Folksonomy & Tumblr Tagging

Towards the end of Douglas Eyman’s discussion of digital research methods, an interesting comparison is drawn between data visualization and folksonomy. According to Eyman, data visualization is an “analytic technique in its own right” because it is “a method that can be used to structure data in ways that reveal patterns” (Eyman 109-10). Representing information via data visualization results in an infographic that is both visually appealing and informative. Through studying this image, patterns and relationships inherent in texts can be more immediately determined. One example of data visualization given by Eyman is the ‘tag cloud.’ These clouds can be “generated automatically by extracting the most common phrases from a given corpus […], or they can represent the tags that individuals apply to content in folksonomic systems” (Eyman 111). Eyman refers to Derek Mueller (his dissertation is represented via tag cloud) who uses frequency analysis to find which terms appear most frequently in issues of College Composition and Communication (Eyman 111). Through this analysis, the most frequently used words per issue can be included within the visualization of a tag cloud. Such a cloud permits a reader of the journal to view, at a glance, the main topics under consideration within that particular issue’s collection of essays.

An example of one of Derek Mueller’s CCC tag clouds.

I was interested here in Eyman’s suggestion that tag clouds can refer not only to commonly used phrases within a text but also to “content in folksonomic systems” (Eyman 111). This reminded me of an essay that I read last semester: “‘Folksonomy’ and the Restructuring of Writing Space” by Jodie Nicotra. In this essay, Nicotra considers the extent to which digital composition has changed the way that writing as a process can be defined. While writing has generally been understood as constituting a “discrete textual object”—a text written by an individual for a predetermined audience—this understanding of writing fails to account for the variety of compositions that are produced online or through other digital means (Nicotra 259). Therefore, Nicotra’s essay focuses on folksonomy, or “multi-user-tagging,” as a form of digital composition that permits “multiple, collective subjectivities to ‘write’” (Nicotra 260). Through attaching tags to digital texts, multiple online users can influence the ways that texts are catalogued (and thus the ease with which they are or are not found). Nicotra ultimately suggests that online writing through folksonomy can be conceived of as “the building of a space rather than the production of a text” because multiple users contribute to the composition (Nicotra 263). Through tagging, users can create a space not only for their writing but a community in which they want to be active participants.

This understanding of folksonomy as a space-building tool is particularly interesting to me in relation to Tumblr. As a blogging platform, users can attribute tags to their posts so that they can be more easily organized and catalogued (both in relation to their own blog and the blogging community at large). For example, tagging a post as being related to #education can organize similarly themed posts on a user’s individual blog as well as potentially allow the post to appear to any Tumblr user who searches for other #education posts via the site-wide search feature. This is the type of tagging that Eyman is talking about, insofar as these tags mark the main topics of a piece of writing and can thus be included in a cloud visualization demonstrating which topics a user talks about most frequently. However, tagging on Tumblr also functions beyond cataloguing and organization as a form of narrative text in itself.

Tumblr users who tag their posts are not restricted by single words or phrases; rather, tags can be full sentences or fragments that do not necessarily relate to a single specific topic. (While I believe that other blogging platforms also allow this freedom, I’m focusing on Tumblr because that is where I’ve seen this type of tagging occur most often.)

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Below the Sherlock stills, you can see examples of commentary- esque tagging.

Therefore, bloggers can continue the narrative of their blog post within the text of the tags themselves. Once done, the tags will—theme permitting—appear in a smaller or lighter colored font either below or next to the original post. On themes that don’t display tags on the page, tags are only visible to users who come across the post on their dashboard or ‘like’ the post and then read the post within their on-dashboard log of liked posts. I think there is something to be said about this type of tagging as a specific rhetorical decision in that the text of tags is (at least relatively) more hidden than the main text of a post. There is a possibility that certain users (particularly readers without Tumblr accounts and access to the dashboard) might miss this aspect of the composition. In this way, tagging on Tumblr becomes somewhat akin to speaking more quietly about a topic (especially given that the type of information usually given in tags can be generally understood as commentary or additional reflections about the text written in the main post). Tagged writing can be somewhat more difficult to access, and therefore gives the writer an increased level of freedom to broach certain topics insofar as the tags are supplementary to the main text.

However, seemingly personal tags—personal insofar as they refer explicitly to a personal anecdote—sometimes get adopted and adapted by other users on their own blogs. Or, conversely, users can reblog the original text of another user’s post and add their own commentary through tagging. In this way, tagging becomes what Nicotra has called a “[tool] for invention” (Nicotra 272). While in traditional rhetoric invention is envisioned as occurring “in the mind of the rhetorical producer,” invention through tagging “results from interaction between multiple users who are unknown to one another” (272). Conversation between users can therefore occur through folksonomy, even if only through adoption of or addition to tags.

This interests me also because I wonder whether tagging—understood as an extension of narrative rather than as a means of categorization—could be incorporated into data visualization. While it certainly could be organized into a tag cloud, the effect of such a visualization would likely not permit a viewer to have a more immediate understanding of the types of topics occupying the blog. Regardless, I think that considering folksonomy as a form of writing is beneficial because it gives a great deal of agency to the online writer and contributes to the idea of online community. Studying online writing in relation to the use of tags would potentially allow for a better understanding of how writers envision (or don’t envision) themselves as entering a conversation when they create digital media.


Eyman, Douglas. “Digital Rhetoric: Method.” Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2015. 93-111. Print.

Nicotra, Jodie. “‘Folksonomy’ and the Restructuring of Writing Space.” College Composition and Communication 61.1 (September 2009): 259-276. Web.


Web Interfaces and the Commoditization of Race

  1. The Interface & the User

Lisa Nakamura begins the third chapter of Digitizing Race by discussing the ubiquity of the interface as a feature in popular film, spanning the genres of science fiction and thriller to romantic comedy. Movie scenes in which the interface figures prominently are worth paying attention to in that they “allow insight into both the characters that use them and the ways in which information, surveillance, and visualization function in the realm of the film and in society at large” (95). As “mastery” of the interface can be understood in terms of “immediacy,” or a direct and transparent relationship with technology, Nakamura is interested in analyzing instances in which certain bodies are filmed as not having an immediate relationship to interfaces (95). Focusing primarily the “racio-visual logic of race” in The Matrix trilogy and Minority Report, Nakamura argues that representations of interface use “sets up distinct roles for particular races, and distinct ways of conceptualizing the racialized body as informational property for use in dataveillant state apparatuses” (97). In these two films, white users engage in direct, visual, and unmediated relationships with the interface; black users are depicted as “witnesses and support staff” (97).

Nakamura thus distinguishes between “‘black’ and ‘white’ interface culture” (99). In The Matrix, for example, white users engage with interfaces by means of gesture; that is, they interact with technology without forms of mediating technology (99).

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A white interface uses interacts with an interface via gesture (rather than mediating technology.)

Black users, in contrast, cannot access the interface without the use of mediated—and arguably antiquated—technology, such as a keyboard, computer mouse, or headset.

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A black interface user engages with interface only via mediating technology (i.e. headset).

The white user’s engagement with the interface is thus privileged in terms of its immediacy. Where the black user is depicted as occupying a supportive and mediated role in relation to the interface, the white user can be connected with the interface without technological help.

While the white user is able to interact with the interface through more transparent means, the interface itself is figured as white; it is clear, fluid, and visually transparent. White characters—and interfaces—in each film are linked with oppressive forms of control (surveillance, dataveillance, etc.). The presence of the white interface thus suggests the “paradox” of whiteness as the “paradox of new media” (98). Nakamura suggests that computer use “is also a privileged site for looking at the ways that black and white identities are constructed in relation to new media in this trilogy” (98). Whiteness is dangerous in terms of its “ability to reproduce itself infinitely” (101). The black user is present in The Matrix trilogy in opposition to the whiteness of the interface, particularly in relation to a perceived level of ‘coolness’ maintained by the black user. While white male characters, representative of “machine culture,” are infinitely reproduced, the black characters remain essentially stable, and more human (100). Nakamura writes:

This is how the films portray their strong critique of information society, post-Internet, as well as how they pose their solution to this problem—while machine culture is viral, oppressive, and assimilative, Afro-futurist mojo and black identity are generally depicted as singular, ‘natural,’ and, as Ebert puts it, unassimilable and ‘authentic.’ Blackness retains its identity in the face of technological change, white power and privilege, and racism. (100)

Ultimately, the black interface user—with “Afro-futurist mojo,” or ‘coolness’—is depicted as an alternative to the unnatural power and control inherent in the white interface user (and the interface itself) (100). Nakamura thus posits that blackness is “represented as a source of human agency in this techno-future” (103). Through the inclusion of a black characters in relation to a predominantly white interface, The Matrix trilogy “creates a counterdiscourse to cyberutopianism, one that comes at an especially opportune time as we exit the millennium with the knowledge that the Internet has failed to live up to its much hyped potential to liberate users from their bodies, from racism, and from inequalities of all kinds” (104). However, this ultimately problematizes race in terms of ownership and property: who, in other words, has the ‘right’ to present raced bodies in this way?

II. The Transparent Interface and “the presence of the black figure” (107)

Nakamura next considers the interface and its racial implications in terms of another film, Minority Report. Here, the “metaphor of transparency” is made literal in relation to interface as depicted in the film; it is visually transparent and clear (the viewer of the film sees through the interface itself as Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, manipulates the screen via gesture) (106). The presence of black interface users—occupying a largely secondary space only through the use of mediating technology—serves to emphasize the interface’s whiteness. Nakamura writes:

The presence of blackness in the visual field guards whites from the irresistible seduction of the perfectly transparent interface. The implication here is that black and white interface styles can coexist, with blackness legitimating the white device as a means for producing pleasure and displacing anxieties regarding the hegemonies of white interfaces. In other words, the “mojo” of blackness in the computer interface is a salable commodity in the world outside the films as well. However, the price paid is that blacks are never depicted as masters of the interface, never creators of digital images, and are never depicted manipulating the interface in this direct bodily way (109).

Ultimately, blackness in each film functions as a commodity in that the presence of black users prevent white users from becoming wholly engaged in the damaging nature of the transparent interface. Rather, the white user is somehow reminded of what exists beyond the transparency of the interface. However, as both films demonstrate: the black user does not get to possess a privileged relationship with the interface. In this way, the black body benefits only the white body and is not given the same level of subjectivity.

III. The Interface & the iPod

The transparent interface—represented as “intuitive, universal, pre- or postverbal, white, translucent, and neutral”—is made apparent in the aesthetic interface/object design of the Apple iPod. Nakamura discusses iPod advertisements in relation to their representation of whiteness/blackness; specifically, she considers the 2004 advertising campaign that depicts black (as in colorless) silhouetted bodies dancing with white iPods against colorful backgrounds.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 8.22.00 PM

In this advertisement campaign, the bodies using the iPods are depicted as “black void[s] into which a viewer’s identity can be transported” (109). As a technological object, the iPod is so appealing for potential consumers insofar as the consumer can place their mark on an otherwise uniform interface—or, in other words, a consumer can place their own music and/or playlists into the interface and customize the tracks that are available at any given time. While each iPod looks the same, the devices are “object[s] of desire” because “they are meant to be written on, to be shared with others, to contain subjectivity in a way that clothes or furniture cannot” (110). In this way, the iPod is enmeshed with “digital privilege;” the user can engage freely with media if they know where to look (111).


Nakamura discusses the media form in terms of “flatness;” however, this is “counterbalanced by the creation of extremely well-differentiated visual styles that trace out different options in terms of race and ethnicity” (111). Nakamura draws a comparison between the iPod commercials—in which the silhouetted bodies are depicted as dancing to different genres of music—to Jennifer Lopez’s “If You Had My Love” music video (111). Where the viewers of the video were given the option to click through different identities—each of which have different racial associations and implications—the potential consumer can ‘select’ a different music identity.

Part of why this campaign is so successful depends on Apple’s apparent mastery of marketing their products in terms of what is “cool” (113). They accomplish this in part by “promoting an Afro-futuristic visual culture” in order to “separate blackness from other types of identities (the punk rock iPod ad features a thin white woman dancing pogo-style to aggressive sounding music) while presenting it as a stable object that can be enjoyed as one of a range of visual and musical options” (113). The music that users can select for their iPods are, however, not random; they “produce predictable configurations of bodies, types, and images” (113).

This leads the way to critiques of the iPod, most notably the “iPod Ghraib” series by Trek Kelly.


Here, the bodies are not completed blacked out; it is clear that “not just anyone can occupy that desired space of musical free volition, expression, and consumption” (115). Kelly’s critique bears similarities to The Matrix trilogy and Minority Report in terms of marginal blackness. According to Nakamura,

Whiteness is replication, blackness is singularity, but never for the black subject, always for the white subject. How best to read the particular position of the marginal black in cinematic depictions of the interface? Marginal blacks are literally in the margins of these images—witness to the digital image production that threatens to smudge the line between reality and virtuality. And for many critics, the contrast between the real and the virtual is the most important issue to consider in the films. (116)

Nakamura suggests that race functions “as a way to visualize new media image production” (116). In other words, one must consider the color of the people creating images with interfaces and the color of those who will be “taking care of the bodies” of those who will be more connected (117). In specific relation to Minority Report, Nakamura suggests that the film depicts the negative potential of racial profiling in a digital culture that prizes the white, connected body over the black and ‘marginal’ one.

Discussion Questions


  1. Nakamura suggests the iPod is an “object of desire” because it can be “written” on (110). How is this desire made manifest with our relationships with other digital objects (including objects that are less tangible than an iPod)?
  2. Nakamura posits in her introduction that Jennifer Lopez in “If You Had My Love” exists as both subject and object; can we say the same about the multiple bodies—all of which are differently raced/gendered—in the 2004 iPod ad campaign, particularly the commercials?
  3. Both The Matrix trilogy and Minority Report depict nearly transparent interfaces capable of being accessed by white bodies (and only white bodies). What else seems potentially dangerous about this level of transparency?
  4. Nakamura notes that the women in each film are “objects, not subjects, of interactivity” (105). What is necessary for one to maintain subjectivity in the digital age? Who has the right to produce digital images?
  5. What does this chapter have to suggest about “performing” race? How is this similar to avatar use online?



Nakamura, Lisa. “The Social Optics of Race and Networked Interfaces in The Matrix Trilogy and Minority Report.Digitizing Race: Visual Cultures of the Internet. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2008. 95-130. Print.

Flickering Signifiers & Cyborgs

What’s a cyborg? Both Katherine Hayles (“Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifiers”) and Donna Harroway (“A Cyborg Manifesto”) write about them; this blog post is an attempt to work out their ideas in relation to the boundaries (or, rather, lack of boundaries) existing between human and machine. (Disclaimer: I’m still working out these connections for myself!).

Harroway immediately draws attention to the centrality of boundaries: “This chapter is an argument for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction” (Harroway 292). Harroway notes three specific boundary breakdowns—that between human and animal, organism and machine, and also between physical and nonphysical (Harroway 293-4). These three boundaries are interrelated and collectively suggest that we—as human—may not be as different from both the non-human animals and technologies with which we are surrounded. A “cyborg world,” as Harroway conceives of it, is one that “might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (Harroway 295). An awareness of “partial” identities ultimately clears the way for coalitional politics and is also reflected in writing (Harroway 295-6). In writing, the boundaries between organism and machine can be lessened and exploited for their potential power.

According to Harroway, writing is the “technology of cyborgs” (Harroway 312). She writes:

Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism. That is why cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine. These are the couplings which make Man and Woman so problematic, subverting the structure of desire, the force imagined to generate language and gender, and so subverting the structure and modes of reproduction of ‘Western’ identity, of nature and culture, of mirror and eye, slave and master, body and mind. ‘We’ did not originally choose to be cyborgs, but choice grounds a liberal politics and epistemology that imagines the reproduction of individuals before the wider replications of ‘texts.’ (Harroway 312)

Cyborg writing embraces the “illegitimate fusions” of organism and machine; it is through this embrace that the phallogocentric origin myths that abound can be refocused. This writing is possible specifically because the human is fused to the machine, because the human’s “sense of connection to our tools is heightened” (Harroway 313).

It seems to me that it’s possible to draw a connection here to Katherine Hayles’s work on flickering signification, which “brings together language with a psychodynamics based on the symbolic moment when the human confronts the posthuman” (Hayles 33). Ina potentially posthuman world, writing—and reading—is necessarily mediated by one’s relationship with technology. This relationship is so important because the boundaries between human organism and technology have become increasingly difficult to discern. Thus, reading is akin to decoding:

What binds the decoder to the system is not the stability of being a member of an interpretive community or the intense pleasure of physically possessing the book, a pleasure that all bibliophiles know. Rather, it is the decoder’s construction as a cyborg, the impression that his or her physicality is also data made flesh, another flickering signifier in a chain of signification that extends through many levels, from the DNA that in-formats the decoder’s body to the binary code that is the computer’s first language. (Hayles 47)

Reading is, for Hayles, an embodied experience: we read to decode because we have been accustomed to be more familiar with the flickering nature of signification. Reading is therefore no longer related to the idea of community, but rather to the close relationship between the codes of language and the physical body. Just as Harroway’s cyborg is a mixture of human and machine, Hayles conceives of readers who are capable of decoding messages as if by muscle memory. While meaning cannot be entire, it is—both Hayles and Harroway agree—capable of superseding the materiality of text itself. Reading is no longer neccessarily the experience of holding the physical text in one’s hand; it is, with increasingly frequency, the experience of decoding messages that indicate the lack of boundaries between human and computer.

Overall, what I take away from Hayles and Harroway is the potentiality inherent in the interrelationship between human/machine. Through this melding of flesh and technology, humans are capable of writing new narratives and interacting with information in more intimate ways.

Remediation and Photorealistic Painting

Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin suggest that when we encounter digital technologies, we desire immediacy; that is, we want to encounter digital reality without being hindered by the interface of the digital medium through which it is experienced (318). Ideally, a medium’s interface would be “transparent” to the viewer insofar as it offers an unmediated experience of the technology (318). This desire for transparency has a long history: Bolter and Grusin trace the extent to which other mediums, most notably painting and photography, preceded digital immediacy (318). Painters used linear perspective and erasure to minimize the appearance of brush strokes while photographers created chemical images that similarly attempted to “conceal both the process and the artist” (319).

Ultimately, Bolter and Grusin describe a theory of remediation–the “borrowing” of an older medium to be reused in a new and different one (339). However, it goes both ways: users of older mediums such as film can incorporate newer mediums into their work (342). An example of this can be found, I think, in contemporary photorealistic painting.

Lee Price, an American figurative realist painter, has been recognized primarily for her hyperrealistic paintings of women with food.

Lee Price, Cherry Cheesecake

Price paints these images from photographs she takes from a vantage point. In all but a couple of portraits–one featuring her friend, another featuring her mother–Price herself is the subject of the painting.

Lee Price

The photorealistic style of Price’s paintings make it slightly difficult for a viewer to immediately recognize the image as an oil painting; rather, the image appears very much like a photograph. The paintings are thus remediated by the art of photography; the hyperealism is, I think, the means through which the viewer can more directly engage with the image. Just as digital hypermedia “seek the real by multiplying mediation so as to create a feeling of fullness” that “can be taken as reality,” Price’s paintings draw attention to the photographic nature of the image in order to create a sense of immediacy (343). This sense of immediacy is meant, it seems to me, to make the viewer forget that they are looking at a painting. Through emphasizing the photograph within the painting, I think Price’s paintings ultimately force the viewer to engage more closely with the subject of her artwork–the subject being most often herself, and always a female body. Ultimately, the viewer is forced to consider the relationship of the female body to food in relation to its place within a public gaze.

The first time I saw these paintings was on Tumblr. When they first appeared on my dashboard in a relatively small image format, I did immediately think that they were photographs. It was only when I looked closer that I realized they were actually paintings. This double-take–first thinking that I was looking at a relatively unmediated photograph, and ultimately realizing I was looking at a painting of a photograph–captured my attention.

To me, the immediacy of the paintings is most apparent given the intimate subject matter of the images. Photorealism allows the closest thing available to an unmediated look at the artist’s relationship with her body. Or at least, that’s how I’ve interpreted it!

Also, you can see some more examples of photorealistic painting here.



Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. “Remediation.” Configurations 4.3 (1996): 311-358. Web.

Lee Price. Lee Price Studio. Web. 3 February 2016.


Hello and welcome!  My name is Jordan and I’m currently in my second year of the English PhD program where I’ve been focusing on the Victorian novel. I taught my first class last semester, a section of WRT 101, and since then I’ve been increasingly interested in composition (especially how to teach it!). I’m hoping that this class will allow me to learn from everyone about how best to incorporate digital writing into the classroom.

While I’m not currently very active on social media–just not my thing!–I definitely used the Internet quite a bit growing up. I remember learning how to type my essays for school, chatting with friends on AIM, and messing around with my MySpace layout (this list could go on!). Something that I’m still interested in now as much as I was then is just reading around online, particularly blogs. There’s a lot of great writing out there.

Also, it’s always great to come across stuff like this:


And, on that note, looking forward to a great class!