Final Projects: Next Post: Topic > Question > Problem

For your next final project post, you should pose a research question. It will be due on Friday, November 13. This is in advance of your (required) meeting with me the following weeks.

The following exercise is cribbed from Wayne Booth (et al.)’s The Craft of Research. There are two relevant chapters: “From Topics to Questions” and “From Questions to Problems.”

Your “Problem” posts should step through each of these steps in an explicit way, documenting your revisions and how you’re thinking about them. Show your work. This may seem tedious, but it won’t take very long, and I suspect it will help you get to a good question quickly and clearly. The goal in this exercise is a really pointed, very specific agenda to get you started on your research.

First: Good Topics

Let’s get a clearly, concisely specified topic. Booth tells us that if the topic can be stated in four or five words, it’s not specific enough (39). You’ve got to add some form of elaboration and specification. Their types are: conflictdescriptioncontribution, and developing.

So let’s say I’ve decided my topic is “sexuality in network games” (I think I’m not duplicating anybody’s research project). Note that we can restate this as a claim: “There is sexuality in network games.” That’s not very interesting.

To elaborate this, we should add language of conflict, description, etc. from above. To which I will add, also specify some actual sites of research. Here’s a better topic: “The development of sexuality in network games from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.”

A few things are good about this. First, you can state it as a claim: “Sexuality in network games has developed from text-based MUDs to 3D worlds like Second Life.” Notice, too, that there’s a subsidiary claim there, which is that a game’s interface affects the way sexuality is a problem for, or in, it. Second, it’s got a few obvious points of reference in our course: Neveldine + Taylor, Dibbel, Bersani, Cooper, Hodge.

Second: Topic/Question/Significance

We’re not done. Booth gives us a three-step sentence that will help enormously in figuring out what you’re working on and why. It goes like this: topic, question, significance.

Topic: “I am studying…,”

Question: “because I want to find out why/how/whether…,”

Significance: “in order to help my reader understand…”

A few notes:

Notice that there is a genuine question! This is not the same thing as a topic.

Notice also that the significance is about teaching the reader something. Presumably you’ll learn something, too, but it’s important to understand that all this work is targeted at readers—in this case: your classmates, me, your very dedicated friends and relatives, and the internet at large.

In the above example, we could parse this out a couple of ways:

Perhaps the most straightforward way is to keep the topic very specifically focused, and then to add layers of generalization from there: “I am working on sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, in order to help my reader understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality.”

But you could also run this a bit more theoretico-historically (and more specifically): “I am working on changes in how sexuality works between early MUDs and Second Life, because I want to find out what online sexuality and fantasy teach about sexuality in general, in order to help my reader understand how differing mediations of virtual and physical involve transformations in sexuality.

In each case, notice that there are implicit questions that get us places: How do game interfaces affect sexuality in games? How does game design influence networked sexuality? What do online sexuality and fantasy teach us about sexuality in general? How do different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality?

Each of these is, of course, also a claim—”Different mediations of virtual and physical life involve transformations in sexuality.” So you might think that your thesis is baked in, and that’s the thesis. But actually, that’s just the starting point, the communicative context, for your research. You’ll discover your thesis in the elaboration of the how question.

Third: Research Problem

This is a fairly radical redaction of what Booth (et al.) have to say, but it will help.

First, we’re dealing with conceptual problems: what we do or do not understand. So let’s get explicit with one of these topic/question/significance sentences. Neither of them is done yet.

Let’s make explicit the conceptual consequences embedded in one of these two sentences by specifying the entailments between these levels—in reverse.

“In order to understand how game design can have effects on networked sexuality, I have to (it helps to) understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games.” That’s not bad! And “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” This isn’t quite right. The scope of the problems doesn’t fit—and your intuition is probably exactly wrong. You could make the topic broader, but that’s exactly the wrong direction.

This is where we loop this back into specifying the topic even further. What you’re studying is not, then, sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life, but rather the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life. “In order to understand how game interfaces affect how sexuality works in games, I have to (it helps to) understand the consequences of textual vs. visual interfaces for sexuality in early MUDs and Second Life.” That’s better, the scope matches.

We could get more specific than this, and will learn how to as our research progresses. But now we actually have some real agendas to start working on reading and research: textual mediations of sexuality in early MUDs, visual mediations of sexuality in Second Life. What we discover there will help us figure out how to connect the dots. And what we’ve arrived at is our goal: a really specific agenda as you start your research.


How to Manage Comment Spam, part the second

It has come to my attention that one additional step is required to help you manage comment spam, if you are having a problem. Go to your Dashboard, select Jetpack from the left hand side, and then select Akismet from the submenu:


Click the big blue button that says “Use this Akismet account.” It’ll take a minute to work, since it involves patching some things up on the backend and hooking them into some other networks. But! Once it’s done, you’ll be hooked into my Akismet, and will suffer no more from comment spam.

After it’s done hooking up the spam plumbing, it’ll take you to a dialogue that will let you choose whether simply to discard comment spam, or whether it should put it in the spam folder. The default is the spam folder; I recommend banishing all that spam straight to the fiery pits of hell. It’s your choice; do as you please.

How To Create a “Pingback”

So the blogs that we’re writing this semester aren’t just reading responses, a kind of communication to Scott that you’ve dutifully done the reading. I’m trying to force you into a conversation with each other. Because of that, each blog post you write this semester (with the possible exception of your very first, and only for early posters) should include a “pingback.” Pingbacks are just a simple term for a link to another blog post.

So, to do this, when you’re editing your post, select the text you’d like to have as a link, and then click the link button in the editor. It’s on the top row, and it looks like a little chain:

Then, just copy and paste the URL of your colleague’s post into the URL field at the top, click “Add Link,” and you’re done.

The “pingback” part is this: your blog is smart enough to talk to your colleague’s blog about this link. And so, an automatically-generated comment will appear on your colleague’s blog post that you’ve linked to it. That means everybody knows when others are talking about their posts.

That’s the technical side of pingbacks; I’m also asking for substantive engagement with at least one of the posts you’re linking to.

How To Import Feeds into Tiny Tiny RSS (if OPML is giving you heartburn)

I have received several pleas for help, as the OPML feed importing process isn’t working for some people. If you have been trying to get connected with Tiny Tiny RSS, but the OPML file is not downloading properly, or it’s not possible to save the file, or it doesn’t subscribe you to any feeds, here is an alternate process that is, ultimately, probably easier and less prone to error. In the interest of time—I’m trying to get this out to you all as fast as possible—I haven’t included screen shots this time; it should be straightforward enough without them. If you try this out and remain bewildered, shoot me a message and I’ll work on screen shots.

In Preferences, under the Feeds tab, and in the Feeds pref pane, there are three menus at the top of the pane: Select, Feeds, and Categories.

First, create a category for our feeds. If you don’t mind all our feeds living under “Uncategorized,” you can skip this step. Open the Categories menu and select Add category. Name the class category whatever you want: “The Feelings and Networks Network” and “Class bullshiz” work equally well.

Next, you’ll need to subscribe to the feeds. Open the Feeds menu, and select Batch subscribe. First, in the drop down on the top right, “Place in category,” select whichever category you just added (or do nothing). Then, you will copy and paste the list of feeds for the class. A properly formatted list of feeds is here. Once you’ve pasted the list into the Batch subscribe dialogue, click subscribe, and you should be all set!

I thought this solution would somehow be less elegant, but downloading XML files is apparently much more problematic than I anticipated. Once again, thank you for bearing with me as we get all our technology patched up.

Heidegger famously wrote in Being and Time that you only experience a thing as a thing once it breaks. A hammer in good repair is just a hammer; you use it to bang on nails. When the hammer breaks, however, it becomes an inert thing, recalcitrant matter, no longer an extension of your will.

Let’s just say it’s been a good lesson for us all, interacting with the materiality of networks. Which is also to say: a good lesson as we move into the next two weeks of class.

How To Get Connected Using Tiny Tiny RSS

I have finally, I think, found a solution to all our feed problems: Tiny Tiny RSS. I have also discovered that if you want something done right, you have to host it yourself. So, we have a new part of the site, our Tiny Tiny RSS reader. This is workhorse software that should suit our purposes, but it is not super slickly user friendly. Have some patience with this process. I’m sorry it’s not easier.

{Update: Apparently, this is not the end of the story. If you have difficulty with the OPML/feed importing process described below, try the alternative, “batch subscribe” process. Also, please be aware that, try as I might, I have not yet figured out how to get the “Feelings and Networks Network” link here on the left to update any faster than very slowly. What you see there will likely be out of date. Best to set up RSS as described here, and to use the new, streamlined subscription process.}

I have created accounts for all of you in our install of Tiny Tiny RSS. Your username will be your last name; your temporary password will be your accessID.

Once you log in the first time, you’ll need to do a few things.

First of all, please change your password right away. From the Actions menu at the top right, select Preferences:


This will bring you to the General preferences pane. Above the Preferences pane, you will see Personal data / Authentication:


Click on that, and you’ll get the Personal data / Authentication pane:


If you wish, you can put your full name in there or change your email to a preferred account. Please change your password, and please consider using a very strong password à la XKCD.

Once you have changed your password, you will need to subscribe to the class blogs. Because (sigh) the plugin I’m using to aggregate all our blogs into a single feed appears not to be working, we’ll need you to subscribe separately to all 29 feeds. Fortunately, you can import the feed subscriptions I have set up in my account.

To import these feeds: In the preferences screen, select the Feeds tab at the top:


This will bring you to a list of Feeds you’re subscribed to. {NB: From here, you should probably skip the rest of this page, and flip over to the alternative method.} Below the Feeds pane, you will see a pane called OPML:


OPML is a file format that allows you to transfer feed subscription data, and you can do it on this screen. An OPML file that includes the all the class blogs is here. You can import it here:


Before you can upload an OMPL file, you’ll need to download one. Ours is here. Either download this file by right clicking the link and saving it, or open the link (it should open an XML file that looks like all kinds of gobbledygook) and save it to your computer (File > Save As…) in a convenient location. (Say, your Downloads folder.) The filename should be feelings.opml, or possibly feelings.opml.xml. Either should be fine.

Then, click on the “Choose File” button in the OMPL pane, and navigate to, and select, the file you just downloaded.

This will then import all the feeds into your Tiny Tiny RSS account in a category called The Feelings and Networks Network. If you click on your Feeds pref pane, you should see a bunch of entries. At first, this may appear as a list of a lot of [unknown]‘s, but our little server that could is churning through the information.

If you then click on the “Exit preferences” link at the top left, you’ll be taken back to your initial screen with all your feeds—which is what you will see whenever you log in. Congratulations! Each time you log in, you’ll see the list of feeds.

Nota bene: The default theme for Tiny Tiny RSS isn’t exactly easy on the eyes. I recommend changing it. In the general preferences pane, you can scroll down to the “Themes” section, and select “feedly.css.” It’s a much nicer thing to look at.

How To Make Your First Post

If you have already made a new blog, but you can’t figure out how to post, here is the likely issue: you’re trying to post to the blog Scott maintains, the course blog, the general and mostly official Feeling Networked blog. You need to post to your own personal blog. To switch to that blog, you need to click on the “My Sites” at the top left (to the right of the WordPress logo), and select the blog you have set up.* Once you are there, you can create a new post either by clicking selecting “Post” from the “+ New” menu up top, or select Posts from the dashboard menu on the left.

*The class blog is also one of “your sites,” although you are signed up as subscribers, and can only comment.

Here’s a handy screenshot that may help:

How to make a post

How To Access the Course Readings

Course readings are all linked from the course schedule. It should be easy enough: clink on the link, and either you’re taken to a webpage or you’ll get a file download. However, please note that any reading that has a URL is a protected file, and you will only be able to download it if you are logged into WordPress.

If you aren’t logged in to our WordPress site and try to access a protected reading, you’ll get a page that simply says “You do not have permission to access this download.” And then a link that will take you back to

To log in, simply scroll down, and under the META heading at the very bottom of the menu, follow the Log In link, using your credentials (your last name, all lower case, and your password).

How To Get Started Once You’ve Set Up Your Blog

Really, it’s simple: just start writing!

Also, as a favor to all of us: please delete or edit your “Hello World” first post. Else we’ll have 25 “Hello World!” posts in the Feelings and Networks Network.

If, however, you are an absolute newbie to blogging, and maybe feeling a bit lost at sea in beginning with your blog, please also notice and get familiar with the help menu at the top right hand corner. Lots of useful stuff there. Additionally, a good resource for getting started is the WordPress official tutorial site,

The “Learn” site offers instruction, well, for starting a blog at We are, however, using our the WordPress software installed on our own site, I haven’t followed this links personally; so it’s possible you’ll get an instruction or two that doesn’t make sense, then don’t worry too much about it.

Also, there are lots and lots (and lots and lots) of WordPress beginner guides out on the web. Start googling and find something that makes sense of it for you.

How To Watch Movies for Class

This isn’t quite a tech post; instead, it is about the films we are watching for class. None of them are obscure, although streaming services cost money. I will hold screenings for all of the films outside of class time. We will work together to determine suitable screening times, but screenings will be either Monday evenings or Tuesday afternoons.

The catch is that we are working with a film very early in the semester: our second meeting. And, Monday is Labor Day, and even I won’t ask you to go to a screening on Labor Day. So: I will hold a screening of Her on Tuesday, September 8, at 2:30pm, in State Hall 326. Her is probably the easiest film to get your hands on this semester; if you cannot make the screening, please stream the film. It is (at least) for “sale” on both iTunes and Amazon; it is available at many area public libraries. Edited to add: Jodi has helpfully pointed out that it is free to screen “On Demand” for Comcast subscribers; you might want to check that option out as well.

For our screenings later in the semester, please help Scott schedule a screening by filling out this poll.

For reference, here is a handy list of weeks in which there will be a screening:

Tue, Sep 8: Her Screening
2:30 pm - 4:30 pm, State Hall 326
If you cannot make the screening, please be sure to watch the film on your own.
Tue, Sep 8: Her and Network Subjects
4:30 pm - 5:50 pm, State Hall 326
Watch: Spike Jonze, Her (USA, 2013, 126 min.); screening.

Read: Kris Cohen, "Search Engine Subjectivities":
Mon, Sep 21: Screening: Citizenfour
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm, State Hall 326
Laura Poitras, Citizenfour, USA, 2014, 114 min.
Tue, Sep 22: Screening: Citizenfour
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm, State Hall 326
Laura Poitras, Citizenfour, USA, 2014, 114 min.
Tue, Sep 22: How do Networks Work?
4:30 pm - 5:50 pm, State Hall 326
Watch: Laura Poitras, Citizenfour (USA, 2014, 114 min.); screening.

Jonathan Sterne, "Compression: A Loose History," from Signal Traffic, pp. 31-52.
Christian Sandvig, "The Internet as the Anti-Television," pp. 225-245.
Mon, Oct 26: Screening: Gamer
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm, State Hall 326
Neveldine + Taylor, Gamer, USA, 2009, 95 min.
Tue, Oct 27: Screening: Gamer
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm, Screening: Gamer
Neveldine + Taylor, Gamer, USA, 2009, 95 min.
Tue, Oct 27: Online Sociality as Play and Work, part 1
4:30 pm - 5:50 pm, State Hall 326
Watch: Neveldine + Taylor, Gamer (USA, 2009, 95 min.); screening. Posts: Noah McMullen, Jodi Jergovich, Sara Pollet.
Mon, Nov 30: Screening: Blackhat
6:00 pm - 8:30 pm, State Hall 326
Michael Mann, Blackhat, USA, 2015, 133 min.
Tue, Dec 1: Screening: Blackhat
2:00 pm - 4:30 pm, State Hall 326
Michael Mann, Blackhat, USA, 2015, 133 min.
Tue, Dec 1: Actual Futures, or Financialization
4:30 pm - 5:50 pm, State Hall 326
Watch: Michael Mann, Blackhat (USA, 2014, 133 min.); screening. Posts: Jodi Jergovich, Mike Holloway.

Listen: Radiolab, "Million Dollar Microsecond": (Posts: Chris Gikas, Daniel Jones)

Graham Bowley, "The New Speed of Money":
Gerald Neslter, "Mayhem in Mahwah":
Karppi and Crawford, "Social Media, Financial Algorithms, and the Hack Crash": (Post: Sandeep Sidhu)

In-class visit (by Skype) from Theodore Kuhnlohe, DRW Trading, Chicago.