Why (Not?) Consolidate Your Digital Presence

Not long ago my eportfolio was called Laura Gogia: Reigning in the Digital Sprawl (Clarifying point: you are reading a post on my blog right now, not my e-portfolio). My e-portfolio isn’t called that anymore in part because I change the purpose, organization, and appearances of my websites – including this one – fairly regularly.*  However, when the “reigning in the digital sprawl” was present in the title, it referred to the fact that almost all the content exhibited on the site was being pulled in from other digital platforms. There was a bit of dedicated “about me” content on the static front page, but the other pages were custom links to other digital platforms, including slideshare.com (presentations), YouTube (videos); academia.edu (formal papers); Flickr (my photography); other WordPress sites (my blog and other collaborative projects); and Google docs (my CV).  The front page also included (and still does include) my Twitter and Instagram timelines, embedded via widgets in the sidebars.

A screenshot of the front page of my e-portfolio,  early 2016. Every “page” is a link to another digital platform. Notice the Twitter timeline in the bottom left side.  The “What is this?” is the only dedicated content found on this website

My digital presence was and still is so decentralized that it requires “reigning in.”  Why? Because it was an organic development emerging from and integrated into the needs of my everyday activities.  I needed a place to publish slides to share with audiences, so…Slideshare.  Then I needed a place to publish papers so that I could share them with colleagues…Academia.edu.  I like to share my photography with friends and family…Flickr.

And so on and so forth.

As unplanned and unscripted as my decentralized digital presence was, there was something safe in keeping everything separate.  It would be the rare person who could/would find all the parts of me strewn across the Internet.  That’s fine of course, particularly if you are trying to share only one part of yourself with an audience. However,  I’m 40.  I’m tired of compartmentalizing.  I’ve done that before, and for my second career I’m trying something different.

Hence the centralization of my digital presence.

Most of the centralization that occurs on my website made sense to most people. Of course the e-portfolio would showcase writing, resumes, and other professional activities. The photography was a bit more “out there,” but it adds the creative touch that is almost expected in the digital pedagogies. Furthermore, my photography grounds and inspires the rest of my work. If you visited my office between 2014 and early 2016, you know that I like to have my pictures around me in physical spaces too.

But what about the Twitter and Instagram timelines?

I’ll be honest, I thought long and hard about whether I wanted those on my website – particularly when I was in the process of looking for a job.  What happens if I have a bad night or a bad Twitter interaction on the very night that a potential boss decides to review CVs and check out my e-portfolio?  Ultimately, I decided to keep my timelines on the portfolio, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I am my timelines. These timelines give the most accurate, real time picture of what I’m thinking about, how I interact with people, and who I am in a minute-to-minute kind of way…the kind of way that doesn’t translate itself through journal articles or even blog posts (which take hours, months, or years to complete).  It’s who I am – better that a potential partner or boss know a little of that prior to commitment.
  2. When my timelines are on my website, I try even harder to be my best self.  I’m not perfect. I’m downright annoying sometimes. I’ve drunk tweeted my academic heroes before – a problem I’ve (hopefully) solved through experimentation with various solutions. However, reminding myself that my timelines are also on my websites – it’s added incentive to be my best self.  By thinking about these things and safeguarding against them…yes I’m putting myself in harms way by risking a public presence in the first place, but it’s a relatively minor risk (particularly in the student stages) and it’s taught me a lot about myself, restraint, vulnerability, and forgiveness (of self and others).  These are lessons that have applications above and beyond social media.  You have to risk it to win it.
  3. It makes the website dynamic.  We don’t blog everyday.  We don’t publish papers every day.  We tweet everyday.  It livens things up and provides opportunity to convey snippets of information that don’t necessarily require an entire post.
To Embed Twitter Timelines

If you think embedding a Twitter timeline is right for you, there are plenty of tutorials available on the topic – just google it.  However, not all WordPress sites are created equal. Among my dozen websites, I have RamPage sites (the Virginia Commonwealth University WordPress community), free (less flexibility, “wordpress” in your url)  wordpress.com sites, and hosted (e.g. more flexibily, no “wordpress” in your url, costs you money) wordpress sites.  You can embed Twitter timelines in the widget sections on each one of these types of sites but typically in different ways.  For the record, Tom Woodward is the RamPages guru.  If I don’t know how to do something or I’ve forgotten how to do it, he answers all my questions – including reminding me how to embed Twitter timelines (because it’s been awhile since I’ve done it on a RamPages site). So, thank you Tom.

If you are using RamPages, start by going to your dashboard and clicking on settings.

Step 1: Dashboard –> Jetpack –> Settings

 Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.57.11 PM

Step 2: Scroll down to “Extra Sidebar Widgets and click “Activate.”

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Step 3: Go to Appearance, click on Widgets, and then drag the Twitter Timeline (Jetpack) to the widget area of your choice (these will be different depending on your theme…usually there are sidebars and/or footer spaces).

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.58.29 PM

Step 4: Follow the directions found here.  And if you can’t follow them, that’s ok.  Ping me on Twitter and we’ll walk through it over the phone. 

*I’m not trying to suggest this is best practice or similar.  This is evidence of me trying to figure things out but also being in a constant state of transition. I live in a constant state of transition.

Why A Course Hashtag

Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community Engaged Research, VCU’s openly networked connected course, had its first twitter chat last Thursday with the course hashtag, #curiouscolab.  It was an AMAZING first Twitter chat, particularly since so many people were new to the concept.  However, many of us sometimes forgot to use the hashtag (including me) or used a course mention (@curiouscolab) instead of the course hashtag (#curiouscolab).

What’s the difference between a hashtag and a mention?

In Twitter, a “mention,” is the @ symbol followed by a specific Twitter handle.  For instance, if you wanted to mention me in a tweet you’d type @Googleguacamole.  It’s how you direct a comment towards me.  Imaging you were at a chatty cocktail party and you wanted to make sure I knew you were talking to me.  You’d say my name before you made the comment (e.g.”Laura, how was your day?”). A mention on Twitter has the same function as saying my name at the cocktail party.

When you put @Curiouscolab in a tweet, you’re directing the comment to whichever one of the course instructors or assistants happens to be manning the account at the moment. It’s kind of like calling the phone company and talking to a customer service provider – someone you know is affiliated with the company and is trained to offer some help or information, but is kind of faceless and nameless on a personal level. (Aside: tweeting @CuriousCoLab should be a better experience than calling @Verizon, though cable and phone services are notoriously better with customer service when you do it in public through tweets then in private over the phone.)

When you use a hashtag on Twitter, you are employing a keyword system that facilitates searches, so that people can follow conversations around topics rather than around people. Entire communities (I prefer the term affinity groups, technically) emerge around certain hashtags: #BlackLivesMatter. #ConnectedLearning. #DataViz. #CuriousCoLab.

Therefore, when you include #CuriousCoLab in a tweet you are adding a keyword that allows anyone interested in #CuriousCoLab tweets to see your tweet through a search.

Why is it important to put the course hashtag in the tweet?

  • Course hashtags allow the people in the course to see the entire conversation in a twitter chat. This is particularly important in larger courses where students don’t know each other, or in courses where students might read the conversation after it has occurred, or in courses where some students might be big tweeters who follow many people other than the other students.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier curation.  Collaborative Curiosity, like many online learning experiences, uses Storify to archive the conversation for documentation, later reading, or reflection.  Here’s an example from last year’s course. Storifying a Twitter chat can be a great experience because it allows you to read through all the tweets, reorganize however you like (chronologically? thematically?), add other explanatory pieces (ex. blog posts, images, or videos, or free text to help tell the story), and discover all the things you missed the first time around. However, Storifies are only possible if most of the conversation is hashtagged with the course hashtag.  A Storify creator can’t be expected to poke around all the corners of the Internet looking for stray pieces of the conversation.  That’s not reasonable.
  • Course hashtags are part of the mechanics of academic Twitter. It’s like indenting a paragraph or using an Oxford comma. As Academic Twitter continues to grow (FYI: Bonnie Stewart is my favorite Academic Twitter researcher if you are interested), it behooves us to learn a bit of the mechanics so that we can better engage in professional conferences and digitally mediated professional development.
  • Course hashtags allow for easier documentation. As I wrote last week, Collaborative Curiosity is designed to help you reflect on your connections – connections across ideas, people, and time. Reflection requires documentation, because – Schon aside – reflecting in action is notoriously difficult.  The appropriate use of mentions and hashtags allows us to automatically capture and visualize your conversations through social network analysis.  On the course website, we use TAGS Explorer.  In my research, I use NodeXL.  This crazy map was created with netlytic.org.

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Social network analysis is a way to visualize interactions in space. By pushing a few buttons, I collected all #curiouscolab tweets from last week.  Netlytics.org mapped out who was talking to whom on Twitter via their mentions.  The dots (“nodes”) are people, and the lines (“edges”) are the connections.

For the purpose of participant privacy, I hid all the node labels other than my own (@googleguacamole) and that of the lead instructor (Valerie Holton).  Later we’ll get into what I could have done to make this a much more meaningful piece of data visualization, but my point right now is this…See how big I am?  Yeah, I talk frequently to a lot of people using the #Curiouscolab hashtag, but my prevalence is also related to the fact that I captured many of the other participants’ unhashtagged Twitter chat contributions and retweeted them with the hashtag.  I got credit for their work.

Collaborative Curiosity does not grade based on number of tweets.  However, the lack of adequate documentation matters because later on in the course, we are hoping that participants will start to engage in (hopefully deep) reflection on how they engage others on social media platforms.  Are you good at networking? Do you seek out new voices? Do you only talk to the instructors? Do you spend time mostly talking to a small cluster of people? These social network analyses, when properly created (and not my mess shown above) can help people see who they engage and how often.  It’s a tool for self reflection that only works if course tweets are hashtagged.

How can I remember to use the course hashtag?

“Practice” is the most accurate but least useful piece of advice I can give you.  So here are some strategies for remembering to use the course hashtag:

  • Type it (or copy/paste) at the beginning of a tweet?  That way you know you have enough characters and you don’t forget it in a fit of passionate microblogging.  It’s perfectly fine to leave it at the front of the tweet (because in a sense you are addressing the #curiouscolab community as if it were a collective mention).
  • A sticky note to the computer screen?
  • A ribbon tied around your wrist?
  • Do whatever works for you.  The point is…course hashtags are important because they enable community, documentation, and self reflection.
Sylwia Bartyzel
Remember that course hashtag! Photo by Sylwia Bartyzel (CC BY 2.0)