Monthly Archives: November 2007

J-Lab advice, worth repeating

“News organizations that think citizens will freely contribute to their citizen journalism pages need to think again. While citizen journalism may well be a new form of volunteerism – something baby boomers do when they finish coaching their kids’ baseball teams – it’s a fragile dynamic. There must be a high degree of equilibrium, a balance between the giving and the getting, in these initiatives. Money is not the only motivator.”

–Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab

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Sorry, Ivko, I don’t want more Facebook ads

Someone sent me a Facebook application from a company called Chainn. It allows Facebook people to give testimonials for each other, create “a circle of trust,” compare friends and ask for advice.
And probably, eventually, it would give me ads based on those results.
The website says, “coming soon: With Chainn API (beta) you can access services derived from data gathered by chainn apps, in accordance to Facebook Terms of Service.”
I assume “services” is another word for ads.
Still, the developer, Ivko Maksimovic, and Chainn and his previous company, Vast, are intriguing examples of how technology has changed global communications. Ivko worked at a newspaper for a couple of years, where he got “indispensable experience working in rush, pressure and large team,” according to his LinkedIn public profile.
He went to high school in Belgrade. He lives in the Dominican Republic. In 2006, at age 29, he was CTO of Vast, a classified ads startup based in San Francisco. You can read more about that venture here, in a story about “micro-multinationals.” The article notes that outsourcing isn’t just aimed at India anymore — it could easily be Montana.
But I’m sorry, Ivko. I like your concept of a circle of trust, but I want to control it. Of course, I expect the Disney ads to come flowing into my Facebook space any day because of my love of quizzes. But enough’s enough.
And I hope the rest of us can learn from you and your company’s ideas of running viral companies.
From the beach, or anywhere in the world.

Lessons about technology

Amanda Toler has done an excellent job in her Each One Teach One project in researching the issues of technology in K-12 education.

She has a 5-year-old. I have a 17-year-old. So I offer some perspective, and I hope much of it applies to the use of technology beyond the classroom.

My child entered public schools in 1995, just before computer labs became the flavor of the year at well-equipped schools. She’s wrapping up her senior year now, and she has benefited from online Flash chemistry simulations, turnitin.com verification of papers and online college applications.

Through the years, some themes emerged that apply broadly, to businesses and media as well as classrooms.

GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. An online grade report for students and parents does no good if teachers lack the time or training to input the data.
Hardware solutions to software problems won’t get us anywhere. We can’t just throw money at it. I’ve seen boxes of brand new computers sitting at a school a month after school began, waiting for someone with the time and talent to plug them in. Meanwhile, older printers had been taken away, and students without home computer access desperately needed to print college application forms at school.
TMI (Too Much Information) exists: Email alerts of opportunities and information can be emotionally overwhelming and clog in boxes at the same time. It’s like subscribing to too many magazines or newspapers — if they just pile up at home and make you feel guilty every time you see them, you’re likely to opt out of a subscription, whether it’s paper or email.
Social mores, fads and friends have huge impact: The IM craze of middle school at times degenerated into meanness for some. But a whole generation learned to type, quickly.
Documentation and certification lag behind new developments: The public-school curriculum and testing of technology skills is often outdated before it becomes adopted. Successful students need to go way beyond the basic levels of skills the state of North Carolina currently requires.
One good teacher is a gift to be cherished: In seventh grade, a teacher came up with a class project of planning and budgeting for a trip around the state. Students had to research different cities and the price of hotels, restaurants and attractions in each city, then add up costs for the entire trip. The students mapped the trip as well. (This was before Mapquest. Believe it or not, such a time existed.) This project was a killer, especially with dial-up access, but it gave students lasting experience in finding information on the Internet.

Follow the money: From a movie, to Sunlight

There’s a new movie out soon — “August Rush” — that tells the story of an orphan musician in search of his birth parents (that’s not it in the short Youtube video above — more on that later). The movie is high on my 17-year-old’s list of movies to see, but looks like a fairy tale that glamorizes what is often a quite difficult situation.

Movies hold huge power in determining thoughts and actions on issues such as safe sex, abortion, etc. I haven’t seen it, but know I’ll want to weigh in on the issues whenever the Kid sees the movie.

In light of all that emotion, I appreciate Traci’s fact-based approach in her class blog to issues like these, which need to be discussed and considered before issues arise. Traci’s blog adds greatly to the conversation.

One of Traci’s main concerns involves the federal funding of Planned Parenthood. She thinks it should stop. In my view, federal funds are spent in many other questionable ways. Blackwater and Halliburton get federal money too.

Oversight by our society about how our tax money is spent is crucial. New technology and bloggers can help, if given the tools, and this fact makes Gordon’s focus on e-government hugely important. In 2006, a bill was passed to make a public, searchable database of federal contracts awarded. Bloggers and citizen groups helped pass the bill after some folks in the Senate tried to hold it up. (Reference: Christian Scientist Monitor)

In addition, the Sunlight Foundation is working to give ordinary wired citizens access to information on government spending, of time and money. The foundation is using all the tools at its disposal — Youtube (you knew I’d get to the above video sometime), Facebook, a wiki and a website. And it’s asking citizens to help analyze the data. At least one newspaper is highlighting the information as well. The crowdsourcing capabilities of this effort seem as if they have great potential — as long as someone is watching.

A journalist hero is something to be

Matt Waite, a journalist turned data guy, has a new job as a “news technologist” in St. Pete. He’s one of the people behind Politifact.

For more on his work, see Innovate This.

The point is this:
Learning new technology is not just about advancing your career or keeping your job. It’s about using all the available tools in order to make a difference in the world.

(Dec. 3 note: The post at Innovate This originally held an embedded YouTube video of Green Day singing, “A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be.” However, the post then began to give a “We’re sorry, the video is no longer available” message. I’ve seen the same message recently on another site. So instead of offering you something that’s not there, the link is now gone. My apologies. If you want the music, search sorry YouTube. They’re not the only media without permalinks, I know, and it is indeed sorry.)

Shifting legal sands

Josh Voorhees at A Newspaper with Infinite Bureaus and David Shabazz at Write for Freedom tackle the changing legal ramifications of the Internet.
Josh focuses on privacy issues and David bores in on defamation.

I appreciate the clear, concise way both writers explained the background of these important issues. I’m also impressed with the quantity and depth of the links they both provide for further study of the issues.

I’d like to add a twist to one fear that Josh lists about privacy: identity confusion, as well as identity theft. People with common names run the risk of being confused with someone else — I’ve seen this confusion happen on Facebook for my daughter. If someone with the same name is “tagged” in a photo, the photo can appear on my daughter’s profile. Similarly, some bloggers have taken precautions to protect their online identities, using Claim ID. Here’s an example, from Mindy McAdams, who teaches at the University of Florida.

As the defamation rules evolve and debates continue about anonymous postings at forums and blogs, I’m glad both writers have provided summaries and links with context amid shifting sands.

Second Life: Soma or remedy?

Cindy Anderson at The Write Reason explores Second Life, a place that sounds intriguing but also a little creepy and self-indulgent.

Frankly, I need all my time, creativity and brain power to deal with my First Life.

A few years ago (quite a few, actually), I had the game “Myst” on my home computer, and my family followed that with “SimPark.” Both were incredibly addictive for me, but at least “SimPark” seemed to have some educational value. “Myst,” on the other hand, became a total retreat from reality for me, and could suck up hours of my time without me realizing it. I stopped playing.

I’m afraid Second Life would be the same for me, so I’m just not going to go there.

I must admit, looking around on Youtube this evening (another addiction I rarely let myself do), I can see that perhaps blogging, forums, You Tubing, Second Life and other technical innovations might give people ways of connecting with others when real face-to-face life becomes too problematic. Still, I wonder whether those connections can be detrimental when carried to extremes. Balance seems key, as it is in First Life.

And I can see marketing advantages in being in Second Life, but so far I have doubts about its journalistic value. I’d love to hear more, outside of Second Life, from the Reuters reporter who’s been stationed in Second Life for about a year now. Is his job just becoming a marketing job with Reuters and Acura car partnerships, or is there any real journalism there? Can media organizations afford what looks to me like that extravagance in this economic climate? What about the energy usage that Second Life eats?