The Senate Talks to Zuck

(or: “I will get back to you on that, Senator.”)

Here is an early response to Zuckerberg’s testimony before the US Senate today. If you want my overall score, as of 3:30 ET I think Zuckerberg is doing quite well, but some of the things being discussed need a lot of unpacking.

Those Poor Fools “whose privacy settings allowed it.”

In the beginning of his testimony, Zuck described what people are so upset about:

Zuckerberg: [The Kogan personality quiz app that shared data with Cambridge Analytica] was installed by around 300,000 people who agreed to share some of their Facebook information as well as some information from their friends whose privacy settings allowed it.

[Emphasis mine.]

Huh — this phrasing is so careful to be technically accurate but it is right up against the limit of truth. Then I think it goes past that. I looked up what the Facebook privacy settings screen looked like in 2015. It looked like this:

facebook privacy settings as of 2015 screenshot

If we follow the research findings in the security area, most users probably never saw this screen at all: people tend not to know about their own security settings.

But if you did find this screen, anyone who clicked “Friends” for any column surely could not have taken this to mean that their “privacy settings allowed” (Zuckerberg’s phrase) the harvesting of their data by an app that they never authorized and were not aware of.

This is presumably why Facebook disallowed this use of third-party data by apps well before this scandal. There is no third-party consent. So Zuckerberg’s claim that the Kogan/Cambridge Analytica app took information from people “whose privacy settings allowed it” seems a bridge too far.

The American Dream

A closing thought:  It is hyperbole, I know, but I was struck by Sen. John Thune’s (R-SD) remark that “Facebook represents the American dream.” Didn’t The Social Network cover this ground? I don’t remember the plot that way. Did Thune just mean that Zuck got rich?

Zuck’s the Scorpion and We Are The Frog?

Zuckerberg: [investments] in security…will significantly impact our profitability going forward. But I want to be clear about what our priority is: protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits.

This is a nice quote by Zuck because it highlights the key problem with Facebook’s position. The issue isn’t really “security” though. It’s the fact that Facebook is fundamentally in the business of harvesting user data and that negative, polarizing (and even inaccurate) ads and status updates are good for the platform. They promote engagement through outrage.

To crib from Marshall McLuhan, what is in the public interest is not necessarily what the public is interested in. Gory road accidents turn heads. But is that what our media should be showing?

Zuck’s comment is also highlighting that by asking Facebook to fix these problems, we are asking advertising-supported media to behave in a way that makes no sense for them and is opposite to their nature.

Let’s take a look at some of the ads placed by fake accounts controlled by Агентство интернет-исследований  they are extremely polarizing (american.veterans is a beard or sock puppet account):

 

1509564403589-screen-shot-2017-11-01-at-30922-pm

And it is now very clear from both common sense and the Trump/Clinton Facebook CPM fracas that polarizing ads on Facebook are much more likely to gain clicks.

The Trump campaign’s official ads were quintessentially negative and polarizing ads: they did things like try to associate the phrase “Crooked Hillary” with a winged bag of money.

Political ad spending is also a windfall that old media (radio and television stations) depended on, but there was no “click engagement” dimension with old mediaold media left people with little to do. It seems possible that the new media political ad environment can create feedbacks with negative ads that might be much more significant than the old ways of doing things.

Pay-For-Privacy

Another thing that struck me in early Q&A is the concern raised about a paid Facebook model. This was floated yesterday in a media interview and now Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is asking Zuckerberg if it is true users would have to, as he put it, “pay for privacy.”

Nelson seems outraged. On the one hand, this outrage makes no sense. If Facebook were switched completely away from an advertising model, it would be great for users as it would redefine the company’s incentives completely.

However, I think what is being proposed is a half-pay, half-free system (or opt-in payments). If that’s the plan, the outrage is justified. Pay-for-privacy makes social media even more regressive.

Privacy is already regressive in the sense that only those people who have time to learn about risks and fiddle with endless (and endlessly changing) settings pages have any hope of protecting themselves. The current system rewards computer skill and free time. And even with those things users still may not be able to protect themselves, because the options just aren’t available.

But an opt-in payment system makes privacy even worse by taking these intangible regressive dimensions and, in addition, putting a payment step on top of them. It’s not that people in opt-in privacy use either time or money to obtain privacy, rather it will be the case that people who both have time to follow this topic closely enough to know that they need privacy in the first place and can afford to pay for it will have privacy.

 

Big Social Won’t Be Fixed

I need to sign off because I can’t spend the day watching this. My summary so far: “Big Social” won’t be fixed by anything that was said here. The business models, institutions, and habits are too well-established and have too much inertia for a meaningful reconfiguration to come from the things I’ve heard so far.

Heading to the Courthouse for Sandvig v. Sessions

E._Barrett_Prettyman_Federal_Courthouse,_DC

(or: Research Online Should Not Be Illegal)

I’m a college professor. But on Friday morning I won’t be in the classroom, I’ll be in courtroom 30 in the US District Courthouse on Constitution Avenue in Washington DC. The occasion? Oral arguments on the first motion in Sandvig v. Sessions.

You may recall that the ACLU, academic researchers (including me), and journalists are bringing suit against the government to challenge the constitutionality of “The Worst Law in Technology” — the US law that criminalizes most online research. Our hopes are simple: Researchers and reporters should not fear prosecution or lawsuits when we seek to obtain information that would otherwise be available to anyone, by visiting a Web site, recording the information we see there, and then publishing research results based on what we find.

As things stand, the misguided US anti-hacking law, called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), makes it a crime if a computer user “exceeds authorized access.” What is authorized access to a Web site? Previous court decisions and the federal government have defined it as violating the site’s own stated “Terms of Service,” (ToS) but that’s ridiculous. The ToS is a wish-list of what corporate lawyers dream about, written by corporate lawyers. (Crazy example, example, example.) ToS sometimes prohibit people from using Web sites for research, they prohibit users from saying bad things about the corporation that runs the Web site, they prohibit users from writing things down. They should not be made into criminal violations of the law.

In the latest developments of our case, the government has argued that Web servers are private property, and that anyone who exceeds authorized access is trespassing “on” them. (“In” them? “With” them? It’s a difficult metaphor.) In other cases the CFAA was used to say that because Web servers are private, users are also wasting capacity on these servers, effectively stealing a server’s processing cycles that the owner would rather use for other things. I visualize a cartoon thief with a bag of electrons.

Are Internet researchers and data journalists “trespassing” and “stealing”? These are the wrong metaphors. Lately I’ve been imagining what would happen in the world of print if the CFAA metaphors were our guide back when the printing press were invented.

If you picked up a printed free newspaper like Express, the Metro, or the Chicago Reader at a street corner and the CFAA applied to it, there would be a lengthy “Terms of Readership” printed on an inside page in very small type. Since these are advertising-supported publications, it would say that people who belong to undesirable demographics are trespassing on the printed page if they attempt to read it. After all, the newspaper makes no money from readers who are not part of a saleable advertising audience. In fact, since the printing presses are private property, unwanted readers are stealing valuable ink and newsprint that should be reserved for the paper’s intended readers. To cover all the bases, readers would be forbidden from writing anything based on what they read in the paper if the paper’s owners wouldn’t like it. And readers could be sued by the newspaper or prosecuted by the federal government if they did any of these things. The scenario sounds foolish and overblown, but it’s the way that Web sites work now under the CFAA.

Another major government argument has been that we researchers and journalists have nothing to be concerned about because prosecutors will use this law with the appropriate discretion. Any vagueness is OK because we can trust them. Concern by researchers and reporters is groundless.

Yet federal prosecutors have a terrible record when it comes to the CFAA. And the idea that online platforms want to silence research and journalism is not speculative. After our lawsuit was filed, the Streaming Heritage research team funded by the Swedish Research Council (similar to the US National Science Foundation) received shocking news: Spotify’s lawyers had contacted the Research Council and asked the council to take “resolute action” against the project, suggesting it had violated “applicable law.” Professors Snickars, Vonderau, and others were studying the Spotify platform. What “law” did Spotify claim was being violated? The site’s own Terms of Service. (Here’s a description of what happened. Note: It’s in Swedish.)

This demand occurred just after a member of the research team appeared in a news story that characterized Spotify in a way that Spotify apparently did not like. Luckily, Sweden does not have the CFAA, and terms of service there do not hold the force of law. The Research Council repudiated Spotify’s claim that research studying private platforms was unethical and illegal if it violated the terms of service. Researchers and journalists in other countries need the same protection.

More Information

The full text of the motions in the case is available on the ACLU Web site. In our most recent filing there is an excellent summary of the case and the issues, starting on p. 6. You do not need to read the earlier filings for this to make sense.

There was a burst of news coverage when our lawsuit was filed. Standout pieces include the New Yorker’sHow an Old Hacking Law Hampers the Fight Against Online Discrimination” and “When Should Hacking Be Legal?” in The Atlantic.

The ACLU’s Rachel Goodman has recently published a short summary of how to do research under the shadow of the CFAA. It is titled as a tipsheet for “Data Journalism” but it applies equally well to academic researchers. A longer version co-authored with Esha Bhandari is also available.

(Note that I filed this lawsuit as a private citizen and it does not involve my university.)

IMAGE CREDIT: AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons

Architecture or Minecraft?

(or, “Hopefully 4chan Won’t Hear About This Contest”)

The social-media-ification of everything continues. If you’ve got time for some late-summer procrastination, thanks to the Internet you can choose the design of my house.

As you may have read here two weeks ago, I’m crowdsourcing it. The first competition is over and I received 16 entries — above average for arcbazar.com. That means anyone on the Internet can now help pick a winner. I’d say there are some great designs and many awful ones.

My needs attracted designers from Nigeria, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, Vietnam, Mexico, and Indonesia. But also London, Texas, and my very own town of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Submissions are anonymous, but Arcbazar maps their self-reported locations:
arcbazar map.png

Anyone can submit–no credentials required. So far I don’t think it’s “the worst thing to happen to architecture since the Internet started” but there’s still plenty of time for this to go sideways on me. The next step is voting.

In Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, the young architect Howard Roark says, “I don’t intend to build in order to have clients. I intend to have clients in order to build.” Like Rand’s protagonist, I think some of my designers refused to compromise their unique vision. To give you the flavor, here are some comments my friends made about the low points:

“This house looks like the head of a Minecraft pig”:

BARNSK

 

For reference:

barnpig

 

We asked for a barn-like building with a gambrel roof. That was a requirement. To write this requirement, “gambrel” is a word I had to look up. Google says:

gambrel roof

I think some of the designers really struggled with it! A friend said: “It looks like this building fell down and broke its spine.”

broken roof

 

“This appears to be a car dealership.”:

arcbazar concept

 

You can help choose the winner here: (You need to sign up for a free login.)

There are two separate things to do at this link — voting and commenting. Anyone with an arcbazar login can vote: it’s a numerical rating in five categories.

To vote click “Vote now!” when you are looking at a particular entry. This affects the rankings.

arcbazar vote now link

 

To comment and to read other people’s comments, click the word “Evaluations” when you are looking at a particular entry. You need a Facebook login to add a comment.

arcbazar evaluations link

 

Stay tuned. More updates here as the process unfolds.

 

I crowdsourced the design of my house

(or, “The Social-Media-ification of Everything”)

The architecture crowdsourcing Web site Arcbazar has been called “The Worst Thing to Happen To Architecture Since the Internet Started.” The site also got some press recently by running a parallel, unauthorized architecture competition for the “people’s choice” for the design of the Obama Presidential Library.

arcbazar screen shot home page
The arcbazar welcome page. (click to enlarge)

I’ve decided to use arcbazar.com to run two architectural competitions for my house. My competitions started yesterday (links below), in case you want to see this play out in real time.

Most of the attention given to arcbazar has been about labor, safety, and value. Discussion has centered around possible changes to the profession of architecture. Does it lower standards? Will it put architecture jobs and credentials in jeopardy?

Yet as a social media researcher the part of arcbazar that has my attention is what I would call the “social media-ification of everything.”

Anyone with a free arcbazar account can submit a design or act as a juror for submitted designs, and as the Web site has evolved it has added features that evoke popular social media platforms. Non-architects are asked to vote on designs, and the competitions use familiar social media features and metaphors like a competition “wall.”

Here are my competitions. You need a free account to look at them.

This means YOU could design my house, so please choose wisely. (One friend said: “You realize your house is going to be renamed Housey McHouseFace.”) Keep your fingers crossed for me that this works out well. Some of the submitted designs for past competitions are a little… odd…

obama building shaped like obamas name
Who wouldn’t want a house in the shape of their own name? (click to enlarge)

Why I Am Suing the Government — Update

[This is an old postSEE ALSO: The most recent blog post about this case.]

Last month I joined other social media researchers and the ACLU to file a lawsuit against the US Government to protect the legal right to conduct online research. This is newly relevant today because a community of devs interested in public policy started a petition in support of our court case. It is very nice of them to make this petition. Please consider signing it and sharing this link.

PETITION: Curiosity is (not) a crime
http://slashpolicy.com/petition/curiosity-is-not-a-crime/


For more context, see last month’s post: Why I Am Suing the Government.

 

Why I Am Suing the Government

(or: I write scripts, bots, and scrapers that collect online data)

[This is an old postSEE ALSO: The most recent blog post about this case.]

I never thought that I would sue the government. The papers went in on Wednesday, but the whole situation still seems unreal. I’m a professor at the University of Michigan and a social scientist who studies the Internet, and I ran afoul of what some have called the most hated law on the Internet.

Others call it the law that killed Aaron Swartz. It’s more formally known as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), the dangerously vague federal anti-hacking law. The CFAA is so broad, you might have broken it. The CFAA has been used to indict a MySpace user for adding false information to her profile, to convict a non-programmer of “hacking,” to convict an IT administrator of deleting files he was authorized to access, and to send a dozen FBI agents to the house of a computer security researcher with their guns drawn.

Most famously, prosecutors used the CFAA to threaten Reddit co-founder and Internet activist Aaron Swartz with 50 years in jail for an act of civil disobedience — his bulk download of copyrighted scholarly articles. Facing trial, Swartz hung himself at age 26.

The CFAA is alarming. Like many researchers in computing and social science, writing scripts, bots, or scrapers that collect online data is a normal part of my work. I routinely teach my students how to do it in my classes. Now that all sorts of activities have moved online — from maps to news to grocery shopping — studying people means now means studying people online and thus gathering online data. It’s essential. 

Les raboteurs de parquet (cropped)

Image: Les raboteurs de parquet by Gustave Caillebotte (cropped)
SOURCE: Wikipedia

Yet federal charges were brought against someone who was downloading publicly available Web pages.

People might think of the CFAA as a law about hacking with side effects that are a problem for computer security researchers. But the law affects anyone who does social research, or who needs access to public information. 

I work at a public institution. My research is funded by taxes and is meant for the greater good. My results are released publicly. Lately, my research designs have been investigating illegal fraud and discrimination online, evils that I am trying to stop. But the CFAA made my research designs too risky. A chief problem is that any clause in a Web site’s terms of service can become enforceable under the CFAA.

I found that crazy. Have you ever read a terms of service agreement? Verizon’s terms of service prohibited anyone using a Verizon service from saying bad things about Verizon. As it says in the legal complaint, some terms of service prohibit you from writing things down (as in, with a pen) if you saw them on a particular — completely public — Web page.

These terms of service aren’t laws, they’re statements written by Web site owners describing what they’d like to happen if they ran the universe. But the current interpretation of the CFAA says that we must judge what is authorized on the Web by reading a site’s terms of service to see what has been prohibited. If you violate the terms of service, the current CFAA mindset is: you’re hacking.

That means anything a Web site owner writes in the terms of service effectively becomes the law, and these terms can change at any time.

Did you know that terms of service can expressly prohibit the use of a Web site by researchers? Sites effectively prohibit research by simply outlawing any saving or republication of their contents, even if they are public Web pages. Dice.com forbids “research or information gathering,” while LinkedIn says you can’t “copy profiles and information of others through any means” including “manual” means. You also can’t “[c]ollect, use, copy, or transfer any information obtained from LinkedIn,” or “use the information, content or data of others.” (This begs the question: How would the intended audience possibly use LindedIn and follow these rules? Memorization?)

As a researcher, I was appalled by the implications, once they sunk in. The complaint I filed this week has to do with my research on anti-discrimination laws, but it is not too broad to say this: The CFAA, as things stand, potentially blocks all online research. Any researcher who uses information from Web sites could be at risk from the provision in our lawsuit. That’s why others have called this case “key to the future of social science.”

If you are a researcher and you think other researchers would be interested in this information, please share this information. We need to get the word out that the present situation is untenable.

NEW: There is now an online petition started by a cool group of policy-minded devs on our behalf. Please consider signing and sharing it.

The ACLU is providing my legal representation, and in spirit I feel that they have taken this case on behalf of all researchers and journalists. If you care about this issue and you’d like to help, I urge you to contribute.

 

Want more? Here is an Op-Ed that I co-authored with my co-plaintiff Prof. Karrie Karahalios:

Most of what you do online is illegal. Let’s end the absurdity.
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/30/cfaa-online-law-illegal-discrimination

Here is the legal complaint:

Sandvig v. Lynch
https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/sandvig-v-lynch-complaint

Here is a press release about the lawsuit:

ACLU Challenges Law Preventing Studies on “Big Data” Discrimination
https://www.aclu.org/news/aclu-challenges-law-preventing-studies-big-data-discrimination

Here is some of the news coverage:

Researchers Sue the Government Over Computer Hacking Law
https://www.wired.com/2016/06/researchers-sue-government-computer-hacking-law/

New ACLU lawsuit takes on the internet’s most hated hacking law
http://www.theverge.com/2016/6/29/12058346/aclu-cfaa-lawsuit-algorithm-research-first-amendment

Do Housing and Jobs Sites Have Racist Algorithms? Academics Sue to Find Out
http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2016/06/do-housing-jobs-sites-have-racist-algorithms-academics-sue-to-find-out/

When Should Hacking Be Legal?
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/07/when-should-hacking-be-legal/489785/

Please note that I have filed suit as a private citizen and not as an employee of the University.

[Updated on 7/2 with additional links.]

[Updated on 8/3 with the online petition.]

 

Awakenings of the Filtered

I was delighted to give the Robert M. Pockrass Memorial Lecture at Penn State University this year, titled “Awakenings of the Filtered: Algorithmic Personalization in Social Media and Beyond.” I used the opportunity to give a broad overview of recent work about social media filtering algorithms and personalization. Here it is:

I tried to argue that media of all kinds have been transformed to include automatic selection and ranking as a basic part of their operation, that this transformation is significant, and that it carries significant dangers that are currently not well-understood.

Some highlights: I worry that algorithmic filtering as it is currently implemented suppresses the dissemination of important news, distorts our interactions with friends and family, disproportionately deprives some people of opportunity, and that Internet platforms intentionally obscure the motives and processes by which algorithms effect these consequences.

I say that users and platforms co-produce relevance in social media. I note that the ascendant way to reason about communication and information is actuarial, which I call “actuarial media.”  I discuss “corrupt personalization,” previously a topic on this blog. I propose that we are seeing a new kind of “algorithmic determinism” where cause and effect are abandoned in reasoning about the automated curation of content.

I also mention the anti-News Feed (or anti-filtering) backlash, discuss whether or not Penn State dorms have bathrooms, and talk about how computers recognize cat faces.

Penn State was a great audience, and the excellent question and answer session is not captured here.  Thanks so much to PSU for having me, and for allowing me to post this recording. A particularly big thank you to Prof. Matthew McAllister and the Pockrass committee, and to Jenna Grzeslo for the very kind introduction.

I welcome your thoughts!

 

How To Get a Social Media Ph.D.

A few months ago, I asked how we might reconsider Ph.D. education in light of digital media, social media, and the changing landscape of scholarly publishing.

No matter what your Ph.D. aspirations are, all Ph.D.s are sort-of about publishing and dissemination of research and also reading research, and these activities are being transformed by digital media. I received a many helpful suggestions, and as a result I’d like to offer you a guided tour of my favorites.

I hope this list could be useful as a voyage of exploration for anyone who wants to get a Ph.D. in the social sciences or humanities, broadly defined. It’s also suitable for a professionalization seminar for first-year doctoral students (that’s what I did with it).

The point of this list is not that getting a Ph.D. is totally different now–you’ll notice many of the readings are not new. However, in this list I’ve juxtaposed older advice with much more recent reflection on the state of the academy. Old Ms. Mentor columns are listed near manifestos about the digital humanities, reflections on new scholarly publishing models, cat memes, and Web portals like PhDisabled.

Finally, note also that the point of this list is not where to get a Ph.D. about social media.  It’s: how to get a Ph.D. in any topic within the contemporary context of digital media. That is: your more senior professors probably didn’t exchange information on job wikis, struggle with Homeland Security restrictions, and haven’t installed Typinator, so they’re less likely to give you advice about these things.

 

Preliminaries:

Essential Software and Online Resources:

  • Alerting services:
    • Journal Table of Contents (ToC) alerting services (e.g., JournalTOCs or a publisher-provided service) for a few key journals in your field
    • News summary services (Google Alerts) if your research area includes developments that are likely to be reported on in the mainstream press.
    • If your research area has prominent researchers (or research organizations) with blogs, go click the “Subscribe by E-Mail” button on the blog (or use a service like FeedBurner or Blogtrottr). Some research communities might use a shared Facebook page (or some other platform) for this purpose.
    • Subscribe to e-mail lists that are important in your field. That might include discussion lists, but also announcement lists from entities ranging from your local institution to an international scholarly association. Don’t forget more general professional development lists for all PhD students (and faculty) in any field, like Tomorrow’s Professor
  • Basic scholarly reference sources:
    • Article Indices (yes, okay, Google Scholar, but also know your domain-specific article indices from commercial database providers like EBSCO or from your scholarly association — see your local academic reference librarian)
    • Web of Science Citation Indices (e.g,. the SSCI) — you don’t just need to find references, you also need to be able to perform a reverse-citation lookup to see who is citing a reference you are interested in; this lets you trace ideas and findings through the research literature
    • Scholarly encyclopedias relevant to your field (here’s one for my field)
    • Book review repositories — if your research depends on books, you should know how and where your field publishes book reviews (for older, famous books JSTOR advanced search with “reviews” checked works well)
  • Desktop/personal software:

 

Essential books:

  1. Buy the official style guide for your discipline or sub-discipline. In the humanities and social sciences, probably something like the Publication Manual of the APA, Turabian Style/Chicago Manual of Style, or the MLA Style Manual. Or buy all of them (COMIC: When You Spend Too Long Reading a Style Manual). Although it is not technically a style manual, many academics also find the AP Stylebook helpful because of the treatment of common wording and grammar problems.
  2. William Strunk, Jr. & E. B. White. (2000). The Elements of Style. New York: Longman. (Any edition is fine except for the 1920 or 2011+ “Original Edition” that does not include E. B. White. It must have E. B. White.)

 

The Key 14 Topics:

A Weekly Reading List

“How should I do doctoral research?” is a question where there is no single answer that will apply to everyone. This is a list of 14 weeks of comics, blog posts, papers, contracts, and Web sites that are often quite short, first-person accounts by people advocating a particular position or relating a personal experience. Some are polemical, sarcastic, and intentionally provocative. Some readings obviously disagree with other readings. The list is offered in the hope of generating some knowledge as well as some intellectual frisson, and not because I agree with every particular claim.  I’ve added links when things are available on the Web.

  1. What are We Doing Here? (Norms of the Academy)
    • COMIC: The Illustrated Guide to a PhD
    • READING: Turner, Stephen. “Scientific Norms/Counternorms.” Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. Ritzer, George (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Blackwell Reference Online.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Weber, M., (1946 [1921]). Science as a Vocation. In: From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Trans. H. H. Gerth & C. W. Mills. New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 129–56)
  2. The Advisor/Advisee Relationship
  3. Professionalization
  4. Impostor Syndrome
    • COMIC: I still have no idea…
    • READING: Risk. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (excerpt — just the letter in Ch. 6: Risk, pp. 111-120) [Note: Two former students independently told me this letter was one of the most valuable readings they were assigned in their entire Ph.D. career. –Ed.]
  5. Selecting a Research Topic
    • COMIC: The statement of purpose
    • READING: So What? Who Cares? In: Graff, Gerald & Birkenstein, Cathy. (2009). They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing. (2nd ed.) New York: W. W. Norton & Company.  (ch. 7)
    • READING: Networking and Your Dissertation In: Agre, Phil. (2005). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for Ph.D. Students. Los Angeles: UCLA.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: The Thesis Topic, Finding It. In: Peters, Robert L. (20). Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. (rev. ed.) New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. (ch. 16)
  6. Interdisciplinarity, Multidisciplinarity, and Specialization
    • COMIC: Interdisciplinary
    • READING: On Interdisciplinarity From: Sterne, Jonathan. Super Bon (blog). (note the question: “Is Interdisciplinarity the opposite of ‘bad’?”)
    • READING: Sandvig, C. (2009). How Technical is Technology Research? In: E. Hargittai (ed.), Research Confidential: Solutions to Problems Most Social Scientists Pretend They Never Have, pp. 141-163. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Snow, Charles Percy (2001) [1959]. The Two Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Literature Reviews
    • COMIC: When You Find a New and Interesting Theorist
    • READING: Terrorized by the Literature. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Ch. 9)
    • READING: Edwards, Paul N. (2015). How to Read a Book. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. (Note: This isn’t the Adler & Van Doren book of the same title.)
    • READING: The Difference Between Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources. In: Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. (2008). The Craft of Research. (3rd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 68-70)
  8. Tone and Voice
    • COMIC: Deciphering Academese
    • READING: Persona and Authority, On “Classier” Writing, “Finished” Products, and Removing “Bullshit” Qualifications. In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (various excerpts.)
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Peruse: Swales, John M. (2004). Research Genres. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Writing and Rewriting
    • COMIC: “Final.doc”Academic Writing is Argumentative (sorry this comic is paywalled, can’t find link.)
    • READING: Addicted to Rewriting In: Becker, Howard S. & Richards, Pamela. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (pp. 91-94)
    • READING: Making Prose Speak. In: Germano, William.  From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (ch. 8, excerpts)
    • FOR MORE DEPTH: Re-read Strunk and White (above).
  10. Evidence
    • COMIC: Evidence
    • READING: Which Article Should You Write? Bem, Daryl J. (2002). Writing the Empirical Journal Article. In: Darley, J. M., Zanna, M. P., & Roediger III, H. L. (eds). The Compleat Academic: A Career Guide. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. (excerpt.)
    • READING: Logic In: Becker, Howard S. (1998). Tricks of the Trade: How to Think About Research While You’re Doing It. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (excerpt — pp. 151-158)
    • READING: Making Claims and Assembling Reasons and Evidence In: Booth, Wayne C., Colomb, Gregory G., & Williams, Joseph M. (2008). The Craft of Research. (3rd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (ch. 8-9 excerpts)
  11. Difference
    • COMIC: Visas
    • READING: Who’s Classier? From the Ms. Mentor advice column in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
    • READING: Adjusting to American Universities. From the Tomorrow’s Professor listserv.
    • READING: Minority Faculty in [Mainstream White] Academia and Women in Academia In: DeNeef, A. Leigh & Goodwin, Craufurd D. (2007). The Academic’s Handbook. (3rd ed.) Durham, NC: Duke University Press. (ch. 5-6 excerpts)
    • RESOURCE: See also PhDisabled.
  12. Presentations
  13. Publication and Peer Review
  14. The Future

 

Thanks to all who contributed.  More suggestions? Please comment!

 

17 Games that Showcase Gaming

(or, interactive art & entertainment: a short tour)

OK, dear readers, it’s time for some BuzzFeed-style content here on the Social Media Collective.

You want to understand digital media, right? You occasionally like to play a game, right?

I’m pleased to revisit and refresh my list of games that quickly demonstrate what is possible in digital gaming. Sort of: “digital games, a short tour.” With this list, you can inexpensively, briefly play one game every day and at the end of it all you’ve had a broad experience of what digital games can do.

To keep your attention, this blog post is illustrated with a few choice screen shots from games on the list. Like this one:

undertale like LIKE you

Undertale [2015]

The ground rules. Games on the list must be:

  • a computer game
  • easy-to-learn-to-play (Not necessarily “easy.”)
  • free, cheap ($10 or less), or have a meaningful playable demo
  • quick, or at least quick to get into the substance (They need not be “casual” but casual is OK. If there’s a long tutorial before you get to the good stuff, forget it.)
  • more likely to be from obscure, independent producers
  • representing some aspect of gaming so that the complete list captures much of what is possible (The goal is breadth, within the limits of cheap, quick, and easy-to-learn.)
  • the kind of thing that does not require unusual hardware or software (Games that can be played in a browser are ideal. Multi-platform games are great. Games that can be played with an downloaded emulator are OK. Games only playable on the Vectrex will not work.)

 

flow-game-screenshot-6-b

Flow [2006]

I posted the rationale for the above requirements a while back if you’re curious. (I originally made this list as part of my course Play and Technology.)

Note that the games don’t have to be new — in fact classic or influential games are a big plus. Technically I shouldn’t even care if the games are fun; they are supposed to broaden your perspective about what is possible. But don’t worry, these are fun.

Keep in mind that with the above requirements (free! obscure!) you won’t find AAA graphics and celebrity voices. Although some of these games are quite beautiful, there’s definitely less polish than average. Indeed, you could say these contenders tend toward the bizarre. But that’s OK. In the words of Mettaton, “Who needs arms with legs like these?”

But taking this tour is a great way to expand your perspective about digital game genres if you haven’t spent a lot of time with indies. And who doesn’t like a quick browser game? Vin Diesel understands.

vin diesel dnd screenshot

(ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You [2015]

I’ll mark games on the list with [*] if they are super-duper quick, so you can jump right in if you want to.

Okay, without further ado, here is the list.

The 17 (Quick, Cheap, Easy-to-Learn) Games that Showcase (the Breadth of Potential in Digital) Gaming:

  1. Undertale. [2015] ($10. This is the RPG where each monster does their best. At first it looks like straight nostalgia, until you realize what is actually going on. Would you kiss a ghost? HECK YEAH.)
  2. TIS-100 [2015] ($7. The puzzler’s puzzler. Motto: “It’s the assembly language programming game you never asked for!” This counts as easy-to-learn because its goal is to be “almost inscrutable,” and it succeeds immediately.)
  3. (ASMR) Vin Diesel DMing a Game of D&D Just For You [2015] (Free. Yes that entire thing is the name. That title really describes it quite well, except that there is no ASMR. It’s a text adventure.) [*]
  4. Passage [2007] (cost: free, format: side-scroller, crying: possibly, difficult to explain: yes) [*]
  5. Thirty Flights of Loving [2013] ($5. Demolitions! Mechanic! Sharpshooter! Confectioner! Anita does it all. Time for a blast of narrative.) [*]
  6. Diner Dash [2004] (Free. The game that took StarCraft casual. Heck it’s the game that took casual casual. It’s real-time resource management. Hurry up, it’s closing time.) [*]
  7. dys4ia [2012] (Free. A game about identity that is also an autobiographical journal.) [*]
  8. Flow [2006/2013] (Free to download or $6 on PSN. Action/arcade, with a twist or two. Play the rebooted version on your biggest available screen.) [*]
  9. Façade [2004] (Free. This game pioneered a new direction in conversational AI. It’s an uncanny cross between an RPG and a chat session. The New York Times said it was “the future of games” in 2004, but Trip told me “you know what? I think you should leave.”)
  10. SissyFight 2000 [2000/2014] (Free. Take the trash-talk out of the CoD lobby and put it where it belongs… in the schoolyard. SissyFight is multiplayer game theory, people. And by “game theory” I mean the John Nash kind.) Oops, it looks like the 2014 Kickstarter reboot doesn’t work. I see a lot of bug reports and no players. 😦
  11. A Series of Gunshots. [2015] (Free. Quite a different take on the shooter.) [*]
  12. Papers, Please [2013] ($10. A morality puzzler/RPG crossover you might actually be able to finish, unlike the other puzzler on this list.)
  13. QWOP [2010] (Free. A paragon of simulation. You’ll scorn those games with a simple “run” button after you get the chance to individually operate each of your hips and knees.) [*]
  14. Candy Box 2 [2013] (Free. It’s time-based click-farming that forges a new relationship to time, and to clicks. Or at least a new relationship to the game developer.)
  15. FTL [2012/2014] ($10 with a great iPad interface. Roguelike. “Please accept these small cakes made from stiff dough.” This is space exploration with character, and a great way to practice dying over and over.)
  16. Habbo Hotel. [2000-present] (Free. It’s a MOO! Sort of. Motto: “A strange place with awesome people. Get noticed!”)
  17. EnviroBear [2000/2010] (Free for PC, $1 for Android/iPhone. No list of games is complete without a driving game. Here’s a driving game where the premise is that you are a one-armed bear trying to drive a car. You may also get to wear a hat.) [*]

But there are so many great games I’ve left off the list! It makes me so mad I almost want to give the “throw baby” command.

throwbaby

Peasant’s Quest [2004]

So here are some Honorable Mentions:

  1. Ultra Business Tycoon III. [2013] (Free. A text adventure that feels like André Breton may have been involved somehow — but I have too many text adventures on the list already.)
  2. Peasant’s Quest. [2004] (Free. This is a fantastic game but it only works if you are already very familiar with the “Quest” series of split-screen adventure games it is parodying.)
  3. Journey. [2013] ($15 Wonderful but just too expensive for our rules. Also too long.)

 

3

A Series of Gunshots (2015)

An acknowledgement: Great suggestions above came from Mia Consalvo, Adrienne Massanari, Alex Pieschel, and Leigh Alexander.

17 is kind of a weird number, and this list is always in revision. What am I missing?

I worry that I’ve given short shrift to arcade games, as only Flow and EnviroBear represent that experience, and they’re far from representative. Likewise, my “shooter” isn’t a real shooter. My “driving game” isn’t a real driving game, etc. To cover the range of what people actually do when they play games, it seems like I should have a game more obviously about chance or gambling. 

I’ve got games about confectioners covered though.

30flightsconfectioner

Thirty Flights of Loving (2013)

Let’s fix this tour. Please post your suggestions, people.

 

2015 Advice for Your 856-Year-Old Ph.D.

(or, What’s New About Getting an Old Degree?)

I’m delighted to be teaching an intro seminar for all the new Ph.D. students in my department’s graduate program. One of my goals is to give these students a place to talk about the environment of graduate school itself. How does getting a Ph.D. work? What do you need to know?

This task has made me reflective. At first I thought I should pass along readings that had been inspirational for me during grad school. That sure didn’t work. Here is the advice I apparently once loved:

Once you have identified some [thesis] topics you are interested in, you can research them rapidly by spending a few hours on the telephone calling up experts in the field and pumping them for information…although it may cost you a few dollars in long-distance bills…  —Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning a Master’s or Ph.D., p. 182

Or:

I wrote the paper with which this book begins on a microcomputer. Though this first experience with one frightened me a little at first, writing soon seemed so much less work that I wondered how I had managed before. —Writing for Social Scientists, p. 151

Or:

Having surveyed the basics…it’s time to consider the role that electronic communication can play. The most important thing is to employ electronic media consciously and deliberately as part of a larger strategy for your career. —Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students

Or:

Fortunately, these days every legitimate library has a copy machine, and each copy costs about a dime. —How to Write a Thesis, p. 86

The process of getting a Ph.D. is very old. Wikipedia claims the first Ph.D. was awarded in Paris in 1150. I thought Ph.D. advice would be more likely to stand the test of time.

These days you’ll find better dissertation advice on Tumblr. Or at least you’ll find some comic relief from Tumblrs like When in Academia

when someone asks you how the diss is going

(That’s some great tagging.)

The upshot is that it looks like a fair amount of the advice about how to get a Ph.D. has to do with the available communication technology of the time.  Both the stuff that’s in everyday use, and also the scholarly communication infrastructure (which I’ve also blogged about recently).

Has anyone reading this ever attended a conference paper sale? (No, that’s not about buying pre-written term papers.) Or have you ever received an academic journal article “preprint request postcard?” Here’s an image of one:

reprint-request-1

Source: Google Scholar Blog.

So far I’ve come up with a list of things that seem to still be helpful. Caveats: I’m aiming to help the social science and humanities students interested in communication and information. Our first year students won’t be teaching yet, so I am not focusing on teaching with this list.

Hopefully there are some readers who will find this list useful too.

How to Get a Ph.D. — The Draft Reading List

Agre, P. (2002). Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Studentshttp://vlsicad.ucsd.edu/Research/Advice/network.html  I’ll excerpt the following sections:

  • Building a Professional Identity
    • Socializing at Conferences
    • Publication and Credit
    • Recognizing Difference
  • Your Dissertation
  • Academic Language

anonymous. (ed.) (2015). “When in Academia.” http://wheninacademia.tumblr.com/

Becker, H. S. (2007). Writing for Social Scientists. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Don’t let the title of this book fool you, it is equally applicable to graduate students in the humanities and professional programs. I’m excerpting the following sections:

  • Freshman English for Graduate Students
  • Persona and Authority
  • Learning to Write as a Professional
  • Risk
  • Terrorized by the Literature

Cham, J. (2013, January 21). “Your Conference Presentation.” (image.) PhD Comics.

Edwards, P. N. (2014). “How to Give an Academic Talk.” http://pne.people.si.umich.edu/PDF/howtotalk.pdf (13 pp.)

Germano, W. (2013) From Dissertation to Book. (2nd ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press. — Note: “Passive Is Spoken Here” is a great section heading. I’ll excerpt the chapter:

  • Making Prose Speak

Sterne, J. (2014). How to Peer Review Something You Hate. ICA Newsletter. (2 pp.)

Shore, B. M. (2014). The Graduate Advisor Handbook. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. I’ll excerpt:

  • Mutual Expectations for Research Advising (pp. 143-146)

Strunk, W., Jr. & White, E. B. (2000). The Elements of Style. (4th ed.) New York: Longman. (Important: You must avoid any “Original Edition” or public domain reprint that does not include E. B. White as a co-author. The version without E. B. White is a different book.)

@yourpapersucks (ed.) (2015). “Shit My Reviewers Say.”  http://shitmyreviewerssay.tumblr.com/

…however…

I see that it’s a list woefully lacking in anything like “social media savvy for Ph.D. students” or “How new forms of scholarly communication are changing the dissertation.” I’m sure there are other newish domains I’ve left out, too. What am I missing? Can anyone help me out?  Please add a comment or e-mail me.

Yours in futurity.

.

.

.

(this blog post was cross-posted to Multicast.)