Potts, Liza. “Using Actor Network Theory to Trace and Improve Multimodal Communication Design.” Technical Communication Quarterly 18 3 (2009): 281-301. Print.

  • Potts begins the article by demonstrating how CNNs list of Hurricane Katrina missing/survivors was an exercise in a non-function network – or a non-network.  Because of the sites inability for users to interact with the system to “add important details, edit names, locate duplicates, or point out incorrect entries” the system ended up being a place where “no trace left, thus no information, thus no description, thus no talk” (283).  In other words, because the site’s Katrina list didn’t allow people to turn the data into information, it was basically useless.
  • This article takes up the notion of “user-centered design” and tries to consider how disaster response systems can and should be designed with the end-user in mind.  Here Potts references Spinuzzi’s article (and later chapter in Network) where workers invent “genres” in order to accomplish their goals and get their work done.
  • According to Potts, because we, as researchers, cannot accurately predict what sorts of information might be important “to specific groups in specific situations, we need methods by which we can understand dynamic relationships between users and technologies”  (285).  To achieve this, she hopes to employ ANT.
  • Potts defines work: “Any online activity in which active participants – actors in ANT – are engaged in distributing data about an event” (286).  It’s important to remember that she’s working on “disaster” scenarios in online contexts.
  • Potts recaps ANT pre RTS on 286-7.
  • Potts proposes to use ANT to “identify actors in order to trace how they create information from raw data around them to meet their localized literacy needs” (286).  This means that her project is not to describe what is already in play – what is static; rather, she wants to “build flexible tools” to accommodate the ways that actors create information.  These tools are based in writing technologies and depend on the input of the participants using them.
  • Potts uses actants, translation, inscription, prescription, and punctualization to demonstrate ANT in action with respect to the London bombings.
  • Potts leads her reader through the creation of translation by demonstrating how problmatization, interessement, enrollment & mobilization led to translation.
  • At one point, Potts claims that “by researching the geographic area on Wikipedia, looking at maps provided by Google Earth, and examining numerous photos in this photo pool, I was able to triangulate this information to discern how participants were exchanging information and validating images based on their own literacies across multiple systems” (292).  Great, but HOW?!? J
  • Potts, in her prescriptions/inscriptions section hopes researchers can begin designing software that operates on open systems that do a better job of cataloguing metadata so that
  • After using ANT to describe how Flickr didn’t get the job done as efficiently as it might have during the London bombings of 2005, Potts states, “we also need further openness between communication systems and the producers across disparate systems, volunteerism for those aggregating information and validating data, and willingness of eyewitnesses to share and distribute their life stories.  We need to build systems that can help [people], allow volunteers to validate and update information, instead of systems that lock down our data and prevent knowledge sharing” (298).
  • In essence, Potts is arguing for more holistic experiences of digital environments instead of merely “tool” oriented uses.  She is also arguing for a integration of designer and user (participant-designer in her words) to see how users actually use the information (another call for ANT based research).

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