Teaching Examples

Tools for creating a social network
June 22, 2007, 1:16 pm
Filed under: culture, future, socialnetworks

If you’re going to build a social networking site online for a geographical community — what I like to think of as a “real world” community — what software will you use?

You might think with all the free and open source tools available, the hardest part would be choosing one. Not so. According to an interview with JD Lasica, one of the Knight Challenge Grant awardees (submit new ideas starting July 1), there’s a list (read it!) of essential tools that are NOT out there waiting to be picked up and used — including an “out-of-the-box community publishing solution.”

As someone who’s been writing HTML since 1994, I know that existing solutions and tools (which you may have heard about) are both powerful and complex. One example is MediaWiki — the software that runs Wikipedia. It can be installed on a Web server pretty easily, if you know what you’re doing. It’s free. It works just like Wikipedia (and looks like it too), so you already understand what it can do. The trouble is, there are just so many options! It’s as if you moved into a house with a bare interior. All the plumbing and electrical outlets are in place, but it’s left to you to erect the very walls, hang the doors and install the sinks. Yeah — daunting!

This is a conversation we need to start having in journalism now: What are the requirements of a social networking site? How do we make such a site easy to set up and begin operating? How do we make it open and customizable? How to we empower the people in the network to self-regulate, to police trolls and flamers, to vote the best contents to the top?

I don’t mean “how” in a way that can be answered by “Look at Slashdot.” I mean “how” in a way that enables someone to manage options and configurations without reading the Help files for six weeks before they start.

We need to have more journalists and editors — who are not programmers — involved hands-on in the process of inventing these systems so that the end product is usable and understandable to the people who will be configuring it.

Digg the original article and JD’s list.

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Social networking and the news habit
June 20, 2007, 3:14 pm
Filed under: culture, future, socialnetworks

At my university, we are playing host to 17 journalism educators from 17 countries, most of which are “developing” rather than “developed.” We have arranged six weeks of lectures, workshops and travel for them with the goal of increasing their understanding of how we practice and teach journalism in the U.S.

Of course they all use the Internet, Google and e-mail (they teach at universities in their home countries). They have all seen YouTube before. But yesterday we learned that very few of our participants are familiar with Facebook, MySpace or Second Life. We have also learned that in some countries, LiveJournal or MSN Spaces (now renamed Live Spaces) are far more popular than they seem to be here. (Last year two of our students from China told me that MSN Spaces is by far the most popular social networking site in China, and Baidu far outstrips Google in search engine usage.)

Who Participates (Business Week, June 11, 2007)
So while this was fresh in my mind, I saw this excellent information graphic (via the MultimediaShooter blog).

It’s a pleasure to stare at this graphic — the data are so clearly depicted, and the information is fascinating. (It represents U.S. users only.)

What you see in the graphic might not surprise you — Americans ages 18 to 21 use social networking sites more than any other age group — but think about what this might mean for the future. We don’t know whether this group will continue to use these sites — or similar sites that emerge later — to the same extent, or in the same ways. But use of such sites is spreading around the world. In countries where access to the Internet is low, and/or literacy rates are low, we won’t see the same patterns emerging. At least not yet.

We do know that mobile phone use is higher than Internet use in many countries, however, and it’s clear that Internet-capable phones are getting better — and cheaper. People in developing countries already create ad hoc networks for text messaging, through which they disseminate news and gossip that often is censored from the news media. This cool chart would be different in other countries.

The Digital Youth research project offers a lot of interesting stories coming out of ethnographic research under way in California. Researchers are studying how kids play, learn and socialize “in virtual places and networks such as online games, blogs, messaging, and online interest groups.”

What I’m pondering is the implications for civil society — modern democracies — social networks in real life, which keep us from devolving into chaos.

As Steve Yelvington has said more than once:

Media consumption patterns are set early in life, and tend to persist. The change that endangers the newspaper business model is not one that involves readers losing the habit. It is, instead, a generational change that involves losing the actual readers from the population pool.

In other words, these 20-year-olds who do not read a printed newspaper are never going to become newspaper readers.

Most of the news industry in the Western countries has recognized this already. We see different patterns in some other countries, such as India, but I think the trend of the Internet — especially via mobile phones — will continue indefinitely.

What I’m thinking about today (and I do apologize for taking so long to get to my point) is that the habit young people in the U.S. do have — now, at that crucial age when patterns are set for life — is the pattern of interacting in social networks.

Their interpersonal networks might well reconfigure over time. The software or sites they use might well change or be replaced by others. But their habit of staying connected digitally, checking for updates, making plans, sharing gossip, getting information — this will likely remain their habit, their means of keeping in touch with the world around them, for the rest of their lives.

That’s why we need to understand these spaces where young people interact. I don’t know if it really requires setting up a bureau in Second Life, but it certainly does demand our attention — immediately, today.

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Multimedia flashback: Black Hawk Down, 1997
June 20, 2007, 4:12 am
Filed under: future, journalism

Mark Bowden relates how an enterprising online producer at the Philadelphia Inquirer transformed his 29-part series (!) “Black Hawk Down” into a Web site — in 1997. Early days indeed. It’s a fascinating site to look at today — imagine how much work went into this package. Tons of audio, lots of great contextual links …

In the case of Black Hawk Down, apart from all the multimedia razzle-dazzle, it opened up a global dialogue with readers, including men who had fought in the battle. They corrected my mistakes, pointed me to better information, and offered to be interviewed, allowing me to improve greatly on the story before it was published as a book in 1999. Mine may have been, thanks to Jennifer [Musser-Metz], the first book that ever benefited from this new journalistic tool. In a sense, the story was edited by the entire world.

But little has happened in the 10 years since. Surprisingly, the site Jennifer created is still in the vanguard of Internet story presentation.

Bowden provides nice commentary on where we’re headed — especially considering he is a self-proclaimed “old fuddy-duddy” who still wants to pick up his newspaper in the driveway every morning.

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Good news for newspaper Web sites
June 18, 2007, 7:55 pm
Filed under: business, future, news, newspapers, online

Double growth rates — according to a Nielsen//NetRatings study, “the audience for newspaper Web sites is growing at nearly twice the rate of the overall online audience.” The study was described in a press release from the Newspaper Association of America.

“An average of more than 59 million people (37.6 percent of all active Internet users) visited newspaper Web sites each month during the first quarter …” This number set a record, according to NAA, and “represents a 5.3 percent increase over the same period a year ago.” The overall Internet audience grew 2.7 percent during the first quarter, NAA said.

If you’re familiar with the elegant and easy-to-understand diagram of how innovations are adopted, you probably realize that Internet adoption in the U.S. has slowed to a near standstill. That means almost all of the people who are going to use it are already using it. Unless we have a gigantic baby boom, the number of Internet users will probably maintain a very low rate of growth from now until the next big thing (whatever that’s going to be).

According to the NAA, the Nielsen//NetRatings data show that, compared with other Internet users, visitors to newspaper Web sites:

  • Have higher household incomes.
  • Shop online more frequently.
  • Are more likely to hold professional or managerial positions.

Newspaper Web site visitors also “use the Internet more frequently during their daily lives, and are more technologically savvy than the general online audience,” the study found.

Copied from the press release:

  • Nearly 73 percent (72.6 percent) of newspaper Web site visitors go online every day (compared with 57.8 percent of the Internet population as a whole).
  • Nearly 42 percent (41.8 percent) of those who have visited newspaper Web sites have viewed streaming video on their computers in the last 30 days (compared with 27.4 percent of the overall Internet audience).
  • More newspaper Web site visitors read blogs in the past month than the overall Internet population (28.4 percent vs. 16.7 percent).
  • More than one in five (23.3 percent) newspaper Web site visitors have read about politics or political campaign information online (compared with 10.8 percent of the overall Internet population).
  • Nearly 3 in 10 (28.9 percent) newspaper Web site visitors have sought out or posted a product review online in the past month (compared with 16.1 percent of the overall Internet population).

Many more details are in this post at the Digital Edge blog (dated May 7, 2007).

One of the goodies there: “More newspaper Web site visitors had broadband Wi-Fi access at home or at work than the general Internet-using population.”

Well, yeah — they have higher incomes and better jobs than the general population, and that is the demographic that has broadband in the U.S. (Did you know that 53 percent of all U.S. households subscribe to a broadband Internet service at home? That’s where they are watching YouTube!)

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Is the home page worthless?
June 2, 2007, 3:53 pm
Filed under: future, journalism, newspapers, online

Maybe you look at your local newspaper’s home page. But then, maybe you are a newspaper journalist. Go ask someone else if they look at your newspaper’s home page. You definitely ought to ask my 18- to 24-year-old students if THEY ever look at your newspaper’s home page.

Several people have written about this recently. Jeff Jarvis hit it big-time on Tuesday (After the Page), but in a sense, several subsequent posts he has made are very much about the same topic. You might not think so at first: He wrote about CBS’s acquisition of Last.fm (my students have been all over Last.fm for at least three years already, by the way); he wrote that “GoogleNews is our newsstand and newspaper truck and billboard” because it sends people to news sites; he wrote about Facebook, which college students check almost as often as they look at their cell phones; he wrote about Google’s acquisition of FeedBurner, which has made RSS so easy, even a newspaperman can do it.

No, I’m not trying to drive you over to Jarvis’s site, BuzzMachine. I’m trying to point out that all these topics connect to the value of the home page — which might be lower than you imagine.

Journalist Jillian Burt took these ideas out on a long and delightful spin earlier today (or tomorrow, in fact, because she’s in Australia and it’s already June 3 there):

The first thing I read every day, over my first coffee of the day, is the Australian Associated Press newsfeeds on the home section of my Australian e-mail account, after I’ve logged in. I’ve expanded that to include RSS feeds of local news from the various Australian states. In fact the news reports on agriculture and food production in Australia I’ve been writing … [were] in response to newswire stories I was reading every time I’d open up my e-mail.

The first thing I read every day is the custom Google front I’ve configured to show me the BBC News headlines, my local daily’s RSS, The Washington Post, Techmeme, GoogleNews, and Tailrank. As an added bonus, my Gmail appears there too.

Are News Home Pages Over?

I’ve come to realize that I rarely look at any news site’s home page.

This is not to say I think the majority of people are like me. But surely I am not unusual in my newsreading habits — I know I’m not, because I meet many people who approach the news the same way. Like Jillian Burt, I read my news feeds as I sip my first coffee of the day.

Steve Yelvington wrote yesterday that the physical act of reading a newspaper is not always about getting informed:

If you read a newspaper while eating lunch, you can entertain yourself while feeding yourself. Or perhaps you’re using it to avoid people you really don’t want to talk with. Or escape the uncomfortable feeling that you’re dining alone in a crowded restaurant. Or whatever.

His point is that when most of us have an iPhone — or a similar Internet-always-on device with a lucious, readable screen — we will be able to meet those needs by sticking our face in the device, instead of into a newspaper. We may never buy another magazine in the airport … oh, yeah, we still can’t be online while in the air, darn it.

So even now, many people are relying not on your home page but rather on their own personal collections, aggregations, compilations.

And in the future, when people’s eyeballs are fixed on those little portable devices for all their information gathering, time wasting, and entertainment needs, I would be willing to bet that your home page is absolutely NOT a destination for them.

The question is: What are you doing about it? How are you preparing for this?

New York Times Getting Ready

Jillian Burt wrote about a brand-new service from the Times:

This afternoon I spent an hour or so configuring my ‘My Times’ page at the New York Times, after receiving this e-mail this morning, an invitation for me to ‘personalise’ NYTimes.com, “with guidance (if you want it) from Times reporters and editors. If you’ve already tried My Times, you’ll find a lot of improvements. The response is much faster. You can now create multiple My Times pages, to group your sources by category or interest. The search results have been improved. And there are new widgets that let you add weather, New York Times crosswords, local movie show times, Flickr photos and other information to your page.”

It’s essentially the same as My Yahoo!, a collecting of news feeds. My Times allows for story summaries, and there’s a more diverse and unusual set of feeds to choose from, picked by New York Times correspondents (not the ones that I read, however, and whose reading material I would have been interested in bookmarking).

Now, I don’t know why Burt is so lucky — when I go to my.nytimes.com, all I get is: “My Times is currently in development. Subscribe to the notification list and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.” But I’m certainly intrigued by what Burt wrote.

Again, I ask — if you work for a news organization: What are you doing about this? Are you ready?

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Photojournalism: A tough job getting tougher
May 29, 2007, 12:54 pm
Filed under: future, photojournalism

An article in the May/June issue of Digital Photo Pro magazine discusses changes in working life for photojournalists (pp. 118-126). Not only are audiences for print vehicles decreasing — even the top names in the business aren’t getting nearly as many freelance assignments as they used to.

The answer? Photojournalists must adapt.

The advice comes from Ed Kashi, who certainly could be put forth as a good example of adaptation.

What I learned from the article:

  • Most paid freelance work isn’t photojournalism; it’s shooting portraits.
  • The same magazine shooters who used to be able to count on $80,000 a year in fees would be lucky to pull in $30,000 today doing the same work (that’s from Dirck Halstead). This is partly because the photographer bears more of the costs of production — in time spent as well as software and equipment — in the digital world.
  • Brian Storm sees educating the buyers as “a big part of our job” at MediaStorm. Syndication online plays a key role, because online multimedia projects cost a lot to produce. The buyer gets limited exclusive rights to host a project; syndication revenues are split 50-50 between MediaStorm and the photographer.

Kashi remains hopeful and positive:

As editorial budgets and revenues shrink for print publications, Ed Kashi thinks, at some point, publishers are going to wake up and realize more people are looking at their Websites than their printed editions. Not that print is going to disappear, but as this shift continues, publications will have to redesign their infrastructure, including ad revenue and subscriptions.

“Once that happens, and it’s already happening,” Kashi says, “then hopefully I’d love to see the day when more publications are calling me, saying, ‘Hey, we’d love you to do this story or we’d love you to propose an idea, and multimedia is the main component of it. And, oh, yeah, we’ll also have a print part of it as well.'”

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So you want to become a video journalist?
May 4, 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: blogging, future, journalism, journalists, online

A student who will graduate this Saturday came to see me earlier this week. She wasn’t a journalism student, but she has decided she wants to be an independent video journalist. From me she wanted advice: How should she create a Web site to accomplish her goal?

Does she know any HTML? No. Has she taken any of the university’s courses that include Web design and production information? No. And she’s less than a week away from graduating.

You can just imagine how many varied thoughts flew through my head.

But you know, I did not want to tell her: “Don’t do it.” Maybe it’s a crazy idea, but maybe not. She took the time to make an appointment and come to meet with me. She seemed sincere and intelligent. And … she already knows how to shoot and edit video. She’s had some training in that.

The advice I gave her: Start a free blog on either Blogger.com or WordPress.com. She will need to research how to compress and upload her video, but she can start by simply putting it on YouTube. She can embed her YouTube Videos directly on her blog posts.

If she decides she wants to continue this project, she can start her own video channel on Revver or Magnify or Blip.tv.

What she absolutely should not do is wait. She should not wait to read a fat, fat book about HTML. She should not wait until her boyfriend or someone else “builds a Web site” for her. She should not plan, design and build a vast Web site with multiple sections and features.

Why not? She’s only one person, first. She doesn’t know anything at all about HTML, second. And third, if she did all that, she might end up with a big empty Web site that looks great but has no content.

Her idea is to produce content — video journalism. She already knows how to do that. Well, the best advice I could give her, or you, or anybody, is — START RIGHT NOW.

Don’t wait until you have read that fat book, for heaven’s sake! Stop waiting. Just sit down and begin. If you run into a dead end, THEN open the fat book and consult the index.

There’s a manufacturing strategy or system called “just in time” that, back in the 1980s, was credited with the rising success of the Japanese auto makers. The idea behind “just in time,” or JIT, is that you don’t waste resources by first stocking a big warehouse and then starting production afterward. JIT means you set up reliable systems and lines of communications so that the auto parts you need for the assembly line arrive days or hours before they are needed. Less warehouse space needed, lower financial overhead, the ability to change quickly — it was more efficient. It crushed the U.S. auto industry because it was a better system.

In software and Web application design (as well as manufacturing), a related idea is rapid prototyping. An apt example of that: You’re supposed to create a demo, and you decide to learn a new technology to get it done. BAD IDEA!

The point is, if you can get something moving without months of development work, then you can quickly see whether it works, how it works — and adapt.

If you spend lots of time and money developing a new thing and then find out it does not work — all that time and money were wasted.

Moreover, given human nature, you will probably continue to support that bad product for longer than you ought to — because of all the resources you invested in it.

If you start a free blog and after a few months it still has no audience, it’s really no big deal to quit. Or change it.

So stop waiting until you read that book or take that class. Just start doing what you have in mind. Small investment, small risk. Small failures are not so bad, in every way imaginable.

So don’t tell anyone, “You can’t do that.” Instead, encourage them to start small — and start now.

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