digc302, Uncategorized

Peer Review: Online Communities (The Food Culture Project)

Over the past year, I have been following the work of Irem Kirman as she explored the worlds food culture within the online community of Reddit. She utilised the online platform to connect with people in different countries to gain first-hand knowledge about ingredients and where they were sourced from. This semester, she has iterated her trajectory to compile the Reddit threads into a website. Originally, I was going to review Chloe Ianni’s project around cyborgs as it is a topic that I am really interested in, however, I believe doing a peer review on Irem’s work will be more valuable as I have been able to witness its growth from its original inception in the second half of last year. Irem’s project is a cohesion of two parts, the threads on Reddit and her comprehensive website.

The Food Culture Project is conceptually innovative as it uses Reddit to curate content and generate answers from people all over the world who we wouldn’t normally have access to in other forms of social media or more traditional modes of communication. Her project was built from the premise of asking an online community one question and letting Redditors take over the conversation. This methodology works extremely well because it allows for a variety of answers and content to generate from people within the specific online community. In the nature of Reddit, there is value in the formation of conversation within the thread where other users add to previous answers by remediating, commenting or expanding on what has been brought up. However, an unintentional accordance that has arisen from this project are the moments when the mirco-discussions lead into discussions surrounding cultural facets of life within their country that we, in Australia, might not know about. Within the thread from Bulgaria, there was a debate where Redditors had a conversation about weather on not young people used their balconies to grow produce and where this cultural custom came from. It’s extremely interesting to see local people debate their own customs, its origins and how this impacts their current food culture.

bulgaria reddit
Excerpt from Bulgaria sub-reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/bulgaria/comments/4zmalx/question_food_culture_in_bulgaria/

Although, the project goes beyond that of individual Reddit posts in different country sub-reddits, it gains value through its developmental trajectory into a website and its ability to be collated into one place. Last year, Irem chose interesting comments from each country and complied them into a visually appealing zine. This semester, she has decided to iterate this notion of collation and compile the archived and active Reddit posts into an easy-to-navigate website. The affordance of the website allows the audience to view the whole thread from the country and not just a select few that were chosen to feature in the zine. This allows the audience to follow the Redditors on their stream of consciousness as they collectively answer the question about the food culture in their own country. As a result, the audience viewing the threads on the websites can develop their own knowledge about food culture in different countries and begin to break down the stereotypes that might be present around what a specific country eats. An interesting affordance which has come from the collation of thread is that the audience is able to gain an insight into how people from all around the world see and interact with Australians. In Irem’s question, she states she is a student from Australia and Redditors in threads from France have greeted her with a “Hi matey” or a “no Tim Tams and no Vegemite.” This is a valuable social utility as it provides first-hand commentary surrounding how much people around the world know about Australia and its culture.

Throughout the project, I was impressed to see Irem’s consistency on Reddit. Her methodology of asking the same question on every subreddit ensured the type of answers were consistent in each country. Although I did notice within multiple threads that there was a reoccurring question regarding different regions in the country having different specialties. Instead of Irem answering each question with the same reply, she should add the words region or country into the question to clear up any confusion. However, the anonymity of Reddits landscape meant that Redditors have a lack of accountability and ethical responsibility when they reply to a question. In this way, Redditors can express themselves in different ways, thus pushing the project’s social utility beyond learning about different food cultures, to one that also looks humanity and the current state of the human condition. Therefore, her projects developmental trajectory has led to an archive of cultural identities from all around the world. Within the thread from Norway, a micro-discussion formed around the topic of whales as a specialty which sparked a debate surrounding ethical issues. However, what I did find interesting was the fact that the Redditors felt comfortable to share that they had tried whale, or that they don’t see anything wrong with whaling, yet have admitted to being judged by others when they mention that they have tied whale.

norway reddit
Excerpt from Noraway subredit: https://www.reddit.com/r/Norway/comments/557uos/question_food_culture_in_norway/

The Food Culture Project has undergone many iterations within the last semester. The project’s trajectory of uncovering what ingredients and foods people in different countries use has developed from a series of singular Reddit posts into a website. The creation of the website has gone through many prototypes where in the curated seminar, Irem showed us the first iteration of her website which listed each country with a link to the Reddit post. I believe this style of presentation failed because it didn’t fully communicate the essence of the project to her audience whilst too being visually unappealing. In the seminar I suggested for her to use photos of the country, the flag or a type of ingredient to re-frame the presentation of the threads. In her most recent iteration demonstrated in the beta presentation, she was reflexive and took our feedback to create thumbnails in a grid format which I believe worked much better. It was visually appealing; however, it didn’t communicate the essence of the country or the food to its fullest extent. However, in the process of changing the website from a list to thumbnails, she prototyped the use of images to reflect the food and country but found it looked cluttered and decided to use a graphic instead.  She also expressed frustration toward the layout of her page as WordPress hindered her ability to present the website how she wanted to. In order to fix this, I suggested the use of Wix or Squarespace as the platforms to host her collated Reddit posts because WordPress works well with text based posts and Irem’s project is based around images and links. Within the beta presentation I also suggested to organise the Reddit posts by continent to make it easier to navigate through the website and allows the audience to compare and contrast food culture amongst other countries in the continent. The presentation of her website is an area that needs further work and prototyping to ensure the best outcome, however, since the beta presentation she has told me that she has been trialling my suggestions.

REDDIT POST 1
Presentation of website at the Beta presentation
REDDIT POST 2
Iteration using suggestions from the beta presentation

Overall, I am very impressed with the Food Culture Project. Irem’s developmental trajectory throughout the process of the project has led to many unexpected affordances that go beyond food culture but archive and document the human condition. Her Reddit threads have sparked inspiring debates around culture and ethics that are not only beneficial for Irem’s audience of the website but also others within the thread as they learn more about their own culture. The iterations of the food project website have demonstrated Irem’s ability to work on issues within her digital artefact within a feedback loop with her audience.

 

Take a look at the Food Culture Project here:  https://foodcultureproject.wordpress.com/

 

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