On “Influencing”: Notes toward a post

Posted by on Mar 7, 2016 in DH

Bolden Circus 1910As a PhD in training, should I be trying to become an influencer?

My thoughts on this matter germinated in 2012. I’d just completed English 507: Digital Literary Studies with Jentery Sayers at the University of Victoria and attended the Digital Humanities Summer Institute for the first time. I joined Twitter so that I could keep tabs on the myriad conversations about digital humanities that I had begun listening to, and I was starting to chime in.

Around this time, a former professor of mine “invited” me to sign up for the Klout app via Facebook. I’d just begun thinking about digital platforms and tools as arguments, and I wondered about the politics of Klout as I browsed the app’s features as best I could without signing up.

I’ll refrain from delving into Klout Konclusions just yet, but I’ll note that I was reminded of this social media moment a couple of weeks ago, when I came across a Twitter account with the handle “Digital_Humanities_rr.” The “rr” stands for Right Relevance, the name of an enterprising content curation startup. Right Relevance takes its cue from predecessors such as Klout to more elaborately capitalize on the culture of social media influencing. RR’s modus operandi is certainly not malicious. Its methods (showcasing the week’s most talked-of folks, links, and tweets) and underlying value hierarchy make sense for some online networks. However, RR seems politically insensitive when it pretends to serve academia through automated pages and Twitter accounts such as those it has generated for the digital humanities community.

Many astute scholars follow @Digital_Humanities_rr and, presumably, peruse RR’s generated webpages from time to time. So I wonder: is it naive to declare that such an app has no place in the online DH community? How important is social media influence to what twenty-first-century scholars do? Do social analytics tools like Klout and RR offer sufficient benefit to be useful? Or are the underlying values that their algorithms mobilize too crass?

I am skeptical of an app that filters humanities news based on who already has the loudest voice. Even so, I am more interested in my own Twitter statistics than I care to admit. And real social influence is important to how scholars network, collaborate, and gain recognition. In sum, this is a tricky issue that requires more nuanced attention at a future date.


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