I collected data in the beginning of this project that portrayed the difficulties of becoming a member of the TVTropes wiki. That difficulty is represented in the two data sheets below: the first is an introductory section about posting edits on the TRS “Trope Repair Shop” (a more in depth space for editing on the wiki). The second is from a conversation between a few participants of the site. And the third piece of data is an example of my contributing to the site. My focus is on the affinity space, sponsorship, and constellation of literacy activities concepts at work within TVTropes. I also want briefly to touch on the ideas in communities of practice, spatiality, and code mashing. This analysis will focus on a discussion of the data collected earlier mostly with a small ending section on a new data sample, and specifically on portions of each screenshot that refers to the above-mentioned concepts.
The data collected on the welcome to TRS page represents interestingly the spatiality and sponsorship concepts.
Spatiality and sponsorship are closely tied, and I discuss both because I want to delineate spatiality and sponsorship as different concepts. Spatiality I see as the site itself and its use of sponsoring activities. Spatiality is the pushback and orienting of users either in positive or negative ways by the space being used such as the need for certain literacy practices outside participatory motivation, while sponsorship is the individual use of authority and influence on participants by affinity group members of higher standing. “Cutmaster-san” is a moderator (noted by the “M” shield under his name), and made this welcome page to orient editors to the specific practices of the wiki. He makes statements rather than suggestions, which both limits pushback from editors and gives positive reinforcement to tropers hoping to fix problems. For instance, Cutmaster-san writes, “we only allow preselected names” for new threads “in order to force people to state the problem” and not get “overly-dramatic” or presumably unclear titles. While spatiality and sponsorship has within them an issue of pushback against users in negative ways, this example shows a clear positive orientation as well.
Cutmaster helpfully points users to several areas of TVTropes that will guide them. A good example of this is under the “when to create a Trope Repair Shop thread” heading: “First off, read the What Goes Where In the Forums and the Projects Directory for topics that have their own threads.” This simple statement does a lot of things. It obviously acts as an orienting piece because Cutmaster-san follows a standard TVTropes affinity language practice when he hyperlinks the other sites in the sentence, which directs users to helpful tools and forums. Cutmaster-san orients readers by stating the need to understand the practice of the community before jumping in. Not just the general site TVTropes either, but the specific practices in this particular forum as well. Also, this example uses the sponsorship concept that is closely related to spatiality; sponsorship is the moderator trying to simultaneously stop bad practices and encourage good ones through use of language that is sometimes commanding (“Keep in mind that the forum rules apply here just as much as anywhere else”) sometimes accepting and supportive (“Please take time to read these, it can avoid embarrassing errors and complaints later on”). Cutmaster-san seems to understand the role of sponsorship and does not abuse the privilege and simply hand down rules. Rather, he supports the main page statement about the wiki being a place to discuss tropes without judgment and without fear of cyber bullying in a community of practice.
The community of practice discussion in Wenger is helpful in looking at the welcome page. It is helpful because Cutmaster-san represents a minor leader in the community of practice that negotiates meaning for the tropers as a whole and ensures the joint enterprise will continue to thrive. As Cutmaster-san lays out the reasons for posting threads on the TRS forum, we can see Wenger’s three principles at work. Helpfully, the bullet list represents certain types of practices and changes, such as the attempts in the first few to categorize tropes correctly and enforce the use of clear language when editing trope pages. Note the attempt to rename tropes, redefine them, and decide whether they are in fact tropes or just “Useful Notes.” Cutmaster-san and the community of tropers strive for improvement to the wiki by users, and that creates a cohesive community of practice, even though sometimes deliberation is necessary.
I want now to discuss the second data sheet because it represents the personal interactions and deliberations that take place on the wiki, and therefore is better suited than the welcome page to code mashing, constellation of literacy activities, and affinity space (as well as community of practice).
This forum post is an attempt to put into action one of the instances laid out in the welcome page. Catbert is attempting to initiate change to a discussion page because “expressing personal opinion on creepiness is not what the discussion page is for.” The second comment is a moderator exercising authority to nix the comment, saying “seems valid to me. Discussions are all about personal opinions.” In another space, this comment likely would have killed the initial complaint, but because TVTropes values the tropers as a community of practice, other users are quick to the defense of Catbert. It is notable that this discussion (at the time of collection) has no resolution, but the direction of popular opinion (All except the moderator agree that the comment is invalid) suggests that Catbert will succeed in removing the arrant comment.
As an affinity space, TVTropes is for the celebration and dispersal of interesting tropes and idioms that span many works of art. The audience clearly takes the addition of tropes and discussion threads seriously, as “Catbert” shows in his voluntary policing of the site and the use another member has put it to: Catbert’s comment is that “opinion on creepiness is not what the discussion page is for” because the bylaws and spatial agreements on TVTropes provide separate spaces for different types of interaction, and the discussion page within works’ pages (in this case the work is “Vocaloid”) is strictly for, as “Kuruni” helpfully tells us, “[talk] about the article itself.” Catbert and the general users are trying to protect the affinity space from damaging uses, and the moderator seems to be backed into a corner by the majority.
Another interesting piece of this data sheet is the use of code mashing. In Fraiberg’s definition, code mashing is the multi-use of literacy practices in teaching and research. This definition fits well when looking at TVTropes forums (and the entire wiki), especially in the use of specialized language in different forms. HTML language, trope naming, and the specific language of the site are interesting to look at as keys to understanding the literacy practice of TVTropes. The HTML coding for hyperlinks to specific tropes, pages, or users is a necessary literacy practice for being deeply involved in the site. Further, trope naming and understanding what it means when someone refers to a trope like “uncanny valley” is helpful in tracking both conversations and summaries of either works or tropes within many works. TVTropes use of code mashing is closely tied to the concept of a literacy constellation. The tropers commenting on this request represent the need for situational language (“mod”, “troll” and the more subtle discussion of what goes where), formality, and general literacy practices such as proper reading and writing skills. A constellation of literacy activity requires, I think, a new piece of data as an example.
I would like to discuss the constellation of literacy activities on the TVTropes site through analysis of a data collection from my own activity on the wiki edit section.
The yellow arrow to the left of the screen represents one of my edits in progress, in which I wanted to include what I saw as an important trope not yet included but at work in the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. The trope is called (All of the Other Reindeer). There is no need to explain the reasons for my choice in editing this particular site at this time; what I am interested instead is the steps I had to take to make this contribution. I had to learn less in fact than I thought I would in order to make this post because the wiki is streamlined in adding tropes. As we can see in the example, there are asterisks next to each trope name to indicate it as a trope. The use of an asterisk automatically denotes that as a trope, and the hyperlink takes care of itself. Whereas I thought all levels of trope editing needed html skills, the simple editing of pages requires one less literacy activity than I originally thought. That does not diminish greatly the number of necessary skills tropers must either possess or acquire. In order to make posts, I had to read the general set of rules for when to edit (data sample 1 is an example), read and familiarize myself the etiquette (data sample 2), and familiarize myself with the specific digital literacy of editing practices.
Some of the interesting practices at work in this data are the tabs or hyperlinks to “show markup help,” “How Indexing Works,” the “full list of editing tips,” and the aptly named “Index Index.” Each of these links or drop tabs helps tropers learn the tricks of the trade for editing. Other than these helpful articles, this data exemplifies the simplicity of the TVTropes site, and emphasizes as well the intense desire the tropers have for properly edited wikis. The orange box in the center of the screen in fact changes its tip every time. I had to redo this edit a couple of times, and when I was making the edit on one, the tip read “The idea is to make articles in 'Main/' look like they were written by the same person. A person with a good sense of humor, who doesn't talk about himself with 'I' or 'this troper', or get in arguments with himself, one who just corrects errors he might have made earlier without drawing attention to them.” The attempt to normalize language on the site is ongoing, and TVTropes has a good sense of humor for the most part, but as we can see in the second data sample, they are willing and able to suspend or delete accounts that ignore the rules of the affinity space.