Web archiving: where does it leave us?

While brainstorming topics for this – my final – blog post for the “Introduction to Social Media” course, I found myself lamenting the conclusion of an unexpectedly fulfilling first experience as a blogger. Creative writing has proven to be an arduous task for me in the past, so when I learned that my graded course work for COM0011 would involve producing a series of six blog posts throughout the term, I was naturally less than enthused. Yet surprisingly, I am leaving the course with a body of work about which I am quite proud, both for the way in which I expressed myself in writing, but likewise for some of the aesthetic choices I made so that my posts would present visually in certain ways on this WordPress blog. This led me to consider my options for saving an account of my modest attempt at blogging. Although a rendition of my work could be captured through an awkward combination of representative screenshots, Microsoft Word files and downloaded graphics, web archiving appears to provide a tidier alternative to preserving online content.

Web archiving (sometimes also referred to as web harvesting) has matured over the past two decades into a robust and standardized  “process of collecting portions of the World Wide Web, preserving the collections in an archival format, and then serving the archives for access and use” [1]. Through a description of its own web archiving program, the United States (US) Library of Congress highlights how web archives result from deliberate collection mandates and evaluation and selection efforts (as opposed to ad hoc or random selection) and demonstrate adherence to cataloguing standards and other best practices [2].

In “The History of Web Archiving”, Masashi Toyoda and Masaru Kitsuregawa describe how the advent of the Internet in the 1990s was quickly followed by the creation in the US of the Internet Archive in 1996, with a search interface – the “Wayback Machine” – introduced in 2001 to facilitate access to the web pages it held [3]. The Internet Archive gained recognition as a library in 2007 in the State of California, and remains to this day a San Francisco-based non-profit digital library “offering access to millions of free books, movies, and audio files, plus an archive of 450+ billion web pages” [4]. Traditional bricks-and-mortar libraries and academic institutions all over the world have since followed suit with the implementation of their own web archiving programs that are further complemented by international collaborative efforts to archive the World Wide Web. Although the disconnect between what has been archived and what among this has been made publicly accessible makes it difficult to confirm current numbers, a Wikipedia entry last updated on 9 April 2016 accounts for 81 web archiving initiatives in place to date [5]. When you consider their varied collection targets and strategies, it is clear that vast expanses of the Internet are being saved for generations to come.

Interestingly, those involved in, or preoccupied with web archiving are adding their own layers to the cyberscape they are striving to preserve. A quick review of the 81 web archiving initiatives listed under the Wikipedia entry I consulted revealed that most of the web archives they represent – even if only by virtue of the entities that administer them – have a presence on social media. The Internet Archive is no exception, with its own blog (https://blog.archive.org/) and Twitter account (@internetarchive). The same is true for the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC) – an organization comprised of member institutions from over 45 countries “dedicated to improving the tools, standards and best practices of web archiving while promoting international collaboration and the broad access and use of web archives for research and cultural heritage” [6]. Like the Internet Archive, the IIPC maintains a WordPress blog (https://netpreserveblog.wordpress.com/), is active on Twitter (@NetPreserve) and further has its own IIPC YouTube channel. Anticipated beneficiaries of web archiving have even taken to social media, with Web Archive History – a group “[f]or historians who use, think about, and work with web archives” [7] – having established a Twitter account (@HistWebArchives) for themselves in 2014.

While all of the aforementioned activity by web archiving specialists and enthusiasts suggests their confidence in the staying power of online content, web archiving may be far from a fail-safe when it comes to capturing content generated through social media. In 2010, the US Library of Congress acquired the Twitter Archive under what came to be known as the Twitter Research Access Project; but as of 2015, was “still grappling with how to manage an archive that amounts to something like half a trillion tweets” [8] and has yet to provide researchers with access to it. Jill Lepore inspires even less hope in The New Yorker article, “The Cobweb: Can the Internet be archived?”, by reminding us that the average lifespan of a web page is only 100 days, with other web content falling victim to reference rot (i.e., link rot and content drift) and overwriting on a regular basis [9]. When you combine this reality with the limitless information exchange and self-publication made possible by social media, what legacy can be left by the average site owner and blogger such as you and I?

Although web archiving initiatives around the world are undoubtedly dedicated to frequent capture of the Internet, change remains a constant in cyberspace with which it is difficult to contend. If we are not on a web archives’ radar, where does this leave us? As COM0011 comes to an end, this question weighs heavy on my mind. What will become of the content we generated here?

References (that I hope will still be retrievable following publication of this post):

  1. Web Archiving [ca. 2012]. Retrieved from http://www.netpreserve.org/web-archiving/overview
  2. Web Archiving (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/webarchiving/
  3. Toyoda, M. & Kitsuregawa, M. (2012). The History of Web Archiving. Proceedings of the IEEE, 100, 1441-1443. Retrieved from http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?arnumber=6182575
  4. Internet Archive [ca. 2009]. In Twitter. Retrieved 15 April 2016, from https://twitter.com/internetarchive?lang=en
  5. List of Web archiving initiatives (9 April 2016). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 April 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Web_archiving_initiatives
  6. Mission & Goals [ca. 2012]. Retrieved from http://www.netpreserve.org/about-us/mission-goals
  7. Web Archive History [ca. 2014]. In Twitter. Retrieved 16 April 2016, from https://twitter.com/histwebarchives
  8. Scola, Nancy (11 July 2015). Library of Congress’ Twitter archive is a huge #FAIL. Politico Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/story/2015/07/library-of-congress-twitter-archive-119698.html
  9. Lepore, Jill (26 January 2015). The Cobweb: Can the Internet be archived?. The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/26/cobweb
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Is the Web Bogged Down by Metablogs?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

To signal its self-referential nature, I thought that I had cleverly affixed the prefix “meta-” to “blog” to refer to blogs written about blogging; yet I recently discovered that others had already coined the term metablog to describe this phenomenon. Whether it was a post recommending the type of content to include or avoid in a blog, or tips on how to attract and secure blog readership, I am sure that all of us – either by accident or intentionally – have stumbled upon at least one metablog while online. When you consider how many blogs exist worldwide, and that reputable business publications such as Forbes are helping to disseminate claims that blogging can turn a profit [1], it’s no surprise that blogs dedicated to the practice of blogging are on the rise.

A quick visit to Worldometer reveals in real time just how many blogs are written and published worldwide per day [2], with Tumblr alone accounting for more than 275.9 million blog accounts as of January 2016 [3]. It appears that metablogging has the potential to become a formidable industry in and unto itself, if it isn’t considered one already. However, in reviewing these statistics, my newfound awareness of the pervasiveness of metablogs left me to wonder, “To what extent are current blog statistics actually just attributable to blogs about blogs?”

Metablogs seem to be thriving, but is there really a need for the incredible wealth of blogging tips and tricks they place at our disposal? I began reflecting on this when I discovered Blogging Basics 101: Social Media & Blogging Tips. It appears that Jessica Knapp, as editor of BloggingBasics101.com, has continued to provide tips and instructions to beginner and intermediate bloggers for an entire decade, since 2006. Her six most read blog posts have garnered between 53,138 and 190,241 views [4], with BloggingBasics101.com having been mentioned in Smashing Magazine and Huffington Post, suggesting that the metablog she maintains is a significantly sought-after product. A 2012 HubSpot.com article, “10 Amazing Blogs About Blogging to Start Reading NOW” [5], likewise highlighted Knapp’s metablog as well as nine others, with a more recent article directing additional attention to as many as “34 Top Blogs About Blogging in 2015” [6]. And from there, the list of metablogs simply grows.

Unless metabloggers agree to each target a particular niche market segment, logic would dictate that, at some point, the content of their respective blogs will inevitably overlap. With that theory in mind, I decided to review a selection of some of the metablogs that I found were most recently updated and widely endorsed to see how greatly their content varied from one to the next. My hope was that my research sample, consisting of the following metablogs, would prove my theory wrong:

Disappointingly, my review of the aforementioned metablogs left me feeling more overwhelmed than focused as a burgeoning blogger. This research sample suggested that aside from content tailored to novice versus intermediate or advanced audiences, most metablogs offer similar guidance on how to develop and enhance blog content, differing only in the sources of inspiration or methodologies they suggest for doing so. Other topics I found equally addressed across most – if not all – of the metablogs listed above, included: how to “build” a blog; blog promotion; techniques for driving traffic to blogs; writing sharable posts; guest posting; blogging for income; as well as more technical aspects to blogging such as finding the right web hosting provider for blogs and search engine optimization (SEO). Although Copyblogger.com’s scope was more narrowly focused on “content marketing mastery”, and Blogherald.com read rather uniquely like a serial publication – sharing blogging news, feature posts, guides, editorials, interviews and tips with readers – I uncovered little in the way of variation through my brief study of metablogs.

Despite my research findings, it is nonetheless reassuring to know that an endless supply of help is only an online search away if blogging is an activity I wish to continue. However, I am left to question if the Internet could reach a metablog saturation point? And if so, what are the odds that my contributions would float to the surface amidst a sea of blogs about blogs?

References:

  1. Clark, Dorie (24 July 2014). “How To Make a Living From Blogging”. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2014/07/24/how-to-make-a-living-from-blogging/#63d10a5a27bc
  2. According to the latest statistics on worldwide blog activity published by Technorati.
  3. “Cumulative total of Tumblr blogs between May 2011 and January 2016 (in millions)” (n.d.). Statista. Retrieved from http://www.statista.com/statistics/256235/total-cumulative-number-of-tumblr-blogs
  4. As of the date of publication of this post.
  5. Wainright, Corey (2 January 2012). “10 Amazing Blogs About Blogging to Start Reading NOW”. HubSpot. Retrieved from http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/30311/10-Amazing-Blogs-About-Blogging-to-Start-Reading-NOW.aspx
  6. Romano, Jeffrey (26 January 2015). “34 Top Blogs About Blogging in 2015 [BONUS Inside]”. WP Lighthouse. Retrieved from http://www.wplighthouse.com/top-blogs-about-blogging-roundup/

Copyright: Let’s not do it wrong.

Blogging regularly as part of Algonquin College’s “Introduction to Social Media” course has really forced me to hone my skill and agility as a creator of content. Though I hope to move away from text-laden posts in the future, I am generally proud of the unique work I have produced so far and the original way in which I have articulated my thoughts and ideas in writing. While drafting my last blog post, I had considered stepping outside of my comfort zone a little bit by adding a graphic or two to enhance my final product. However, inspiration quickly turned into total risk aversion as I thought about sourcing the types of images I was thinking of including in my post: I would inevitably have had to cull them from content generated by other users. This left me mulling over the question as to whether or not I had the right to do that?

As per the old adage, “you can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl”, I am an information management professional by day who can’t simply check my preoccupations with certain issues at the door when I turn my attention over to social media studies at the end of a work day. I have grown particularly sensitive to the issue of copyright as a result of my experience in the information management field. Though I am by no means an expert on this subject, I am well aware of the fact that it has implications for both you and me as creators of original content: you and I hold rights to control when and how our creations are used by others, and naturally, the creators of content we wish to use likewise hold rights themselves. Given that our studies will require us to keep producing original content for consumption by fellow students for the remainder of this academic term, I thought it was high time to at least educate myself, if not others, on what basic rights we hold to the content we produce or use in the course of blogging. I decided to begin by ensuring that I clearly understood to what, exactly, copyright refers.

What is copyright?

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The copyright symbol. (This image is licensed for use as “CC0 Public Domain” – i.e., image free for commercial use; no attribution required.)

As a general term, copyright is defined as “the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same” [1]. Copyright rules and regulations – including those surrounding the length of time for which copyright protection applies – vary from country to country. In Canada, the legal framework within which it is determined if, and when, one has the right to produce or reproduce – in whole or in part – a “work”, a “performer’s performance”, a “sound recording”, or a “communication signal”, is set forth by the Copyright Act and its supporting Copyright Regulations. As a 186-page legislative document, the Act is probably – and understandably – not on most individuals’ “must-read” lists. Yet copyright is extremely relevant to our activities on social media, so we would be wise to familiarize ourselves with how it pertains to the content we produce or reuse online.

Social media offers endless opportunities for us to create and use content in a wide variety of media. This content may manifest itself as original literary works such as a blogs; as photographs; as images; or even as videos or sound recordings; etc. As outlined in the online publication of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), A guide to copyright:

Copyright applies to every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work where the author was at the date of the making of the work a citizen or subject of, or a person ordinarily resident in, Canada or some other treaty country. (A treaty country is defined as a Berne Convention country, a Universal Copyright Convention country or a World Trade Organization [WTO] member.) [2]

A work is only automatically free to use in any way one chooses when it is not protected by copyright and thereby considered to be in the public domain [3]; but the point in time at which the duration of copyright expires and a work enters the public domain can be rather unpredictable since it is typically tied to the author’s life span with only a few exceptions (e.g., where the author is unknown) [4].

While a work remains protected by copyright, it can only be used where consent to do so has been granted by the copyright owner – be that you or me, or someone else whose work we wish to use –  and only in the manner the copyright holder specifies. Luckily, licensing offers a practical means for copyright owners to grant permission for particular uses of the works for which they hold copyright by setting out parameters regarding “the number [of] uses, the bounds of use and even the length of time until the license expires” [5]. The non-profit organization Creative Commons (CC) has emerged as a leading source of easy-to-use standardized copyright licenses that immediately enable “the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools” [6].

“Fair dealing”: a student’s reprieve from copyright infringement.

I embarked on my research into Canadian copyright law because of my concern over infringing on the copyright of others in contributing to this group blog for Algonquin College’s Social Media Certificate Program. To clarify, copyright infringement “is the use of works protected by copyright law without permission, infringing certain exclusive rights granted to the copyright holder” [7]. Though I may never fully gain my footing in the ever-evolving and contentious legal landscape of copyright, it appears that, for now, the Copyright Act may offer some safe terrain for you and me as student bloggers. Section 29 of the Act speaks to an exception to copyright infringement known as fair dealing – “a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work” [8]. The Act indicates that, “[f]air dealing for the purpose of research, private study, education, parody or satire does not infringe copyright [emphasis added]” [9], with subsections 29.4 through 30.04 detailing the specific exemptions granted to educational institutions or persons acting under their authority. As an educational institution, Algonquin College has proceeded to issue its own policy, AA 34: Copyright, applicable to both employees and students of the College, to further help us comply with the legal requirements of the Canadian Copyright Act.

I will judiciously stop there and simply encourage you to refer directly to the College’s policy, the Copyright Act, the Copyright Regulations and the CIPO guide mentioned earlier for more details on how copyright law applies in Canada. Suffice it to say, users of social media stand to benefit from familiarity with copyright issues. As some of us consider launching our respective contributions beyond the confines of this Algonquin College group blog into the broader realm of cyberspace, I recommend that we keep the following in mind along the way:

  • When we create original works online, let’s think about if or how we would like others to use them. As the copyright holders, are we willing to license others to use our works in certain ways?
  • Where we wish to use works for which others hold copyright, do we have, or could we secure, the right to use them in the way we intend to do so?

—————-

References:

  1. “copyright”. Oxford Dictionaries. 2015. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/copyright (16 March 2016).
  2. Canadian Intellectual Property Office. A guide to copyright. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cipo.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipoInternet-Internetopic.nsf/eng/h_wr02281.html
  3. “Public Domain”. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://copyright.ubc.ca/guidelines-and-resources/support-guides/public-domain/
  4. Harris, Lesley Ellen (4 November 2015). “Canadian Copyright for Bloggers”. Fourth Edition: Canadian Copyright Law. Retrieved from http://canadiancopyrightlaw.ca/blog/
  5. Bushell, David (14 June 2011). “Understanding Copyright and Licenses”. Smashing Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/06/understanding-copyright-and-licenses/
  6. https://creativecommons.org/about/
  7. “copyright infringement”. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_infringement (16 March 2016).
  8. “fair dealing”. Wikipedia. https://www.google.ca/search?q=definition:+fair+dealing&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=EGrtVoDgBOLrjgS85YK4Dw (17 March 2016).
  9. Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42). Retrieved from the Department of Justice Canada website: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/FullText.html

Quid Pro Quo: for Twitter, the Way to Go?

Although I would not be considered a Luddite, I am a fairly tentative user of social media – the opposite of an early adopter, really. When it comes to Twitter in particular, I have lagged about a decade behind the rest of the world in having only recently (i.e., within the last two months) created a Twitter account and added myself to the mix of the platform’s 1.3 billion registered users [1]. Moreover, I have to admit to having never tweeted, and to not having logged into Twitter in at least one month. Needless to say, until conducting research about how social media impacts businesses and branding, it completely eluded me that anything noteworthy could be inferred by statistics regarding the number of followers a Twitter user held, or the number of other users they were following. It certainly never occurred to me to compare or contrast the “Followers” and “Following” numbers readily offered by Twitter to assess the potential value of an account holder’s contribution. Since I am not in the process of actively growing a business or a brand, and therefore not overly driven to promote anything in particular, I joined Twitter with a focus on self-servingly culling information from others – not on encouraging anyone beyond my existing acquaintances to follow me back.

As users of social media and generators of its content, however, we all should care quite a bit about who is following and listening to us. Blog posts such as, “What do you mean I can lose followers?”, and “500 Followers”, written by fellow Algonquin students JUST ONE VOICE and MEGFUGER (respectively), helped to enlighten me further as to why I should be preoccupied with attracting and securing a strong follower base on social media. The fact remains that the only way for social media – a digital platform – to display or enable social characteristics is if individuals actually use it to connect and interact with one another; otherwise the medium becomes just another one-way communication channel for pushing or pulling information. On Twitter, for example, interaction begins with relationships between those we choose to follow and, of course, those who choose to follow us. The key difference between our offline and online relationships is that the latter can be readily tracked, quantified and interpreted by outsiders to reveal something about the quality of the relationships in which we are involved and our contribution to them. Nowhere is this more true, apparently, than on Twitter.

While trying to better understand why or how I might strategically approach securing followers on Twitter (as opposed to strictly following others), I randomly entered the terms “Twitter”, “following” and “followers” into Google Search to discover that an incredible amount of literature exists on the topic of the “Twitter Follower-Friend Ratio” – or “TFF Ratio” – as coined by one source [2]. Simply put, the TFF Ratio constitutes the rate at which a user is followed versus how often they “return the favour” by following someone else. As Carol Stephen points out in “Twitter By The Numbers”, this number can be used to help individuals track their progress on Twitter [3]. So highly regarded is this measurement for what it suggests about the value in following someone on Twitter that calculators even exist online at sites such as http://tffratio.com/Default.aspx to assist users in crunching the numbers!

As far back as August 2009 – just three years after Twitter was created [4] – a TechCrunch article referring to “Twitter’s Golden Ratio” [emphasis added] [5] summarized the insight that can be gained from the TFF Ratio; and the conclusions drawn by author MG Siegler at that time have since been echoed by at least four other sources I consulted on the topic. In general, perceptions of legitimacy are attached to a “positive” TFF Ratio (i.e., yielding a calculation of 1.0 or above) stemming from a user being followed by more individuals than they are following. A highly positive ratio runs the risk of being interpreted as a lack of reciprocity on the part of the user in terms of courtesy and interest in following other listeners [6]. Yet for the most part, a user with a positive TFF Ratio typically proves to be a more reliable and credible tweeter than those who demonstrate the reverse. A “negative” TFF Ratio (i.e., yielding a calculation below 1.0) involving a large follower-following discrepancy is often indicative of a spammer or promoter whose primary motivation is to follow others, with little to offer in being followed themselves. For the average Twitter user, an extremely negative TFF Ratio could also suggest an unsavvy user who has little regard for the overall quality of his or her Twitter feed or the meaningfulness of his or her Twitter connections [7]. In other words, a negative ratio can easily place a user’s brand under scrutiny, and lead to skepticism as to what that user contributes to the Twitter experience.

Although the Twitter “ecosystem”, as Siegler calls it, “has more negative ratio users than the other way around” [8], the author maintains along with Carol Stephen and Neal Schaffer, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Maximize Social Business, that all Twitter users should strive for the “ideal” TFF Ratio of one follower to one following. A one-to-one ratio “displays a Twitter Brand that says ‘We are in this together so let’s get to know each other’” [9]. Schaffer further specifies that, “…it has to be in a range near 1.0 (0.75 to 1.25?) if you want to grow your Twitter Followers” [10]. Straying away from this range could inadvertently lead to a misrepresentation of the value of a tweeter’s brand.

Equipped with my newfound awareness of the ideal TFF Ratio, and the potential meaning behind measurements that deviate from the targeted 1:1 follower-following rate, I decided to use this information to see what it might tell me about a local business for which I am considering becoming a client. I have been researching the Ottawa tattoo industry quite a bit lately, primarily because I am in the market for some new body art. A local tattoo business that has attracted my attention is Railbender Studio Ottawa. The business has an extensive social media presence from which to gather information about its operations and services: in addition to Twitter, it is on Facebook, Instagram and Vimeo, and appears to be making a concerted effort to engage with consumers and other businesses. I was curious to see how the general feedback Railbender Studio has received from social media users compares or contrasts with what its TFF Ratio suggests about its value as a brand.

As of the date of publication of this post, Railbender Studio (@rbenderstudio) has 1,022 followers, and is following 1,404 other Twitter users [11]. This leaves the business with a TFF Ratio of 0.73 – a ratio that would be considered negative, though only falling 0.02 outside of the ideal range suggested by Schaffer. Despite the fact that this suggests that there is room for improvement for the Railbender Studio brand, the business boasts a five-star rating through Facebook reviews, and its Instagram follower-to-following ratio actually measures at 1.8 – beyond what would be considered ideal for Twitter [12]! A quick review otherwise suggests that Railbender Studio is appropriately engaged with other users on Twitter (i.e., following legitimate businesses and professionals), while having contributed 1,147 tweets to promote its products and other initiatives as a tattoo studio, art gallery and local business all in one.

Although the Railbender Studio example represents only one case study, it does leave me to wonder if experts are relying too heavily on the TFF Ratio for cues about an individual user’s or brand’s worth? Also, it begs the question, “Should we prioritize quantity over quality when it comes to our social media relationships?”

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Smith, Craig (26 February 2016). “By The Numbers: 170+ Amazing Twitter Statistics”. Digital Stats/Gadgets. Retrieved from: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/march-2013-by-the-numbers-a-few-amazing-twitter-stats/

[2] From http://tffratio.com/Default.aspx.

[3] Stephen, Carol (14 May 2013). “Twitter By The Numbers”. Your Social Media Works. Retrieved from: http://yoursocialmediaworks.com/twitter-by-the-numbers

[4] Carlson, Nicholas (13 April 2011). “The Real History of Twitter”. Business Insider. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-twitter-was-founded-2011-4

[5] Siegler, MG. (26 August 2009). “Twitter’s Golden Ratio (That No One Likes To Talk About)”. TechCrunch. Retrieved from: http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/26/twitters-golden-ratio-that-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

[6] Schaffer, Neal (26 August 2015). “Twitter Followers vs Following: What is the Ideal Ratio?”. Maximize Social Business. Retrieved from: http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/twitter-followers-following-quality-or-quantity-807/

[7] Stephen, Carol (14 May 2013). “Twitter By The Numbers”. Your Social Media Works. Retrieved from: http://yoursocialmediaworks.com/twitter-by-the-numbers

[8] Siegler, MG. (26 August 2009). “Twitter’s Golden Ratio (That No One Likes To Talk About)”. TechCrunch. Retrieved from: http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/26/twitters-golden-ratio-that-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

[9] Schaffer, Neal (26 August 2015). “Twitter Followers vs Following: What is the Ideal Ratio?”. Maximize Social Business. Retrieved from: http://maximizesocialbusiness.com/twitter-followers-following-quality-or-quantity-807/

[10] Ibid.

[11] Statistics as of 6 March 2016.

[12] Based on these statistics as of 6 March 2016: 1,391 followers; following 769 users.

Social Media L’ink’ages and the Resurrection of a Tattoo Industry Website

While surfing the Internet in search of material for my previous blog post, “Is Social Media Behind that Rethink on Your ‘Ink’?”, I stumbled upon a fantastic, homegrown online forum called Tattoo Hero (http://tattoohero.com/). Created in 2012, it was partly designed to offer cloud software functionalities to facilitate the running of tattoo business’ operations [1], but beyond that, to connect local tattoo artists and shops with potential customers [2] and otherwise provide a reputable platform for sharing artist profiles, articles and blog posts, images, photos, videos and other content of interest to tattoo enthusiasts [3] via the Internet. As a burgeoning online gathering place, Steve Tannahill – CEO and one of the founders of the Tattoo Hero website – viewed the tool as filling a critical communication gap for the tattoo industry:

Without actually knowing someone directly associated with an artist or having someone mention an artist, it’s kind of hard to discover them. You can’t simply do an Ottawa Instagram search for tattoo shops and then all these tattoo shops show up. We’re trying to streamline that process so that it’s a little easier for someone who is really new to tattooing or doesn’t have friends who get tattoos to discover the artists [4].

As a product, Tattoo Hero was therefore envisioned as a “a niche social network” that would offer otherwise offline tattoo artists a discoverable web presence [5] and enable “people to share their tattoo stories the way they would with people in person” [6]. In other words, it was seemingly designed to function as a social media platform.

Intrigued upon my discovery of the website, I wandered down the rabbit hole and found myself immersed in more information than I could have ever imagined would be revealed by one resource about the Ottawa-Gatineau tattoo scene. I was originally inspired by my Tattoo Hero findings to report back on the types of linkages the forum was helping to forge among individual artists and businesses across the city. However, when I recently attempted to revisit my newfound information gateway, I unexpectedly encountered an “error” message and faced the harsh reality that my Tattoo Hero rabbit hole had vanished. Puzzled, and panicked by the fact that I was unable to retrace my steps back into the website to complete my research, I started browsing through online content about the product to see if I could gain any explanation for its disappearance.

Beyond several articles detailing the web platform’s genesis and rise to fame, I found nothing to suggest that the website had gone defunct. Yet aside from those news stories, all that remained as evidence of its existence were Tattoo Hero corporate social media profiles and records of the business’ activities on the various platforms utilized by the Tattoo Hero team. Interestingly, the conversations generated by the website’s corporate team via its social media presence struck me as having given rise to the type of information exchange the company’s product (i.e., the website) was itself intended to encourage and facilitate.

The product that is Tattoo Hero is arguably still alive and thriving by virtue of its social media legacy. Through its Instagram account, for example, Tattoo Hero is associated with 909 posts, has 3,966 followers and is following 854 users themselves – with material shared by them consistently focused on tattoo art, credit given to tattoo artists and tattoo business information provided on the sample of the images I reviewed. Tattoo Hero also has an open page on Facebook through which it again shares images of tattoo art with the 2,710 people who have “liked” the page in addition to random visitors such as myself. It likewise offers user posts and articles about local tattoo businesses, news about local events involving those businesses and their artists, and even information about international tattoo industry events. Tattoo Hero also appears to have been using its Twitter account (@tattoo_hero) in much the same way: it has shared 111 photos and videos, a public list it created on “Tattoo Conventions”, plus other information with its 1,453 followers through tweets and retweets on a variety of topics that would be of interest to tattoo professionals and enthusiasts; and has presumably done so by following 946 users itself. Beyond that, Tattoo Hero continues to live on through a LinkedIn profile (through which it has 110 followers), a Pinterest account (through which it has 14 boards, 263 pins, and 172 followers), and even a profile on AngelList – a crowdfunding service through which details can be gained about tattoo industry needs courtesy of the information shared about how Tattoo Hero functions [7].

Despite its digital legacy, the Tattoo Hero website itself (like many web products) remains irretrievable at the time of this post’s publication. Although it’s unclear exactly why the website can no longer be found on the Internet, the Tattoo Hero example demonstrates how businesses can offset the consequences of, say, technical glitches or basic information decay [8] through the active and strategic use of social media to market their products – especially if their goods and services include or involve web tools. At the end of the day, the question remains as to how a social media marketing campaign that outlives the product it was intended to promote impacts a business’ credibility among, and relevance to consumers. In my opinion, as much information as I gained about the tattoo industry thanks to Tattoo Hero’s social media presence, the website itself held considerable value for me as a convenient, single point of entry to the information I need and want as a consumer. I therefore remain hopeful that Tattoo Hero will be restored to life soon as a website, and resume its rightful place among the key web resources available for tattoo enthusiasts!

 

References:

  1. Etherington, Darrell (11 July 2013). Tattoo Hero Wants to Bring Tattoo-Seekers And Artists Together For Beautiful Results. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/11/tattoo-hero-wants-to-bring-tattoo-seekers-and-artists-together-for-beautiful-results/
  1. Draper, Cheryl (17 January 2013). Carleton Student Creates Award-Winning Online Forum for Tattoo Enthusiasts. Startup Weekend. Retrieved from http://ottawa.startupweekend.org/2013/01/17/carleton-student-creates-award-winning-online-forum-for-tattoo-enthusiasts/
  1. Traplin, Jen (28 May 2014). Looking to get inked? Ottawa startup Tattoo Hero aims to connect you with artists and shops. Metro News. Retrieved from http://www.metronews.ca/views/ottawa/backstage-pass/2014/05/28/looking-to-get-inked-ottawa-startup-tattoo-hero-aims-to-connect-you-with-artists-and-shops.html

4. Ibid.

  1. Tossell, Ivor (22 July 2013). Ottawa startup connects tattoo artists and ‘collectors’. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/startups/ottawa-startup-connects-tattoo-artists-and-collectors/article13324840/
  1. Etherington, Darrell (11 July 2013). Tattoo Hero Wants to Bring Tattoo-Seekers And Artists Together For Beautiful Results. Retrieved from http://techcrunch.com/2013/07/11/tattoo-hero-wants-to-bring-tattoo-seekers-and-artists-together-for-beautiful-results/
  1. All statistics included in this paragraph current to 21 February 2016.
  1. Chatfield, Tom (18 November 2014). The decaying web and our disappearing history. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120927-the-decaying-web

 

Is Social Media Behind that Rethink on Your “Ink”?

I was recently enjoying casual conversation with a friend when we found ourselves on the topic of tattoos. She described how she had been convinced that she wanted a very particular design tattooed on her arm, and had turned to various social media platforms such as Instagram, Flickr, Imgur and Pinterest for inspiration. But after encountering countless versions of “her” design subjected to endless commentary, unsavory ratings, and associated with individuals and communities with which she didn’t identify, she was ultimately turned off of her choice and had a complete change of heart. It appeared that social media held the power to completely influence and impact her buying decision as a consumer.

This prompted me to reflect on my one and only tattoo – an unanticipated souvenir from a summer vacation in Texas. While wandering the streets of Austin one scalding afternoon, I found myself seeking reprieve from the heat in an air-conditioned tattoo shop at the edge of the city’s 6th Street – heart of the “Live Music Capital of the World” [1]. Despite timidly toying with the idea of getting “inked” for years, my rock star fantasies somehow took over and propelled me into the chair of a tattooist that day – without any familiarity with his handiwork or stylistic specialties, and minimal time invested in selecting the permanent body art I would sport 10 minutes later. Until the conversation with my friend, I had enjoyed no regrets from this experience, and was happy to bask in the lingering afterglow of an impromptu-tattoo success story. However, my friend’s perspective left me wondering if I would remain as content with my purchase if I stepped out from the shelter of the offline world into the sea of public opinion online.

If by virtue of nothing more than its unique properties as a specialty product, a tattoo attracts attention, intrigues, and often invites scrutiny. My tattoo represents a common design, so I was confident that a few generic searches of the Internet would yield some commentary about it on popular microblogs, social bookmarking platforms, photo- and video-sharing sites, and even social networks. Not surprisingly, my instincts were correct, and the Web was teeming with social exchanges about my choice of tattoo. In “Tattoo Psychology: Art or Self Destruction? Modern-Day Social Branding”, Dr. Reef Karim reminds that,

Tattoos are a conversation starter… And the emotional response from the sight of tattoos leads to a modern-day version of social branding… You’re incredibly naïve or in total denial if you think your tattoos aren’t going to have a significant positive or negative influence on people who don’t know you well.

Whereas a tattoo purchase may have been controversial and handled with great discretion by previous generations, “…the industry has grown up in the decades since then…”, according to Mark Kwong, “…with popular perception of tattoo culture shifting to serious art movement from deviant behaviour” [2]. Karim further asserts that, “many people use tattoos to visually promote [emphasis added] their identity and/or group affiliation” [3]. In other words, what we are witnessing as a society is a trend towards unabashed encouragement of conversation about body ink.

When you add social media to this phenomenon – a convenient means for individuals to offer their opinions (solicited or not) to umpteen listeners at a time – you create a breeding ground for lasting relationships among like-minded people. For undecided consumers who lack product knowledge, or physical access to someone with it, it’s understandable how the networks formed by these online relationships can emerge as key reference groups in a buyer’s decision-making process. Yet how often do we, as consumers, question how or why we assign the value that we do to the opinions we encounter through social media? Do we automatically ascribe authoritativeness to online exchanges simply because they are published? And why shouldn’t we rely on user-generated content to feed us purchase evaluation criteria when it’s imbued with authenticity by its nature? I kept these questions in mind as I considered the range of feedback I uncovered on the Web about my own choice of body art.

It’s fair to say that social media led me to an overwhelming balance of both factual information and utterly subjective commentary on my tattoo design. On Twitter I discovered through a series of tweets that I share body art with the lead singer of a chart-topping young boy band; “re-tweets” and subsequent “likes” and hashtag nuances suggested the high popularity of his tattoo. My Pinterest findings suggested that arms or feet are the favoured location for my design rather than the placement I chose, and I took pride in how this spoke to my relative individuality as a consumer. Despite some disappointment at the realization that my tattoo is far less unique than I had envisioned it to be, and a few uncomfortable associations between it and a younger demographic, I would describe my social media findings as positive overall – and interestingly, reassuringly so.

My Texas tattoo purchase has long been made; nonetheless, the information I accessed on social media after-the-fact has had the power to influence how I now feel about that buying decision. In “Why the Tattoo Industry Should Care About Social Media Marketing”, Jie Zou emphasizes that the opportunity to mass-promulgate particular messaging about a product is a key reason why businesses like tattoo parlours should take interest in how social media impacts the consumer market. As I ponder the idea of getting a second tattoo, I must admit that I will likely refer to social media as part of my decision-making process as a consumer this time around. Knowing that an endless number of reference groups are only a click away, really, how can I resist?

References:

  1. http://www.austintexas.gov/resident/music
  1. Kwong, Mark. (19 September 2012).  Tattoo culture making its mark on millennials. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/tattoo-culture-making-its-mark-on-millennials-1.1149528
  1. Karim, Reef. (9 January 2013). Tattoo Psychology: Art or Self Destruction? Modern-Day Social Branding. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/reef-karim-do/psychology-of-tattoos_b_2017530.html
  1. Zou, Jie. (25 December 2014). Why the Tattoo Industry Should Care About Social Media Marketing. Get Better Life. Retrieved from http://www.getbetterlife.net/why-the-tattoo-industry-should-care-about-social-media-marketing/