The Other Use, Part Three

Yesterday, I talked about fun stuff that comes from games but isn’t gaming.  Today, we drop games entirely and talk about websites and online communities.

Let’s start with Twitter.  The original purpose of Twitter was for people to document and broadcast their itineraries.  Remember the days of “What are you doing?”  You were actually just supposed to tweet about what you’re doing.  If you signed up for Twitter between 2006 and 2009, you may have seen a video explaining that Twitter was initially meant as a way for people to check in with each other and keep in touch.  What is Twitter now?

Twitter is *deep breath* a Short Messaging System, a communication system for asking questions and conducting polls, a place for people to rant and complain, a networking device, a virtual culture centre, an advice forum, a job board, an image gallery, a news aggregation site, a platform to tell jokes, and a means to promote one’s business.  Did I miss anything?

Because people can fave and RT tweets, Twitter offers a way to gage popularity.  In an economy where many creative people must be freelancers and keeping up with the trends is paramount, this is quite useful.  Because tweets are kept to 140 characters or less, we can absorb many tweets quickly and easily.  Due to linking, we discover new websites and blogs, and due to the inclusion of images, we’ve moved to a more visual form of communication*.  Then there are the people who make fake accounts to entertain or educate their fellow Twitterati.  From Lord_Voldemort7 to KimKierkegaardashian, some Twitter users have combined performance, roleplaying, and social media.

Then there are hashtags.  What began as a form of tagging to facilitate web searches grew into parenthetical commentary and competitions to see who can get their favourite topic to trend.

All this evolved from “What are you doing?”

Which, you might note, was later changed to “What’s happening?” and ultimately “<compose new tweet>” because Twitter staff knew that people were going to use it for just about anything.

Let’s look at another site that’s evolved quite a bit since its inception: deviantART.  It began as a place for artists to display their art and communicate with one another.  Even though deviantART has updated and adapted its features quite a bit, it’s mostly been the users who have led the changes.

For example, when you make an account, you can upload an avatar.  When commenting, you can include a link to someone else’s account, as represented by their avatar.  Users got creative and found a way to incorporate extra images in their comments.  Although deviantART officially offers users a set of emoticons, some people went ahead and created several accounts for the sole purpose of having more images to use in comments.  These are generally empty accounts with avatars featuring popular characters doing various facial expressions.  Because they often contain the word “plz,” such as :iconblushplz: (which features the anime onionhead blushing), they became known as plz accounts.

Some plz accounts come in a series which are to be used together.  Sometimes, there are 4 or 9 plz accounts in the series, meant to be aligned in a square to create a larger image.  Other times, they are a continuous line (like llamas holding hands) or a long adjustable image (such as longcat or a decorative ribbon).  Non-premium members use these to decorate their journals.  Subscribed members have access to decorative journal skins, but due to plz accounts, all members can improvise decorations.

There are also plz accounts that feature commonly used words (such as “THIS,” when agreeing enthusiastically with another commenter) or Internet memes (such as “Do Not Want”).  While plz-accounts are still only created by users, there is another user-borne trend that the staff have made official.

DeviantART offers groups; organized collections of art and affiliated artists brought together by a particular fandom, art style, or country.  Before groups were an official feature, they were created on the fly by users.  A user would create a new account, declare it a group, and use the “watch” function** to keep track of members.  Group members’ art would be either uploaded to the group account or “faved” and displayed in the group’s Favourites gallery.  After several years of this, deviantART made groups official by offering a special kind of account that’s meant to be run as a group.  The mod(s) of the group can access the group account through their own user account.  This is a case of the users actually amending the purpose and features of the site.

This is just two examples of web-based communities that have been changed by their users’ creativity.  There is still more that has been changed by using things For The Other Use.  More on that tomorrow.

*At least we have done so on Twitter.  A picture is worth 1000 words, which is much more than 140 characters.
**which is like Twitter’s “follow” function