Last spring we all saw what can happen to a movement when a video of it goes viral on YouTube. That was the Kony 2012 video, showing the atrocities committed by the Ugandan rebel and calling world attention to the need for his capture.
About three weeks ago the world was shocked not by a mass murderer but a 22-year-old Chinese woman who was simply trying to have a second baby, only to see that 7-month fetus aborted by the Chinese government.
The video of that aborted fetus was posted, and it has ignited a firestorm protest among Chinese over the government’s one-child-only policy. The video is all over the Web and several thousand viewers have already seen it and its clones on YouTube.
In the wake of that protest, the British newspaper The Telegraph, has noted: “An influential think-tank that advises China’s cabinet, called on authorities to consider ‘adjustments’ to the law and the introduction of a two-child policy ‘as soon as possible.’”
Ms. Feng had violated the Chinese government family planning rule, but the consequence shocked and saddened her deeply, and her relatives said enough is enough and posted pictures of the fetus online.
The Economist magazine describes the photo this way:
“In the photographs the young mother lies on a clinic bed, her hair obscuring her face. She appears as inert as the baby lying beside her. But 23-year-old Feng Jianmei is still alive, whereas her baby girl is not. The baby was killed while still in the womb by an injection arranged by local family-planning officials. They restrained Ms Feng, who was seven months pregnant, and then induced her to give birth to the dead baby.
“Even three years ago, Ms Feng’s suffering might have gone unnoticed outside the remote village in the north-western province of Shaanxi where she lives—just another statistic in China’s family-planning programme. But her relatives uploaded the graphic pictures onto the internet, and soon microblogs had flashed them to millions of people across the country. Chinese citizens expressed their outrage online. It is not just the treatment of Ms Feng that they deplore. It is the one-child policy itself.”
Concern over policy
Actually, many government advisers have been worried that the policy has too many negative side-effects, not just for families but for the country as a whole. They have felt that the government should change its one-child policy to stave off an impending shortage of workers as well as avoid issues arising from an aged population.
The country’s one-child policy, begun in 1979 under Deng Xiaoping, was started after a huge baby boom in the 1950s unleashed fears of an impending demographic crisis. The brakes went on the large population growth, and Chinese officials assert that about 400 million births have been prevented over the past 30 years.
Bad side effects
But the policy brought with it a slew of negative side effects, including a rise in sex-selective abortions and even infanticide as rural families sought to have male offspring. The country’s population is now male-heavy, and CNN recently reported that some 24 million eligible grooms will find themselves without a bride by the year 2020 because there just won’t be enough women to marry.
The fact that the widespread protest in China and around the world resulted from a viral video is another example of global outrages brought to life for millions of people, courtesy of the Internet. Chalk one up for the good guys.
I remember when a million dollars was a lot of money.
So much so that CBS rose to the top of the ratings on the nights it aired the hit series, “The Millionaire,” from 1955-1960. This was a show where a guy named Michael Anthony would travel the globe bestowing the golden sum on anyone his boss, John Beresford Tipton, deemed worthy of it.
If a network were to resurrect that series today, however, they would have to call it, “The Multimillionaire,” since that million would be worth just over $10 million in 2012 dollars.
Money and media
But you may be wondering, since this blog is about the digital media, what does money have to do with the price of pixels?
A lot, as it turns out. And for starters, $10 million is a vastly outdated sum of cash in the game of buying and selling social media sites.
Billion Dollar Baby
I’m talking about the $1 billion (yes, with a “b”) that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg just paid this week for another social network – Instagram – that wasn’t even around two years ago.
Instagram was launched way, way back in 2010 by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger as a free photo-sharing application. To access it, all users have to do is shoot a digital picture, add on a filter, and then share it on several social networking sites include the Instagram site. The photos appear in squares, harkening back to earlier-day Kodak Instamatic cameras.
According to an article today in the online site, TechCrunch, Instagram was starting to be too much of a rival for Facebook to ignore.
“At 27 million registered users on iOS alone, Instagram was increasingly positioning itself as a social network in its own right — not just a photo-sharing app,” writes Josh Costine and Kim-Mai Cutler.
“And it was clear that some users were doing more of the daily sharing actvities on Instagram rather than Facebook’s all-in-one mobile apps, which had to be cluttered with nearly every feature of the desktop site.”
Instagram has just launched an app for Android phones and was on track to pick up as many as 50 million new users. According to TechCrunch, it had already picked up one million in the first week of the Android launch.
Under the terms of the deal, Instagram will remain a stand-alone app under its own name, but there will be increased ties and crossover possibilities with Facebook for users of both networks.
Here’s the kicker
But it was the writers’ next observation that shows – let’s see, how shall I put this – that smoke and mirrors only have value in the world of interactive digital media.
“Whatever you think of the price given the fact that Instagram had no revenues, the reality is it was going to be worth whatever Mark Zuckerberg felt like paying for it,” the TechCrunch writers say.
Keep in mind that we’re talking about a two-year-old company that – as Costine and Cutler say – has no revenues. Like other social media sites, the value of Instagram lies in the fact it draws such a huge critical mass of eyeballs to its site.
Visions of sugar plums
As we’ve seen with other sites – most notably the Facebook phenomenon – that is a scenario that makes advertisers salivate as they contemplate the exposure for their client companies.
As for Zuckerberg himself, here is his take on what the acquisition means:
“For years, we’ve focused on building the best experience for sharing photos with your friends and family. Now, we’ll be able to work even more closely with the Instagram team to also offer the best experiences for sharing beautiful mobile photos with people based on your interests.”
And if you’re still trying to wrap your mind around how much a billion dollars is, it is $344 million more than last month’s Mega Million jackpot of $656 million, which was the largest payout in lottery history.
And, once again, this billion dollars went for a company that made how much money?
“As someone who has dabbled in multiple social networking sites, I have to say, Facebook seems to be losing its allure, at least for me … At the moment, Instagram is my choice for social networking.”
This comment comes from Senior English major Tara Donavanik, writing in the student newspaper The Clause,at California’s Azusa Pacific University.
She is uttering what some are wondering about Facebook and Myspace: Are they losing their allure, at least to young people?
Some 2010 data from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Social Network Site Survey indicates the answer is yes. The answer seems clearer that college students have moved away from MySpace (only 12% of undergraduates and 6% of grad students use it), but the data for Facebook shows declines, too.
For a site that was started by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg as a way for college students to connect, fewer students appear to be using Facebook.
According to the Pew results, only 1 in 5 undergrads regularly uses Facebook, while only 15% of grad students use it.
Data for both MySpace and Facebook seem stronger at the high school level, with more than 1 in 3 (35%) of high school students using MySpace, and 26% using Facebook).
A possible reason
Offering up her own take on the data, Donavanik notes, “Maybe as we get older, time becomes of essence and curiosity about an ex or an acquaintance becomes low on our priority list.”
According to the Pew data, age influences the choice of an individual’s social networking site. For example, Linkedin is a popular network site that people use to develop and maintain career connections, although it is also used to exchange social information as well. But because it is more career-oriented (and even career-enhancing), some 37% of undergrad college students and 38% of grad students were using it in 2010. One would assume those numbers are even higher today.
Twitter accounts for 21% of college student use, while other SNS sites like Instagram, account for another 14% of college usage.
Although Facebook logs a smaller percentage of college students than Linkedin, the Pew study does show FB to have the largest share of daily visits by its users, while LinkedIn users visit the site once a month or even less.
35 and older growth
Indeed, the growth among users of social network sites has been in the post-college generation of older adults. The Pew Center study summarizes this as follows:
“Internet users of all ages are more likely to use a SNS today than they were in 2008. However, the increase in SNS use has been most pronounced among those who are over the age of 35. In 2008 only 18% of internet users 36 and older used a SNS, by 2010 48% of internet users over the age of 35 were using a SNS.
“This is about twice the growth experienced by internet users 18-35; 63% of whom used a SNS in 2008 compared with 80% in 2010. Among other things, this means the average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult SNS users are now over the age of 35.”
Usage still strong
Overall, the Pew Research Center data shows the following about the demographics of all Internet users, as per its August 2011 survey:
* Percent of all adults who use the Internet: 78%.
* Men outnumber women slightly (80 to 76%).
* White, Non-Hispanics outnumber Black, Non-Hispanics, 80-71%. Some 68% of Hispanics use the Web.
* Ninety-four percent of those 18-29 use the Web; 87 percent of those 30-49; 74% of those 50-64, and 41% of those 65 and older.
* For household incomes over $75K, Internet usage is almost 100%; for household incomes less than $30K, usage is at 62%
* For those with no high school diploma, Internet use is at 43%; for high school grads, it is 71%; for college grads, usage is 94%.
The tone of comments
The Pew Center has also studied the overall “tone” or mood of comments on social networking sites (SNS) and has found the following:
* 85% of SNS-using adults say their experience on the sites is that people are mostly kind.
* 68% say they have had an SNS experience that made them feel good about themselves.
* 61% had experiences that made them feel closer to another person.
* 39% say they frequently see acts of generosity by other SNS users.
Nevertheless, Pew says that “notable proportions of SNS users do witness bad behavior on those sites and nearly a third have experienced some negative outcomes from their experiences.”
For example nearly half of SNS-using adults say they have seen mean or cruel behavior displayed by others at least occasionally.
When it comes to teenage SNS-users, Pew discovered that 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online, and that 80% of those online teens use social media sites.
Further, the experiences teens have concerning the tone of the comments posted on the site is different from adult experiences. For example, only 69% of teens think their peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites. Another 20% say peers are mostly unkind. Only 5% of the adult SNS-users reported people to be mostly unkind.
Cruelties on the sites
Further, Pew says 88% of teens using social networks have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on an SNS, and 12% reported those incidents to be “frequent.” Only 7% of adults reported seeing this kind of treatment frequently.
When it comes to the sensitive subject of bullying, nearly 1 in 5 teens (19%) said they have been bullied in the past year, often online or via text.
According to Pew, teens who use social networks say, “People most often appear to ignore the situation, with a slightly smaller number of teen saying they see others defending someone and telling others to stop their cruel behavior.”
Other Pew studies have revealed the following effects of SNS-sites on users, which go toward balancing the scales some from last week’s post on this site. That post discussed the isolating effects of the social media, but Pew data show there is also a socializing effect as well.
Some of these conclusions are:
* Facebook users are more trusting than others.
* Facebook users have more close relationships.
* Facebook users get more social support than other people.
* Facebook users are much more politically engaged than most people.
* Facebook revives “dormant” relationships. (22% of those are from high school years, in fact.)
One of my favorite books of all time is Lonesome Dove, that neo-classic tale of the West by Texan Larry McMurtry.
Although he has a passion for writing westerns of both period and modern vintage, McMurtry explodes the stereotype of what a writer of westerns is all about. That’s one of the reasons I like his books so much.
Books in his saddlebags
I’ve never been in McMurtry’s home but, I bet that in place of a Winchester rifle and crossed branding irons above a massive fireplace, you would find rows of books packed into wall-to-wall shelving.
I get that image because Larry McMurtry is a guy in love with books.
How do I know that? Because the guy owns one of the larger antiquarian bookstores around, called Booked Up, that comprises four buildings and contains some 400,000 books. That’s bigger than a lot of college libraries, and it’s not found in Houston or Dallas but way out in Archer City, Texas. If that town sounds vaguely familiar, go check out McMurtry’s breakthrough novel, The Last Picture Show or its sequel, Texasville.
This is one literate cowboy.
A vexing question
Because I admire McMurtry the author so much, I plopped down $6.95 plus tax for the current issue of Harper’s Magazine at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport the other day. The article catching my eye was one by McMurtry asking the provocative question, “Will Amazon kill the book?”
Since this is one big-time bookseller asking the question about another, I thought McMurtry might just be the right guy to answer that question.
He did, and the answer is no.
This, despite the Amazon CEO’s apparent desire to see books go to the back of the shelf. Keep in mind we’re talking about the kind of printed book that the world has known for the past 500 years or so, ever since Johannes Gutenberg started cranking them with his movable type.
Reviewing Richard L. Brandt’s book, One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com, McMurtry is quick to give credit to Amazon’s founder as a creative genius. In fact, his review begins by noting the following:
“If the late Steve Jobs was the Thomas Edison de nos jours, perhaps the ever-present Jeff Bezos of Amazon is our Henry Ford. Both Bezos and Ford had a single culture-changing idea that they executed doggedly until the culture came round.”
The Kindle: Year 4
McMurtry is referring not only to the creation of the gigantic online flea market we know as Amazon.com, but also to the new kind of electronic book reader that Amazon launched in 2007 that we know as the Kindle.
But McMurtry disagrees with Bezos that the e-book is going to render ink-on-paper books obsolete as we all migrate to the e-screen of Kindle and – although Bezos might not acknowledge it – the Barnes & Noble version called the Nook.
I wrote about these new technologies a couple years ago in this blog, asking the question, “Will the e-book catch on?” Certainly the sales that Amazon is touting of Kindle seem to indicate they are indeed catching on. But my own personal observations, made over the past year on my college campus of 5,200 undergrads, indicate otherwise. I just don’t see that many students sitting under the trees reading e-books.
Doubting the worst
McMurtry, doubts that e-books will wipe out traditional tomes. Keep in mind, however, he has a financial interest in the health of the printed book. He does have to pay the utilities for all that bookstore space out in Archer city. Nevertheless, he writes:
“Less attractive about Bezos is his obvious irritation at the continued existence of the paperbound book, which provides, still, serious competition to sales of his e-book device, the Kindle.
“He has pointed out that the traditional book has had a 500-year run; he clearly thinks it’s time for those relics to sort of shuffle offstage. Then he will no longer be bothered with old-timey objects that have the temerity to flop open and cause one to lose one’s place.”
Bubbles can burst
Acknowledging the opening-weekend kind of success the Kindle is having, McMurtry cautions, “The culture has surged in the direction of e-books, but the surge might not go on forever. It might be a bubble.”
Those of us who have felt the deep satisfaction of taking our time to browse through a bookstore – large or small – and walking out with more than we expected to buy, can appreciate where McMurtry is coming from.
And that kind of customer satisfaction, especially of finding the unexpected volume that had long eluded us elsewhere, is not always such an accident. Again McMurtry writes, “Stirring the curiosity of readers is a vital part of bookselling; skimming a few strange pages is surely as important as making one click.”
Is older better?
Every time I cast my lot with traditionalists who say the older is better than the newer, I know I run the risk of sounding my age. In fact, the older is not always better. As a writer and a college professor, I know what research used to be like in musty old libraries vs. what it is like now with the library sitting on my lap as those needed references appear in seconds rather than hours.
Still I hasten to add that reading from the printed page in a nicely bound book that you can keep as a reminder in plain sight after you’re finished, is nothing to write off so easily.
At least it doesn’t require a battery or a frantic call to the Geek Squad if the e-reader refuses to waken from its zzzzzzz’s.
I say I don’t want or need love in my life. Truth is, I lie to myself because I’m afraid to end up alone. – Anonymous.
There isn’t a time of day I don’t think about killing myself … I try to be the fun-loving, lighthearted nice guy. But who is it I’m trying to deceive? – Anonymous.
Question: What might happen if we were to use the worldwide public stage of the Web, in all its openness, to expose our deepest, innermost secrets? Would anyone actually do that?
Answer: Yes Many Web users are venting their personal longings, embarrassing moments, quirkiness, complaints, fears, and angst on sites designed especially to reveal secrets. The two comments that begin this blog post are two of those actual secrets posted within the past two weeks on sites set up for this purpose.
Anonymity is key
The caveat is that they are revealed under the promise of anonymity.
It is ironic that the world’s most public forum which can and often does embarrass people by making private facts public, is also the same forum that people are relying on to keep their identity secret.
Among the web sites that are available for bean-spilling is PostSecret, which seems to have started the trend, or which as least is one of the most popular of the public secret sites. How popular? As of today, more than 1,066,000 Facebook users alone have “liked” this site.
It’s mission, simply put: “PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.”
The site administrators do the rest and post the cards.
An artistic element
Alongside the compelling lure of looking in on other people’s secret lives, the various secret-posting sites also offer the artistic element of seeing how well the secrets match the selected visual elements of the e-cards posted on the site. So these are not just secrets, but expressions of art, as well.
Among the secrets posted on this site’s e-cards are the following:
• I slept with someone so they wouldn’t commit suicide.
• I don’t know how to tell you this, but I can’t become a military wife for fear that you will die.
• I loved giving birth, but I hate being a mother.
• Every time I get into a taxi, I check to see if the driver is the man who killed you … I want to ask him how he didn’t see us.
And the secrets go on and on.
Recently, the concept of posting secrets has moved to Facebook, a site where all wall posts come with names and photos of persons posting them, right? Only partially so when it comes to special “postsecret” Facebook group pages. Like any FB page, you have to ask to become a friend and the person running that page can either accept or reject your request. In the case of a “postsecret” page, the site administrator serves as that gatekeeper.
Postsecret sites on Facebook are catching on at a number of institutions, including college campuses. Earlier this month, for example, some students at California’s Azusa Pacific University set up PostSecret Apu. Within the first two weeks, the site had accepted more than 1,750 friend requests. Some 200 secrets have been sent in already.
The administrator of the site is kept anonymous, along with those who choose to create “postcards” and send them in for posting. However, the identity of those individuals commenting on the secrets, is revealed just like on regular Facebook pages.
College students adapt it
Here is how PostSecret Apu describes itself and its mission:
“This is a student project and in no way reflects the direct values or opinions of any faculty or staff of Azusa Pacific University.
“A place to share. A place to be. A place to express the things holding you back. A place to seek help. A place to help get you to a place of freedom.
“You are invited to anonymously contribute your secrets to Azusa Pacific University’s PostSecret. Secrets can be a regret, hope, funny experience, unseen kindness, fantasy, belief, fear, betrayal, erotic desire, feeling, confession, or childhood humiliation. Reveal anything – as long as it is true and you have never shared it with anyone before. This is meant to be an outlet you might not otherwise have.”
Since Azusa Pacific University is a faith-based liberal arts university, the new site is probably more controversial than it would be on a state university campus. There have been some concerns about the kinds of expressions that might come forth and the possible impact these might have on the university and its efforts at creating a community spirit of believers.
Nevertheless, the site administrator has stated that the only caution the school has issued is to not use the APU logo or to state that this is a university-sanctioned site, which it is not. The administrator also advises users not to name any APU employees in their posted secrets.
Wide range of secrets
The secrets posted on this Postsecret Apu page, cover a wide range of personal aspirations, regrets, complaints, and revelations. Some are lighthearted and thankful like the following:
• Not a day goes by that I don’t miss calling you my best friend.
• On most days I’m too lazy to brush my teeth.
• Come friends. It’s not too late to seek a newer world.
But there are many darker secrets, too, like the two at the top of this blog post and the following:
• People assume I dress modestly just because I’m a Christian. The truth is, I’m ashamed of my body.
• I know I’m as worthy of love as anyone else. But after so many years of telling myself otherwise, I don’t know if I’ll ever really believe it.
• I lost 35 pounds in an effort to be healthy and desired. I’ve never felt worse about myself in my entire life. Life was easier when I was fat and guys left me alone. Since then I have been sexually assaulted … Being thin is not worth this hell.
• On most days I feel … so alone.
The poignancy of these secrets is enhanced by the creative visual imagery that serve as the background for these e-cards. The fact there are so many such secrets posted in such a short window of time is an indication of the private world of pain and longing that many college students carry beneath their smiling faces. Happily, others attest to the positive adjustments other students are making in the world as they grow into their early 20s.
Troubled find support
But several of the secrets are dark ones, and the darkest are those that bespeak thoughts of suicide and of those grappling with their own gender identification.
On the up side, most of these expressions garner many comments of support and offers from others to listen and to be friends with those students feeling lost in their pain and confusion.
One of the 16 people who responded to one secret confessing suicidal thoughts said this: I am so sorry you are hurting right now. I’m so sorry that you feel you have to wear a mask when you are in so much pain. Please know that you are not alone in this place, that you are not the only one who has felt this way.
The site administrator has also posted contact information for a local suicide prevention center.
“… it’s cloud illusions I recall; I really don’t know clouds at all.”
The great Joni Mitchell wrote these lyrics for “Both Sides Now” decades ago, and they are truer now than then. Especially when you apply them to computers, which didn’t even exist when Joni put pen to paper.
Perhaps she had a premonition?
I’ve mentioned cloud computing before in this blog, but let’s go over it’s definition again for those of you not under 25 or members of Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
Cloud computing allows users to access their local server resources using a computer, netbook, pad computer, smart phone, or other device anywhere, anytime. In cloud computing, applications are provided and managed by the cloud server and data is also stored remotely in the cloud configuration. Users do not download and install applications on their own device or computer; all processing and storage is maintained by the cloud server. The information is stored online instead of on a device. The on-line services may be offered from a cloud provider or or by a private organization or company.
A familiar face
Enter (who else?) that ubiquitous company known by its signature fruit: Apple.
In case you haven’t heard this ancient news — announced last week — Apple unveiled its iCloud service which will offer remote, wireless updates of music, photos, apps, and other data for iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches and computers, The company refers to this as “PC-free.”
USA Today writer Jefferson Graham noted recently that companies like Google and Amazon have been working on the “cloud” always-on computer application that nests on internet servers. But Apple has taken this a step freer, offering the same service for wireless-device users anywhere.
Leader of the pack
“The iCloud service, which will launch in the fall replaces Apple’s failed $99 yearly MobileMe service, which is no longer accepting customers,” Graham wrote. “Reaction was swift: Apple’s move and its soon-to-open $500 million new data center in North Carolina, puts it in a leadership position, analysts say.”
The service was demonstrated recently at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, that mega-event for digital mavens held annually in San Francisco. It’s the favorite venue for unveiling of new Apple products and services. In the demo, Apple VP Eddy Cue shot a photo on an iPhone. He next opened an iPad and the iPhoto software on a MacBook (convenient these are all Apple products, no?) and the photograph popped up on the screen in a few seconds.
Back it up
If that isn’t enough, Apple also notes that iCloud can be used as a back-up device for all your data.
“If you get a new iPhone, just type in your Apple iD and password, and everything will be downloaded to the new phone,” explained Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
Apple’s website simply notes,”iCloud stores your content and wirelessly pushes it to all your devices. And because it seamlessly integrates with your apps. everything happens automatically.”
Launching in fall
The iCloud service, which comes as part of the iOS 5 mobile operating system from Apple, is due to launch in the fall and will contain 5G of storage space. Apple says it has added over 200 new features to the updated system.
Tech writer Phil Goldenstein has probed the impact that iCloud will have on 3G networks, wondering if it will crush them. His answer: probably not.
“According to CCS Insight analyst John Jackson, Apple must have concluded that users of their products have access to Wi-Fi networks with sufficient regularity that the service will be broadly accessible,” Goldenstein writes. “But what happens if a user doesn’t have access to a Wi-Fi hotspot? Will traffic get routed over the cellular network? Or will the cloud upload just be put on hold until users get in range of a Wi-Fi access point? Apple isn’t saying.”
I think I just saw my cell phone bill increase. What else is new?
Nothing is more nebulous than trying to predict the future of the media.
That has been a recurring theme in these blog posts since I began doing them about 17 months ago. Still, it is interesting to see where one concept is now, where it has been, and where it may head.
The concept is personalization.
In 1994 I wrote a book called, The Age of Multimedia and Turbonews, trying to forecast where the communication media were headed. Some of the predictions then never came true, while others that weren’t even visualized, are now reality.
Facebook, for example. Youtube, for another.
Still, there was one idea rolling around then that seems to be making a comeback. Citing from the above 17-year-old book:
“One of the products under development at the (MIT) Media Lab … is an electronic newspaper called Newspace, which could join the worlds of mass media and personal computing. Newspace would offer a broadsheet-sized electronic news presentation to the reader, complete with state-of-the-art graphics and human interaction. Much of the product would be built around individual users’ habits, interests, tastes, hobbies, and lifestyles. “
This was before the age of online newspapers obviously, and those products have underdone several evolutions trying to get to the stage that Newsok.com is now. But it’s the personalization aspect – or the so-called Daily Me aspect – that is the focus here.
Trove and Livestand
The current March/April issue of the magazine, News & Tech, features an article headlined, “Personalization making 2011 resurgence.” The article, written by editor chuck Moozakis, notes that the concept seems to have finally gotten some traction.
Moozakis focuses on Trove, a news aggregation service that will let users build their own news site from more than 10,000 news sources, and Livestand, a tablet service that funnels content to consumers based on their interests.
Trove is the brainchild of The Washington Post, which launched it in March on the Web. Livestand comes from our friends at Yahoo.
An open letter from Post CEO Donald E. Graham on Facebook explains what Trove is all about:
Reflects User Choices
“Trove harnesses smart, flexible technology that learns from the choices you make. Some have called it ‘Pandora for news,’ and the serendipity in its suggestions, pulled from around 10,000 sources, makes Trove a powerful tool for information discovery.”
Essentially, Trove users are meant to have the ability to develop their own information channels. They can then utilize those channels to follow anything, anyone, or any place that interests them. Trove uses Facebook Connect to deliver a range of possible channels to users, based on their individual interests.
A “Social Experience”
Says Graham, “Trove is … a social experience; you can share your channels with your friends, engage with fellow site users using the conversation boards featured on every channel, and interact with Trove on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.”
And, since the world is moving to mobile devices, you can take Trove with you on your Android, iPhone, or BlackBerry. An iPad app is on the near horizon.
Trove and Livestand follow, by just a couple months, the launch of Ongo. This service is backed by a consortium including The Post, USA Today, and The New York Times. It is a paid service that lets subscribers select the content they want to read on their mobile devices or computer screens.
600 Daily Stories
The content comes from more than 600 top news stories daily from the above news organizations plus the Associated Press, Reuters, and Financial Times. It costs subscribers about $7 per month.
Almost two decades past the MIT Media Lab experiment in 1994, personalized news channels started making a comeback with MediaNews in 2008. This company sent up a trial balloon then in the form of an “individuated newspaper,” called I-News, which was tested in Los Angeles and Denver before being put back on the shelf.
Will the trend toward personalized publishing continue?
How can it not? We are all tailoring the Web to our individual, personal needs everyday. The direction such personalization will go, however, is open to question.
“It’s still a moving target,” says media analyst Peter Vandevanter. He sees personalized media following two different – but parallel – paths:
- Initiatives such as Trove that depend on keywords and algorithmic searching.
- So-called crowdsourcing services, of which Facebook is a prime example. Here, users read what their friends and trusted sources recommend.
Back to the Caves
I have always found it ironic that the Web is a culture of openness where anyone can find anything they want, yet so many of us only scratch the surface by going for narrow kinds of information that interest us personally.
What could be a tool for a gigantic common pool of information is, in a way, a trail that leads each of us back to our individual caves to read the paintings on the wall.
My first newspaper job was right here with The Oklahoman (then The Daily Oklahoman) back around 1970. It was a transition time for the industry, which was going from “hot-type” to the “offset” printing process.
Because of that, reporters and editors were saying goodbye to their manual typewriters as technology had ushered in electric typewriters in the form of IBM Selectrics. These machines literally started the ball rolling in connecting the newsroom to the offset printing process.
The magic typing ball
These Selectrics replaced the individual striking keys with the typing ball that was calibrated to put the right letter on the page as you hit the corresponding key. You could change typefaces simply by changing the typing ball, and you could code the copy to be read automatically by an optical character reader (OCR) machine.
Someone would simply feed the typed sheets into the OCR machine, and out would come the typeset copy, formatted for your newspaper and ready to be pasted onto the newspaper page that would be photographed and magically converted to a thin metal plate. This was placed like a saddle on the printing press. The press was started and voila! A newspaper would emerge on the other end.
What’s this? Change?
This was the first significant change to occur in the way newspapers were produced since the early 19th Century, and it was the first stage of putting composing-room functions into newsroom hands. It also produced a great deal of angst among reporters. Ironically, those professionals who are always writing about changes in society have traditionally been some of the most resistant to change in the way they do their job.
For them, technology in the newsroom means change, and change means a break with tradition, and the traditions of journalism are as endearing to reporters as motherhood, baseball, and apple pie.
I clearly recall reporters steadfastly refusing to give up their Royal manuals, even as they were ordered by editors to replace them with the new Selectrics. In some cases, they would actually hide those relics, sneak off and use them instead of the shiny new machines that were placed on their
desks. It took more than a year for some die-hards to realize copy produced on manuals wouldn’t work in the new technological system.
Once they got used to the Selectrics, however, they realized this new delivery system of news was easier (for the most part), let them have later deadlines (which all reporters crave) and – most importantly – this technology did not affect content.
The reality of change
This is the new reality for journalists today, as we have long-since crossed the threshold of computers replacing electric typewriters and Web editions of newspapers challenging the print product for supremacy with readers.
And it doesn’t stop there as I recently heard a Dallas editor talking about his newspaper past Web-first to Twitter-first.
The new delivery system of Web-first media does not have to affect news content, and it is that content that is so important to society.
The new generation of journalists who have come into the newspaper and television news industry over the past decade now take this as a given: the Web is here to stay, and more people are getting their information from it than from traditional newspapers or even 30-minute TV newscasts.
That said, newspapers and television news have to play first to the Web and then to their traditional delivery systems of printed papers and nightly newscasts. The change is occurring at a more rapid pace with newspapers than TV, although the latter industry is catching on fast to the new reality.
OK, I get it now
While this change is – at times – heartbreaking for those professionals who have always considered themselves first to be newspaper journalists or television journalists rather than information providers, it is now becoming second nature to most in the business.
Perhaps it is a good thing, as well, because journalists can now focus squarely on content. That doesn’t mean they all do, however, as many are getting distracted by the lights, colors, and bells of software applications.
All journalists, however, realize the means of producing and delivering that content will continue to evolve. The traditions of producing the news are about as trustworthy for journalists as the shifting sands on a beach.
The old grains of sand will be replaced by new ones tomorrow. Yet the beach itself remains and continues to draw customers.
One of the interesting things about the site Snopes.com, those Web sleuths who uphold or debunk strange assertions, is that you discover some things you didn’t even know were open to question.
Case in point: the classic holiday carol, The Twelve Days of Christmas. This, of course, is the song that bespeaks the gifts given by a “true love” between Christmas and Epiphany (Jan. 5).
No way that song could stir up a controversy, right?
A coded catechism
According to an urban legend that began in the late 1990s, the song was created by the Catholic Church as a coded reference to important articles of the Christian faith, says Snopes.
According to this claim, The Twelve Days of Christmas was written in England during the time (1558-1829) when Catholics in that country had to step lightly or face persecution until the Catholic Emancipation Act was passed in 1829.
The song was first published in England in 1780.
A way around the law
The legend goes that Catholics were prohibited from any practice of their faith, either private or public. That is way over the top, according to most British historians who say the government’s persecution or toleration of Catholics waxed and waned during that 271-year span.
Nevertheless, the claim about The 12 Days of Christmas is that it was written as a “catechism song” to help young Catholics learn the tenets of their faith by an easy memory device, so the story continues. The gifts sung about are actually codes to the teachings of the Catholic faith.
• The “true love” refers to God.
• The “me” who receives each gift is every baptized person.
• The “partridge in a pear tree” is Jesus. “
• The “2 turtle doves” are the Old and New Testaments.
• The “3 French hens” are faith, hope, and charity.
• The “4 calling birds” are the four Gospels and/or the four evangelists.
• The “5 golden rings” are the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament.
• The “6 geese a-laying” are the six days of creation.
• The “7 swans a-swimming” are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, or the seven sacraments.”
• The “8 maids a-milking” are the eight beatitudes.
• The “9 ladies dancing” are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.”
• The “10 lords a-leaping” are – what else – the ten commandments.
• The “11 pipers piping” are the eleven faithful apostles.
• The “12 drummers drumming” are the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed.
Interesting, no? Sounds plausible, yes?
Not so fast
Enter the urban legend detectives of Snopes who throw water on all this by noting, “There is absolutely no documentation or supporting evidence for this claim whatsoever, other than mere repetition of the claim itself.”
They point out the claim apparently started around 1998, “making it as likely an invention of modern-day speculation rather than historical fact.”
A key flaw in the claim/theory, according to the Snopes snoops, is that “all of the religious tenets supposedly preserved by the song (with the possible exception of the number of sacraments) were shared by Catholics and Anglicans alike.
So why code those articles of faith if all Christians in England believed in them?
Further, the song contains no mentions of the key points of differences that DID divide Catholic and Anglican England. For example, there is no coded reference for the Pope himself. And there is no hidden euphemism for the practice of Confession.
The list of problems goes on (and you can add the fact that some textual evidence indicates it was originally a French song), but you get the idea.
A high-tech spotlight
What I find fascinating is the way the Internet, which didn’t even exist for most of us 20 years ago, can be used to shed light on events, documents – and even songs – which occurred or were written hundreds of years ago.
So next time you hear The Twelve Days of Christmas, just enjoy it for what it is. And be happy for the lovers.
Like a lot of young university researchers, I once placed almost total confidence in numbers as the basis of knowledge.
If a research study were done properly, the variables were all brought under control, the observations all reduced to numbers and those digits were crunched properly, then the results formed a stronger basis for knowledge than anything else on the planet.
Those results were stronger than anecdotal evidence, stronger than what your mom or dad told you, stronger than common sense. In fact, a researcher once convinced me common sense didn’t even exist. I believed it until a good friend — herself a scientist — pointed out one day that everytime I came in from across a muddy yard, my shoes would leave tracks on the carpet. So take off your shoes.
That, she rightly noted, is common sense.
Since then, I’ve had new respect for that concept. I still place value in well-executed quantitative studies, but I also place a lot of value in common sense.
For example, media researchers will often tell you there is no body of research that proves violence on the Internet, television, video games, or in the movies leads to real-life violence. If young Edgar witnesses a spate of bodies dropping in prime time, it doesn’t follow that he is going to become the next Jeffrey Dahmer. But it is also true that the two young Colorado shooters who left 12 bodies in their bloody shooting rampage at Columbine High School were extremely heavy players of Internet games.
New York Daily News health advice columnist Dr. Dave Moore recently told a reader that the gaming habits of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were contributors to their bloody Columbine act, and explained why their favorite game of “Doom” was so dangerous. Doom was the hottest 3D action game of the time, launched in 1993 and named video game of the year in 1994 by PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World.
Video Game Addiction
Still, Dr. Moore told the advice-seeker, “You, and unfortunately parents, are clueless about what creates the video game addiction. What separates Doom from other video games and toys is one big point. They are deliberately programmed to make the player a ‘first person shooter’. You are not controlling a character, YOU ARE the character. Parents can see that transformation start in their video gaming kids – what addiction specialists call negative developmental changes.”
A quantitative researcher would say there were other variables involved with Klebold and Harris that would not be found in an across-the-board sample of teenagers. That’s true, but there are still a healthy number of kids out there with the unhealthy tendencies and vulnerability of these two, waiting to be triggered by mediated violence. Communication researchers have identified what they call an Aggression Stimulus Theory or Aggressive-cue Theory that shows the media violence can prepare someone — condition him or her — to act violently.
A Literal Defense
On the other side are defenders of the video game, Doom, now in its third iteration. This observation comes from a site called Old.doom.com: Choosing to take a more literal approach to the connection between the features of Doom and Columbine, the unnamed writer says:
“I personally believe that Doom had nothing to do with the Columbine High School attack. I seriously doubt that Kelly Fleming was running at the shooters hurling fireballs from her hand when she was shot or that Corey DePooter was chrarging them with a shotgun. In Doom, Hell Knights don’t comfort each other under the table crying. Humans have been killing each other since the beginning our of existence, before Doom was ever around. Harris and Klebold were going to shoot up their school no matter what.”
Good News, Bad News
Some parents might breathe a sign of relief to discover that heavy television viewing has decreased somewhat among teens, and that some video stores are having trouble keeping the doors open because of lower sales. The bad news, of course, is that young people are flocking to the Internet instead to get their kicks — literally when it comes to violent online video games. So the influence that may have helped propel Dylan and Eric is still there; it has just changed platforms.
Check These Out
If you want to attach some weight to statistics, try these from the Web site, Enough is Enough:
* American teens are more wired now than ever before. According to our latest survey, 93 percent of all Americans between 12 and 17 years old use the internet. In 2004, 87 percent were internet users, and in 2000, 73 percent of teens went online.
* 20 percent of teens have engaged in cyberbullying behaviors, including posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous e-mails or cyberpranking someone.
* 48 percent of K-1st reported viewing online content that made them feel uncomfortable, of which 72 percent reported the experience to a grownup, meaning that one in four children did not.
* 63 percent of teens said they know how to hide what they do online from their parents.
* 65 percent of high school students admit to unsafe, inappropriate, or illegal activities online
And the prevalence of Internet gaming?
* The most common recreational activities young people engage in on the computer are playing games and communicating through instant messaging.
Here’s what the site, Teen Violence Statistics says about internet violence, its methods and influence:
“While most people think of teen violence occurring at school or in the teens’ neighborhoods, some teen violence occurs or starts on the Internet. The Internet can both encourage and prevent teen violence, depending on who pays attention or speaks up.”
And the ways that can occur? The same Web site notes:
Teen Internet violence and cyberthreats can occur in many ways. A teen may use the internet to:
- Directly threaten to hurt someone
- Indirectly threaten someone, like saying, “You’d better watch out at school tomorrow”
- Manipulate someone by threatening to hurt their loved ones
- Write about hurting him or herself, wanting to end it all, or feeling that life isn’t worth living
- Read or publish hateful information about a certain person or group of people
- Talk about wanting to hurt or kill other people
- View or post threatening pictures, songs, videos, or other forms of media
- Play games that encourage violence. Studies have found connections between playing violent computer games and acting violently toward other people.
- Visit web sites about violence or self harm
- Engage in cyberbullying
The Best Math
As I think about it, probably the best means of gaining knowledge about issues like this is to combine statistics and common sense. When it comes to the dysfunctional aspects of Web addiction, that’s when the numbers really add up.