This semester I am taking my very last seminar as a graduate student, ever (exciting!). It’s called “Composing in the Cloud” with Professor John Logie. For my final project, I’m examining potential scholarly uses of Pinterest, the social media pinboard website. My interest in the scholarly possibilities of Pinterest stemmed from my personal knowledge and use of the site, and from Brooke’s (2009) reinvention of the rhetorical canon for Web 2.0. In his text, he examines web 2.0 sites for how they might be used in various rhetorical canons. He categorized social bookmarking site delicious as a potential tool for invention, or as he called it, “proairesis.”

This categorization brought Pinterest to mind. One of the many functions of Pinterest is bookmarking–why not Pinterest, then, as a tool for invention? Further consideration of Pinterest made me realize it pretty well covers all of the rhetorical canons. And thus my inspiration for my final project–how might scholars use Pinterest for their work?

I am interested in these potentials because I am an active user of Pinterest and quite like the site; however, that’s not enough to justify scholarly examination and use of it to my field. So why should we (or, well, I) study Pinterest? Pinterest is, among social networking sites, fairly unique in a number of ways. The functions and features of Pinterest enable users to do things that they can’t do elsewhere on the web.

One of these features is Pinterest’s function as a social media tool to reach as far as social networks will allow it. One issue that scholars must continually grapple with is the issue of reach. The other day in class, Prof. Logie made the point that social media technologies have the capabilities to extend the reach of scholarship far beyond traditional academic publishing routes. He compared the reach of Michael Wesch’s  viral Youtube video about web 2.0 to works citing more traditional scholarship. I don’t remember his exact comparison, so I chose this one:

Michael Wesh statistics: book citations vs youtube video views

Ouch. Granted, encountering a piece of work (watching, reading) and using it in your own work (citing, remixing) are two different things, and so maybe we’re comparing apples and oranges here. But Logie’s not the first or only one to have argued about reach in academia. While most scholars arguing about academic silos are only asking the silos to open their doors to each other, some are suggesting that we need to reconsider our audience and talk to the public.

The public?! Whaaaaaaat?! Research isn’t for–OH WAIT. The two primary institutions of higher education that I have attended have been public, land-grant institutions who both have triple missions of research, teaching, and service. Of course research is for the public!

Auburn University Seal. It reads: Auburn University. Research, teaching, extension. For the advancement of science and arts. Established 1865.
Auburn University Seal, complete with triple mission: Research, Teaching, Extension

If we recognize the importance of communication with multiple audiences outside the academy, Pinterest becomes an easy solution to the problem of reach. Only one of many, of course–let’s not discount other social media platforms. Some, of course, have already been put to great use. Academic bloggers (especially science bloggers) writing for “general” audiences has been successful for several respected news sites. But Pinterest affords different modes of meaning making than blogs that I think scholars should explore. But that’s a post for next time!


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