It started with a poem about not having a poem to write about. Or rather, a morning where Bud Hunt didn’t post an image to inspire poetry, as he has been doing all month. I am a creature of writing habit, so when the prompt wasn’t there, I still had to write a poem, and then shared it with Bud on Twitter.
I went searching
for the poem,
but came up
empty and silent.
holes to hide in.
We best leave
them be, let them
slumber until awoken,
bears after winter
foraging for food.#npm18
From there, Bud wrote a poetic response, on Twitter, and I heard an echo of a famous poem in his opening lines, so I tweeted back with my own poem. Dave Cormier jumped in and before I knew it, we were doing some poetry ping pong.
You can nearly hear the works of Poe, Whitman, Angelou, Williams, Wordsworth, Dickens, and others, if you read carefully enough in our Twitter poems. Not that we were being true to the poems, only that we were building off the familiar.
For all the talk we have of the worries and dangers about social media, a small experience like this — a poetry riff that emerges only from creativity and connections — is a gentle reminder of the possibilities that come when people and ideas flow together, with humor and humanity.
Last month’s theme in CLMOOC to “audit” our digital lives and activities has been quite valuable. I’ve done some weeding of followers/following in Twitter and beyond, and cut back on my email notifications designed to draw me into social media spaces. I’ve spent time thinking about the role of social media, and my use of it.
One observation that I made about myself is this: On Twitter, my identity is mostly as a teacher, talking learning and connecting with other teachers. But on Mastodon (a federated social network free of corporate influence), I feel like I am a writer.
Of course, there is overlap — I sometimes write about teaching in Mastodon and I sometimes make and share other kinds of work than educational pieces on Twitter — but my digital identity has sort of solidified in those spaces on one spectrum or the other (at least, in my head).
I noticed this landscape as I was culling through and removing hundreds of followers and those I follow on Twitter (literally, I think I cut back on nearly 1000 people, and counting, as I continue to prune), and thinking about why I would keep whom I kept. Mostly, those who remained were connected to education. Which makes sense. I write a lot and share a lot about being a teacher. I ask for resources from other teachers. My hashtags that I follow in Tweetdeck are nearly all related to learning and teaching.
In Mastodon, that is not the case. There, I write and share spaces with other writers. Some are fellow teachers (with overlaps in Twitter, even) but even they are less likely to go on about teaching. We write about other things there. I’ve taken to writing in a “small stories” section of Mastodon with regularity. I also share small poems and pull out small quotes from books I am reading. (Small as a form of writing is a common theme for me in Mastodon).
Now, some of this observation of Twitter-teacher/Mastodon-writer is due to the folks who inhabit the spaces, I think. I have long been connected to other teachers, mostly through National Writing Project, since my first day of Twitter, thanks to the guidance of my friend, Bud Hunt. My entry point was a network of teachers, with mostly a United States connection.
In Mastodon, what I see are all sorts of other people in other professions, from other parts of the world. There are computer programmers, social activists, social service workers, artists and animators, professional clowns and more. I’ve tapped into something grander than Twitter, and it feels like a more nurturing space for writing. Maybe that’s because Mastodon is still fairly small in size and reach. It’s also due to the underlying philosophical concept of Mastodon — that the users are in control of the network, not the network itself (for, there is no main organization overseeing it all — it is spread out across many servers in a federated space).
And here? This blog? I think this blog is the space is where those two worlds — teacher and writer — often intersect, collide and sometimes even crash.
Peace (writing it, learning it, teaching it),
I followed a link to a Twitter Analysis tool via Networked Narratives as part of an examination of our digital lives in the spheres of social media. This all connects nicely to the Digital Audit of this month’s CLMOOC. Convergence is nice.
The Twitter Analysis tool provides a useful visual glimpse of a single user’s interactions in Twitter. Mine is no surprise. I do a lot of sharing and writing and working in the early morning hours (like, eh, right now), and I will often use various devices and platforms throughout the day.
The NetNarr folks — Alan Levine and Mia Zamora — also shared out a larger networking analysis tool, which CLMOOC has used before, to show various interactions. The TAGs Explorer for NetNarr is here and open to check out. I am one of the open participants, but both Alan and Mia have university students in classroom experiences as part of NetNarr.
All this analysis of our Twitter activities remind us the where we tweet, and when we tweet, and how we tweet, and hopefully leads to discussions or reflections on why we tweet.
For me, it’s simple. I am a better teacher and a better writer, and a more thorough digital explorer, thanks to my connections and interactions on Twitter. Despite all of its messiness and despite the concerns over privacy and harassment, I still find Twitter to be one of the many places where my tribe hangs out on a regular basis, and shares, collaborates, makes, and reflects together.
The other day, I wrote about my week of semi-digital hibernation, as part of a Digital Audit activity with CLMOOC. I mentioned that I weeded out a lot of folks from my Twitter stream. That got me thinking a bit more deeply: why do I follow those I follow? And what makes me unfollow them?
Anyone who seems to have an affiliation with the National Writing Project. I am a sucker for friends and colleagues in the NWP network spaces, and have a NWP Twitter list going with nearly 800 people. Even though I clearly don’t “know” them all, I feel affinity for their work and ideas. A follow makes me feel connected to the larger network.
If you write that you are a sixth grade teacher, I’m going to likely follow you. I may want to steal some of your ideas, or celebrate you and your students, or just glance over your shoulder. I am always looking to learn about teaching.
If you are someone who dabbles in digital media, through the lens of learning and experimentation, I am likely to follow you, particularly if you are sharing out your creative process and interesting art. I like artists and teachers who push the boundaries, and are not afraid to write about success and failure, and the next project on the horizon.
If I am in an open course, like NetNarr, I will likely follow other folks in that network. But I might unfollow you later. It depends on how strong the connection is that we make.
Why might I unfollow someone?
If it is clear you are merely using me to buff up your Twitter list, most likely for marketing of some service, I will unfollow you. I don’t want to be part of anyone’s marketing campaign or part of someone’s Legitimacy Reputation. (ie, Look who follows me? I must be legit.)
If you have nothing written in your bio on Twitter, I am probably going to stop following you (if I followed you in the first place). Using a few words to stake your claim to a space is important. Link me to a webpage or blog. That said, if the words don’t resonate with me? Probably unfollow.
If you only retweet, and barely ever share your own writing or learning, or never engage in conversations or discussions, then I am unlikely to follow you. Life’s too short for too many silent interactions. But, I usually give some time for you to get acclimated to Twitter before making that decision. I know new folks have be immersed first.
Most companies and organizations, even educational ones, don’t stand a chance with my follow button. But if they do, they best be clear about the work they are doing to advance student learning or digital writing, without a public on eye on “selling” their services. I know that goes against the grain of why companies are on Twitter. Too bad. Find another way.
I’ll follow some bots, if they are interesting and creative. What I hate is when I follow a bot for a time, and then suddenly, that bot starts pushing inappropriate content out through “retweeting.” Unfollow. Block.
There are probably more reasons why I stop following people. These are the ones that stood out as I continue my work on scaling down my Twitter followers and following streams.
How about you? Why do you follow or unfollow? Have you even ever thought about it? (I hadn’t really, until recently. I found myself just clicking follow all the time, it seems, without any thoughts about why I was following someone.)
I am reminded of my CLMOOC friend, Algot, who has mostly shifted to writing in the Mastodon social networking space. There, just about every time someone follows Algot, he writes a personal and individualized note of thanks and welcome to that person, explaining his hope that he will be up to the task of engaging them in interesting thinking and conversations. How cool is that?
I was following a number of threaded discussions over the weekend on Twitter, about Twitter. Concerns about its negative elements (trolls, privacy, etc.) versus its positive elements (connections, discussions, etc.) continue to play out in all sorts of ways.
My friend, Sherri S., wrote a blog post response to George S.’s observations that criticized Twitter as a narrowing space of echo bubbles we create for ourselves (I’m summarizing my reading of his points), and I found her deep dive interesting. So I took her words for a walk in a remix version (which sparked its own discussion on Saturday about the value and rationale of remix).
And that conversations lingered in my mind, as I sat down to do some songwriting yesterday. I can hear it in the lyrics of this new song — Worlds Fall Apart — about the idea of starting over, and building something new.
Maybe I had Mastodon, and its federated ideas of freedom from corporate control of social media spaces, on my mind as I was writing. Or maybe it was the watching of the first Mad Max with my son the other night.
This is the second Making Music post this week. I have at least one more coming. I’m suddenly finding myself back to some songwriting and thinking about music making, at least for a bit.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write all through March, every day, about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
I would love to have a larger database of terms to use with a Twitter bot that I created for Networked Narratives, and I am hoping you might have some words to feed into the bot. The creation of a Twitter Bot was an offshoot of an earlier activity, in which I taught myself how to do it. (A Twitter Bot is an account that has certain random settings and posts either on a schedule, or when it is invoked by other Twitter users. You can read more about how I set mine up here)
Hey #NetNarr – What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Unicorn Playwrights?
My PeaceLove Bot is set up rather simply: it tweets with the message What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and ______. The blank space is what gets filled by pulling from a database of terms. That’s where you can come in and help me. I want to expand the database of terms.
Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.
Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.
Hey #NetNarr – What’s So Funny about Peace Love and Remix?
The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).
First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).
Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.
Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.
And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.
Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),
So, I am on another meander .. trying to parse out the possibilities of Twitter Bots as a means of digital writing. And wondering, is it? I don’t rightly know. Thus, the meander.
I’m on this line of inquiry thanks to the Networked Narratives crew, and one of the paths revealed during the recent “studio tour” with Leonardo Flores, whose work with generative Twitter Bots sparked some interesting annotation discussions.
Certainly, Twitter Bots — which are programmed to release writing or images or something from a data base at random or programmed times — are numerous (as I found when I started looking for them with new eyes) and funny and entertaining. Some bots mesh together ideas from other sites, creating a hybrid tweet. Others are original material, parsed together in odd ways. Some bots take on personalities from history, using archived texts as source material. Others are like programmed memes, making political fun of something through satire and sarcasm. Some are stories, unfolding in small bits over time.
Right now, I am following Mia Zamora and Alan Levine’s suggestion at Networked Narratives to “follow some bots” and see what happens over a few days time. I created a Twitter List of various bots that I have found (and feel free to follow the list if you want or you can ask Flores’ HotBots Bot to recommend Bots to follow based on your question or theme), and find myself dipping into the narrative stream now and then. It’s not a great strategy because the bot tweets are all mixed up, like a book whose pages have been put into disorder.
What I am wondering about in the larger picture, though, is this: can I make and launch my own Twitter Bot?
Yesterday, I started working on a Twitter Bot to send into the NetNarr twitter stream and I think I can pull it off, but I have been struggling with what would I want that bot to say to the world? What database might it mine for words and ideas? What message? Is my act of making a bot share writing out to the world an act writing?
More to come …. tomorrow, I will write about my bot experiment.
Vine, or the making of new Vines, sort of went kaput the other day, although I guess the 6-sec videos are still being hosted at the site, and there is something called Vine Camera replacing it.
But I am not sure.
All I know is, the other day I received an email from Vine, warning me that the deadline for using its downloader was upon us. So, I grabbed the ZIP file of all my Vines (videos and image shots, it turns out), and then thought .. now what?
I was curious to see the vids all together, and so pulled them into Animoto for this collection. It may only be amusing and entertaining for me, with context.
Thanks to Ian for sharing this in his newsletter. The video by Nerdwriter is alarmingly fascinating in closely examining the way Trump uses Twitter (and brings up for me the entirely other important question of what happens when — and I believe it will be “when” not “if” — Trump’s account gets hacked).
Check out this analysis of language and rhetoric and impact:
The fact is, it is both frustrating and fascinating to watch news unfold this way. Mostly frustrating, because Trump’s inability to be articulate is likely intentional (or not?) and yet, the social media platform allows him to rattle the world while drinking coffee in his pajamas. That’s alarming, all right. (see my earlier note about worrying about his account getting hacked.)
This data analysis over use of language, though, is interesting, if one can remove feelings about Trump from the equation. (OK, that’s hard to do.) Parsing through words and tone, and use of devices for writing, make for an interesting way to see how Trump interacts with the world, particularly through the “emotional charged” language (many of his tweets are negative, not surprisingly) and the sharp endings of Tweets and use of exclamation points that are “framing devices” for his rhetorical message.
The video notes that we are used to seeing this kind of spontaneous outbursts from our friends and wacky relatives. It’s part of the social networking fabric.
“… what we’re not familiar with … is this kind of thing (using Twitter for thinking out loud) from the most powerful person in the world and how it will fall out when you hold a position where even your words, desperately tweeted into the void, have global impact …” — from Nerdwriter video