Networked Reading (first edition)

Editor’s note: this is my first pass at defining networked reading, so I’m open to comments and suggestions, this is in no way final. :)

I define networked reading as the viewing of written or image-based content produced in an online environment wherein the option of user participation is possible and content is saved and recorded in a semi-public or public way. The content produced in these spaces, I read as a unified text from multiple authors, and within this definition I include only static content, excluding video, games and super-interactive websites. Text in this sense includes photos, status updates and threaded, public conversations and can be defined as user-created content. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines user-created content (UCC) as having three elements: A publication requirement that includes only “work that is published in some context, be it on a publicly accessible website or on a page on a social networking site only accessible to a select group of people (i.e. fellow university students)” (p. 8). It also includes creative effort

which implies that a certain amount of creative effort was put into creating the work or adapting existing works to construct a new one; i.e. users must add their own value to the work. The creative effort behind UCC often also has a collaborative element to it, as is the case with websites which users can edit collaboratively. For example, merely copying a portion of a television show and posting it to an online video website (an activity frequently seen on the UCC sites) would not be considered UCC. If a user uploads his/her photographs, however, expresses his/her thoughts in a blog, or creates a new music video this could be considered UCC. Yet the minimum amount of creative effort is hard to define and depends on the context.

The third requirement is that this content is created outside of professional routines and practices.  I will be using user-generated content and user-created content interchangeably.

I include only interactive online spaces that maintain public or semi-public records of interactions (which excludes chat and e-mail, as they are for purposes of this discussion, private) that are archived and accessible to people who enter these networked or public  spaces at any point once they are created (unless they are deleted). These spaces must also place the option of participation in the hands of the user, and at the very core of these types of networks are expectations of readership or audiences.

I’m specifically interested in how the presence of other readers changes the context and interpretation of information for the members of an online community. My hypothesis for the experience of these networked readers is that this experience allows participants to feel included in the community dialogue without necessarily having to participate and this affordance facilitates social learning in ways that could not occur with static text (offline). This type of social learning occurs in both mediated and non-mediated environments, but often participation is either highly expected (traditional social spaces) or not possible (watching a movie or reading a book).

This territory of possible participation or interaction could be divided into content- and user-centric platforms. Content-centric platforms, such as Google reader and interactive news websites allow users to interact with one another through the sharing of, or commentary on, pre-existing content. User-centric platforms such as social networks cumulate users around information published by the users themselves, often about themselves. There are many online tools that sit between community- and user-based tools, such as the microblogging community-driven tool Twitter, or blogging/news communities wherein content is shared among users in a centralized or semi-centralized way, such as citizen journalism websites or Livejournal. For this study I will be predominantly focusing on users of social networking platforms but intend to extend both the research and its implications to other platforms such as news platforms, blogging communities or Twitter.
My relationship to this topic

Most of the reading I do is online—my computer screen is my reading companion and connection to the literate world. As a student at the Ed school I’ve been focusing on how participants in networked learning environments learn socially, both in terms of situated cognition (social learning) and constructivism (tying knowledge to previous knowledge).

I have previously researched the relationship of Facebook users to their image viewing practices online and used these implications as a window into the study of networked interactions.  This study expands this concept further to include all content that is read without user response.

I have a few unanswered puzzles that once solved, will help me further concretize my research question. What is my methodology for large-scale sampling? How exactly do I define “networked reading”? How much should I focus on SNS vas compared to websites within a larger scope (eg. twitter, blog networks, etc.)? Is reading a form of online participation? How do cultural attitudes change reading in practice? How do concepts like skimming, subvocalization and reading comprehension relate to my research question?

I am currently exploring the implications of eye-tracking software for this research. I will also be investigating the web analytics that businesses use to derive online revenue from page views, and looking at reader relationships to text in context of these standards.

Research questions
What do you read online?
Why do you read it?
How do you interpret it?
How does the presence of other readers shape the interpretation of information for the users of online social networking sites?

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