students, I thought, especially as many acknowledged in the workshops that it was at least rivalling, if not surpassing, Facebook and Twitter as their social platform of choice.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Compatible Time-Sharing System, Evan Spiegel, JM Vaterlaus, Journalism Technologies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Matti Makkonen, Nokia, SMS, Snapchat, Stanford University, Twitter, Uses and Gratifications Theory, WhatsApp
I’ve got two new modules running at the University of Huddersfield. One is a final year optional class called Journalism Innovation, based around applying themes of both innovation and entrepreneurship to journalism. The other is a core part of the first year of all our journalism courses, and it’s called Journalism Technologies. A mixture of lectures and workshops, each week myself and my colleague Caroline Pringle are going to be exploring the key players and themes in online and social media, and teaching students the practical skills to help them get the best out of platforms from Google to Snapchat.
The first lecture was yesterday and was a bit of a background one, covering the development of personal computing from the Altair in 1975, through the Microsoft and Apple battles, ending roughly in the mid-1990s. Each lecture follows a three-part structure, with an opening narrative followed by a section outlining the impact of that particular thing on journalism, before concluding with a look at a particular theory or concept which the students can then delve into more with a reading or two.
I’ve embedded the presentation above (the title is borrowed from Robert Cringely’s memorable 1996 Channel 4/PBS series of the same name, which can be found on YouTube). Being delivered first thing yesterday morning, this was also jointly the first session at the university to be recorded for the new lecture capture system, HudStream.
Having exposed a troll in ultimately tragic circumstances, Sky’s Martin Brunt is now himself being trolled.
I gave today’s lecture in the second year Digital Cultures module here at the University of Huddersfield. The presentation I gave can be found here.
I showed the students some of the most recent high-profile examples of trolling and related behaviour, from the ultimately tragic case of Brenda Leyland to the row involving Dapper Laughs and what happened after he was called out by UsVsTh3m. I then discussed some of the academic research into the motivations that lie behind trolling, before considering the various ways in which government, the police and others have responded to trolling.
I took as the starting point of the lecture a definition of trolling outlined in a paper published this year by Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell and Delroy Paulhus, called Trolls Just Want To Have Fun. It suggests: “Online trolling is the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose.”
It’s not bad as definitions go. Some have suggested that Brenda Leyland wasn’t really a troll, because as the parents of Madeleine McCann aren’t on Twitter themselves, her tweets about them weren’t aimed at them personally. However, I’d say her tweets could probably be considered “deceptive, destructive, or disruptive” – and possibly all three – and certainly existed in a social setting online, so would fall under that definition.
However, the case of Dapper Laughs and the apparent trolling of UsVsTh3m journalist Abi Wilkinson and others by his fans which took place on Snapchat, pushes this definition to its limit. Snapchat is more of a private than a social setting, and you although you access it using the internet, any trolling on Snapchat is done in the form of direct messaging not open to the general public. I suppose the same would go for Twitter DMs or anything sent by Facebook Messenger. It’s not even a year old, but perhaps it’s already time to stretch that definition a bit.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged Abi Wilkinson, BBC Sport, Chris Grayling, Communications Act 2003, Dapper Laughs, Digital Cultures, Facebook, Jonathan Agnew, Kevin Pietersen, Martin Brunt, Sky News, Snapchat, Stan Collymore, Stella Creasy, talkSPORT, trolling, Twitter, University of Huddersfield, UsVsTh3m