What does it mean to settle into a class that is not limited to the people in the room?

This week we continue the “move in” process with our digital alchemy tools and networked course. And we continue to ask questions about the need to worry about a forecast climate of internet darkness.

Overheard On the Tubes

NetNarr as a Networked Class

The cluster of stars in our class galaxy are the individual blogs you entered the Labyrinthus to setup and connect to this web site. What does it mean after filling out the form?

It means the place you do most of your work is by writing and publishing in the blog you made for your own work. That means you own it in terms of content and appearance, and you can choose what to do with it later.

But a summary reference for everything you write in your blog (or indicate with a tag/category for blogs used for more than one purpose) gets collected on this site- either in the posts for Kean students or the ones for Open participants (or you can see the flow of all activity in one screen).

This is the place to go to scan activity, read for more, and also, to provide feedback to others via comments on their blogs.

Each listed summary links back to your own blog for those who wish to read your thoughts. So this is a way to see the latest activity across the participating groups. It might be worth seeing the work of previous Kean students in 2018 or 2017 as well as open particioants 2018 or 2017.

You can also see a list of all “alchemy notebooks” for both Kean students and Open participants, where you can see the blog, a view of syndicated posts, twitter, and hypothes.is activity for each digital alchemist.

Seeing Patterns in Twitter

Like other social media, activity in twitter is most typically seen in the order of most recent, or what the algorithms of the platform “decide” you would like to see. We will use some tools to see how we can get a more insightful view of our activity, via the everything that happens in twitter using the #netnarr hashtag.

That link alone is worth saving somewhere, the way to see the latest activity. A tweet there now is near the top, but will disappear soon down the timeline, but gets us to see our Twitter Community Visualized:

The Twitter TAGS tool is something we use (and you can too) that collects and archives twitter activity in a Google Spreadsheet but also provides a number of visualizations and ways to get more understanding of activity around a hashtag. Explore it now.

Can you see what the size of dots means? The lines? Why are some dots isolated? What kind of information can you learn when clicking any of the dots? Can you find yourself in the visualization? Why or why not?

if you look again at the listings of participants for Kean students and Open participants, after the link for the twitter account is one to one for “See in TAGS explorer”.

This allows you to see the twitter for one participant, for example one of our most consistent Open Participants @dogtrax. What does his activity look like?

For this week, once your blog and twitter accounts are connected to the site, take a screenshot of your initial “place” in this network. Use it in your first blog post, and maybe forecast how it will change over time.

If you are new to twitter, you’ve not done much or anything to have you appear in this mix.

Let’s change that.

Tweeting Responses to Digital Daily Alchemies

A recent DDA “What is This?”

Like other healthy habits– teeth brushing, exercise, vitamins– creative skills can grow by regular small acts of … making digital stuff. Each morning at 8:00 AM EST the Daily Alchemy site posts a new challenge (and it will be tweeted by @netnarr so make sure you follow that account).

They are meant to be something you can do in maybe 20 minutes or less. it might be doing a photograph, writing a short poem, mashing up images, making an animated GIF. You are not graded or judged on your artistic chops, in fact more important is how creative you are in interpreting the challenge. There is no wrong way to do it.

The way you respond to a Daily Alchemy is via twitter. Because of some web alchemy, we are able to collect all the responses by hashtag (for example see all responses to #dda224). The magic requires the following:

  • You must include @netnarr in your tweet (the #netnarr tag is optional)
  • You must include the hashtag associated with each Daily (e.g. #dda224)
  • Patience. It takes up to an hour to get found.

Sometimes your response will fit in a tweet; sometimes you will tweet a picture or a link. Sometimes you may have to write more, so you can use your blog to write a response and tweet that as a web link.

You do not have to do DDAs the same day published, you can go back and do ones you missed. And you do not have to do them all (but if you are competitive, we do have a leaderboard). Our Kean University students will have a certain number to do each each week, depending on their choice for a contract grade.

If you have an idea for a new Daily Alchemy, we have a place for you to slip in under the laboratory door.

Kean students will do #dda245 in class, so please contribute some responses earlier for them to see. Keep an eye on the #netnarr hashtag as we do this DDA. Experiment with replying to another participant.

Then later, return to the #Netnarr Twitter Explorer and see if your actions have made a difference in how you are represented in the graph.

Dressing Up Your Twitter

For those new to twitter, this is a good time to look at the ways you can personalize your twitter profile page (refer also to the Twitter help center documentation).

You might want to look at:

  • Customize your twitter screen name This is the way people refer to you. On new twitter accounts, they typically create one for you based on your name and some random numbers. Maybe you want to pick a different identity? Or develop more of an alchemist persona? While logged into your account, you can access your screen name settings and pick a new @way to be on twitter. If you change your screen name, let @cogdog or @netnarr know by sending a tweet with their handle so we can update your entry on the NetNarr web site.
  • Edit your profile Go to your profile to select/change your avatar/icon image, a background image for the profile page, the way your name is displayed (again you do not have to put your actual name, create an identity), your location (optional, feel free to enter “The Internet”), and a public bio.

Into the World of Annotation

We asked you to create accounts with the web annotation tool Hypothes.is but what can you do with it? This next experience will hopefully make it more clear how you can use a shared note taking / commentary layer above the web itself. This is going deeper with digital alchemy!

Speaking of alchemy, that is what we will be exploring with annotation. In the past, we conducted a public twitter chat to do this but we are interested in seeing how we can have a discussion via annotation tools.

Here is how it works.

We are anchoring our discussion on The Alchemy Notes page on this site. That is really the jump off point for having a discussion about the meaning of alchemy, and we hope to have some outside participation by some expert guests.

This page is already set up to work with Hypothes.is- you can tell because of the < tool button on the top right of the screen.

The tell tale sign that hypothes.is is enabled, the “<” button in the top right.

Opening the Hypothes.is tool, you should see a few notes already there. You can reply to them like a comment.

Then return to the main page. Look for the yellow highlight marks that indicate where others have added notes- click the text to reveal the annotations. Or select any text to anchor your own annotation and start a new set of notes, comments.

Our goal is to ask and answer questions so we all have a better understanding of the history and meaning of alchemy. Use Hypothes.is as both a way to have conversations in the margins of web pages, but also to add ideas, questions, criticisms.

And for an added level of interest, explore this visualization of the activity on our Alchemy Annotation.

On Blogging

Whether you are new to blogging or have some experience in other classes, or on your own, we have some some info to help you blog the “netnarr” way, as well as a guide for being a helpful commenter.

How to Blog Like a Digital Alchemy Champion - You have set up your blog, connected it to this site, and maybe now you are staring at the empty composition screen. What do you do? There is no shortage of web sites, books, articles with tips on how to write blog posts. Many are wrapped in goals of branding and growing readership. We are more interested in seeing you write reflectively about your learning. Listen to ds106 students discuss what their blog means to them and how they relate […]
On Constructive Commenting - Comments. They are some of the magic sauce of a connected blogging community that knits participants together. Writing comments is not that difficult to do, but in the rush of all the activity, creativity, connectivity, it sometimes gets lost in the rush. Plus, to give a good comment you need to closely read someone else’s work. Constructive comments are utterly valuable because they are like the gift of conversation. And time. What is a constructive comment? It should be more […]

We also strongly suggest that you  organize your weekly summary posts with a Weeklies tag, label or category. This does two things, it organizes them in one place on your blog, but also, we get our own network effect to connect and see everyone’s weekly reflections. In general, you might want to consider a strategy for organizing your blog posts in a way that’s meaningful to you.

As you practice and refine your blog writing alchemy, remember the levels of performance from your grade contract. Your blog posts should not only share what you did, but also how and why behind the work. It should show your process and your thinking. Think of it as much writing to yourself as to anyone else.

When you share your work such as your tweets for Daily Digital Alchemies or your Hypothes.is annotations, an Alchemy Champion post will include some additional thoughts about how you came up with your responses, and if they at all connect to other topics we are discussing or people in the network.

Mostly, share what you learned or what thoughts, worries, ideas came out of our readings and discussions. What caught your attention? What generates a reaction? What worries, scares, excites you?

On the Darkness


..darkness.. flickr photo by frank_hb shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Your instructors seem to think and talk about the darkness of our online digital spaces. Do not just believe them! This course is an opportunity for you to interrogate and investigate this suggestion.

Do you ever feel odd about seeing ads in Instagram/Facebook/other sites for items you’ve looked at elsewhere online? How does that work? Is it just weird, creepy?

If you are a Facebook user, how much do you pay for their service? In 2017 Facebook made a profit of almost $16 billion dollars— how can a company that does not charge for their service make that much money?

You may conclude that it’s just advertising that pays for many of the things that are free on the internet. But the way it works has grown much more complex than the first simple web banner ads.

You might hear the expression, if it’s free online you are the product. This has led to 2019 being in the era of what Shoshana Zuboff coined as surveillance capitalism.

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”

But it’s more than shady ways to make money, we are talking about the possible manipulation of our political system, e.g. the Cambridge Analytica use of Facebook data to target voters with advertising that may have influenced the 2016 Presidential election.

And it’s not even stealing–

The first issue is our misunderstanding of consent. Kogan’s data-scrape may have been unethical, but he didn’t steal the data from those that used the app – they gave it willingly. When you use a social media platform you, by definition, are publishing your private life. More so, you effectively sell your private life on an open market through giving your consent for it to be monetised by that platform.

But enough talk, let’s consider some examples of this. Two years ago, educator Chris Gilliard @hypervisible on twitter (who we met last year in our unit on digital redlining) put out a call on twitter for what sounds like hard to believe acts of surveillance by technical companies (read more about this in There Are No Guardrails on Our Privacy Dystopia).

The thread (follow the link to view in twitter) of responses contains hundreds of examples that might make you see the darkness. During class, find one that catches your attention, that seems the most unbelievable. How much can you learn about it? Share what you find in a tweet and mention @hypervisible in your tweet. He very likely might respond.

Do you see any darkness on your horizon?

Alchemy at Home Checklist

These are the things to do to this week. Kean students should complete this by end of the day Sunday.

  • Submit your response to the grading contract. For Kean students the link for completing your contract was shared in class or is available from your instructors.  Open participants are welcome to edit the open grading contract and/or devise one of their own.
  • DDAs. Complete at least two Daily Digital Alchemies by responding to @netnarr in twitter. Include a summary of what you did, where your ideas came from in your weekly reflection.
  • Accounts & blogs. You are expected to have your blog set up (and publishing) this week, as well as having some activity completed in Twitter and Hypothes.is – we will be using all of these each week. Look for other digital alchemists to start following in twitter.Get in the habit of reading other alchemist blogs (see Kean student posts and open participant posts) and add a constructive comment to at least one other blog post.
  • Darkness Investigation. Read up and investigate an item you selected from the @hypervisible twitter thread on examples of technology surveillance that seem far fetched. Share what you found in twitter and in your weekly summary.
  • Weekly Blog Summary.  Each week Kean University students must post to their blog a summary of their activities for the week by end of the day Sunday. Do more than just describe and list the items above; reflection means expanding on what these activities mean, where you have questions, what you connect them to.Make sure you use a “weeklies” category/tag/label for these posts. And use links in your reflection to connect readings/videos you are talking about, or perhaps, to link to your own work completed on other web sites (e.g. the Daily Digital Alchemies). Review again the suggestions for How to Blog Like a Digital Alchemy Champion.


Are you seeing the internet any differently? (“No” is okay, it’s for you to answer)

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Featured Image: Pixabay image by StockSnap shared into the public domain using Creative Commons CC0.

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Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person. A 1990s pioneer on the web and early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at CogDogBlog.com. His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet.

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