These periods of negotiation may be seen as tests in thedevelopment and ongoing configuration of provisionalknowledge. Persistent digital backchannels, therefore, act asstable writing environments for the continual mediation of provisional knowledge, whether in workplaces, classrooms, or publics.Because Wikipedia, as Slattery  notes, is infinitely editable,knowledge and facts are theoretically provisional. Shirky argues that contributions to a Wikipedia article can beincremental; “every edit is itself provisional,” he suggests [p.118]. The often incremental, provisional nature of meaning-making on Wikipedia is beneficial because it allows poor or disruptive changes to be negotiated and remedied; moreimportantly, however, the provisional and negotiated nature of knowledge construction on Wikipedia is important because, asShirky contends, “human knowledge is provisional” [11, p. 119].Meaning-making in this framework is collaborative, definitionscan shift, and such activity is surfaced in writing work which is persistent and searchable.The kinds of negotiated meaning-making that take place in thedevelopment of Wikipedia articles are also prevalent in digital backchannels. In discussing weblogs, Shirky  suggests acontinuum of audience size and communication pattern that variesfrom “broadcast” to “tight conversation,” with a nebulousconstruct of “loose conversation” that falls somewhere in between. Microblogging, for most users, tends toward looselyformed, potentially coordinative networks mediated in andthrough writing activity, where meaning-making can benegotiated collaboratively without many of the formal strictureswhich govern fact creation in Wikipedia.In organizational and educational settings, such loosely formedcollaborative networks may be ideal, as they afford both tightconversation (with co-workers or classmates) and interaction witha public community through direct and informal addressivity [see8]. Moving forward, researchers of digital backchannelcommunication will need strong frameworks and methods for investigating these complex writing environments. The remainingsections of this paper explore such frameworks, drawing fromcultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and actor network theory (ANT) to consider
in the persistent digital backchannel of microblogging. There areinherent tensions in bringing together these different theoreticalapproaches, the exploration of which are beyond the scope of this paper. However, exploring the complexity of persistent digital backchannels requires the simultaneous consideration of multipletheoretical frames; this paper acknowledges the difficulties of doing so, and suggests approaches for further study.
ACTIVITY THEORY: MOBILIZATIONAND RECURSION
Recently, several scholars in rhetoric and technicalcommunication have drawn from cultural-historical activitytheory (CHAT) and actor network theory (ANT) in an effort toexplore distributed writing work in online environments [12, 13,17, 18]. While there are similarities and affinities in boththeoretical frameworks, the relationship between CHAT and ANTis contested. This paper does not suggest a seamless connection between the two theories; instead, this section calls upon relatedresearch from
actor network theory and cultural-historicalactivity theory to posit an approach to the study of backchannel persistence and collaborative meaning making that considers thecomplex notions of mobilization and recursion, suggesting buttwo components of a framework for further research on backchannel communication. Consequently, this paper draws primarily from actor network theory, but calls upon cultural-historical activity theory to posit a broader understanding of recursion in distributed, networked writing.
While the term
may connote the notion of “mobile”or “mobile technologies” for many audiences, in actor network theory,
is meant to evoke a sense of “mobilizing,” of bringing about action. Yet in this section, both connotationsshould be considered simultaneously, for persistent backchannelcommunication as practiced in microblogging carries the potentialfor a broader, multivalent sense of mobile technology, mobility,and mobilization.Potts  argues that “Latour's ANT is a relatively simple yetenormously effective means of pinpointing instances of sharingand cross-referencing information across the social softwareecosystem” [p. 285]. Potts contends that ANT can allowresearchers to “look across the mediascape of technologies and people to identify and understand the traces of movements” whichconstitute online work [17, p. 285]. Significantly, ANT tracessuch movement through actors in a given network, who may behuman or non-human, and who have “equal agency to affect anygiven situation” [17, p. 286]. In this framework, themicroblogging service, the mobile devices and computers whichare used to post messages to that service, and the individualswriting those posts are all actors who comprise “an entirelandscape of active participants [. . .] that come together to create,share, and validate information” [17, p. 286]. As Potts notes,Latour  and Callon  refer to these participants as
who translate “data into information through anextended process of
problematization, interessement, enrollment,
” [17, p. 286].Drawing from Callon's  four-stage schema for the translationof information, Potts  describes the fourth and finalmovement,
, as the collaborative effort to “mobilize[...] peers to action” [p. 290]. Interestingly, the notion of mobilization is especially multivalent when viewed within thecontext of Latour's  formulation, and when applied to persistent and mobile backchannels such as the microbloggingservice Twitter. Latour  sees mobilization as displayingcharacteristics of “mobility, stability or combinability” [p. 223].Latour, it should be noted, sees these factors as potentiallycontributing to power inequities and domination—factors whichshould always be considered in explorations of collaborativework.Perhaps most importantly, the notion of
in Callon’s work may also refer to a unifying agent or spokesperson whohelps organize and prompt the involvement of other actors. InPotts’  study, an individual named “Storey” acted as amoderator (and thus spokesperson) for the most active Flickr group tracking the London bombings of July 7, 2005. Similarly,the user-generated tag “bomb” also acted as a unifying agent for actors uploading or searching photos about the event. In