Belinda Reich

User and Task Analysis

User and Task Analysis Report

The following is a hypothetical report written for The Technical Communicator 1 at Seneca College for the Technical Communication Graduate Certificate. 

Project Charter

The focus of this report is to explore how Skype may expand its user base among +65 retirees. By establishing a pilot program in a senior’s retirement community, Skype wishes to discover which feature the participants are most interested in, and how to use that feature. The participants have basic technology skills and the program will address their needs and interests. Our goal is to have the participants set up and confidently using Skype with their family and friends.

User Needs Analysis

Laguna Woods Village is a retirement community in Orange County, California, approximately 50 miles south of Los Angeles. It is a large community of 18,500 people and offers many recreational, service and social activities. There are two golf clubs, five pools, equestrian centre, tennis and lawn bowl facilities, and art and computer labs.


The community attracts residents who wish to lead an active and well-connected life, with ample opportunity to learn new skills. The socio-economic group is middle to upper-middle class and has diverse cultural backgrounds. The residents are beginner-to-advanced technology users. Many have cell phones and/or tablets/computers in their condos.

By speaking to a group of 20 residents we discovered that the majority owned cell phones, many owned tablets, and only two owned laptops or desktop computers. The community has two computer labs for residents use; a Windows operating system lab, and a Macintosh operating system lab. Many in our focus group like to use the computer labs for word processing or taking one of the classes offered but preferred the privacy that their cell phone or tablet provided for communicating with family or friends.

Information Required to Determine User Needs

  • Users cell operating system; Android or Apple.
  • Users data plans.
  • Laguna Woods’ Wi-Fi connection speed and range.


The result of our analysis shows that the seniors would prefer to use their cell phones for Skype. The focus should be on educating seniors on how to download apps onto their phones and to get started on Skype. Most seniors understood the basic premise of making a video call and were keen to know the details.

Our target participants were cell phone owners who do not use the Skype app on their phone, or on their home tablet/computer, and have never opened a Skype account.

Target Audience

Residents at Laguna Woods Village possess technical skills ranging from absolute beginner to advanced users. Louise Chan, Thanh Nguyen, and Vera Hernández are residents who are beginner to intermediate technology users, and all use cell phones for making calls and sending Short Message Services (SMS). No participant had used Multimedia Message Service (MMS) on their phones, used a browser to access the internet, and regularly used email apps. They rarely, if ever, use other apps.

Louise Chan

Louise is 70-years-old and has lived in the senior’s community for five years. She was born in Taiwan and moved to the Greater Los Angeles area in the 1980s with her husband. For 30 years, Louise and her husband owned and operated a successful restaurant in the Monterey Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles.

After the death of her husband in 2013, Louise sold the restaurant and moved into the senior’s living community in Laguna Woods. She has two adult children and three grandchildren who all live in Monterey Park, about an hour and a half away, when the traffic is good.

When Louise retired, remaining active and social was her number one priority. She loves living in Laguna Woods and loves that she is still close to her family, but the reality is, with her kids’ and grand kids’ busy lives, she doesn’t see them as much as she would like.

Louise can send an email, and her daughter has shown her how to use the internet to read online newspapers in Taiwan. She also Facetimes with her son and grand kids, but her 12-year-old granddaughter has just received her first cell phone, which is an android phone and not an Apple product like Louise’s. She is looking for a similar product as Facetime that is hardware agnostic, so she can continue to video call with her granddaughter. She has never used Skype before and is interested to learn if she can make the connection she seeks.

Thanh Nguyen

Thanh was born in Vietnam and arrived in Orange County in 1978 along with thousands of his fellow country-people. He worked in construction his whole life and built a nice life for himself by renovating houses; “flipping” before “flipping” was a widespread phenomenon. He and his wife moved into Laguna Woods Senior Village 20 years ago when he was 63. Unfortunately, his wife passed away 10 years ago. After college his daughter moved to Chicago for her career and she ended up staying and raising her family there. He stays in touch by phone and he visits once a year and they visit him once a year. He has unlimited country-wide phone calls with his cell agreement and doesn’t see the need for video calls. It is his 25-year-old grandson who would like to set him up with Skype. His grandson has just bought a house in Chicago to renovate and would like to tap into his grandfather’s expertise and thinks being able to see issues as they arise will make the process easier.

Thanh is very active in the village but is quietly relishing the thought of being able to help his grandson with construction advise, and if he can do that while on the back nine with his cell phone, it won’t intrude on his activities too much. His hearing isn’t what it used to be, so he does have concerns about hearing the audio in a video call.

Vera Hernández

Vera is 70 and has lived in Orange County her entire life. She lives at the Village with her husband. Her two sons live within a 20-minute drive and she sometimes stays with them to help their families. She uses texting and phone calls with them and doesn’t have a great need for Skype to stay in touch.

Vera’s best friend at Laguna Woods Senior’s Village recently moved to North Carolina to live near her daughter in an assisted living facility, as her health had deteriorated. Vera misses her and would welcome the chance to video chat and see her new home, and to keep her connected to mutual friends at the Village.

Vera is okay with making calls and texts on her cell but has never had an opportunity to use video calling. She would like to learn how to use it and then set up her friend with it too.

 Task Analysis

Downloading the Skype app

  1. In the Play Store (Android phone) or Apple Store (Apple phone), use the search bar to locate the Skype app. Simply typing “Skype” will bring the app up as your first choice. Tap on the Skype icon to continue to the product page.
  2. If you wish you may read about the app, reviews for the app, and other information about the app. This is not a necessary step but may be of interest and value to you. Otherwise, simply tap the Install icon to install the app onto your phone. This should take several seconds to a minute, depending on your internet or Wi-Fi speed.
  3. You may notice the progress indicator which informs you of the remaining download time. Once the app has downloaded, the Install button will change to Open. You may open the app here by tapping Open, or you can close the Play Store or Apple Store app and locate the Skype app on the last page of your app screens.

Creating an account

  1. Once you have opened the Skype app, you will need to create an account. Tap on the Create Account
  2. You will be prompted to enter your phone number, first and last name, and then Next.
  3. Skype will then send an SMS text to your phone that contains a password. Simply click on the link in the text and it will create an account and log you into Skype.
  4. There are many features to use on Skype. For today we are making a video call with family or friends.

Finding family and friends on Skype

  1. Once you have the Skype app open, tap on the Contacts Skype can search your cell phone for your contacts, such as your son, daughter, grandkids, or friends who are in your cell phone’s contacts.
  2. Check the people who you would like to connect with and then tap Add to Contacts.

Making a video call

  1. In your Skype Contact List, find the person you wish to call.
  2. You will be presented with several icons. Video calls are made using the camera icon.
  3. When dialing, a video call will sound much like a phone call. Remember to hold your cell phone up so your camera is capturing your face for your recipient to see. Skype makes this easy for you to judge by providing a small image of yourself in the bottom corner, layered over the video of your contact.
  4. When it comes time to end your video call, simply tap on the red hang-up icon.                                                                                       

Answering a video call

  1. Your phone will make a distinct Skype call sound, and a Skype alert will show on your screen indicating which contact is calling.
  2. Answer the call as a video call by tapping on the camera icon. 







Skype Documentation Plan

The following is a hypothetical plan written for Technical Writing 1 at Seneca College for the Technical Communication Graduate Certificate.

Skype Documentation Plan

Ms. Donna Smith

Microsoft Skype

3180-3210 Porter Dr, Palo Alto

CA 94304, USA

October 4, 2018

Microsoft Skype is a freemium telecommunication application software product that allows end users to make voice and video calls, and send text, images and instant messaging, using a downloadable client.

Skype’s efforts to expand their user-base among +65s requires an educational pilot at Laguna Woods Village, a senior’s community of 18,500 people in Southern California.

The Skype education pilot requires the creation of:

  • 12-page Getting Started Guide
  • 30-second video script
  • Half-day onsite training

This proposal outlines how Belinda Reich will create and deliver the above documentation and training.


The audience for the Skype documentation is Skype executives charged with educational outreach. Typically, this is within the marketing and business departments who make decisions about the best ways to create new users of the Skype product.

Members of the marketing and business departments are familiar with running educational programs to highlight Skype’s features and benefits to users.


This section outlines the scope of the documentation and training and the services offered by Belinda Reich.

Getting Started Guide for Seniors

Belinda Reich will develop a 12-page Getting Started Guide specifically for cell phones, at a beginner to intermediate level. The guide will be a task-oriented written document with illustrations to reinforce the actions taken. The document will contain the following sections:

  • Downloading and opening the Skype application from the Google Play Store.
  • Downloading and opening the Skype application from the Apple Store.
  • Creating a Skype account.
  • How to find family and friends on Skype.
  • Making and ending a Skype video call.
  • Answering a video call.

Belinda Reich will research, write, edit and once approved, print the Getting Started Guide.

Page count: 12

30-Second Video Script

The script for the 30-second video will contain information for dissemination within Laguna Woods Village via the community’s television screens that are used for advertising upcoming activities and events. The script will convey essential information about the location and time of the half-day Skype training and the availability of the Getting Started Guide on the day. It will also highlight that the Skype information is for all cell phone owners.

In collaboration with Skype and Laguna Woods Village, Belinda Reich will confirm date and location and include within the script.

Page count: 1

Half-Day Onsite Curriculum

The curriculum for the 3.5-hour onsite training will mirror the Getting Started Guide but will be delivered in a PowerPoint format and will allow discussion and questions. The final 1.5 hours will be devoted to troubleshooting and ensuring that all participants have downloaded the Skype application, created an account, and have practiced making Skype video calls with each other.

Belinda Reich will research, write, edit and create visual slides for the half-day onsite training.

Slide count: 20

Deliverable Format

The Getting Started Guide will be made available as a PDF suitable for professional printing. In addition, Belinda Reich will provide 10 high-quality printed and stapled guides, with card stock covers containing Skype and Laguna Woods Village branding.

The 30-second script will be delivered as a one-page PDF file.

The Half-day Onsite Curriculum will be delivered as a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation.


Belinda Reich will provide the following to Microsoft Skype:

  • A 12-page PDF document file containing the Getting Started Guide.
  • 10 printed Getting Started Guides. Printed on high-quality paper and professionally stapled. The cover page will be high-quality card stock.
  • A one-page PDF document containing a script for a 30-second video.
  • A 20-slide PowerPoint file.

To achieve all deliverables, Belinda Reich will be using the following tools:

  • Adobe FrameMaker for authoring the Getting Started Guide.
  • Final Draft for authoring the 30-second video.
  • Microsoft PowerPoint for authoring the slides for the Half-day Onsite Training.
  • Adobe Acrobat for creating PDF files.
  • Snipping Tool for screen grabs.
  • Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator for creating graphics and cleaning up screen grabs.

All work will be conducted at the office of Belinda Reich, in Toronto, Canada.


Final deadlines to be discussed and agreed upon by Microsoft Skype and Belinda Reich.

Intellectual Property

Upon payment of all installment, Belinda Reich will transfer all copyright for all intellectual property created.


Based upon the information provided here within, the cost for each deliverable is stated below. Any changes made will result in change orders and addendums will be added to the original order, and lead to corresponding increase in final cost.


Getting Started Guide: 1 page equals 8 hours of work. At 12 pages, the guide will take 96 hours in total.

My rate per hour is $60. The total amount for the Getting Started Guide is: $5,760.00

A 30-second script will take 8 hours to complete. At $60 per hour, the total is: $480.00

A half-day curriculum and training will take 10 days to complete, totalling 80 hours. At $60 per hour, the total is: $4,800.00

Total cost: $11,040.00

 This is a fixed price quote. Any changes to the original order will see a corresponding increase in the final cost.


One third of the cost will be invoiced and paid before commencement of work, upon acceptance of the proposal. One third will be paid by day 15 of work, and the final third paid upon final delivery of the order. All invoices will be sent upon acceptance of the proposal with due dates stated. Any overdue accounts will be charged a late fee of 5% per month, pro-rated.


If Microsoft Skype wishes to cancel the project at any point, all hours worked until that time become due within 7 days. All materials, document files and intellectual property will be returned and transferred once payment is received.

Proposal Duration

This proposal is valid until October 15, 2018.


To accept this proposal, please sign below. By signing, Microsoft Skype and Laguna Woods Village are agreeing to all the deliverables and terms stated in this proposal.


Ms. Donna Smith                                                                                                                                                              Date


Belinda Reich                                                                                                                                                                     Date

Blackberry & Adobe Experience Manager: Emerging with a New Purpose

Taken in 2011, the picture of Hillary Clinton tapping at her BlackBerry became iconic and produced the Texts of Hillary meme and a thousand Tumblr posts. Since that time, Research in Motion ― the maker of the BlackBerry phone ― has faced as many challenges, triumphs and disappointments as Clinton herself.

Research in Motion’s emergence into BlackBerry Limited saw the elimination of the production of hardware, and a pivot to software. With new products to build, sell and document, each department encountered new challenges in the transformation.

BlackBerry’s Technical Writing Department

Marco Cacciacarro, Technical Writer at BlackBerry, came to Toronto from Waterloo to run us through his departments’ workflows during this transformation. Presenting at the Adobe Technical Communication Roadshow, Marco explained how their previous Content Management System (CMS) relied heavily on a recently laid-off IT workforce. Marco and his co-workers needed to change to a system that gave them more control but with an ease of use that non-IT users could navigate and troubleshoot.

Without their IT department, the Technical Writing team set out to find a CMS that offered the features they saw as essential to fulfilling their mandates and gelled with their process. The features needed included:

  • Versioning and Branching
  • Localization Support
  • Multi-format Output
  • Easy Navigation
  • Image Management for Branding
  • Option for Customizations


Given we were at an Adobe Roadshow, naturally BlackBerry went with the Adobe product: Adobe Experience Manager (AEM). So, what exactly is AEM, and what capabilities does it possess that make it a good choice for a Technical Writing team?

AEM is an enterprise-level CMS which allows for control of output to the web or mobile, whether it is technical writing or marketing. An important feature of AEM for the technical writer is that it allows them to author, manage, and deliver DITA content alongside marketing content. DITA content can be made by anyone, including those without XML programming knowledge.


DITA : Darwin Information Typing Architecture

XML: eXtensible Markup Language

AEM and CMS, discussed above.

IKR: I Know, Right?

Thinking back over the day, I realized I still didn’t have a solid grasp of what XML and DITA are, and why it would be such an important feature for the BlackBerry Technical Writing team and AEM.


XML is a markup language that encodes documents to allow them to be human-readable and machine-readable. Here is an example of what that looks like:

When creating documents in AEM it is not necessary to write in XML (of course, you can, if you like to work that way). A document can easily be made in WYSIWYG mode and still be machine-readable.


DITA has been a slightly harder concept to fully grasp. It was developed at IBM and they eventually donated the framework as open source. At its core, DITA allows content to be reused and repurposed, which is especially helpful in the formation of user guides, help, and manuals.

As its name suggests, DITA is an architectural framework. It allows the user to arrange information into topics. The topic types are “TaskConceptReferenceGlossary Entry, and Troubleshooting. Each of these five topic types is a specialization of a generic Topic type, which contains a title element, a prolog element for metadata, and a body element. The body element contains paragraph, table, and list elements, similar to HTML.”

Adobe provides a video on XML and DITA authoring within Adobe FrameMaker that gives a good visualization of its capabilities and how it works:

Thinking back to BlackBerry’s needs for their new CMS, DITA improves their efforts in localization, allows various outputs, is easy to use, includes branding elements, and customization. All of which make Adobe Experience Manager a good choice for the technical writing team, and more broadly, the company.

Photo Credit: Diana Walker for Time.

Limitations of Sociological Interpretation

The purpose of this post is to analyze a chapter of sociological interpretation of art, and assess the strengths and limitations of sociological interpretation of art, based on this example.

The chapter that I have chosen to analyze and assess is A Post-Bourdieusian Sociology Of Valuation And Evaluation For The Field Of Cultural Production. This chapter is from the recently published book Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Art and Culture, which aims to extend the arguments of the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu worked during the last half of the twentieth century and addressed issues such as social capital, cultural capital, financial capital, and symbolic capital.

In 1979 his most influential book was published in France (translated into English in 1984), called Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. This examined cultural capital and how class shapes the reception of art and culture.

To analyze this chapter, I will first examine the argument put forth by the authors of the chapter. The 'valuation and evaluation' of the title refers to a cultural sociology field which has seen a large increase in research in the past decade or two, and which critiques and builds on the pioneering work of Bourdieu. The authors of the chapter examine the recent literature within this field and demonstrate three “important types of constraints that are exercised on (e)valuation.” I will examine these three criteria, along with the authors recommendations for interdisciplinary research going forward, followed by assessing the strengths and limitations of using these ideas in the interpretation of art.

The authors of the chapter – Stefan Beljean, Phillipa Chong, Michèle Lamont–have conducted a literature review of recent advances in the cultural sociology field called 'valuation and evaluations,' which consists of American and European stances on such factors as qualification, commensuration, standardisation, or classification within cultural processes. The authors state that contemporary researchers  “owe much to Bourdieu and the profound influence he has had on sociology through his inquiries into cultural production and consumption in symbolic and cultural fields (art, science, culture, knowledge, fashion and more…).”

Seeing this area as fruitful and to encourage further research within this area, the authors have identified a framework for consideration consisting of 1. the criteria of evaluation; 2. the self-concepts of evaluators; and 3. the roles of object and non-human supports.

First, the criteria of evaluation refers to the challenge to Bourdieu’s “opposition between economic and aesthetic criteria of evaluation.” Using case studies and empirical findings to paint a more nuanced, less dualistic picture between ‘art for money’ and ‘art for art's sake,' the researchers are seeking new directions for “comprehensive understanding of how cultural products are evaluated.” The hope is to find more avenues to evaluate cultural output that is not purely in terms of its economic or aesthetic market distinctions.

Secondly, the self-concepts of evaluators are explored. Self-concepts are defined here as the narratives that an individual tells themselves, and those around them, about themselves. This is an important aspect of the research as people charged with assessing cultural output all tell narratives about themselves and the world that may or may not go unchallenged by those surrounding them. These narratives matter “insofar as they contribute to actors’ intersubjective construction of reality and shape their evaluative practices.”

Research into self-concepts of evaluators have moved beyond Bourdieu’s identification of self-interest and looks to constructing frameworks using empirical analysis that needs to “move beyond considerations of self-interest to examine neglected aspects of evaluation, including how evaluators understand their role and the emotional consequences of their work.”

Understanding the implications of self-concepts, and working to systematically encourage self-concepts of fair mindedness for individuals and institutions is seen as the goal, and the hope is that this leads to a larger range of evaluation points that is deemed more inclusive than the Bourdieuian dichotomy of economic and aesthetic.

Thirdly, the roles of object and non-human supports examines “how to meaningfully incorporate art objects into social analysis rather than just reducing them to mere proxies for other ‘social variables.’ The goal is to recognize not only how art objects are shaped by society, but also what forms of agentic power and distinctive properties they wield (while still eschewing ‘charismatic’ ideologies about art or artists).” This is the theory where cultural objects and evaluators (within the broader context of society, not specifically a professional evaluator) are co-producing the object via a socio-material process.

Further research in this area would focus on how taste and cultural discernment can lead to inequality, but conversely, also open ways to teaching and learning about cultural output in a deeper process of participation with it, free of ideas that practice should not “return to a view of art as having inherent or charismatic value.”

Finally, the authors take a broader approach and identify areas of further study outside of the sociology of art and culture. They see a corollary between that and emerging research in economic and organizational sociology, which has not originated from Bourdieu’s work, but from economics and business studies. Some of the strands that the authors deem of use to pursue further include organizational categorization and identity, how cultural products are evaluated in markets for symbolic goods, and the correction in the bias to ‘high culture’.

To look at some of the strengths of this chapter as it relates to art, we should look at what is at stake. According to Janet Wolff, questions of dominance and power are in play between different groups of people, and ideology plays a part in that battle within the cultural production sphere, of which art is a part. Ideology is formed out of the theory which ”states that the ideas and beliefs people have are systematically related to their actual and material conditions of existence.”

Ideology is formed, and contracts and expands in far more complex ways than in the past (due to both acknowledging new research, and to the much more complex societies we live in today). This chapter is a pragmatic attempt at negotiate the ideology present within the participants, audiences and institutions of art. It establishes that we must identify the checks and balances within the artistic and cultural activities that are needed, using evidence-based decision making.

Within Australia the material conditions - in which a large part of cultural production is created - is funded by the varying levels of government using tax payer funds, and ventures toward evidence-based decision making. Drawing on the research of evaluation seems like a fair and reasonable approach. In fact, this is how it works in Australia to a large extent, with the Australia Council for the Arts, as an example.

The criteria for evaluation at the Australia Council is thorough and complex, which requires evidence and is assessed by peers, and creates avenues to participate beyond purely aesthetic and economic factors. The Council provides grants to individuals and organisations to create cultural and artistic output for Australian citizens to reflect upon and enjoy. While there is no clear evidence about the nature of the self-concepts of the peer reviewers, the selection methods, and having several peers on a panel presumably creates an environment of challenged self-concepts and creates checks and balances for a fairer outcome for artists. From this perspective, the Australia Council for the Arts policy making appears to be influenced by developments in the evaluation field, as per the analysis of the chapter outlined above.

There is much to commend in government agencies that strive to provide a transparent, inclusive and evidence-based system for the arts. The evaluation ideas outlined in the chapter are not perfect but pragmatically acceptable. The evaluation process, though, is not immune from government interference, or bureaucrats who administer the agencies, or grouping of peers. This is a limitation of the evaluations approach; as logical and fair as it may seem, it does not stem the ideological power struggle nor produce art that is not a reflection of this struggle.

One the one hand, we can see government interference when the Attorney General George Brandis announced - in the 2015 Australian federal government budget - that he would be reallocating 27.7% of the Australia Council budget to a new Arts funding program which was to be administered by his department (about a third of the cut funds were eventually returned to Australia Council), and in which Brandis would have final say over the funding. This was largely seen as an ideological attack on the evaluation process and the kind of art that is funded by the Australia Council. The resulting funding body has since announced that it will prioritize art that is designed to strengthen diplomatic ties with targeted countries, further arousing suspicion that the move was designed to move the country’s artistic output towards state preferred output for nation building purposes.

On the other side of the ideological fence - and can be seen as problematic for artists - is the selection criteria that is used is vulnerable to a similar ideological ‘high jacking’ within the Australia Council et al, which has the potential to lead to conformity, and lacking different view points. This might be a justification by Brandis for his approach to the Australia Council funding.

This idea has also lead the artist John Kelly to submit a proposal to the Australia Council that is specifically critical of the Council, and how they shape the arts and culture in Australia using their cultural and economic capital, daring them to fund their own ‘exposé.'

As demonstrated in the philosophical discussion about ‘what is art?’ we can say ‘anything is art.' When we bring in a sociological framework to art, we begin to get a more pragmatic depiction of what art is, and the role of ideology in shaping what we see and come to identify as art.

While the evaluation approach and research cannot fully provide checks and balances from the inevitable ideological push and pull, it is necessary to try to diffuse power centralizing, and the approach goes a long way to achieving that. Whatever it’s limitations are, it still gives us a sound approach to identifying the problems, and tools to help build an inclusive and progressive arts.

Defining Art

As someone who is creating and investigating art that is made using digital technologies, moving images, sound, the internet and mass culture, the delineating line as to what is and isn’t art, is obscure.

When defining art, Gracyk states succinctly, “the boundary of classification is constantly redrawn by the very activity of talking about that boundary”. As demonstrated by Gracyk, this has been true of art over time, and a conspicuous thought for those working in digital media.

To contribute to the conversation of the boundaries, I will explore some ideas around theories of what is digital art. First, I will look at artists’ intention and self-reflexivity, and how that can help differentiate between work that may be considered art, and that which could be considered design or communications, or mass art. Lastly, I will look toward future definitions of digital art within complex network systems.

Gracyk’s chapter on mass and popular art was an important chapter for me to think about when defining art, and how it differs from other creative pursuits. Tools I use, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, WordPress, cameras and computers are more often than not used in the creation of advertising and corporate communications. The tools are the same for the digital artist, as they are the communications department. The finished product at times is indistinguishable too. Can an advertisement be art? Advertising and the ‘art world’ have borrowed, stolen and imitated each other. Andy Warhol is an example with his Absolut Vodka bottle, kicking off a long association between many artists and the brand.

Some of the arguments that are presented by Gracyk seem steadfast and a little old fashioned, but he does an excellent job of presenting the complexity of the debate. Within this small space I would like to draw attention to the argument that it is the artists expression and their self-reflexivity that is an important element in differentiating between ‘fine art’ and ‘mass art’.

Expression theory, as laid out by Gracyk, can be seen in both fine and mass art.  In both, we can see ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions and ideas expressed. In fine arts - that which is shown in art institutions - we see a range of emotion and ideas from horror/fantasy (Cremaster Cycle, Matthew Barney, 1994-2002) to uplifting (outdoor video and light projections that have become ever-present at festivals around the world). Mass art similarly engages uplifting emotions and ideas (ubiquitously seen in advertising) to horror and violence (video games, movies).

There is a fine - and many times crossing - line between fine and mass art using expression theory. It is difficult to convey substantial and authentic emotions or ideas - and even more difficult to move an audience with them - that to succeed as a fine or mass artist is a testament to either artists' skill.

Yet, an element that sets the fine arts from mass arts (besides institutional recognition) is self-reflexivity. Mass art is generally produced via artists who work for corporations, and thus have little need for self-reflexivity. Mass art may self-reflect it’s own culture, but generally not in the critical way that self-reflexivity requires. Mass art more often that not exploits its and others’ history to succeed in a commercial sense.

So far, I have concentrated on art made using digital tools, and my final point will look at art within a networked environment. When I speak about a networked environment I am not speaking about how to promote art work online, but how images and culture behave online.

Images and culture in networked environments are “a dynamic form”, and according to David Joselit, “what the contemporary global artwork must be: an emissary, whose power arises out of cultural translation rather than avant-garde innovation, a form of international currency that can cross borders effortlessly”

A common concern with digital art online is that it is so easily reproducible and that provenance is easily lost, along with any potential compensation or sale. What Joselit proposes is “image diplomacy.”

The result of this kind of thinking is online databases of images such as Creative Commons, and the release online by GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) institutions of their collections - and metadata - to the public, for free and creative use.

This is but one option available to artists online, and one of great interest for myself as an artist. Further, and much less structured than the GLAM industry is the increased use of looped images or videos, most common of these is GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format).  

GIF’s are a culmination of the same ethos as OpenGLAM, which is to “contribute, participate and share”. This is what Henry Jenkins terms Convergence Culture, and Participatory Culture. He sees that “convergence represents a cultural shift as consumers are encouraged to seek out new information and make connections among dispersed media content.” And that “participatory culture contrasts with older notions of passive media spectatorship”.

With this, I would suggest that a networked environment contributes to enabling self-reflexivity within participants, a trait that seem to be lacking in the previously discussed advertising and communications.

How to define art is subjective and varies from culture to gender to class to ideology and to education. The days of a grand narrative supporting one definition or another is long gone and we are now left with the view from everywhere.

It perhaps irks to see or hear of something self-labelled as ‘art’, when to you it clearly isn’t. As Gacyk’s book so well demonstrates, ideas and definitions of what art is has changed considerably over time. We are in the midst of great technological change, with unprecedented access to information and knowledge. It would be unreasonable to imagine that art and the definition of it will not be swept up in these changes.

Technology Trends in Information Organizations

This post will identify two technology trends that will impact the Curatorial Sections within the Collection Branch at the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA).

The Curatorial Sections are a section of the Collection Branch, and is joined by the Preservation and Technical Services Section, and the Collection Stewardship Section within this Branch. Within the Curatorial Sections are three areas of expertise: Film, Documents and Artefacts (FDA), Sound and Broadcast and Networked Media, and Indigenous Connections.

There are four main functions of the Curatorial Sections; developing the collections, managing the collections, interpretation of the collections, and building access to the collections. There is an acknowledgement that some of these functions are closely aligned to other sections and branches, and as such, an agency-wide approach to adopting new technologies and methods is needed.

The NFSA Draft Strategic Plan 2014-15 to 2016-17 [both publications have been removed from the web. The 2016-2020 publication is available] has provided forward guidance for the sections, branches, and the agency as a whole. Guiding the agency is five Key Principles of Engagement:

  • Principle 1 – A ‘Living’ Archive - For Everyone
  • Principle 2 – Leader in the Digital Environment
  • Principle 3 – The Creators’ Archive
  • Principle 4 – Indigenous Connections
  • Principle 5 – Sustainable Partnerships

For the Curatorial Sections to adhere to the Principles of Engagement, and the Collection Policy, the section must assess their position in relation to the rapid technology changes in the coming five years. The section understands the need to rapidly digitize its collection, whilst also monitoring where technology trends are heading, to enable effective delivery within budgetary and technological constraints.

Again, the Strategic Plan identifies key needs for “capacity-building” in:

  • Motion picture film digitisation
  • Collection systems (including Media Asset Management development)
  • Development of private-public partnerships for mass digitization
  • Systems development for making collections discoverable and re-usable
  • Advocacy for legislative reform and strategic business case development.

To achieve these goals and needs, the Curatorial Sections staff must also align their “appreciation of the makeup and content of the national audiovisual collection, be able to interpret and understand the collection strengths and weaknesses, apply well-informed and considered judgement to selection decisions, and manage a range of formats."

To address the needs of digitization, collections systems and discoverability, the NFSA has targets in place for accessioning into the media asset management program, Mediaflex. Additionally, the NFSA undertakes “metadata mapping to other established schemas such as Dublin Core, MODS and METS and is also able to make its catalogue records available via an extensible mark-up language (XML) export, or an application programming interface (API). Whilst technology renders the collection increasingly accessible, the quality of information in its catalogue records remains a key focus for the NFSA."

This report will identify two technology trends which will impact the Curatorial Sections, and provide recommendations for implementing activities as a result of the trends. First, the trend of Open Data will be discussed. Second, Web 2.0 tools.

Open Data

The first of the two technology trends affecting the NFSA going into the next five years is Open Data (written by Mia Ridge) and Linked Open Data (LOD). Open Data is multifaceted, but generally within the context of an audiovisual archive, it widely refers to being open to the public with the associated data of the archive’s collection (metadata.) LOD is then the conclusion of linking this Open Data.

For Open Data to be useful, Ridge states that the metadata must be “made available for use in a machine-readable format under an open licence." Essentially, there is a technical aspect that needs to be addressed, as well as a copyright aspect to Open Data.

Open Data can be released from an organisation via bulk datasets on a website, or, as is more popular with cultural institutions, via an Application Programming Interface (API), which allow the user to select portions of datasets.

As Keir Winesmith and Anna Carey explain, an API “is a set of instructions that specify how two software programs should communicate with each other." The purpose of an API is to allow access to an organisation's data for developers and researchers to create new knowledge, services and products.

The technical aspects of LOD include a five star deployment scheme formulated by Tim Berners Lee. The aim is to provide data with five stars:

  • 1 Star: Available on the web (whatever format) but with an open licence, to be Open Data
  • 2 Stars: Available as machine-readable structured data (e.g. excel instead of image scan of a table)
  • 3 Stars: As (2) plus non-proprietary format (e.g. CSV instead of excel)
  • 4 Stars: All the above plus, Use open standards from W3C (RDF and SPARQL) to identify things, so that people can point at your stuff
  • 5 Stars: All the above, plus: Link your data to other people’s data to provide context

LOD makes Open Data interoperable, which is the goal of the Semantic Web. Open Data and LOD are part of the greater trend of the Semantic Web, which organises LOD using Resource Description Frameworks (RDF) to achieve machine interoperability of datasets.

For Open Data to be truly open and usable - especially in the context of LOD and the Semantic Web - the data must be released with a clear rights statement. The ideal license states that the metadata is Public Domain and can be used by anyone for any purpose. Attributions licenses are the next best, although involve more action by the user. While these are still good options, it can create doubt around the legality of the license for a user.

Web 2.0

The second technology trend to note is the use of Web 2.0 tools. This includes social media and user-generated content, which assists in making the web a highly interactive multimedia space.

These tools make delivering archives and collections to an audience relatively simple - and dynamic. The use of networked web platforms is well understood by galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM), and many use multiple streams of media to reach their audience.

There can be a tendency for some organisations to not grasp the full potential of these tools. Engagement of an audience is a time consuming aspect of social engagement, and it is easy to fall into use of the tools in a more broadcast manner, than interactive. To fully grasp the potential of Web 2.0, it is important to understand the concept of participatory culture.

Participatory culture has its roots in the postmodern ideas of deconstructing grand narratives and the rejection of institutional authority. This has had a great impact on how GLAM organisations view their collections, themselves and their audience. Audiences increasingly engage with organisations via digital pathways, and expect to participate in the “making of meaning." This can be achieved purely by digitally means, or in the case of the ‘maker movement,’ physically. The construction of meaning tends toward elements of collaboration, interaction, networking and sharing.

The trend of Web 2.0 tools has been with us for over ten years now, and going forward, mastering these dynamics, which underpin the technology, will be key for driving their use within an organisation. The design aspects of Web 2.0 is another area for future consideration, and to be thought through with any participatory plans - most importantly User Experience (UX). UX is concerned with the design of online interactions, and how that design enables an effective and efficient experience for the end user. 


To continue fulfilling the NFSA’s Key Principles of Engagement, and for the Curatorial Section to deliver their remit of developing, managing, interpreting, and providing access to the archive collection, the Section has many tools to consider, albeit in a budgetary and technological constrained environment.

Within the Collections Branch, metadata mapping is underway to have the data available for use in an Application Programming Interface (API). While there is searchable catalogues on the NFSA website, the data cannot presently be accessed via an API. NSFA is also currently consolidating various catalogues into the MediaFlex system.

Capacity building is a key area of development in achieving many of the aspects of the two technology trends. Mass digitisation of the collection is needed, as is systems development for asset management and outward facing digital discoverability.

When speaking of digital discovery, it is important to remember that more than 90 percent of the NFSA archive is under copyright protection. While this does not apply to Open Data, the hindrance this has on possible plans for use of archival content with Web 2.0 tools is very large. This highlights how important Open Data can be for an organisation like the NFSA, by providing a unique access point to the collection where other access points are blocked.

The nature of the participatory culture that Web 2.0 tools has accelerated has implications for the role of curator within an archival organisation. ‘Archives 2.0’ has been described as a “fundamental shift in perspective, to a philosophy that privileges the user and promotes an ethos of sharing, collaboration, and openness." This is a challenge to the traditional manner in which curators have engaged their archives. It suggests that for curators to provide access and interpretation in the future, they must see themselves as a participant also. They must understand how to creatively engage their users, not audience. They must also understand how to use the digital tools at their disposal to promote participatory actions around their collection.


With data mapping and capacity-building already underway, the opportunities to implement Open Data, and making it Linked Open Data compliant, are well placed. It is recommended that an Application Programming Interface (API) - with a Public Domain license - be made available via the NFSA website.

While Open Data is traditionally not considered a part of how a curator develops, manages, interprets, and provides access to an archive collection, within the digital economy, data is a new building block, and as such, curators have an obligation to develop and provide access to it.

As an Australian governmental institution charged with administering parts of a nation's history and memory, the data contained within the collection should be made free and open to the Australian public. With the exponential growth in media content production - and digitization projects - it is impossible for a handful of curators to interpret it all. Providing developers, researchers and the public with access to an API to find new interpretations within the data is needed.

API’s can be found in some instances in Australian GLAM institutions, such as the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, and Trove, the National Library of Australia’s online database aggregator. It should be noted that the data is not available with a Public Domain license, and has restrictions on commercial use.

Examples of API’s made available which are truly Open, with Public Domain licenses are more commonly found in Europe and the USA. Europeana is a digital cultural heritage aggregator that upholds the tenets of Open Data.

The Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City makes available an API that is licensed Public Domain. A user of the data has blogged about his experience of using the museums data, including the quality of the data. The amount of time and effort the blogger takes to improve the data is a good example of the stewardship users feel towards Public Domain data.  

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) holds workshop session, or ‘hackathons,’ to encourage creative use of their API, and to display final projects.

Possibilities to explore could include the NFSA organising ‘hackathons’ within computer science, and art and design departments at educational institutions. Organizing ‘hackathons’ can enhance discoverability and access to the API, and the archives as a whole, as well as provide new ‘living,’ shareable user generated content, whilst tapping into the ‘maker movement.’

There are also opportunities for Curatorial Sections staff to interpret the collection by setting challenges for ‘hackathon’ participants. metaLAB, a networked culture research unit at Harvard University, provides research into the creative possibilities of Open Data. Based on a workshop conducted in 2014, metaLAB have released a ‘field guide’ to working with Open Data in a creative capacity. The guide provides an excellent starting point for ideas on how to use Open Data, including the challenges of implementation.  

To create a ‘living’ and ‘creators’ archive and be a leader in the digital environment, as the NFSA’s Key Principles of Engagement states, the Curator Sections - in conjunction with the Collections Branch, and the Strategy and Engagement Branch - need to work towards providing enhanced online access and interaction.

It is well understood that the traditional broadcast, authoritative voice of cultural institutions is no longer the desired convention. User Experience (UX) and participatory action is now needed. The NFSA’s website is currently not customizable, nor are there any apps available for mobile or tablet devices. These are areas where the NFSA can look to innovative practices.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a Government of Canada agency, which has produced and distributed audiovisual content since 1939, and as such has a large archive. While different than the NFSA archive in that the NFB retains copyright of a large amount of content produced, their use of Web 2.0 tools is relevant to how the GLAM industry is moving with the technology trends, and where NFSA needs to catch-up.

The NFB website is customisable by offering a login, and renders the content sharable and embeddable. Login’s also allows an organisation access to more data to monitor how users are interacting with the content by anonymously aggregating the data. There are also mobile and streaming device apps available for flexible user viewing, and to interact with select content.

It is recommended that a move towards providing a customizable login website and app would be beneficial to providing better discoverability and access. Due to the nature of the NFSA archive containing very little copyright free content, a way forward may be to consider if the 10% that is copyright free would make an acceptable starting point. Over time, the hope is to make copyright material available online with a payment system in place, much like the NFB makes purchases online possible.

The possibilities for online services increases as more of the NFSA collection items are not in copyright. The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands has an innovative online service to select items from their collection to either print, arrange digitally, or download the file to manipulate the image, with limitations on commercial use.

As the digital economy grows, NFSA must decide whether access is core to the organisation, or a peripheral element. For the Curatorial Sections, the trend of Open Data, Web 2.0 and a digital core may mean a transformation of their authoritative position and the role they play within the organisation.

Originally written as an academic report written for the Digital Environment course, a part of the Information Studies degree at Charles Sturt University.

Header Photo Credit: Wonderlane, licensed under CC by 2.0

Annotated Bibliography…of GIFs

Topic: The development and application of GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) in visual art.

  • Burgess, Jean. “'All Your Chocolate Rain Are Belong to Us?' Viral Video, YouTube and the Dynamics of Participatory Culture.” In Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube, edited by Geert Lovink and Sabine Niederer 101-109. Amsterdam: Institute of Network, 2008. Accessed April 4, 2016.

Burgess is a professor of Digital Media Studies at Queensland University of Technology and in this article she examines viral media content with an emphasis on the participatory culture that creates much on the content.  Burgess gives examples of some of the most popular videos online and also explains how creation can flourish around corporate released product such as music videos. For a large chunk of GIFs, this is where they originate: from studio and corporate made audio-visual product. She continues on to use the examples of amateur made content that build large participation and creation around it. While this is not important to my research per se, participatory culture is important to GIF creation. The online participation Burgess speaks about includes “parodies, mashups and remixes”. While this is a good examination of participatory culture, this article will not form part of my research. If I do talk about participatory culture I will use Burgess’ citation of Henry Jenkins.

Eppink is an Associate Curator of Digital Media at Museum of the Moving Image in New York City and in this article he attempts to give a thorough history of the GIF, from it’s technological beginnings to where they may fit in the history of the moving image. He provides a great deal of technological information, and how the formation of GIFs are very much bound up with early internet users and culture and an ‘ethos of the commons’, which will make this article useful. He also points out that the technical limitations of a platform can produce an aesthetic effect on the GIFs that can give them a similar feeling or appearance, such as saturated colours on Tumblr.


Eppink is interviewed for the Library of Congress blog that is centred on digital preservation. The interviewer, Owens, raises a number if interesting questions pertaining to GIFs, mainly in the context of curating GIFs in museums, as Eppink has done. The exhibition is The Reaction GIF: Moving Image As Gesture. Eppink explains what GIFs are and specifically what Reaction GIFs are, his thoughts on the role they play in a linguistic sense, and how the GIF can enhance communication by substituting our own gestures with that of a set of appropriated frames that form the GIF. They also discuss authorship of GIFs, or more specifically the de-emphasization of authorship. Obviously authorship is of value for an artist working in the GIF medium, so this idea of the move away from authorship will be of use in my research, along with his thoughts on gesture and language.

Feifer is the executive editor at Entrepreneur magazine. In this article he explores the company Giphy, an online and mobile app platform for creating and sharing GIFs, with millions of searchable GIFs in their database. The company is seemingly at the forefront of these kinds of applications and this article identifies areas where Giphy are pushing their product and service, and therefore having a large influence in the culture and future direction of the GIF online. As an example they have begun live GIFing, along with creating licensing deals with major content producers such as Hollywood studios to create GIFs that result in millions of views of their content. The article also explains how they are working on further mashups, with images and imported data combined to create a new kind of GIF. This article is important for me to understand how platform companies shape and propel the use of GIFs, and the underlying mechanisms in their use and the creation of audience. Giphy is also working on ways to mechanize the production of GIFs made of popular content, creating a software system that autonomously records and creates GIFs, eliminating the need for people to create the GIFs. The co-founder sees that Giphy has create a massive searchable database of emotion and experience, which is an interesting concept for my research. He also believes that people within popular culture are conducting themselves to be interpreted into highly shareable GIFs, giving the example of music videos and politicians.

Artist and writer Hagman’s aim is to illustrate that the effectiveness of the GIF lays in its communicative value, using predominantly gestures, be that of a person or object. Particularly for GIFs made with pre-existing footage, he contends that the looping gesture creates cinema anew and has the power to create strangeness in moving images again, liberating the original footage from its need to ‘carry out narrative goals’. A goal or destination never reached. Hagman employs narrative cinema theory in several ways throughout the article, to good effect. This article will be of use for my research in that regard, along with his ideas on gesture.

  • Highfield, Tim and Duguay, Stefanie. “Like A Monkey With A Miniature Cymbal: Cultural Practices Of Repetition In Visual Social Media.” IR16: Association of Internet Researchers Annual Conference, October 21-24, 2014. Accessed March 31, 2016).

Highfield and Duguay are researchers at Queensland University of Technology, and in this conference paper they have begun a textural analysis of ‘looping visuals’ on social media, using in particular LGBTQ cultural context on Tumblr and Vine videos as their pilot study. They indicate that the textural analysis is supplemented by looking at the technology and platform ownership, citing “van Dijck’s (2013) approach to ‘disassembling platforms’”. Their research (thus far) is limited in its use in my research to foundational ideas of the GIF, which is helpful in its self. Their bibliography is also of help in identifying foundational ideas, particularly ‘mimetic practices’ and ‘vernacular creativity.'

Manovich is a professor of Computer Science at City University of New York. Early in this article Manovich cites Eduardo Navas (see my bibliography entry on his book chapter) as a resource for remix culture. Manovich sees the remix as an era defining function, seen in an array of cultural activities from digital communications and software, to music and fashion. He gives a brief contextualization of how the remix came to be and where it is now, drawing historical precedents of appropriation, quoting and collage, and technological changes. The main objective of the article is to examine what comes next, which he fails to answer or take on in any length or depth. While the article was unsatisfactory in that respect, it is a good question and Manovich defines remix culture well. This article may come into my research and will look into more of Manovichs’ writing.

Murray, a journalist and editor, writing for the website for technology news, writes about the history of remixing and mash-ups and its broader applications in art and music, and provides examples. He brings up issues of copyright. This is a good overview of recent visual remix work, identifying older assemblage works as done by Joseph Cornell, to newer remixes made for a YouTube audience (‘Vidding’). As shown elsewhere, this author does not differentiate between remix and mash-up, which are different, but does give a great overview of remix culture, which may be useful.

  • Navas, Eduardo. “Regressive and Reflexive Mashups in Sampling Culture.” In Mashup Cultures, edited by Stefan Sonvilla-Weiss, 157-177. New York: Springer Springer Vienna Architecture, 2010.

Navas, from Pennsylvania State University, puts forth a definition and differentiation between remix and mashup, and identifies categories within each one. He identifies reflexive mashups as something that exists in a Web 2.0 world, and of interest to me in the evolution of the GIF, with its relatively new ability to mashup images with streaming data. Navas calls this Regenerative Remix, and he posits that one element needs to be in a state of change to mirror the constant change in discourse. The crux of remix culture is centred on the digital technological advancements made in the past several decades, beginning with music sampling in the 60s and 70s. Much like GIFs, as in music, creators reinterpret pre-existing material. Navas explores Jacque Attali’s definition of Representation and Repetition and similarly Fredric Jameson’s logic of postmodernism being a progression of modernism and capitalism, and the idea of modernism being ‘mashed up’ with postmodernism in a plurality. There are many useful ideas and theory leads for me to pursue in this chapter.

The article by Pogue is located in the magazine Scientific American and explores the trend online of low-fi oddities (including GIF), in comparison to an off-line world of hi-resolution image and sound technology, and his theories of why this is so. He puts forth three theories of why this is happening. Each idea will be useful in my research, from his explanation of the technical and bandwidth limitations which GIF force us to embrace, to the creative challenge imposed by the medium’s limitations that require quick, precise expression. The limitations of the article are its brevity and lack of depth, but some good ideas to look for in others’ research.

Poulaki is a lecturer in film and digital media arts at University of Surrey. In this article Poulaki speaks of loops, so includes video, Vines and GIFs, all with similar durational characteristics. She states that loops are used commonly online to “illustrate and communicate thoughts, emotions and moods”, and compares the short loop as a micro-video blog tool, to Twitter’s micro-blogging function. She also points out that GIFs are a series of still images run together, whereas Vines are video loops. Poulaki addresses the difference between background loops and foreground loops, claiming the background loop may be used to “prolong the duration on non-action” such as a log burning in a fireplace. She situates the gesture as a foreground loop and sees them as displaying “narrativity or narrative probing”, and in the case of Vines, mini-narratives. These distinctions will be of use in my research.


Rourke wrote this article when he was a practice-based PhD student at Goldsmiths, in the UK.  The aim of the article is to identify the most common types of GIF that are viewable in an online environment. Rourke categorises GIFs into ten distinct types and examines them in the context of them being quick and abundant forms of “mimetic faculty” expression, drawing briefly on Walter Benjamin’s thoughts. The article is useful for my research as a jumping off point for the idea of “mimetic faculty” and how that relates to the GIF, as well as containing a useful guide to breaking down the types of GIF found online, and their defining characteristics.

Co-founded by Intel, the Creative Project is a website specializing in creativity, art and technology with this article written by journalist/artist Sugarman. He aims to highlight artists using GIFs to create ‘art’. Highlighted artist explain how they see GIFs as photography with the added dimension on time, occupying a middle ground between still and moving images. The artist would like to see GIFs moved from online to real physical space.

The article also talks about remix culture being the bedrock of the online GIF culture, and how successful GIFs emanate wit and irreverence, build on bad taste and remixed popular culture. This article is useful to illustrate how more ‘art’ oriented GIFs have evolved out of internet culture and the more commonly seen ‘reaction’ GIFs, and all go hand in hand with the remix ethos. There are many links to such artists in this article that may be useful as illustrating examples.

Walker, writing for the self-described ‘libertarian’ magazine, Reason, explains the popularity of GIFs online. Walker aims to inform of a revival of short films online, and in a trend for shorter formats, explains that GIFs have become very popular online. He uses the example of  ‘frame capture’ GIFs as a point of difference for the exploration of GIF ‘art’, which he defines as photography with movement, animation, movement in panel cartoons, and collage. Walker’s scope is very narrow and only highlights several artists, but does illustrate some nice examples. If I do use this source, it will be to locate artists working in GIF to use as examples.

Zittrain is a professor of internet law at Harvard Law School, and author on the subject, and in this article he elaborates on internet culture and the way memes operate and travel on the internet. While this has some relevance to the GIF, in that they can become ‘viral’ and travel through networked environments, this article does not specifically address GIFs and is more about the legal rights of public members becoming the subject of a meme. Therefore, this article will not be useful in my research.