Category Archives: networks

Using money from public notice advertising as a digital dividend to help bridge the digital divide

Google Fiber, coming to Charlotte soon, taken March 20, 2015, at the Best Minds conference at Queens University. Photo by Scott E. Lundgren, @scottelundgren

Google Fiber, coming to Charlotte soon, taken March 20, 2015, at the Best Minds conference at Queens University. Photo by Scott E. Lundgren, @scottelundgren

People from Pew Research, Google Fiber, and the Charlotte community met on a Friday night at Queens University in Charlotte to talk about the digital divide and the potential transformation from Google Fiber.

I heard some of the talk because Scott Lundgren streamed it on Meerkat. I could listen in because I have broadband access at home.

Not everyone in Charlotte does. The city has pockets where broadband penetration is only 40%.

One tiny mention during the Q&A after the formal presentations at Queens intrigued me – the idea of  a “digital dividend.” Migration to digital tools can save money for businesses and government, and that dividend could be used to help bridge the digital divide.

Try applying that idea to a longstanding digital issue affecting N.C. businesses and governments – required public notices that historically have run in selected newspapers. Local governments want to stop spending the money to advertise public notices in newspapers and simply post the notices on their own sites. Newspapers and the N.C. Press Association propose a compromise this year, in which governments get a 15% discount for repeat advertising and the notices get posted online for free. They rightly argue that most newspaper sites generate more traffic than government websites. They also have at least one lobbyist in Raleigh as well as their own editorial pages to share the benefits of their compromise.

But they’re not the only sites delivering information. Choosing who gets the government contract for advertising public notes can be a political game, and in some small towns, that contract has had the power to kill small news organizations and feed the growth of others. It falls into the “picking winners and losers” category of state and local government law.

So let’s return to that concept of a digital dividend. What if the money currently going to public notice advertising in print was considered a potential digital dividend designated specifically for helping bridge the digital divide?

Use that money to make the notices more accessible to everyone. (And yes, that means everyone, regardless of political leanings, association membership, or ability to fund lobbyists in Raleigh.)

That money could go to one or more of these things:

  • local library support for computers, wi-fi, broadband and community outreach so people can access information online.
  • internal local government work to make the public notices more useful, granular, searchable by topic, and available to all through something like a simple RSS feed. (The state of Utah does this, with a site run by the state archives. I bet others do too.)  As they stand now, the notices are unstructured text blobs, unsearchable on a granular level, like for company names, specific addresses, or type of notice.
  • nonprofits specifically working on bridging the digital divide, like Pangaea in Polk and Rutherford counties, which is a 501(c)3 building out broadband. It has received Facebook grants to help broaden digital access in its rural area.
  • outreach work to lawyers and others who also must post certain kinds of notices but do so behind paywalls. Convene some meetings to discuss how to open that information to all.
  • a fund for unconnected communities in Charlotte and Raleigh, to help pay the $300 initial fee for Google Fiber.
  • the local government’s general fund, to help keep property taxes from rising (yes, this bullet point acknowledges political realities. It also helps longtime property owners on small fixed incomes as well as the big property owners. It doesn’t directly help the many newcomers and millennials who are renting, and it does nothing to help bridge the divide.)

Admittedly, the public-notice advertising money isn’t huge compared to the millions that the N.C. General Assembly manages. A 2009 survey by the N.C. League of Municipalities mentioned price tags of $10,500 for Monroe and $42,000 for Charlotte. But it adds up. A 2011 poll by the Associated Press came up with an estimate that local governments in North Carolina alone spent about $6 million in 2010 on legal ads and public notices.

And admittedly, any solution is complicated by differing media circumstances in each N.C. town. If you want to reach people in Davidson or Cornelius, Davidson News or Cornelius News are good bets, but a local paper in Fayetteville might have bigger reach today than a Fayetteville blogger. RSS feeds that reach any site are the best future-proofed solution to that problem.

This issue has been cussed and discussed in Raleigh and in local governments for at least four years now. It’s a bit arcane, not sexy, so proposed solutions generally reflect what Raleigh lobbyists or a few informed legislators want. But the Queens University discussion stemming from Google Fiber’s arrival raised the idea of a digital dividend. Let’s start thinking how that could work for something concrete like government’s public notices.

The FCC releases its argument supporting municipal broadband in North Carolina

Map of broadband availability in and around Wilson, N.C., from the FCC's ruling pre-empting state law limiting its growth.

Broadband availability in and around Wilson, N.C., from the FCC’s ruling pre-empting state law limiting its growth.


Here it is: 116 pages in PDF.
fccmunibroadband

Here’s the FCC’s full page with statements from all FCC commissioners on the issue.

Here’s the Times Free Press in Tennessee on their part of the issue.

Here’s Multichannel News on what happens next for muni broadband.

Short version: North Carolina’s law limiting town broadband expansion is bad law (it was House Bill 129 from 2011).

And arguments that criticize existing muni broadband in Davidson, Morganton, and Salisbury as examples of the dangers of muni broadband are hogwash. See pages 34-36 in the PDF.

The Stop Online Piracy Act and U.S. Rep Mel Watt

Rep. Watt on Youtube

Rep. Mel Watt during SOPA hearings.

Congress is considering a bill that would place restrictions on the Internet, and Charlotte’s Rep. Mel Watt is one of the co-sponsors. Industry heavyweights like Google have lined up against the bill, which has other heavyweights like the Motion Picture Association of America on the other side.

Watt’s coming under some heat because of his statements during discussions about the bill, which could resurface Dec. 21. He has said, “It’s not worthy for us to be talking about who got bought off by whom.” That statement, of course, sent people to look at his political contributors. Here’s a summary.

From Phoenix Woman at Fire Dog Lake:
“Mel Watt Has Over 130,000 Reasons to Like SOPA.”

Alex Howard, government 2.0 correspondent for O’Reilly Media, reported in real time from the markup hearings on Dec. 15 for the bill. Here are two tweets of his from his @digiphile account, with more than 110,000 followers:

Alex Howard tweet 1

Alex Howard tweet 2

Others responded to Watt’s “I am not a nerd” statement during hearings:
“Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.”

Here’s Watt saying, “I am not a nerd,” on Youtube, with reaction.

What the bill does: Lifehacker’s quick version: “All About SOPA: The bill that wants to cripple your Internet, very soon.”

The deep dive on the bill, from Zack Carter at the Huffington Post.

Discussions about the bill could resurface as early as Dec. 21. Here’s where it stands.

Current contributors to Watt’s future campaign efforts include the Communications Workers of America, Microsoft, Cisco, the Motion Picture Association of America, News Corp., Qualcomm, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

Here’s more from OpenSecrets.org on Watt’s campaign finance numbers.

For Gen Y: Social media tips for organizations

xkcd map of social media

A crop of students are moving off to summer internships, paid and unpaid, and many have social media as a chunk of their work. It’s a task that many organizations are happy to outsource or delegate, especially to the digital natives.

But, as you know, doing it right is different from just having a thousand friends on Facebook.

Add to that wave the number of rising seniors or recent graduates who want to leverage social media for their resumes and job searches. The work requires a shift in thinking from using Facebook for personal reasons. Most digital natives have certainly learned the power of Facebook for organizing and the pitfalls of TMI on social networks, but there’s always more to learn.

The first step: Recognize that managing social media for an organization is different from using the tools for personal use.

Plenty of advice exists. Finding the good advice is hard.

Here are some pointers to sources, sprinkled with tips:

From Mandy Jenkins, DC social news editor for the Huffington Post: Social media guidelines to live by. Her full blog: Zombiejournalism.

From Sara Gregory, recently of The Daily Tar Heel: Visual fun slideshow of Twitter tips for journalists, good for anyone.
All posts by Sara Gregory tagged “Twitter.”

Shortening websites addresses for Twitter: Use bit.ly on a separate tab, and sign up for a bit.ly account. You can add a plus sign to the end of any bit.ly shortened url to get specific data about the number of clicks on the link, and you can get other data with a bit.ly account.

From Noel Cody, recently of Reese News at UNC: Best practices for live tweeting.

How to spot spam followers on Twitter (and there will be spam followers on Twitter). This post is a bit outdated as bots and spam morph constantly, but it’s a starting point.

Important Twitter spam tips: Don’t click on links sent to you via @ or direct message from someone you don’t know (just like Facebook). Look at the stream of their other tweets first to decide if they’re real or if they’re a bot or a spammer repeating the same message to many people. Beware photos of pretty women or even women who look like your mom. They’re often disguises. Always judge Twitter people by taking a good look at their stream of recent tweets, not just one tweet.

Personal or pro? Draw a line between your personal use of social media and your professional use, but feel free to explore where that line should fall. Trust your gut. Make good choices. You get to decide when or whether to use your network of 1,000 friends for the benefit of your organization. Don’t exploit your real friends, but evaluate when they want to know something that you’ve learned through your work. Consider separate accounts, for personal and work. You can inject personality into professional accounts, but be smart.

Listen and read: Use social media for listening, reading and smart searching, not just broadcasting. Use advanced search tools through Twitter search to look for keywords. Pay attention to what others are saying about your organization. Keep in mind that growing companies (and future jobs) are specializing in the analysis of content in social media, so learning how to search smartly will serve you well.

On Facebook, read up on the strategy, timing and best practices from people who know what they’re doing and keep up with changes (which seem to happen all the time). Suggestions: Why Facebook users unliked you, by Scott Hepburn, Walk through Facebook privacy settings, from Jeff Elder and how to use Facebook for an organization from Facebook itself.

Good organizations will give you advice from those who have gone before, room to experiment and a list of their own rules. Read them. CEO John Paton of the Journal Register has a strong list of social media rules.

More broadly:

Making the most of your internship, from Steve Buttry:

Steve Buttry about journalism, Twitter and other social media. You can use the search button to just focus on social media.

UNC’s Andy Bechtel about editing and headlines (a writing style quite similar to tweets), plus UNC student posts on his blog.

Twitter software clients:
Twitter for iPhone (simple, fast, mobile)
TweetDeck, as an app downloaded to your computer or your phone. More complicated than basic Twitter, but good for searching, categorizing and filtering when accounts get large
Cotweet Multiple accounts, multiple users.

Image: From XKCD, used through a Creative Commons license.

How to share news photos: A guide for anyone who finds themselves with a camera amid news events

Mamiya camera

Thousands marched in Montpellier, France, this weekend to protest pension law changes. My daughter was there studying abroad, camera in hand, but a bit stumped about whether her images had commercial value and how she could share her images with possible paying clients. She uses Tumblr and sometimes Facebook to share images with family and friends, but this case was different and she was seeking a broader audience.

We now have the capabilities to share images from around the world, while traditional news organizations have fewer staffers capturing images. Thousands of students are studying abroad, gathering thousands of images, but knowing how to get that work seen and possibly bought is still tricky. Establishing connections and getting good work found remains as hard as it ever was, and perhaps even harder with information overload.

Quick phone images can be shared immediately with the world through services like Twitpic, but controls on use and the ability to caption and tag well are limited. Sharing on Facebook can be fast too, but the terms of service can disturb anyone who wants to maintain control of their images.

Flickr offers the best ability to be seen, to share and to protect ownership.

To start, here are a few steps that will prove valuable for anyone who finds themselves amid news events with camera in hand. I’d love more tips, corrections or alternative advice from others who have found themselves in similar situations.

First, understand that speed is crucial. If it’s a big news events, its primary value comes in the first few hours after an event. Share quickly.

Sign on to Flickr. Go to the You menu. Upload photos and videos. Tag photos liberally, thinking about the keywords that people would use to find photos. Use all languages that are appropriate.

Be brutal in self editing your work, only adding three to five of your photos from an event, mix of vertical and horizontal. Be brutal in length and quality of videos. Upload speeds can be slow; make sure size is large enough for print but not so large it makes upload time unbearable:
Resolution: minimum of 200 pixels/inch, 300 pixels/inch is better
Pixel dimensions: width of at least 1000 pixels, up to about 1600 pixels

If you think you have enough quality photos for a slideshow, you can upload more photos: 10 to 15. Flickr can make an automatic slideshow and give you a link to it that you can share. But keep in mind that each of those photos needs an accurate, unique caption, and that’s likely to take much of your time.

Captions must include who, what, when, where, maybe why, maybe how much. If the photos are taken in public places, groups of five or more people don’t require individual identification. If fewer than five people are in the photo, get names. If it’s a news event and you can’t get names, you can still upload the photo, but it might not get used. Be honest about what you don’t know. Photos taken on private property are a different matter: Did you have permission to be there? Did the people in the photos give permission? Then you’re covered. Otherwise, legal issues could get sticky.

Include your name and e-mail (a real e-mail that you will check for any questions or queries later) in the caption information. It should be an e-mail that you’re OK with being public and that you do check. If it’s an e-mail address that’s almost not functional because it’s too overloaded, use some other method of contact: public, permanent phone number, unique Facebook name, something that will find you.

Doublecheck the licensing of the photo after upload to make sure it’s some rights reserved, with noncommercial use. With that license, people who want to use it commercially should contact you and offer to pay. You could also mark it “All rights reserved.” People can still offer to pay for it, but it won’t get reused by noncommercial sites.

Consider using social media to link to that Flickr account to get the word out.

Ahead of time:
Check the default licensing on your account for noncommercial use or all rights reserved.
Check your contact settings to make sure people can get in touch with you.
Have a Flickr account, either free or pro, spend some time becoming familiar with it, check settings such as the “license through Getty” setting and remember how to sign in to it.

More ideas? Let me know.

Free online journalism classes gain ground

Edupunk image

Edupunk

The head of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University. The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, with a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.

IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform continues to evolve, using a base of Drupal. P2PU’s organizers make it clear they know the tools aren’t perfect, and they’re refining as they go with feedback from participants.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU, an online community of open study groups, in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word “edupunks.”

The concept of coaching outside traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for almost a year, with a focus on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they “citizen journalists,” neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would edit their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

I proposed that the class use Moodle open-source software, a learning management system that is has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College.

Then in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp through the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with education components to broaden capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, however, was a proven business model, with customers who can pay.

Certainly many large media companies are seeking community help covering the news these days, and the need exists to improve skills in broad communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps that business model will become clearer.

By contrast, P2PU isn’t focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining their tools and experimenting. That’s inspiring.

In fact, Mozilla has teamed up with Hacks/Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight’s Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU’s current journalism class has shown me that perhaps we just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, media folks have shown a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started, with little regard to organizational structure. Dave Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that the possibilities exist, spread across the globe. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It’s quite a time shifter, right out of Harry Potter.

What I’d like to see next: Taking the concept of online tools to teach journalism to local communities, with tools that individuals can use for independent courses, simply. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add great value.

Perhaps there’s a business model in there somewhere. But more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to write their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. Thoughts?

Image credit: Image via Flickr from bionicteaching.
Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 license.

The December 2009 snowstorm and #snOMG, a little hashtag that began in Charlotte

#snomg tag from trendsmap.com, 1 p.m. on 12/19

#snomg tag usage as shown by trendsmap.com at 1 p.m. Dec. 19

Trend map for #snomg usage

#snomg usage at http://trendsmap.com after midnight, Dec. 19.

#snomg usage about 2 p.m. Dec. 18

Usage of #snomg as shown by trendsmaps.com as of 2 p.m. Dec. 18.

Editor’s note from Jan. 30, 2010: Please see an update of this post that tracks the use of #snOMG to Cincinnati.

As the December 2009 snowstorm traveled up the East Coast, a little hashtag born in Charlotte traveled with it.

In January 2009, Gregor Smith, or @flc on Twitter, came up with #snOMG, which combined “snow” and “OMG” in five characters.

When you have only 140 characters, every character counts.

The tag emerged again during a March storm. Then in December, the tag reappeared as weather reports indicated an approaching snow event. Charlotte meteorologist Brad Panovich, or @wxbrad of WCNC adopted the tag, and The Weather Channel shared it with more than 20,000 followers on Twitter.

So here’s a quick Q&A conducted via email with the tag originator, Gregor Smith of northern Mecklenburg County:

When and how did you come up with the tag #snOMG?

(I came up with it) during the first snow “storm” of the year, which was mid- to late January. I can’t claim sole credit, it was merely a punny hashtag reply to a “snow! Omg!” tweet, so I like to think of myself as one who pushed it into the Charlotte collective. From there it wasn’t long before others took it and ran with it, making it a trending topic, which was decidedly easier back in those heady pre-Oprah days…

You tweeted: ‘YES! AFFIRMATION BABY!’ when The Weather Channel (@twci, with more than 20,000 followers) announced #snOMG as one of the “official” hash tags of the East Coast storm of Dec. 18. Is that how it feels to get wide use of your hash tag?

It was on par with having Jim Cantore (of The Weather Channel) standing at the end of Pineville-Matthews Road (in Charlotte) during the big #snOMG of March this year. As Ben Ullman (@budesigns) said then, we were close to getting #snOMG on national TV.

How much snow did you get in the latest storm? Did you go out and play in it? Did you lose power?
We got a few inches, maybe 2 or 3, and of course I went out to play in it! Being 30-plus is no excuse not to be excited by snow … . No loss of power though.

Do you use hash tags to sort Twitter? Or are they just for fun and humor?
Bit of column A, bit of column B. A lot of times, it’s for shits and giggles, the kind of hashtags some people recently said they hate, but for events it’s good to track tweets that way.

The latest storm actually got pretty intense in Asheville and points north. When an event gets serious but has a humorous hash tag, do you think the tag should be changed or not used?
People are free to use whatever tag they want, be it #snOMG or otherwise. Where I come from (Scotland), we have a pretty self-deprecating sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at serious things, then what can you?

Are you the person with the Twitter name @snOMG? If not, do you know who it is?
No, that’s the botfather. (Link might not be safe for work.)

How long have you been on Twitter?
Since September 8th 2006, seriously! I’m user ID 5,628. They are now pushing user IDs in the 100-million range.

You’ve had some life-changing experiences with Twitter. What’s the best lesson you learned?
Don’t talk about work on Twitter unless that’s part of your job. Some over-zealous employers will “dooce” you for that.

Further links:
#snOMG in March 2009
Dan Conover on hashtags
Standardize basic hashtags for Charlotte.