Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Virtual Happy New Year



I started this blog in March of last year in support of a class that I have taught for several quarters. With no expectation and the knowledge that the topics I would be covering are not of interest to the broader community, I have been surprised and delighted by how rewarding it has been.

Besides being part of a larger blogging community, where I have met and corresponded with some outstanding people (and gnomes) it has been an opportunity to explore some broader topics that pertain to my more focused interest of how people are viewed from the information that we find out about them that exists online.

Thank you to the thousands of people who have stumbled across the postings here and have been interested enough to leave comments. It has been gratifying to have as much activity in the comments section that I have, given the number of people who come to this blog. The most frequently visited page was the home page of course, but it is interesting to see which posts people come to most frequently based on the subject matter and specific interest.

Not that the topics are all that proportionate in popularity as they are to my interests, though many do reflect what I like to talk about or at least what the class of that quarter might be interested in.

Top Ten Most Popular Posts for the Year

Nothing says "damage to your credibility" like seeing your name pop up on Google with the title "Doh, Being Simpsonized Was Painful". But no doubt enough people had trouble with this online marketing software that they googled the topic for instructions and ending up on my site. As troublesome as it was, it was also a great deal of fun and I acquired a nice collection of local simpsonized folks as well.

1) Doh! Being Simpsonized Was Painful

This very early post featured an artist named Elana Lindquist who has quite the international following. She sent out a link to her post through her online listserv and the number of hits to the site went up dramatically.

2) A Quote Takes Flight in Cyberspace

The recent South Sound Technology Conference received a lot of attention. In fact two of the top blog postings from this year came from that conference. The first was simply a save the date notice, posted three weeks before the date.

3) South Sound Technology Conference 2007

Nothing says site traffic like mentioning someone famous. I posted about writing a chapter for a Podcasting book, but it was my mention of Stephen King's book on writing that still get visitors coming through a Google search.

4) Stephen King, On Writing

I compared the Puyallup Fair to the NY State Fair after visiting both, but I am sure that it was the time I took to transcribe the lyrics to the Do The Puyallup song that caused the visits to my blog. I was somewhat disappointed that not much attention was drawn by my changing the roasted pig picture to add a spider web in the smoke that read "Some Pig".

5) Do The Fair Comparison

Another posting on SST as stated above. I used this post during my presentation.

6) Some Notable Blogs

Mark Briggs made both the 7th and 8th most visited posts, once in August and once in October. The first was for a book he wrote called Journalism 2.0 and the second was after a visit he made to my classroom.

7)Journalism 2.0 in a Web 2.0 World

8) Mark Briggs, Newspaper Innovation and Webcasts

One of my favorite local bloggers, the TacomaGnome is still making his presence known around the South Sound.

9) On the Internet Everyone Knows You're a Gnome

Finally, my twice yearly Internet Scavenger Hunt made the list. Probably because of the tracking that is done through the comments section.

10) Online Scavenger Hunt Fall 2007

Thank you to everyone who has visited. May the new year bring happiness, excitement and opportunities to learn into your lives.

Andrew

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Political Sock Puppets and Trolls

Trolls, Sock Puppets and AstroTurfers have entered the lexicon of the web. Actually, they have been around for a while, but I have recently seen them pop up in mainstream stories and blog postings. Just in case you run across the terms and are unfamiliar with them I thought I would give some quick definitions and a couple of links to more detailed information.

Sock Puppets
:
Given that we are in the middle (aren't we always) of a political season and things will begin to heat up, it is good to know just what a sock puppet is and does. You can get a sense of it just from the visual of a person standing there talking to a puppet on their hand, asking it questions and getting answers. A Sock Puppet on a blog is a set up, a person who is often a fictitious creation or a friendly posing as a member of the crowd. That person, fictitious or not, is used to ask softball questions, defend the candidate on other blogs or comments, and generally push the message they have been given.

For some good examples of sock puppets in the political realm, there is a good article from the New York Times, written back in February of this year.

Sock Puppets aren't always friendly toward their puppeteers. Sometimes they are outrageous and viciously attack their benefactor. The purpose here is to use ridiculous argument to to rally support around the target and to gain that target attention. A local artist not too long ago put one to use, in what I found to be a very funny fashion.

Trolls:

Trolls are a different breed altogether. Generally aliases as well. They are the online bane of blogs and forums as they serve no real purpose other than to give themselves a thrill by disrupting conversation and gaining attention. Trolls can be thought of as ugly creatures with disposition problems, (which they often are) but the origin of the term actually comes from the idea that they move from forum conversation to another, trying to lure people into debates through provocative statements. In essence, trawling along the web, baiting people into an argument. They just love the attention and getting a rise out of people. Where as a fisherman might troll for salmon, they troll for fights. I think both terms fit.

Answers.com has some good Troll information.

AstroTurfers:

The truth is that this one was new to me, and the first mentions of it I ran across come from less than a year ago, though it is another term that has been around for several years. In a way, they can be sock puppets or trolls, but the idea is that this is a new occupation. These are people paid to surf the web for postings and articles on a topic or person and then post positive information about it, or whatever the PR machine that has hired them dictates.

There have been guerrilla marketing approaches that have hired good looking, young people to go to hot spots in New York where they would talk up new products to others. Basically being hired as an actor to go out and pitch a product, while posing as a just someone who happens to love this new thing. Pretty low, if you ask me. It is a form of propaganda.

The same goes for astroturfers. The issue I have with these approaches is that right from the start, even if you truly believe in what you are promoting, the intent is to deceive.

Here is another persons take on the topic.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

South Puget Sounds



The wet of the pavement is slick on your feet
And the feel of a warm hearth at home is a treat.
The Almonds not Roca without Haley or Brown,
And tongue thrilling Cupcakes are helloing downtown.

Our Yuletide displays offer eyefuls each December.
The Zoolights bring dazzling images to remember.
The Harmon pumps out the aroma of hops for what ales you.
Three dollar steaks add to the holiday scents that regale you.

Yes, Tacoma, your season of senses abounds,
So listen and enjoy the South Puget Sounds.

The hum of “The Link”, and the Santarchy’s yelling,
The crowd singing loud to “The Bash”, Jingle Belling,
The auctioneers cry at the Festival of Trees,
The Mouse King at Nutcracker cries, “Who moved my cheese?”

The slush of the snow does not come from the ground,
But inside of TAM’s Snowbound is where it is found.
The Don’t Walk or Walk noise on 13th and Pacific
Gives way to the clinking of dishes terrific.

Hardly a sound comes from the Ms. L. Toe mall
because it's online, so the keystrokes are all.
But the others are packed with the holiday shoppers
like The Crossing or Tacoma for all you mall stoppers.

Yes, Tacoma, your season of senses abounds
So listen and enjoy the South Puget Sounds.

The wise people of bloggers are using their voices
to shout to the rafters our downtown development choices.
We’re proud of our city we will not defer
our civic call to, quite frankly, an incensed murmur.

So ring in the New Year and sing out the old,
with a voice that is gritty from fighting a cold.
This town is not one to except status quo,
Enjoy each bright light from the Port’s glow.

Feel the holiday spirit through the smells, tastes and sights
That comes from the foods and the drinks and the lights.
Yes, Tacoma, your season of senses abounds,
And keep your ears perked for the South Puget Sounds.

---------

The above image was cropped from one of the www.komotv.com pages featuring zoolights, though no photog credit was available.

The above ode was the consequence of a fun and strictly non-mandatory task our little writers group was assigned. I would be remiss in not including a little ditty by www.mining-silver.com's very own Mary Lloyd.

I-5 Santa
By Mary Lloyd…to the tune of “Santa Baby”

Santa Baby, we really need some roads and a bridge—or two,
So cars and trucks and ambulances can get through.
Send us transportation tonight.

Santa Baby, it really is a crawl to the mall and all
It makes us wonder if we want to go at all.
Send us transportation tonight,

Please don’t say it would be a plus
If all of us just simply learned to ride the bus.
That won’t work and we all know why
Until it goes where we go, we won’t even try.

Santa Baby, we really need some roads and a bridge—or two
So cars and trucks and ambulances can get through.
Send us transportation tonight.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Web Programming as an Entertainment Farm System


If you want to play in baseball's big leagues, you will likely have to make your way up through the farm system. Sure, on occasion a player will debut from college to the majors, but far more make their way through single, double and triple A clubs (go Tacoma Rainier's!!!)

Who knows where the web will evolve when it comes to original entertainment as an industry. Certainly the Writers Guild thinks it is an important question.

But for now, I like the idea of the web being a farm system for our more lucrative outlets for entertainment professionals. The idea was brought to my attention by quote within an article on CNN.com. Robert Thompson is the director of Syracuse University's Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and says "The internet is one great big farm team...offering the opportunity for people to make stuff" which could "rise to the top". He expects that some could be co-opted or bought -- and people will move into the mainstream area."

The CNN article offers the examples of Quarterlife and mentions the Star Trek: New Voyages webisodes. Since the former is produced by the folks who produced thirtysomething it doesn't quite fit the farm league metaphor, but check out the latter which, though it features some of the original cast, looks to be a work of love and a calling card for other opportunities.

Probably a better example would be the lonelygirl15 folks.

There is one point at which I would differ with Thompson's featured quote, and that is that I don't think it will be one farm system, but multiple farm systems, which is more in keeping with the metaphor. I can see groups of creative types self organizing around genres, regional areas and traditional delivery systems such as television news, movies, serials, soaps and sportscasts. Not to mention whatever monetarily supported entertainment infrastructure emerges from the web space.

So, just as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith formed United Artists in the emerging world of feature films, it would be very cool to see creative types in the web space organize into sustainable ventures.

As for our own "Triple A" web entertainment clubs, how about a news team in the South Sound. Maybe a FeedTacoma style cooperative of folks creating a daily or weekly program around local news. I still say that could be a nice opportunity for expansion of services from the The News Tribune. Heck, the FCC just provided waivers that allow newspapers and television stations to be co-owned in the same market.

We've seen great video content from Exit133 and KevinFreitas. With a little outreach and the right executive producer, you could have a nice program assembled.

If it seems like that might not be feasible at this time, just wait a few more years. Even now, you can easily create your own Sweeney Todd movie trailer on their official site. Sure it is drag and drop, and fairly predetermined as to the output, but it does show how far the tools have come.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Some Origami Notes

Since I was off teaching origami models to my daughters second grade class on Thursday, will be teaching the history of origami and some folding techniques to a seventh grade class on next Tuesday, and am gearing up for my son's first grade class following that, I thought I would post some quick information for those interested in paper folding.

Favorite origami artists and sites.

Hands down: John Montroll
A mathematics teacher, Montroll has written over 20 origami books including my second favorite "Animal Origami for the Enthusiast" which he published in 1985. Among his many contributions, John Montroll introduced the term double rabbit ear fold. Though his books aren't necessarily for beginners, if you have an active interest, they are both challenging and rewarding. It is my second favorite only because my favorite is the one my Dad owned, which he bought in Yakota Japan and it was published the year I was born. He has since passed on the book to me.

Close second: Robert Lang
Dr. Robert J. Lang was born the same year as myself (and my Dad's origami book) and is an American physicist who is also "one of the foremost origami artists and theorists in the world. He is known for his complex and elegant designs, most notably of insects and animals." (Wikipedia) His book Origami Design Secrets is amazing and includes mathematical formulas for calculating how to get certain designs and features out of designated areas of your paper. I featured him and some of his designs in an earlier post.

Great starter sites:

OrigamiUSA, which used to be called The Friends of Origami Center of America, is headquartered in an autonomous space in the Museum of Natural History in New York. I have visited and sat down for some folding a few times there, but there web site has just about everything you need to get started or take things further. They also sponsor folding contests for children.

Alex Barber has had a site out their for some time which, if you were interested in origami you have likely already found. www.origami.com. The site has a good database and a large number of links to other sites.

I also ran across a relatively new site by a recent convert to origami, called Happy Folding. What I like is that she includes online video instructions on how to do some models. She has, with John Montroll's permission, presented a video demonstration on how to fold the Tyrannosaurus Rex model. I have memorized this dinosaur model and sometimes fold it to pass the time, leaving it for whoever wants to pick it up when I'm through.

Origami Supplies:

My favorite place is Uwajimaya in Seattle. They have the best supply of Origami paper and supplies at a very reasonable price. The problem is that I don't get up there as often as I used to so they visits are infrequent.

Second, and particularly good for me due the convenience is Tacoma Art Supply. Friendly staff and right downtown, I can find a number of different kinds of specialty origami paper there. I bought most of the paper for the thousand cranes I folded there as well as some very large sheets.

Age Groups:

All. I have taught 4 and 5 year olds, as well as adults and every grade in between. They all seem to have fun and if you select the right projects, everyone has a model they can successfully fold.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, The GritCity Dancers


So many people had so much fun earlier this year with the "Simpsonize Me" post, that I thought I would do a short post on this little piece of animated holiday cheer. My sister sent me a version with her family and I immediately created one with my own.

Using a concept similar to the Simpsons site, this asks you to upload a photo of yourself in order to create the piece. But rather than turn you into a cartoon you instead become an elf. An elf with some serious moves.

Rather than subject you to my own visage, I thought I would abscond with the holiday cheer photo the Grit City bloggers used in their Thanksgiving post. Within a few quick moments I had the quartet dancing their little elf hearts out.

The site, sponsored by OfficeMax, is called Elf Yourself and if you have photos easily accessible from your computer it is easy to load, scale, rotate, shape and save the image for enjoyment.

The ease of use on the Elf Yourself site was much different than the experience I had from the animation "Have it Your Way" software from the earlier post. Whereas that site was difficult to connect to and took several minutes to load, if it loaded at all, this activity took little time and I had emailed out a version to my wife in minutes. (with my kids and my faces, not the Grit version.)

Mind you, since this is viral marketing, it could slow down from overuse as the emails start flying around. However as of this morning it was fine.



Without further ado, put your Reindeer hooves and snow mittens together for the Grit City Elf Dancers!!!

Your Industry Digital Double

The idea that a person can have an image management need based on the information being aggregated about them online is relatively new.

But the idea that it is important for a company to manage its online image is a given. After the first few years of web site building and widespread adoption of the internet as a business to consumer - business to business communications, marketing and sales environment, companies understood that how they were represented online was a reflection of the company itself.

In the mid 1990's there were a myriad of instances of where an online image of a company was open to the danger of misrepresentation. Branch offices that built web sites with the company name were contacted by headquarters and told to hand over domain names. Big companies lost some luster when their first forays into the web space were less than the quality their brand had worked hard to build. Small operations took pains to look larger to the online world, and small marketing companies with a few HTML coders grew quickly as the demand exploded.

Since then, companies have in large part managed to align their online impression with their brand and message.

So it is not surprising that many of us check out companies online before we ever run across them in our real lives. I do, so when I ran across Transmedia as mentioned in the last post I thought it an interesting example of two different impressions being made by the same company.

Obviously I liked the message from the PR Newswire I quoted. It reflected a very clear articulation of why virtual community and social networking sites offer "free" access to some very cool features and environments. They are telling us, "Trade us your personal info and we will show you a good time, (or provide you a valuable service)".

As this quote by this company impressed me, I also checked out some articles on their products, including Glide Present, which was very positively reviewed, Glide Write, introduced earlier and the proclamation in August that "Transmedia is on a roll" with its Sync product. Pretty impressive coverage.

I probably could have saved some time by just going to their web site. That's because the home page is simply a scroll down of news articles about the company and their products.

At the top of the home page is a link to company information, then to products, then to news (which is essentially the home page) and then a menu item that provides logos and screen shots for those aforementioned articles above. Not really much more.

I dug down, as I normally do, to the company information. In particular I like to check out the About, Board of Directors and Management information. The About page features a paragraph on the company which is pretty heady stuff for a few sentences.

It starts with "TransMedia is leading the emergence of rights and identity based, compatible and integrated multipurpose software and services for corporations and consumers." and covers more.

The management page consists of one person, who does have impressive experience, Donald Leka, Chairman and CEO. Now if you go down to the next link to the Board of Directors page it lists... Donald Leka. There is also an advisers page, which has a couple of definite heavyweights featured, with significant media and technology experience. That is still only three people, of which only one appears to be directly employed by the company.

The career page states that Transmedia is a mid-sized company with top notch benefits for application developers. The site itself does not give the impression of a mid sized company.

But my interest was in the products page. That is where I had hoped to find out more about the capabilities and perhaps try them out. The products page drops down to three product listings. Select the first product and you get the same three products listed in the drop down. This time they are listed on the page in logo form. Click on each separate drop down and each takes you to the same page with the three product logo listing. Click on a logo and you get a graphic splash page with three choices: Log in, Register or info (on the product). The "info" selection takes you back to the news/home page. Your only other recourse is to go through a registration process which asks for a lot of information. The irony to me is that the great quote that I used about the value of information comes from a site that does not allow access to it's product without providing some of it.

In conclusion, what do I know about Transmedia and Glide? I know they have impressive products. How do I know that? The reviews are from media sources that are trustworthy and have tried them out with praiseworthy results. Several of them. Present, Write, Sync and with the last PR release a storage facility for your personal information.

They offer a free trial, with a registration process.

They just don't register as mid-sized to me. At least not from the web site. I suppose that might also depend on your definition of mid size.

It could be that they are flying under the radar and growing organically. But then they are sending out PR releases. They could be looking for funding to go big and the news articles help in that regard. Then they better give more thought to their web site.

It is an intriguing company with some interesting, though small in number, people associated with it. I am not meaning to be critical but felt this was an example of how two separate impressions are made by a single company. Are they a contender in the web space of hosted applications and services, are they David vs Goliath, are they mid sized and hidden from the world, or all of the above? I will be keeping an eye on them.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Facebook, Transmedia and the Value of "Free"

The following is not an unusual item in the net news. Large company (Amazon, Microsoft, Big Financial Institution, etc.) collects or mishandles personal data (tracking, hidden feature, loss of data, etc.) and we are reminded that our personal data is something we need to be vigilant in protecting.

This time around it is Facebook, which today apologized to users and introduced a new policy regarding its controversial "Beacon" feature. The invasive advertising approach that Beacon undertook resulted in personal user data being shared with others. Not just the advertisers but also the user's "friends".

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg explained ....


When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had to be lightweight so it wouldn't get in people's way as they browsed the web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared.

and apologized ...
We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.

on his blog.

When I was poking around the subject and noodling over why we seem to revisit this scenario, I came across a well written explanation as to why this is a common offense. It is a natural consequence of getting the most value out of what we are told is free, our personal information and tastes.

The following excerpts are from a PR Newswire release from TransMedia.

"The stated goal of many leading web services is to accumulate the most comprehensive database of information about you in order to target far more personalized advertisements at you that would command higher rates from advertisers."

"Many consumers spend hours everyday entering personal data into web services at home and at work and most have no idea how their personal information makes money for online services," said TransMedia Chairman and CEO, Donald Leka. "The online advertising business model is being taken to new extremes and the right to privacy lies in the balance."

"The advertising business model has also resulted in product innovation taking a back seat to the holy grail of building the perfect advertising platform focused almost exclusively on better ways to target advertising at consumers. Glide is free of advertising and designed to promote your right to privacy. Our mission is to serve you with a rapid and continuous stream of useful and fun innovative products," said Mr. Leka.

Then the release goes on to talk about Glide and the companies proposed Online Bill of Rights. I find the website for TransMedia and Glide to be a discussion in itself, and will save that for the next post.

In the meantime, Steven Burke of CMP Channel has offered up Five Lessons for VARS From the Facebook Fiasco.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

10,000 Subscribers Watching Hank and John

There was a big milestone which occurred yesterday. I almost missed it, but thanks to an introduction from tacomachickadee, I spent some time checking out the Brotherhood 2.0 site. I got there just in time for the vlog (video blog) announcement of this momentous occasion.

George Orwell’s Big Brother, is here, (but that's not the announcement I have alluded to). No, the brothers Hank and John Green are also here, and they are apparently having a good time. "Big Brother" you may remember is from George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty Four. In the society that Orwell describes, citizens are under surveillance by the authorities, and privacy is nearly an unknown. From this book we have been given the phrase, "Big Brother is watching you".

In this case though, we are welcomed to come watch. The brothers of twenty six plus years decide that, "After noticing that their relationship had for years consisted primarily of emails and instant messages, John and Hank swore off all textual communication with each other for 2007. Instead, we are making public video blogs back and forth every weekday for the entire year."

It is ironic in that, though much of what Orwell predicted about privacy can be applied to our society today, we as that society have in fact become Big Brother. Reality TV, online access to conversations, blogs, web cams and communication services like twitter have brought voyeurism, as an informational and entertainment practice, to the forefront. The web offers a legion of online personalities all volunteering to share some of their lives with us, occasionally with some rather entertaining and enlightening results.

What was the milestone announced by the Greens? Over 10,000 subscribers are now tuning in to share in a years worth of web based conversations between the two. Not only are they watching but they are participating as well. Thousands of comments are posted on the message boards, and if one of the brothers should miss a posting deadline, the community of watchers suggest the appropriate punishment.

They are also working on a Secret Project!. I don't know what it is but I signed up on their secret project mailing list anyway and may some day find out.

They'll probably have everyone set up a web cam and YouTube account so that we all watch each other. "Big Brother is Watching Himself!"

Post Script - In no way do I wish to diminish the warnings from that classic work of predictive fiction, Nineteen Eighty Four, which so effectively describes a future dystopia . Read or reread it when you can.