General status update

The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.

General status update

The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.
The Kelpie statues, at Falkirk.

A general status update as it has been a while since I posted anything here so time to get back onto the blogging trail. It has been busy summer including helping both my daughters make family house moves, two brief holiday breaks, one in the Lake District and a second in Scotland together with presenting and writing a conference paper. In Scotland we saw the amazing, award winning, Kelpie statues at Falkirk.

Early Railways Conference 6
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.
A wooden waggon at the Causey Arch. Typical of the early railway period.

The conference was an excellent event held in Newcastle, with the cradle of early railways being Tyneside and adjacent areas a most appropriate venue. My own paper was on Why Replace the Horse? The subsequent write up stretching over the summer; now awaiting the peer review, and hopefully, acceptance for the ultimately published proceedings book.

Current status

Working full-time at home this week on web updates and management committee reports in my role as PRO for the Stephenson Locomotive Society (SLS) but definitely missing the anticipation of a further year at Uni. After several short courses on IT and Graphics at Kingston Maurward College, and then three years at Bournemouth University, it seems very strange not to be getting new books etc., and anticipating the new modules. I have plenty of on-going research in hand, to say nothing of the website rebuilding and writing to be done, plus attacking the Autumn tasks of the garden, so I won’t be short of tasks, that is for sure.

Corrupted software issues

As for today a fight with the blog software; this would have been posted yesterday if the part of the package needed for adding new posts hadn’t been corrupted.  I still have to fix the Instagram links and plug ins as isolating that has fixed the editing and updating processes.  Why can’t IT stuff just work?!

 

 

 

 

Micro-blogging – Twitter

Screengrab - Twitter

Micro-blogging with Twitter

Two years ago I didn’t tweet; now through micro-blogging, I do so on an almost daily basis, therefore a reflection is appropriate.  This definition of a microblog from PCMag’s encyclopedia of terms  undoubtedly describes how I use Twitter;

“A blog that contains brief entries about the daily activities of an individual or company. Created to keep friends, colleagues and customers up-to-date, small images may be included as well as brief audio and video clips. The most popular microblogs are Twitter and Tumblr.”

Pre-conceptions -v- reality

Before I began to use Twitter my preconception was that a lot of the content was shallow froth regarding show-business celebrities and/or pointless announcements regarding people’s mood or whereabouts.  Since becoming a tweeter, I have found that there is far more serious content circulating than I anticipated. However, especially with the more conversational element, that pre-expectation was also confirmed.

Micro-blogging – the way I use Twitter

I have three accounts, the first in my own name, a second on behalf of the Stephenson Locomotive Society and a third (the alias Graham Crosse) created in 2015 to write about the election, and currently only used infrequently. The style varies between the three, with the posts undertaken for the SLS the most formal.

Screengrab - Twitter
Screengrab – Twitter

Open debate versus secrecy

The fact that I am able to have a Twitter alias, however, is one of the areas within social media open for debate. I created my alias because I was working as a Presiding Officer during the 2015 election and therefore I had to be seen publicly as neutral, whilst at the same time working on a 2nd year University project requiring publication of comments on election related politics.  As I have accepted the offer to work on the local elections this year, the same scenario will again arise around election time; the alias will therefore get a further, short-term, revival.

There are many more serious reasons for individuals to create aliases than mine. However, the ability to post without the user openly revealing a true identity can be seen as both a positive and negative aspect.  It can protect individuals and allow them to openly enter debates on issues where fear and security concerns would otherwise preclude their participation. The converse scenario, of course, is that this anonymity allows bullying and inappropriate comment, for example on race or sexuality, to be aired by individuals hiding anonymously behind an on-line alias.

In a journalism-related reflection, this issue needs to be debated. On balance the freedom of speech enabled by allowing use of alias user names is undoubtedly beneficial, but the level of censorship levied by host providers and/or governments is a concern in many areas, notably North Korea and China.

In the opening paragraph, I mentioned my preconception of the twittersphere as being filled with shallow froth; whilst that may be a harsh condemnation, experience confirms that there is a percentage of conversational traffic which is only relevant for the very short-term.  If you enter those conversations, anything more substantial within your twitter feed soon drops away and disappears.  In my own case, when posting for the SLS, this knocks meeting announcements etc., off our displayed Twitter feed, even though joining in conversations and making retweets would otherwise be appropriate.

Aliases of course offer the option of running two feeds, one for casual matters, one for tweets you may want to display, for example on a website news page, but that complicates matters.  The complication arises for both content creators, and also recipients wishing to return to a viewed message.  Twitter is a useful tool, but a management nightmare, even with the assistance of options such as lists and tools such as Tweetdeck to aid managing the content.

Tweetdeck screengrab image
Tweetdeck screen grab

Summary

Twitter as a tool is an enigma.  Whether as merely a citizen wishing to know what is going on, for example “is my train going to be delayed”, or as a journalist/reporter wanting to keep abreast of breaking events, it is extremely useful.

It is also invaluable for following the latest information on a topic of interest to you.  The lists option, especially if a list  management tool is used, aids grouping of content feeds but equally Twitter is a frustrating option for managing the dissemination of information. For the Society I find it has a greater reach than Facebook and, despite the problems of managing it for the SLS, I have come to rely on it over the last eighteen months as a source of information. I will not be reducing, or abandoning, my use of it in the foreseeable future.

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Using Storify

Using Storify - grab of my profile page

Using Storify

This reflection is about using Storify from the position of an absolute beginner for the creation of a Storify based mini-blogsite.

Using Storify - grab of my profile page
My Storify profile page: John New

Ease of use?

The obvious first question to be answered therefore is “how easy is it to sign up and use?”  The signing up process was easy; to use perhaps less so, as it has quirks discovered through use, all to be learned and worked around.  It also appeared at initial sign-up to be easier to use than it actually has proven to be in practice, especially with regard to adding Twitter sourced content.  As an older internet user, I also found that, although there are many sources out there for obtaining linkable content, I do not use them regularly (in fact some not at all) therefore it was not intuitive to seek information from them.  The reality is that, for the stories I was writing, Twitter content could be ignored as the internet news-feeds supplied sufficient links to source material.

News curation issues

The creation of content for any news item requires assessment of the sources for accuracy, currency and bias.  One of the positives to using Storify is the speed with which sources can be traced and dropped into a new item for publication.  That, however, creates the perennial dichotomy, speed of selection versus the balancing time necessary for checking those three issues. With websites, that is generally straightforward, but for tweets and other content, it is far less so with regard to judging bias.

Also, but only a minor irritant, the default image libraries are international, therefore sourcing images with UK relevance requires care in use of search terms.  The use of the  generic term shopping was a typical example.  In preparing the item on the state of retailing, most initially returned images were obviously of non-Uk origin and unusable, as the pricing was showing $s (even where text was English) and also many showed Japanese/Chinese/Korean symbol writing.

As a content generator I found the product useful, but reviewing what I have already produced with Storify for this reflective identified a personal weakness.  As mentioned above, in the stories published to date there has been a lack of Twitter input into the content.  Although clearly retro-editing is not ideal, that lack could now be redressed, and it will definitely be borne in mind for future work.

That is not to say that Twitter was ignored; the posts were shared on Twitter and generated tweets about the items.  In particular the story about rail closures over Christmas and the associated tweet on 30th December generated significant twitter activity and pointed users at the linked questionnaire.

The crucial question – future use?

My initial reaction to Storify was that use beyond the current University assignment was unlikely, since on first introduction to it I didn’t like it. As it has turned out that first impression hasn’t lasted; true I find it quirky, but I have found a work-around already for one of those quirks and now know to avoid others.

I am the PRO and website manager for the Stephenson Locomotive Society and one of the items the current website lacks is any form of blog to accompany our Twitter feed.  The website is scheduled for a rebuild this Autumn, and producing a weekly Storify post on matters related to railways is a logical edition.

It is likely, therefore, that although the output via my personal Storify account will be sporadic, writing in a second account opened in the name of the SLS will become a regular feature.

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