The Utility of Various Social Networking Tools for Archaeology

I’ve written a bit about this before, covering twitter for conferences, flickr for outreach, facebook for conferences, youtube for calls for papers, etc. I strongly believe in the DIY ethic, meaning that I believe archaeologists should both provide their own content for media and learn how to produce the media themselves.  Social networking and digital media production tools make this relatively easy, and the growing ubiquity of blogs of various stripes shows that more archaeologists are becoming comfortable with self-publishing and digital outreach.  I should probably develop this into a longer article at some point.

Blogs – LJ/Blogspot/Wordpress/hosting your own blog – It seems like we’re very quickly hitting critical mass with dig blogs, group blogs, personal blogs, organizational blogs, and news blogs. William Caraher covered this pretty well last January.  My own experience in keeping a personal/professional blog (hey, since 2002) and attempting a series of blogs on all of the above platforms has met with varied levels of success. Academic/class blogs are never all that successful. Students will contribute if they are specifically required to, but will not read their classmates posts or comment on them in a meaningful way. Group blogs are difficult unless there is one person in charge who nags everyone else to post. Most of the problems come with personal investment–is there a reason for someone to blog on the group blog versus self-publishing? There are also a lot of blogs that are islands–the contributors post to that main blog, but do not read or respond or link to other blogs who may have discussed the same issues in the past.  It can be difficult, indeed the number of archaeology blogs is rapidly expanding and it’s occasionally difficult to figure out who posted what first, but it’s important to know the genre that you’re writing in. The blogs that I find the most useful and interesting generally reflect what the person is doing at the time, or discuss archaeological topics in a meaningful way.

Flickr/Picasa – I find Flickr immensely fun and useful–perhaps even moreso than other social networking types.  I love posting photos, getting feedback, and curating the groups that I’m in charge of. I like seeing what my friends post and the archaeology photos present on Flickr have inspired a forthcoming book proposal. Sadly, it seems that many people join Flickr, post a lot of photos, refine their technique, then start posting infrequently, as their standards are raised so high that only one out of several hundred photos are “good enough” to post on Flickr. Some people also seem to struggle with the interface.  I highly recommend using Flickr Uploadr, which is a program that you can use to sort and tag your photos to get them ready to upload, then uploads them in a batch.  This is especially useful for those of us who work on projects with inconsistent internet access. That said, the participation on an institutional level, such as dig-based or company-based Flickr streams are one of the best (and easiest) forms of outreach. Adding tags, descriptions and posting the photos to groups is a great way to gain visibility for your site. It’s also easy to post a “widget” to your blog that shows your most recent Flickr photos.  I have one, if you scroll down far enough.

Picasa is the Google-based photo-sharing social network. I resisted at first, but I’ve found Picasa useful for more group or class project oriented photo galleries. Picasa provides a finer control for photo permissions, and I’ve uploaded photos there that I’ve needed to share with a few specific people, but not generally. For instance, I have a pretty giant Catalhoyuk illustration file on Picasa that I will be using as reference for more Second Life student building that I do not share more generally.

Facebook/Myspace/Ning – When people turn their noses up at Facebook, I simply tell them that I’ve been invited to speak at conferences and have organized major archaeology meet-ups (WAC Dublin!) using Facebook. I find it incredibly useful to keep up with people that I’ve excavated with, met at conferences, and even other archaeology bloggers.  I also use it to post notices about different blog posts, flickr updates, and conference CFPs. I’ve already posted about how to use it in a pedagogical context, and how to handle your students more generally in that context. I don’t really use myspace anymore, and Ning…I just don’t see the use of a social network for archaeologists only.  I think it’s important to be visible out in the world, and it’s not that difficult to find other archaeologists on Facebook. Ideally we would all use an open-source, academically-oriented non-profit solution (with NO quizzes!) but that does not seem immediately forthcoming. Academic.edu and Linkedin are okay for hosting your CV, but are of limited utility otherwise.

Twitter/Tumblr – I experimented with using twitter at the Stanford TAG, and I’ve subscribed to a few archaeology twitter feeds, but I still have pretty mixed feelings about the format.  I generally do not care to get 140-word updates about news items or excavations. Chatting with other archaeologists (and friends!) about the airports we are in seems to be the limit of twitter functionality for me.  I can also see it being used as a discussion forum during conference presentations and I hope that we’ll be able to provide that at the Berkeley TAG in 2011. It is an excellent tool for massive collective action or for keeping people apprised of unfolding events, but is of limited utility in the day-to-day outside of my immediate circle of friends.

I use Tumblr for general internet meanderings, and I quite like it. It’s informal easy to use, and more my speed than del.icio.us or other link lists. If you’re like me, then you come across all kinds of wonderful things while doing research, and I see tumblr as a way to catch all of the chaff that is thrown into the air that I can’t necessarily use, but want to remember for later. It’s the most personal of all of these tools, and reflects most directly what I’m doing at the time.

Youtube/Vimeo/Etc – Video is one of the most undeveloped arenas of archaeological research, especially video shot and edited by archaeologists.  Youtube is a pretty good venue for sharing these videos, but the networking aspects are weak, and the youtube encoding is poor for details. Vimeo is more isolated, with slightly better encoding, but is not extremely useful for the “stumble upon” audience. Everything should be posted on Youtube first, and then other hosting sites second.

5 responses to “The Utility of Various Social Networking Tools for Archaeology

  1. I’ve used a combination of Twitter, a Facebook fan page, blog, and Flickr to communicate in a variety of ways with the public about excavations being performed in our community (in this case, at Michigan State University’s campus). Since they can all be integrated together, such as Twitter updates doubling as status updates, blog entries being sent to Facebook, flickr galleries everywhere, it isn’t tricky to maintain.

    Facebook and Twitter have been the most interesting…since I have the luxury of being within the 3G network at my sites, I am able to take photos of units, profiles, walls, and artifacts as they happen, post them on Twitter and Facebook, describe them, and interact with people who follow. I get questions, possible interpretations, and other such comments from people who aren’t at the site. The director of our program follows, and makes suggestions for next steps. It has been pretty succesful thus far.

    http://campusarch.wordpress.com will lead you to all these fun places, if you’re interested!

  2. Very cool, thank you for sharing!

  3. Hi Colleen,

    Good post, thanks. I agree with you that facebook is a useful tool for keeping in touch with colleagues and new people you meet. Unfortunately though, for me this functionality was completely undermined by those silly applications, quizzes and games you are almost constantly bombarded with. I deleted my account earlier this year because of this and some other more minor issues I had (such as the advertising!)

    Personally, I enjoy Twitter a great deal more because of the uncluttered interface and the ease with which you can meet completely new people without first having met them in person. It’s not as popular as facebook is (at least not in Australia where I am based), however I think it will become very popular here because it is so simple.

    The only other social networking tool I use is Digg, which is fantastic; their rss feed for ‘science’ and ‘news’ pumps out some really good quality stories from the popular press. I share your concerns about Ning, there was an archaeology group I looked at a while ago that seemed very dodgy in my view, so I’ve subsequently steered clear of it. Google Wave is getting a lot of publicity at the moment, though I’m not completely sure what it is yet!

  4. Pingback: Wednesday Round Up #72 « Neuroanthropology

  5. Damn, that sound’s so easy if you think about it.

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