Print Project Update: Digital Folklore on TikTok

Since my proposal, my print project has changed a good deal. As I did further research, and I realized that while there certainly is folklore on Reddit, much of my interests showed examples that seemed to limit the capacity of users to partake in folklore practices or create legends. For example, the r/nosleep subreddit has an extensive set of rules, which require viewers to only post original stories, never break character in the subreddit comments section, etc. which fundamentally limits the process of creating and sharing a legend. As a result, I aimed to find what I thought was an incredibly current, viral example of folklore in action: the Randonautica app and the subsequent TikTok trend that grew out of a gruesome Randonautica story.

For my project, I have been evaluating the user video creation and response to Randonautica on TikTok, placing this phenomenon as a case study for the theoretical concepts discussed in digital folklore and digital ethnography. I have tracked the most popular TikTok videos that follow the randonaut adventures of users, looking at views, likes, and comments, as well as mainstream responses through articles and other forms of social media, to understand the impact of User-Generated Content (UGC) on the capability for folklore to spread quickly, powerfully, and ultimately for a very short amount of time (as it seems to be for all TikTok trends).

Please find a draft of this paper attached below, and let me know your thoughts!

Interactivity in Practice: Practicum 4/7

In our lifetimes, video games and play have become a fundamental piece of popular culture and, as a result, a powerful tool for learning. For this week’s practicum, I will be looking at examples of video games, game editors, and interactive applications, including the ARIS Editor, Smithsonian’s Will To Adorn, and the game Do I Have the Right?

ARIS Editor:

ARIS Editor is a game creation site that, rather than requiring a software download, can be used on any device with Flash. The Editor is a part of the larger ARIS project, an open-source software project with source code fully available to the public.

There are three sections to the ARIS project: the Editor, the Server, and the Client. Essentially these are the places you create your game, the place your game “lives,” and the app through which users can play your game. The login and initial game creation (which simply requires a name) is easy. However, for users not used to the interface, the setup might be a little confusing.

The interface opens on a blank screen with a set of tabs at the top listing: Scenes, Locations, Quests, Conversations, Media, AR Targets, Notebook and Game Settings. In each tab there is a sidebar with “Game Objects.”

https://manual.arisgames.org/tutorials/getting-started

To start, you have to create a scene. While you can create multiple scenes, it is easiest to learn ARIS within a single scene. From here, the creator can add objects and triggers.

Objects are the items you want players to see and interact with inside the game, while Triggers are the avenue through which users access an object (i.e. most objects you create will require a trigger).

There are different trigger types that can be used in the ARIS editor: Location, QR Code, and Sequence. Two of these are rather obvious: location means when someone is at a certain location physically, and QR codes that require people to scan the codes to access the object (good for inside spaces or something more intricate, like a museum exhibit). Sequence triggers are triggers that allow an object to “appear” for a viewer once they have taken another specific action within the game that you choose as the catalyst for your object to appear. This type of trigger requires Locks (another type of game object).

https://manual.arisgames.org/tutorials/getting-started

Other objects include:

  • Plaques: a virtual plaque that offers information to the user
  • Locks: locks are “the logical glue you can use to give your games structure.” They allow any trigger or other items to be locked, giving your game a literal narrative and progression.
  • Conversations: Created conversations between your user and characters/places in the game
  • Items/Attributes: Objects your users can collect, or that you can give them after certain triggers.
  • Webpages: exactly what you would expect, webpages embedded into the game experience that open with a trigger

These objects can incorporate media, and a series of objects and triggers can be incorporated into different “quests” created in the editor.

While this editor certainly comes with a learning curve, it is a good entry point for people who have no experience creating a game or who have no coding skills. I do think that the website would pull in more users if they found a way to make the interface a little more tangible and user friendly. There is a lot of terminology that doesn’t explain itself within the interface at all, and it was difficult to visualize what something might look like in gameplay based on the interface experience.


The Will to Adorn:

Will to Adorn is a research and public presentation project created by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. The project represents the work of scholars and cultural practitioners to explore the aesthetics of African American identities as represented through artistic expression of the body, dress, and adornment. While there have been various programs and papers associated with this project, the project primarily lives on the Will to Adorn website and app.

Unfortunately, the website itself has been stripped down to not include all of the items it previously held, including some of the Research Tools, Field Notes, Events, etc. However, it still offers some resources with their research guide and access to contacts users can reach out to for questions.

https://willtoadorn.si.edu/

The app is also still running, and functions in two ways:

  1. Users can tell their story. You offer the app basic information about your age, gender, etc. and then choose a question to answer. Once you have chosen a question, you create an audio recording of your answer that is submitted to the app.
  2. Users can listen to stories from other users and from fieldwork about dress and adornment.

The website and app are great examples of how digital tools can expand the reach and impact of a project, but it does also offer a lesson in terms of the longevity of the project. Perhaps upkeep on the site, for example, would allow for users to continue the project.

Do I Have A Right?

iCivics, a nonprofit organization created by Sandra Day O’Connor, works to promote civics education and encourage youth involvement in active citizenship. To do so, they create lesson plans and educational video games like “Do I Have A Right?”

The game allows students to run their own firm, focused specifically on constitutional law. The more cases won for each client, the more your law firm grows.

In the game, users have the option to play either the “Full Edition” or the “Bill of Rights Edition,” i.e. the cases you receive are only about the original 10 amendments. For this practicum, I decided to play the Bill of Rights Edition.

The game then takes you to create your avatar; I would say there was general success in using inclusive practices by iCivics, including avatars of multiple races and genders, as well as add on options of glasses or a wheelchair.

You then pick a partner and open your firm, with the aim to match cases with lawyers who specialize in the relevant amendment. Each potential client that walks in must be evaluated by the user, who decides whether or not the case is an infringement on the person’s rights. The game should ultimately help students gain a better understanding of their rights, and how they are protected by the judicial system. Overall, I found this game very engaging, while also remaining simple enough in design to allow for learning. However, some of the time constraints that make the game feel “high stakes” does prevent users from fully reading into each amendment.

Folklore and the Fear Factor: The Evolution of Legends in the Era of Reddit

In the era of technology, modern medicine, and science, the concept that people still believe in, share, and adhere to folklore might sound absurd. Take, for instance, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The story of a colorfully dressed rat catcher, hired by the town of Hamelin, who plays his flute, entrancing the pests and leading them out of the town. When the town refused to pay for his services, however, the Piper used his flute to lure a new set of victims: the town’s children. Lured by his tune, the children left town and vanished never to be seen again. By today’s standards, this story sounds more than a little odd, the type of tale that would be unlikely to pass the test of time as it once did. However, if you dig more deeply into that story, a truth unfolds.

Pied Piper of Hamelin rendition, copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hamelin.

While the rats were a later addition to the story, one common truth remained: a stranger came to town, and left with the children. In 1227, approximately 50 years prior to the story in Hamelin, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark fought in a battle that pushed back Danish borders. Colorfully dressed Roman salesmen, often called “locators,” travelled the land to find skilled men and women to move north to protect the Empire’s new borders. For obvious reasons, this was a hard sell. For towns like Hamelin, losing skilled laborers could put the town at risk. As a result, it was common practice to sell or give away children to this cause when locators came into town. For Hamelin, the tracing of surnames to new towns proves the less savory version of this folktale: a town made the collective decision to sell their children to locators to ship off to new towns. From there a collective story was constructed as a way to cope with their actions for years to come, and the Pied Piper was born.

Much like those that came before us, humans still tell stories to make sense of the world. Most especially, we continue to be drawn in by stories of tragedy, of what hides in the dark, or what steals our children. Our modern legends can be traced in figures such as the Slender Man. Slender Man, an unnaturally thin and tall humanoid creature, is said to stalk, abduct, and traumatize it’s victims, usually children or young adults. His story began on the Something Awful forum, with a couple of doctored photos, but those on the forum (and on other forums, such as Reddit and 4chan) began adding narrative and visual art, building a mythos of Slender Man.

The legend increased in popularity, showing up first in video games, blending into traditional popular culture, and then movies. Unfortunately, much of this limelight was a result of a 2014 tragedy, when two 12 year old girls lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her as an “offering” to Slender Man. Their actions, as awful as it may seem, continue to show the pervasive power of folklore in the modern era.

Film poster for Slender Man Movie, released 2018

While the original Slender Man story proliferated on a pre-Reddit site, there is little doubt that Reddit has become a breeding ground for modern day folkore. Subreddits such as r/creepypasta, r/nosleep, r/letsnotmeet, and more have acted as a space for entire communities built around the purpose of creating, sharing, and commenting on scary stories.

For now, my primary question remains: when we compare these stories against more traditional folklore, what role does a medium such as Reddit or TikTok play in the creation and proliferation of folklore? And in the era of science and technology, are we somehow more beholden to these stories than ever before?

In my project, I am hoping to explore some of the most popular subreddits and examples of modern folklore, examining how the medium of social media plays a part in the creation and proliferation of folklore. Without our knowledge, have these stories become even more important to our societies than the folktales we believe we have left behind?

For now, I will look at examples such as Slender Man (and other creepypasta figures) and trends such as Randonautica to track how they show up in social media (most likely using tools such as Voyant, Google n-gram, and topic modeling programs where possible). From there, I will attempt to assess the role these platforms play in the potency of the stories told, as well as assessing the lasting power of the legends in the context of “virality” and the fleeting nature of trends online.

Citations:

Blank, Trevor J., and Lynne S. McNeill. “Introduction: Fear Has No Face: Creepypasta as Digital Legendry.” In Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet, edited by Blank Trevor J. and McNeill Lynne S., 3-24. Logan: University Press of Colorado, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxq0m.4.

Manhke, Aaron hosts, “A Stranger Among Us,” Lore (podcast). December 28, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2021. https://www.lorepodcast.com/episodes/24

photos:

https://www.cinematerial.com/movies/slender-man-i5690360/p/fwdpcmpf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

Digital Preservation Policy: Web Archiving for the Washingtoniana Collection

Introduction:

In my previous posts on this blog I have surveyed the digital preservation state of the District of Columbia Public library’s Washingtoniana collection. This survey was preformed via an interview with Digital Curation Librarian Lauren Algee  using the NDSA levels of digital preservation as a reference point.

In our survey we discovered that the DCPL Washingtoniana collection has very effective digital preservation which through a combination of knowledgeable practices and the Preservica service (an OAIS compliant digital preservation service) naearly reaches the 4th Level in every category of the NDSA levels of Digital Preservation. With this in mind my next step plan for the archive looks at a number of areas the archive has been interested in expanding and presenting some thoughts on where they could begin taking steps towards preservation of those materials.

Of particular interest in this regard is the collecting of website materials. Being dynamic objects of a relatively new media, collecting these items can be fairly complex as it is hard to precisely pin down to what extend is a website sufficiently collected. Websites may appear differently on different browsers, they may contain many links to other websites, they change rapidly, and they often contain multimedia elements. As such outlined below will be a policy which discusses these issues and specifically offers a digital preservation plan for websites.

Website Digital Preservation Policy for the Washingtoniana collection

The Washingtoniana collection was founded in 1905 when library director Dr. George F. Bowerman began collection materials on the local community. The collection stands as one of the foremost archives on the Washington, D.C area, community, history, and culture. Naturally it makes sense then with the increasing movement of DC social life and culture to online or born digital platforms that the Washingtoniana collection would consider collecting websites.

Selection

The same criteria for determining selection of materials for Washingtoniana materials should apply here. Websites should be considered if they pertain to Washington, DC or its surrounding areas, events that take place in or discus that area, pertain to prominent Washington D.C. related persons, DC related institutions, or websites otherwise pertaining to Washington D.C. community, arts, culture, or history.

Like any physical preservation decision, triage is an essential process. Websites that are likely to be at risk should be high priority. In a sense all web content is at risk. Websites that are for a specific purpose, or pertain to a specific event may have a limited operational window. Websites for defunct businesses, political election sites, and even an existent website on a specific day may be vulnerable and thus a candidate for digitization. In addition the materials in question should not be materials which are being collected elsewhere, and should be considered in relation to the rest of the collection.

Although automation tools may be used for identification, discretion for selection is on librarian hands. In addition, suggestions from patrons relevant to the collection should be considered, and a system for managing and encouraging such suggestions may be put in place.

Metadata

A metadata standard such as MODS (Metadata Object Description Standard ) should be used to describe the website. MODS is a flexible schema expressed in XML, is fairly compatiable with library records, and allows more complex metadata than Dublin Core and thus may work well. Metadata should include but not be limited to website name, content producers, URL, access dates, fixity as well as technical information which may generated automatically from webcrawlers such as timestamps, URI, MIME type, size in bytes, and other relevant metadata. Also, extraction information, file format, and migration information should be maintained.

Collection

A variety of collection tools exist for web archiving. The tool selected should be capable of the below tasks as outlined by the Library of Congress web archiving page

  • Retrieve all code, images, documents, media, and other files essential to reproducing the website as completely as possible.
  • Capture and preserve technical metadata from both web servers (e.g., HTTP headers) and the crawler (e.g., context of capture, date and time stamp, and crawl conditions). Date/time information is especially important for distinguishing among successive captures of the same resources.
  • Store the content in exactly the same form as it was delivered. HTML and other code are always left intact; dynamic modifications are made on-the-fly during web archive replay.
  • Maintain platform and file system independence. Technical metadata is not recorded via file system-specific mechanisms.

A variety of tools are capable of this task, a web crawler such as the Heritrix open source archival webcrawler or a subscription solution Archive-IT should be used. Both are by the Internet Archive, however the first is more of an open source solution while the second is a subscription based service which offers storage on Internet Archive servers.

Upon initial collection fixity should be taken using a Checksum system. This can be automated either with a staff written script or a program like Bagit, which automatically generates fixity information. This information should be maintained with the rest of the metadata for the digital object.

Websites should be kept in the most stable web archival format available. At the moment of this posts writing that format should be the WARC (Web ARChive) file format. This format allows the combination of multiple digital resources into a single file, which is useful as many web resources are complex and contain many items. Other file formats may be accepted if archived webpages are received from donors.

Preservation

Upon initial ingestion items may be kept on internal drives, and copied to at least one other location. Before the item is moved into any further storage system the file should be scanned for viruses, malware, or any other undesirable or damaging content using safety standards as agreed upon with the division of IT services. At this point fixity information should be taken as described above, and entered into metadata record.

Metadata should be described as soon as possible, as to which point the object with attached metadata should be uploaded into The Washingtoniana’s instance of Preservica.

Although Preservica automates much of the preservation process, a copy of the web archive should be kept on external hard drives. On a yearly interval a selection of the items within the harddrive should be checked against the items in Preservica to insure the Preservica fixity checks and obsolesce monitoring are working as desired.

References

Jack, P. (2014, February 27). Heritrix-Introduction. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from https://webarchive.jira.com/wiki/display/Heritrix/Heritrix#Heritrix-Introduction
Web Archiving-Collection development. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from https://library.stanford.edu/projects/web-archiving/collection-development
The Washingtoniana Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.dclibrary.org/node/35928
Web Archiving at the Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2016, from https://www.loc.gov/webarchiving/technical.html
Niu, J. (2012). An Overview of Web Archiving. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from http://www.dlib.org/dlib/march12/niu/03niu1.html
AVPreserve » Tools. (n.d.). Retrieved November 17, 2016, from https://www.avpreserve.com/avpsresources/tools/
Kunze, J., Bokyo, A., Vargas, A., Littman, B., & Madden, L. (2012, April 2). Draft-kunze-bagit-07 – The BagIt File Packaging Format (V0.97). Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/documents/bagitspec.pdf
MODS: Uses and Features. (2016, February 1). Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://loc.gov/standards/mods/mods-overview.html
About Us. (2014). Retrieved November 17, 2016, from https://archive-it.org/blog/learn-more/

 

A Glass Case of Emotion: User Movitivation in Crowdsourcing

The web is inherently made up of networks and interactions among its users. But what is the nature of these interactions – participatory? collaborative? exploitative? These questions play out when cultural heritage institutions take to the web and attempt to engage the vast public audience that is now accessible to them. Crowdsourcing is a means to allow everyday citizens to participate and become more involved with historic materials than ever before. Similarly, these volunteer projects can overcome institutional monetary and time constraints to create products not possible otherwise. What most interested me in the readings is the motivations of those involved in these projects. Why do citizens choose to participate? Why are institutions putting these projects out there? How do they play on the motivations of their users? These questions link back to the overarching general ideas about the nature of interactions on the web.

Why Wasn’t I Consulted?

Paul Ford describes the fundamental nature of the web with the phrase “Why wasn’t I consulted” or WWIC for short. Ford claims that feedback and voice on content is what the web is run on. By giving people a voice, even through the basest form of expression in likes, favorites, +1’s, or “the digital equivalent of a grunt,” users are satisfied that they were consulted and that they can give their approval or disapproval.

User experience, in Ford’s mind, is centered on their emotional need to be consulted. Additionally, the expression of approval is what feeds other users to create content, receiving a positive emotional response from those who consume their work. Organizations create spaces that shrink the vast web down into communities where the WWIC problem can be solved. Essentially, these structures create a glass case of emotion.

Ron Burgundy in a Phone Booth

Libraries, archives, and museums have to deal with users’ emotions when creating their crowdsourcing ventures. How do we create places where the users will feel consulted and desire to participate? Like Ford, Causer & Wallace in describing the Transcribe Bentham project of University College London, and the Frankle article on the Children of Lodz Ghetto project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, emphasize understanding users and volunteers as well as finding the appropriate medium is important in these undertakings.

Causer & Wallace identify a much more detailed set of motivations of their user groups than Ford’s WWIC idea. Many of their participants claimed they had interests in the project such as history, philosophy, Bentham, or crowdsourcing in general. Other than these categories, the next biggest reasoning for joining the project was a desire to be a part of something collaborative. The creators of Transcription Bentham failed to create an atmosphere where users felt comfortable collaborating which may have been why the project decreased in popularity over time. The Children of Lodz Ghetto project, on the other hand, is much more collaborative with administrators guiding researchers through each step of the process. Eventually they hope to have advanced users take over the role of teaching newcomers. The Holocaust Museum’s project is a much more sustainable model that could lead to lasting success.

Crowdsourcing (For Members Only)

While collaboration and having an interesting topic is a key factor in motivating participation, how do online history sites get the attention of the public to join in the first place? The push for the openness of both the internet and cultural institutions is something I greatly support, but I think motivating the populace to get involved in these projects needs a return to exclusivity. There is still a prevailing notion that archives and other cultural organizations are closed spaces that only certain people can access. In many European institutions this is still the case. Why don’t we use the popular notions of exclusivity to our own benefit?

Hear me out. What these articles lacked was the idea that many people desire what they cannot get or what only few can. I’m not advocating putting collections behind a paywall or keeping collections from being freely available online. Instead, I think participation in crowdsourcing projects should be competitive or exclusive in order to gain the initial excitement needed to gain a following and spur desire for inclusion.

Other social media platforms such as early Facebook and more recently Ello or new devices such as Google’s Google Glass, have made membership or ownership limited, creating enormous desire for each. In these examples, the majority of the populace is asking why wasn’t I consulted? and therefore want to be included. Thus, having the initial rounds of participation be limited to a first-come, first-serve, invite-only platform would spark desire for the prestige of being the few to have access to the project.

In Edson’s article, he wrote about the vast stretches of the internet that cultural institutions do not engage, what he called “dark matter.” While there are huge numbers of people out there who are “starving for authenticity, ideas, and meaning,” I think the first step should be creating a desire to participate and then growing the project. Without something to catch the public’s attention, create a community, and grow an emotional desire to participate, another crowdsourcing website would simply be white noise to the large number of internet users in the world.  The users, who are visiting the websites looking for a way into the projects but denied, could discover the free and open collections which are there right now. After this first limited period, once the attention is there, I think scaling up would be easier. Of course these ideas will only work if the institution has created a place that understands the emotional needs of its users and provides a collaborative and social environment where users are comfortable participating.