Information in an electronic space is often malleable and non-linear. Identify and discuss the issues of authorship that this raises for both the designer and the user.

Advertising, architecture, Arts, Blog, Branding, design, Gemma Sutton, London, structure, University

The phrase electronic space is more commonly referred to as the digital environment which encapsulates a combination of elements; including the internet and software but overall defines anything computer meditated. Most people do not realise the extent of electronic space. In today’s world the majority of people have to subtract the hours not spent in electronic space rather than in it (Mandiberg, 2012). In recent years social media has become all pervasive. This virtual community or ‘global village’ has no restrictions as to what information can be submitted making it malleable and nonlinear. Twitter, one of several social media platforms, has revolutionised the way we share and view information. It gives you 140 characters to inform the general public, other tweeters and your followers about anything that you deem of be of interest – subject to Twitter guidelines. Twitter is worldwide and can connect one user to several other users with no hindrance, making the audience, or twittersphere, potentially infinitely diverse. Twitters success has been partly reliant on ease of use. Relevant words can be highlighted by hashtagging them, this also doubles as an easy way of searching for topics. This hashtagging phenomenon has also resulted in a Twitter language, which throughout this essay, will be highlighted in italics. Each individual user selects a user name when they sign up, this is represented by the chosen name with the ‘@’ symbol as a precursor. Again, users can be searched for and become known by their Twitter username. Twitter’s transparency and its several uses has transformed it into a database of information for designers. In this essay I will explore how the use of Twitter has revolutionised and impacted the designer and the user, but also how dealing with raw information comes with negative and positive facets.

Twitter can be used to inform a graphic designer and user by taking raw information and making it into Infographics. Infographics are a visual representation of data or information that has a comparative element to it. It is a designer’s job to filter through the raw data, to put it into order and give it fluidity enabling the user to make a connection between the visual element and the data. This makes information more manageable for the reader and gives them the information that they are looking for, something that Twitters format does not allow. Twitter’s primary purpose, a social media network, makes it hard to decipher information in its non-linear form. This structure can make it hard to judge the merit of the information and the credibility and integrity of the tweeter, but this does not mean that the source should be discounted. At this point the designer intervenes to ground the information in context thereby making it more relevant. “Trending terms on Twitter turn into the next day’s news” giving immense potential to gather and become a source of real time information from around the world. This was noticed by The Guardian Newspaper and has been collated to create The Guardian Data Blog (Fig.1.).

The Guardian Data Blog in its simplest form is Data Journalism mixed with Infographics that are also known as Data Visualisations. It is not solely dedicated to data that is sourced from Twitter, but a generous portion of data entries uses twitter data as the basis. Looking at the various studies I have picked an infographic based on the comparison between known fact and opinion, to highlight the issue of establishing an author’s credibility within twittersphere. Designers, for the most part, have to establish the facts to confirm the difference between the truth, mere speculation and disinformation. The Guardian Data Blog set about doing this by seeing how well geocoded tweets matched fact by using the UK floods of November 2012 as a basis. The research, Digital Trails of the UK Floods, compared the accuracy of tweets containing the word ‘flood’ against Met Office and Environmental Agency data over a week long period. It became apparent to Mark Graham, who was responsible for determining the facts for the blog, that most of the information was credible, stating that it seemed “to closely reflect the actual locations of floods and flood alerts” but was not entirely accurate and in particular areas surrounding Wales. Reflecting on the results of his findings, it was established that the gathered information was correct with a statistically insignificant chance of the information being false. However, if in the electronic space another association with the word ‘flood’ had become viable this would have knock-on effects and dramatically change the results used to form the infographic. The fact that Twitter is a fluid and constantly evolving source of information can make it hard to determine the difference between what’s applicable and inapplicable.
This issue of being unable to filter the information one is exposed to, makes it hard as a consumer to put the tweeter’s opinion into context. Designers have tackled this problem by developing an interface between the audience and the information allowing the user to organize twitter data. This software is called TweetPsych (Fig.2.). This allows the consumer to remain in control of the information and allows them the ability to make an informed decision about the validity of the tweet. Thereby, taking what is normally fluid information, formatting it and giving it structure. TweetPsych allows you to filter the last one thousand tweets made by an individual. The software separates a person’s tweets and organises them forming a psychological profile. This is broken down into 23 different categories, some of which include learning, social and negative. This combination of regressive imagery dictionary, linguistic inquiry and word count is a form of text analysis software which maps similar words grouping them into the established titles. This systematic categorisation of information is similar to that of profiling for job applications. As an employer, we search for the applicant best fitting our parameters for the available job. This is achieved by disregarding underqualified and unsuitable candidates. This principle can be applied when ordering tweets and categorising them. This affords the user the opportunity to make an informed choice about the information they have been exposed to. Responsibility falls upon the designer to make sure the interface is fit for purpose, easy to use, well organised and that the information contained is as accurate as possible.

Twitters basic structure imposes several limitations on the user. The most obvious example of this is the 140 character word count. This forces tweets to be concise and to the point. Moreover, to a certain extent this allows control of what is distributed. The constraint on the amount of characters used is for “reading tweets and discovering new information whenever you check in on your Twitter timeline.” When a new user opens a Twitter account they are obliged to agree with the Twitter guidelines, effectively the rule book and the terms and conditions of Twitter usage. One of the things that the Twitter guidelines do not allude to is art. This is not surprising as Twitter is primarily used for sharing thoughts in the form of text and hashtags; “a vital tool” . There is a current trend amongst designers to push the boundaries of their self-imposed constraints by using a medium such as Twitter; this is known as Remix Culture. American Standard Code for Information Interchange, ASCII for short, is an example of breaking the system of design, part of the remix culture. ASCII was established as a coding language used by computers to understand information and commands, but has more recently become an art form currently permeating through Twitter. ASCII art is “a table of numbers and their corresponding symbols” combined into a visual representation or a picture of something. ASCII art is more widely known as Twitterart and can be found under the Twitter hashtags of #twitterart and #ASCIIart. The very fact that ASCII art has hashtags is an indicator of its popularity. ASCII art can cover everything from current affairs, such as the Obama presidential elections (Fig.3.) and the death of public icons to the more menial topics of interest for instance seasonal greetings and cartoon characters. As a result of Twitter being such a large network and also because of the re-tweet function it is often difficult to ascertain original content, especially if the work becomes viral and starts trending. Although it is difficult to prove originality there are two Twitter users in particular who contribute solely ASCII art and these are @tw1tt3art (Fig.4.) and @HORACIOROGOSKI (Fig.5.).

On the whole, Twitter works well as a platform to display these graphics. However, this is not always the case as there have been several occasions where the image hasn’t worked. This is due to compatibly issues that arise because ASCII art was not what Twitter was initially intended for. This means Twitter art does not always have the same freedoms as that of a plain text format. Designers have tried to overcome this by imposing boundaries on their art. This has the unfortunate side effect of confining the graphic to Twitter, in a set format. This means it is difficult to transfer the graphic into a different format as it would have to conform to a different structure, often morphing the image unrecognisably. An example of this is when an ASCII image is copied from Twitter and pasted into a word processing document where the average Tweet or Twitter art image can fit on a single line altering the image completely. One of Twitters strengths in this case is arguably its greatest pitfall. Information can be easily copied, altered slightly and then re-tweeted. This means that original work or the source image for several examples of Twitter art can be very difficult to trace.

As a result of the malleability of information and the re-tweet function authorship is hard to determine. Its “unique realtime information network”6 offers a non-linear structure which can be rapidly and easily altered from the original, giving both the designer and user the flexibility to harness its potential. Although, Twitter does not provide a function that allows the designer or the user to judge the authority and dependability of a source, it is clear that Twitter is an incredible resource and can be used to spread real time information, often before traditional channels, making it easily accessible worldwide and there is “no way to avoid the impact that Twitter has”7 on the user and how it can be very helpful and informative. Thereby, the designer can be faced with the conundrum of whether or not to use a source if there is a question about the truth. By comparing real time information and that of known fact it is easier to determine accuracy of a source as shown by The Guardian Data blog. Despite some measures to assure authorship and credibility of a tweet it is impossible to entirely confirm originality and that it is a dependable source. For a designer it is often difficult to find something specific, being faced with too much information with varying degrees of credibility. Everything has to be taken at face value “You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it.”8There seems to be no accurate way of determining what information is reliable and what is not, it is entirely subject to interpretation but by comparing speculation to fact the issue of authorship can often be resolved.

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