Discussing Wolff’s “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet Springsteen Fans, the Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter”

This is where we’ll talk about Bill Wolff’s article “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet Springsteen Fans, the Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter.” This is kind of a complicated and long essay, and if you don’t get it all, that’s fine. (And if you have some specific questions about what’s going on here, feel free to ask). I think it’s worth taking a look at for a few different reasons:

  • There is lots of stuff in here about how social media works, how fan culture works, and how Twitter works that could be potentially useful for any of your final projects for the semester of social media.
  • The detail is perhaps a bit much for our purposes here, but the way that Wolff spells out his research methodology is interesting and potentially something the graduate students in the class might want to study. After all, a big part of making your MA projects work is figuring out a research methodology.
  • The “in situ” bit just means the way people use Twitter while actually involved at an event, and in my experience, this is a really important way people tend to use Twitter. So I thought that was pretty interesting as well.
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27 Responses to Discussing Wolff’s “Baby, We Were Born to Tweet Springsteen Fans, the Writing Practices of In Situ Tweeting, and the Research Possibilities for Twitter”

  1. Scott says:

    These are my hodgepodge thoughts associated with this really cool research article:
    It was interesting to see how Twitter has evolved to what it is now (toward a more conversational medium) in just ten years. Wolff talks about how fanzines where the precursor to fan-sites dedicated to bands or places like Twitter where people can talk about people and things they are fans of. These places allow fans to participate in a particular community revolving around common interests in meaningful ways.

    Wolf writes, “Twitter requires ‘users to learn new vocabularies, recognize the characteristics of new writing spaces that contain multiple symbiotic genres, reconceive of the relationships among multiple applications, and be able to transfer knowledge of functionality from one application to the next.'” This is an important observation and explained nicely. We do these sorts of “getting-to-know-you” inspecting/investigating work on websites without even thinking about it. We develop a relationship with a website based on what we are willing to learn about it and what abilities it can afford us.

    Wolff writes, “Music fandom is inextricably linked to analog and electronic technologies: grooved vinyl, cardboard album covers, film photography, radio waves, telephone lines, fiber optic cables, servers, computers, cell phones, apps, and so on.” It’s the same for me. When I listen to an album, my mind is transported into the world of the album cover, the music videos associated with the album, the advertisements leading to the record release, the news articles etc., in which the music and the images associated with it go hand in hand for me.

    I have not heard of grounded theory methodology before. For Wolff’s research it seems like a reasonable place to begin. In essence grounded theory seems to allow the qualitative data to shape the emerging theory. I like the process because there are no expectations, no digging for answers to fit a hypothesis. It seems fair and impartial; the results do the talking. I will certainly be looking more into grounded theory. It seems to be a good organizing methodology to categorize the kinds of things people say on social media, individually and conversationally.

  2. rachel says:

    I think this article has been the most helpful so far in helping me find the words that describe the “writing in social media” situation in academic terms. After being a part of various social media spheres for a while, it was a slight struggle for a while to be able to fully step back and properly name what was going on with writing within these spheres.

    In WRTG 424, we had discussed discourse and speech communities, so Wolff pegging twitter as a space where users can create community-specific discourses seemed apt and fit with what I’ve considered up to this point.

    I found Wolff’s use and description of Grounded Theory intriguing, as there seems to be a limitless supply of methodologies out there to apply to research and data, and yet it seems to hard to choose which methodology will work best with each research circumstance. Grounded Theory seems logical in the sense that the theory chosen to analyze the data results follows the trends that the data seemed to present. Although, the process of open coding that Wolff went over does seem like it would be an exhaustive device to use if the thing being examined was lengthy. To have 48 categories initially emerge is nothing to sneeze at.

  3. jmoss9 says:

    It is always fascinating to me to see that the more things change the more they stay the same. Twitter may be relatively new, but the fandom revolving around musicians like Bruce Springsteen has been around for several decades evolving from the old printed fanzines.

    The media has changed significantly, but the spirit of fandom is much the same. As Wolff says, “Fans are not passive consumers; they are active readers and sophisticated creators.”

    • Marianne says:

      That is a great statement. I think it applies to businesses more than they realize and demonstrates how Twitter is a way they can connect with their current or potential customers to develop a relationship that will gain more customers and keep the current ones loyal.

    • Steve Krause says:

      It’s also a good point about fandom being nothing new– as an aside here, I think that Wolff is as much as anything else interested in studying Bruce Springsteen in all kinds of various ways as is in studying Twitter. I think social media and internet stuff in general has helped foster a more intense version of this fandom though.

    • Joan Kwaske says:

      That’s a great point! For years, I had thought of “fandom” as being relatively new. It wasn’t until I took the Harry Potter class last term that I learned how old this really is- organized fanfiction beginning with Star Trek (I think).
      With the growth of social media, fan communities have certainly grown, especially given that it’s now more acceptable to be involved in them. Personally, I think this mostly boosts the quality of the communities. With more people to discuss their own perspectives and ideas, the faster those points can be addressed and analyzed.

      • jmoss9 says:

        The impact of Twitter and the internet in general has had an immeasurable impact on fandom in the sense of making it easier for like minded people to find each other and communicate with each other. What used to take months, for a fan to write and mail their messages to each other and then wait for an issue of a magazine to be printed and then write and mail in a response can now be done instantaneously between people from other sides of the globe. Knowing how easily it can all be done now it’s a wonder (and a testament to the devoted fans who managed to make it happen) that the fanzines of the past ever existed.

  4. ReneeG says:

    I love (like Jeff mentioned) how Wolff says: “Fans are not passive consumers; they are active readers and sophisticated creators.”

    Fans have something that have in a way always been around. And as time has passed and media has changed, so has the way that fans show their support. Twitter is a perfect example of this. It is another way for fans to keep up with who they like, and for the people to keep in touch with their fans.

    Rather than fandoms themselves changing, the way they show their love and support has. Social media, such as Twitter, has made it much easier for people to show their support for people and also gives members of a fandom all around the world a chance to connect.

    • Debra says:

      I agree with you that social media has allowed fans from all over the world to connect with each other. Before Internet apps like AOL and now Twitter, fans might only connect as part of local fan clubs or perhaps a nearby conference. Many fans now “meet” online, and then later meet in person at fan events or conferences.

    • aderengo says:

      I like how you brought up that fact that people still love and support different fandoms, but the way that they are doing it has changed. The advancements in technology over the years certainly has brought this about.

  5. LouiseWrites says:

    I found the most interesting part of the article(s) to be chapter chapter 5, “Corpus Characteristics”. Although I didn’t completely understand all of the steps of the data, I’m glad for his use of visuals and graphs to put his work into a more condensed and understandable format. Everyone has heard of the argument “social networks connect people,” though this graph reflected the idea that although people are connecting on a larger scale, it is not as significant as it sounds because people regularly shape their messages for smaller audiences by their choice of add-ons (ie: hashtags, @significantperson…).

    However, the author’s access to his archives puts him in a different position due to his ability to analyze all of the data as a whole. In my journalism class I learned how to process and create open and axial coding to understand whether specific news articles responded positively or negatively toward a certain subject, and therefore see the trends/bias of a certain time period. This is the first time I have ever seen the method being applied to social networks as opposed to professional journalism, and without having read Wolff’s analysis I would probably not have considered the study to be a worthy cause. Yet, it could be useful to see what types of conclusions could be drawn from using this grounded theory methodology, considering social media has had a much greater impact in shaping the minds of individuals that are battling with the influence of journalism and news networks.

    • Scott says:

      The visuals and graphs were very helpful in organizing the data he collected. To me it seemed like a lot of busy work compiling all of the data, analyzing, and giving it a shape. But visuals like that make all the information more understandable when comparing each aspect against others.

  6. aderengo says:

    This essay was an interesting read, and there are parts of it that I didn’t understand. It was very fascinating to see the way that Twitter has changed over time. It was interesting to see that he considers Twitter to be a fandom of sorts. While I never thought about Twitter in that way, I can see and understand his argument.

    In business we don’t think about Twitter as a fandom, but rather a tool where businesses can talk to and track what people are saying. If we were to consider it a fandom it works in the sense that people are fans of certain products, just like there are of certain people or groups. Businesses have a “fan base” but we call them our loyal customers. I guess it shows how different industries and people consider social media differently.

    • Marianne says:

      I think I have learned to think of it like you do, Amanda, and never really thought about studying it for other purposes, even the type of sarcastic humor we read about in one of the previous articles.

    • ReneeG says:

      I really relate to everything that you have said. I have always loved Twitter and it is something that I use daily for both work and personal use. Before reading this essay, I had never thought about Twitter as a fandom. Like you said, after reading this essay, I can understand his argument about it.

  7. Marianne says:

    I’ve done so much re-reading today, and commenting and reviewing that this article just kind of blends in with the others. I copied it and pasted it into a word doc and ended up highlighting most of it because I had never studied or heard of grounded theory approach. It sounds practical and reasonable and I loved hearing about the research approach he used and the process he went through to complete it.
    However, I mostly just keep going back to thinking about how long this reading was. It came out to over 50 pages on MS Word, after I took out the photos, made it single spaced, 12 pt font, no extra spaces, etc.
    After I got over the urge to cry when I saw how much I had to read, and just started doing the reading, I got into it and found it very interesting.
    Another of my initial thoughts was why he would bother analyzing Twitter noise, especially about one limited topic. Then I read where he says near the beginning:

    “I present composing practices as suggested by a grounded theory approach so fan writing on Twitter may begin to be understood on its own terms and not through pre-conceived (and often incorrect) notions about fans, fan writing, and writing on Twitter. Though scholars in rhetoric, composition, and technical writing (as well as fan studies) have started examining how various communities and individuals are composing on Twitter (for example, L. Bennett, 2014; Jones, 2014; McNely, 2010; Potts, Seitzinger, Jones, & Harrison, 2011), there is still much to learn. I hope my study helps close the knowledge gap, if ever so slightly, while also showing how grounded theory methods can be used to study new media texts to reveal nuances that might otherwise be missed.”

    Okay, I guess that’s a fair explanation for why it can be a worthy topic to study. They he talked about how “Twitter has evolved to become one of the most sophisticated hypertext writing spaces in social media.” I think that is really a true statement, although two years ago I would never have believed it.

    He goes on to say, “Upon its release in 2006, Twitter was a space for status updates and personal thoughts, not necessarily conversation. It certainly was not considered to be the public, real-time, distributed conversational (Costolo, 2013) multimodal communication space it has become, blending alphabetic text, hyperlinks, images, and videos.”

    I find this curious because in his results portion of the analysis he says that most of the posts were people “sharing” or “bragging” about being there and the people weren’t in conversations at all. Of course, he also says that the reception in the venue was bad and many people weren’t even able to Tweet until after the show, which may explain the lack of conversation.
    Anyway, as a method of evaluating, I think using grounded theory approach was valid.

  8. Jaclyn Y says:

    This article was kind of weird for me. Especially when the author broke down the 5 of the 18 categories of tweets that he studied. He addresses it later when he talks about how the tweets in the group he compiled were written for specific instances. He even states that “It is important to step back and remind oneself that each tweet was composed in situ in response to media events unfolding before the author’s eyes and with their explicit participation. ”
    In a way, tweets are isolated moments in time. Over the course of a few years, the user might remember the event that generated the tweet, but they may not remember the tweet itself. It’s a record of what people were feeling at that moment in time. When I think of that concept in relation to history, I start thinking that tweets during major moments in history (like the election for example) are a representation of what people are feeling. Many people tell me that they remember where they were and how they felt when 9/11 happened, but in 100 years there will not be people who remember these things. With Twitter and social media in general, the person does not need to be around to share their feelings about a moment in time. Hundreds of years in the future, historians will study tweets to gain a better understanding of our time period.

    • Steve Krause says:

      This reminds me of two things:

      * I think social media isn’t replacing the “where were you when ‘x’ happened” so much as factoring into it. So for example, I vividly remember where I was when I heard Osama bin Laden had been killed: I was reading Facebook and Twitter, because that’s where I heard about it first.

      * Institutions like the Library of Congress and the National Archives are already collecting lots of the stuff that public figures are posting on social media. Here’s an article about Obama’s social media usage and the transition plan for making his Twitter handle of @POTUS available to the next president: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/10/31/digital-transition-how-presidential-transition-works-social-media-age

      • Marianne says:

        I never would have thought about the need for a transition plan for @POTUS but that really makes sense.
        And I agree that it’s factoring into it and not replacing it. It is kind of awe-inspiring to think about all the data that is preserved for history on all different events happening now. I’d love to have seen the Tweets from when President Lincoln was shot or when the first color or audible motion pictures came out.

  9. Joan Kwaske says:

    It surprises me that anyone would want to go so in depth with Twitter and fan communities. To be honest, I found his conclusion that fans were sophisticated writers on Twitter to be… odd. I could understand this on other social media platforms, because fan communities can be extremely sophisticated with entire systems of intelligent discourse- yet, in my experience, Twitter is sort of the garbage void. Everybody throws out a few tweets, but because there is so little room for conversation (what can you really say in 140 characters?), it’s poorly formatted for serious discourse. More than anything, Twitter seems like a place to react. While fans may write a quick tweet to express how they feel about something, there doesn’t appear to be much analyzation. The other week, for instance, I scrolled through Twitter and learned that a certain character on The Walking Dead had been killed. Then, later, on Facebook and Tumblr, I actually learned a great deal about the character and the show as a whole, despite having never watched a single episode.
    Overall, the study was an interesting read, I just think Twitter is a tiny slice of fan communities that doesn’t really represent the whole.

    • Scott says:

      I’m not sure I agree with you that Twitter as a whole is a “garbage void.” I think there is room for conversations on Twitter. Though there is a 140 character limit, there is no limit to how many tweets you can make. Last week, Prof. Krause posted in the FWIW a link to a series of Tweets made by a guy who tells the story of his journey through Spain. There is a lot of intelligent discourse there and his story actually opens a conversation for people to share their personal stories of similar experiences or shared understanding of the topic. So I think it depends on what you are looking at. Twitter can be a space of throw away crap but it can also be a place where meaningful discourse can and should take place.

  10. jjwourman says:

    There were two points in this article that grabbed my attention. The first was Wolff’s discussion on using hashtags as ” expressions that reflect the emotional state of the author,” which “Alice R. Daer, Rebecca Hoffman, and Seth Goodman (2014) labeled these kinds of hashtags “metacommunicative tags.”

    I never knew there was a word for this, but I definitely use “metacommunicative tags” all the time — especially on Facebook. I started doing this because I noticed that sometimes when I would write a status I didn’t know how to directly express the emotion I was feeling behind a particular topic. By using hashtags, I found it easier to express myself and when I did people responded in similar ways, using hashtags, emojis, and memes. It’s amazing to me how the use of these social platforms has expanded the ways people communicate with one another outside of plain text. I would be interested to read up on more articles that talk about “metacommunicative tags.”

    The second point that stood out to me in this article actually connects to the recent article we read on copyright laws. I am always mindful when re-tweeting a post I like to include a #repost” or “#RT” hashtag. This has to do with making sure you give credit to the original owner or author. Why is this important on social media sites?For me personally, being in academics for so long, I’ve learned the importance and seriousness of citing work, and that naturally flows over to my online habits.

    — Ja’La

    • swilso93 says:

      I totally agree! The use of emjoi’s is also a great way to use “metacommunitative tags.” When I can’t seem to find the direct statements or words of what to say, I can use emjoi’s or hashtags to express what I want to say. Sometimes I can’t find any words so I just use emjoi’s. Memes are very relate-able but I feel like some of them only fit a certain demographic or group of people.

  11. Debra says:

    I really like studying data, so I found the actual technical aspects of how he categoized the data to be fascinating. This is the first time I have seen tweets parsed to this level of detail. Very cool.

  12. swilso93 says:

    A point from this article that was interesting to me and made a lot of sense was the discussion on the use of hashtags. Hashtags are a great way to connect your posts to more people. They also are a way of expressing your point and how you feel when you can’t seem to convey it in another way. I don’t use my Twitter account very often, if at all, but I do use hashtags on my Facebook. I feel like it also gives me a persona to how I feel about certain things. Hashtags also help you find other people who have talked about the same or similar topics. As stated in the article, “Alice R. Daer, Rebecca Hoffman, and Seth Goodman (2014) labeled these kinds of hashtags “metacommunicative tags.” ”
    I use these metacommunicative tags all the time then. Never knew there was a word for it. I like how they described this term as well. It explained it well and was relate-able. “”Example Corpus Tweet
    “Bruce Springsteen concert! 🙂 #tooexcited #ahhhhhh”
    Here, hashtags are not classifiers; rather they are expressions that reflect the emotional state of the author.”

    • jmoss9 says:

      I was surprised to learn that Twitter did not officially adopt the hashtag until July 2009. I was always under the impression that Twitter originated the use of hashtags and I was somewhat familiar with the concept of it as a topic indicator long before I ever used Twitter.

      • Marianne says:

        Yeah, that surprised me, too. I remember telling my social media professor that I wasn’t interested in telling people every time I had to use the ‘loo so I never got on Twitter. That was just based on the stuff I heard about people’s tweets when it first came out.
        I think the use of hashtags was inspired and is invaluable to using it for businesses and events.

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