Monday, April 19, 2010

I've got a secret, but don't tell Google...

I’d like to pretend that I haven’t Googled myself before today, but that would of course be a lie. When I do, the only hits that actually reference me and not some other funny combination of my name don’t extend past the first page. Aside from the inevitable link to Facebook, there are links to different articles I’ve written as a freelancer (the fact that those pop up is a GOOD thing for me!) So, needless to say, I’m not exactly having my publicist do any internet damage control just yet.

But privacy online is a concern of mine, as it is for most of us in this day and age. I shred my bills, I’m conscious of what photos I’m posting, and I make sure not to accept friend requests from those mean kids from high school who probably just want to see if I’ve gotten fat since then. But even so, privacy goes beyond all of that; and efforts to keep our information private will always be one step behind those who are trying to steal it.

One of the things we most love about the internet, its accessibility, is also something that makes it a serious threat to us as individuals. Items that we put on social networking sites seem like they’re just being shared with the friends of our choosing, but these things are instantly entered into the public domain. That means anyone who may be looking for it, can see it.

Right now, this is a huge problem largely because we’re not yet used to it. The next generation of children to grow up with the internet and social networking as a more prevalent part of their lives from the start and will be able to cope better. When privacy issues are the norm, they won’t be as likely to make mistakes like posting a cell phone number on someone’s blog or forwarding a boyfriend or girlfriend an inappropriate picture.

For the rest of us, though, we need to adjust. According to Alma Whitten, Privacy Engineer at Google, this means adjusting our settings. Privacy online is all but dead, Whitten says, but users need to be proactive about protecting their information instead of just hoping no one sees it and later lamenting when they do. Google, for instance, offers several tools meant to limit how much information about a Google user (i.e. gmail) is released in a search.

Facebook has settings options as well that help to protect their users. Sarah Perez of the New York Times highlights “The 3 Facebook Settings that Every User Should Check Now” to keep their information private. Perez notes in her article that this past December, Facebook made a “series of bold and controversial changes regarding the nature of its users’ privacy settings.” The move was discussed by many news outlets, but only after the changes were made. Facebook made these drastic modifications—which basically reset everyone’s privacy settings to “viewable by everyone”—relatively quickly and quietly, as to hopefully go unnoticed. And, for many, the changes did go and are still unnoticed. Although those users might be surprised at what others are able to see about them that they didn’t intend.

So if we’re able to just click our web settings into the right place to stay protected, then why are there still so many problems with privacy issues? Aside from the fact that many users aren’t even aware that the site they’re using has changeable settings, there are some things that we can’t adjust. Sometimes it’s not about what you’re telling people on the internet, it’s about what the internet already knows about you.

Let me illustrate this point with an example. Have you ever Googled a topic; let’s say for instance Betsy Johnson purses. You click around the links that your search yields, then close out and move on to something else in your day. Hours, maybe days later, you’re at a completely different site and the ads in the margins are advertising Betsy Johnson purses. Wow! What are the odds of that? If you ask Steve Lohr of the New York Times, the odds are more than good. They’re guaranteed.

That’s because search engines and advertisers work hand in hand to make notes about you. Anything from what you punch into your search engine to who you associate with on social networking sites. After awhile, patterns develop—things you shop for often, college alumni that you associate with, political party tendencies, movie stars you hate—it all builds a kind of profile about you. That profile, or “social signature,” as researchers dub it, is how advertisers target your specific interests.

Lohr says that when the patterns in your social signature are analyzed, it could lead to more drastic privacy violations, like figuring out a user’s social security number. But for now, that’s only a “potential risk.” Even so, the Federal Trade Commission and Congress are already taking steps to, as Lohr says “tighten industry requirements” as far as tracking methods are concerned, to protect people on the web. If and when those regulations are implemented, whether they’ll work is anybody’s guess.

But, on the other hand, as much as we should fear a lack of security on the internet, should we also fear too much of it? After all, the internet is a domain for free speech, and regulations on free speech generally lead into very sticky territory.

Take, for example, the recent conviction of three Google employees in Milan, Italy. According to the judge, the three were guilty of privacy violation because their employer, Google, hosted a video of an autistic teen being bullied.

The judge’s reasoning for the verdict was that Google hosting the video would have meant a profit for the site, as they would’ve gained revenue from ads sold on the page the video was posted.

The judge mentioned that this trail should be considered an “important signal” that web masters could and should be held criminally responsible for what their sites host.

At first glance, it might be considered a good thing that this judge is the first to, at the very least, make web masters concerned about the content of their sites. And in Italy, such a statute may be upheld in the future. But in the U.S., we’ve run into this situation before, and it does not end well for the prosecution.

In 1997, the U.S. Court of Appeals heard the case of Zeran v. AOL, after Kenneth Zeran was bombarded by phone calls from across the country after an unknown internet user posed advertisements in an AOL chat room for a t-shirt company called “Naughty Oklahoma T-Shirts.” The products of the company featured offensive slogans concerning the Oklahoma City bombings, which had occurred just weeks prior, and people who saw the ads were of course outraged.

The phone calls got so bad (nearly one every two minutes; many were death threats) that Zeran’s daily life was drastically altered and he sued AOL for damages. In the end, the court sided with AOL, citing two major issues: Freedom of the Press (as the internet is likely the future of the press) and also the fact that the web is just too darn big. By that, I mean that with the internet as vast as it is and growing by the day, for online providers to be held responsible for overseeing everything they host is not only unconstitutional but impossible.

The judges in the Zeran case didn’t want to set a dangerous precedent where providers would be held to impracticable responsibility standards that would force them to shut down and hinder the growth of internet technology. The ruling in Milan last week, however, has the potential to do just that.

So, in other words, when it comes to privacy online, we’re walking on egg shells. Because, yes, we do want a certain level of security when we’re on the internet, but we also want to have full access to the free exchange of information that the web gives us. And when cyber crime does happen, we of course want to point our fingers at someone to blame, but on the other hand we want to keep regulation out of our internet usage, so responsibility comes at a price.

Yikes, talk about a rock and a hard place. It seems like the best thing to do, for now, would be to heed Ms. Whitten’s advice and do what we can on a personal level to protect ourselves. Jon Kleinberg, a computer science professor at Cornell University, agrees. He says, “When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, it is.”

Internet Privacy photo by Barry D, Licensed by Creative Commons as Attribution 2.0 Generic

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Couch potatoes, rejoice! Internet TV is on its way

The only thing more frustrating than finding a good vegetarian recipe on The Food Network is finding a one and then not keeping up with the cook fast enough to actually jot down the directions. Granted, one can always check the website or rewind their DVR. But, in my perfect world, I’d like to be able to stop the Barefoot Contessa right in her shoeless tracks and have her show me a text form of the recipe, on the screen, at that moment. Because all TV should revolve around me, right?

Luckily, I’m not the only self-centered consumer out there, and the television industry is catching on to that. As you’ve likely seen in recent years, television has been slowly nudging itself closer towards the internet. The result, ideally, would be to cut the cable cord all together and broadcast television directly through the internet; making a completely hands-on and customizable viewing experience. People can hook their internet connection up to their fancy big screens, or watch from their laptop or mobile device. They can choose the programming, select from a much larger range of shows and, perhaps most appealing, do away with the cable bill.

Of all the internet ideas we’ve discussed this semester, this is probably the most exciting because it’s so young. Music seems to have settled into a selling model for at least a little while, and journalism as an industry may be in flux but at least we have a good idea of what is not working. Web TV is just making its entrance to the party, and its bringing goodies for everyone.

So let’s peek into the goodie-bag, with the help of Amanda Lotz, author of The Television will be Revolutionized. In her book, Lotz outlines the “5-C’s of the Post-Network Era.” The most obvious of those C’s would have to be choice. Web integrated TV will provide viewers with exposure to those niche markets that the internet lets us indulge in. The Long Tail will now be coming to a small screen near you… while ABC network television may bring you only Grey’s Anatomy on a Thursday night, you may choose to watch instead an old episode of the cancelled series Halfway Home, one of my personal favorites. If it’s on the internet, it’s on you TV when you want it.

Well, at least that’s the idea. The primitive versions of web-integrated TV that are being test-driven by tech-savvy people around the world can’t offer you everything just yet. Like Douglas Quenqua mentions in his New York Times article on the subject, there are those out there now who have eliminated cable companies and already rely on their internet for television. Much of the time, their satisfied with the programming available to them, but some things like sporting events or premium programming (i.e. HBO) aren’t streamed on the internet so viewers miss out on that. That may sound like a small sacrifice, but try telling that to a Detroit sports nut the week that the Tigers start their season and the Wings begin the play-offs.

Brian Stelter wrote in the New York Times back in February about the “water-cooler effect” of television, and how the internet magnifies this effect in a huge way. Stelter highlighted how instead of being a television killer, the internet is actually promoting viewership by involving viewers and bringing them together. He cited this year’s MTV Video Music Awards as an example. When rapper Kanye West interrupted the acceptance speech of singer Taylor Swift, in protest of her win, social networking sites were abuzz before the awards show had even ended. The ratings were the highest MTV has seen for the show in six years. The drama that West inspired was certainly a huge part of the show’s success that night, but it was really the viewers chatting with each other that made for such an impressive boost. What Lotz’s calls community, I’ll call the “book club mentality.” Sure, it’s fun reading a good book, but it’s a lot more fun to go to your book club the next week and chat with your friends about what you liked and didn’t like. Web TV is making a community on the other side of the TV as well. Just like access to the internet makes journalists and popular musicians out of regular citizens, that same method of exposure can be utilized by anyone to create shows and movies that can be viewed around the world. The road to Hollywood isn't as long when you use YouTube as your transportation. Just ask the guys over at Minnesota Stories about making your own TV on the internet.

Control is another on of Lotz’s C’s, and it’s one that many of us are just getting used to. The day we got DVR in my home was a truly peaceful day… no one complained about missing their shows. The days of fighting over whether we’ll watch Lost or So You Think You Can Dance were over (how we got through pre-DVR times without putting the remote through the LCD screen is beyond me.) But web TV promises control on an entirely different level, more than just time and scene control. Like I mentioned earlier, options could be available to consumers to explore similar shows, save a show for later review, or email a clip to someone’s mobile device. Alright, so I’m not quick enough to see how the Barefoot Contessa whipped out that margarita pizza, but I can stop the show, click on the link for the recipe, and email it to my boyfriend’s phone and tell him to make it. Really, is there anything better?

As we can tell from my sneaky pizza plan, I’m a fan of laziness—er, convenience. TV, just like every other media in our lives, needs to and is becoming a large part of the digital convergence movement. Through items like smartphones, laptops and digital readers, we’ve brought several different mediums together into single devices. Now, it’s time to start cutting the mediums we don’t need for simplicity sake. If we can get TV through the internet, and we’re using the internet pretty robustly, then taking cable out of the equation is a no brainer. Convergence is simpler for users, and certainly kinder of the pocketbook. Why pay two bills when you can pay one? As long as we’re talking digital convergence, it’s hard to stay away from that old stand-by, the iPhone. When it comes to customization, Apple certainly seems to know what they’re doing. The introduction of applications for their devices, what we now lovingly refer to as “apps,” is now a staple in our technological world because it gives us what we want—a world that revolves around us. Why would a consumer want an app for hockey game stats when they’re only a baseball fan? The marketplace is made up of people who think “me”, not “we.” Web integrated TV would have to cater to that philosophy. According to USA Today, it seems TV makers are more than up to the task. Companies like Sony and Vizio have hopes of releasing the first generation of web integrated TVs, marketed as such, by the end of this year.

Some are even in talks to include Yahoo! Widgets to make the TVs feel more familiar to buyers. The widgets would be on the TV’s screen like a tool bar, with icons for things like YouTube and Flickr. But if you’re not a Flickr person, perhaps the Weather Channel Icon is more up your alley. It’s all about choosing what you want, when you want it. For those out there already getting their television through the internet, these TVs made for web integration could be an exciting upgrade. But at $1,000 and up, there’s also the possibility that people will stick with their laptop and A/V cords. Whether fancy TVs are the right marketing plan is still up in the air.

What will likely play a huge part in the future of TVs marketed specifically for web integration will be the economy. But, as many have noticed (and immediately knocked on wood) is that consumer confidence seems to be slowly creeping up. Not where it should be to inspire hordes of people to spend thousands on a new television merely because it’s the hot new thing… but who knows. Maybe this Christmas I’ll have a new TV on which I can check my email during commercial breaks.

But, once those TVs go on sale, what will be the format for this internet on our internet-ready television? Web TV seems to be in the same position as journalism right now, which is trying to figure out how to make money off of something that people can get elsewhere for free. is one of the leading web TV networks with oddles of media suppliers and advertisers backing them, and still they’re looking for ways to make more.

If you’ve ever been onto Hulu, you know that the video selection and quality is impeccable…and that any little thing you want to watch has an ad attached to it, if not multiple ones. This has worked for Hulu so far says the sites Chief Executive Jason Kilar, because the ads are able to get to so many people.

“Aggregation works for consumers,” Kilar said. “It makes it easier to find and discover and enjoy premium content, and it works for advertisers, because with that aggregation you get greater reach.”

But now the ad companies say it’s not enough, and after years of resisting, Kilar is now considering going the route of a subscription service in addition to ad revenue. In that way, they’re on the same teeter-totter as newspapers—do we try and slap ads on everything, or do we make it a subscription and call it a day? Either way people aren’t going to like it.

To me, I think a subscription service will eventually be necessary for web integrated TV. There has to be a solid revenue base to replace cable subscriptions. And, like Brian Stelter and Brad Stone said in their New York Times article, with Comcast buying up Hulu’s parent company, NBC, it’s likely that Comcast will push (aka throw) Hulu in the direction that will “support a subscription model.” Although, as a consumer, if I were to get a subscription service for my internet TV and it came with ads that I couldn’t choose to navigate away from, I’d be utterly livid and my subscription wouldn’t last long. I’d have to think that most people would agree with that sentiment.

Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, for once, those of us in the battle field (aka consumers) won’t be the ones who make the call as to where the technology will go. If companies like Comcast, Yahoo! and Sony are making these decisions for us, we’ll just have to take what they give us. Because, let’s face it, they know as well as I know that I’m not going to go without television.


Lotz, Amanda. The Television will be Revolutionized. New York City: New York University Press, 2007. Print.

Several Televisions photo by Harmon, Licensed by Creative Commons as Attribution Share-Alike Generic 2.0

iPhone+tv photo by Clemson, Licensed by Creative Commons as Attribution Generic 2.0

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Extra, extra! Don't count the news out yet!

It’s like a giant media teeter-totter. As the internet has become more prevalent in our everyday lives, the newspaper industry has been sinking at an equally quick rate. Coincidence? Of course not. In a poll taken by The Atlantic and National Journal, members of the national news media have said what we all know but can’t bring ourselves to say…print is dead. 43% of those polled said that journalism has been hurt by online outlets.

So its official, newspapers are on their death bed and the internet is standing overhead with a pillow, waiting to take print’s last breath. We all knew this was coming, so the debate on how to save print must end. The discussion should now turn to how do we adapt journalism to online media while sparing the integrity of the practice? Can it even be done?

President of Thomson Reuters, Chris Ahern, seems to think so. In fact, at a Federal Trade Commission workshop, Ahern told attendees that he thinks journalism will not only survive, but thrive. The key is to disconnect the actual practice with the hard newspaper. Once we do, we can embrace the new technological tools that are hurting the industry as use them to further it.

Alright, Mr. Ahern, I’m listening. So how do we do that, and what tools specifically are we talking about here? Well, there’s the obvious addition like hyperlinks, quicker updates, easier access and, not to mention free access. Blogs are certainly an avenue that needs to be explored. But when I think of blogs, I think of twenty-something know-it-all types posting political rants or funny videos of cats playing the piano (or possibly both) for their friends to read and comment on. Not exactly what I want to think of when it comes to hard news. So let’s use a different term, like citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism is certainly on the rise, and for good reason. In a nutshell, it’s a way for citizens to report on the news and events happening in their community. Those who are serious about their reporting adhere to traditional journalism standards (i.e. seek truth, remain impartial, etc) but they’re able to report from a different perspective as they are a member of said community so the news directly effects them. It’s a refreshing angle that online news consumers seem to be gravitating towards.

News outlets (or at least more progressive ones) are leaning towards this type of reporting as well. Locally, The Ann Arbor Chronicle and Grosse Pointe Today are websites that feature contributors from within the community. News outlets save money on reporters, consumers stay informed, and citizen journalists find a renewed passion for the art because they’re able to be involved in the process. Sounds like a win so far.

Even beyond community news, blogs are able to make news accessible to the larger audiences who wouldn’t normally partake because they’re able to cater to niche markets. Here we go with the long tail again. For those who find CNN too dry, there’s the Huffington Post. For those who find Fox News too conservative, there’s…uh, well anything else. People can hear what they want to hear.

And for every news story reported, there is a blogger commenting. News doesn’t have to be talked at an audience, the audience can talk back! There’s the ability tell the outlets what they want to hear, what they don’t, how they feel. Any market that exists, be it college-hipsters in Ann Arbor or senior citizen residents of the tiny town of Clawson, a citizen journalist can report on news that directly effects them. Now, like Mr. Ahern said, as soon as we figure out how to charge for this, via subscription, a la carte, etc., we’ll have overcome the hurdle.

But, as I’ve discussed in this blog before, there is a risk when news caters to niche markets. To be truly informed citizens, we cannot always hear only what we want to hear. Take the recent health care debates for example—republicans only want to hear about death panels, and democrats only want to hear about free health care for all. Clearly there’s more involved, and as participants in this democracy we need to hear ALL of it. Therefore, there still is and will always be a need for traditional (and might I add, adequately paid) investigative journalists. But how do we keep them around when journalism seems to be evolving into a more open, public domain? That, I believe, is the really exciting part.

Let me set up the exciting part with a sad preface. As many might’ve heard, WXYZ Channel 7 news decided earlier this year not to renew the contract of their long time investigative power house Steve Wilson. A similar situation happened early in 2009 to FOX 2’s Steve Lewis. They’re both talented investigative reporters, delivering invaluable news and issues to the city of Detroit. They were so good at their jobs, that their respective stations, in the wake of a sort of journalism recession, couldn’t afford them anymore.

In an interview this past February, Detroit Free Press reporter M.L. Elrick asked Wilson what he sees as the future of investigative reporting in the wake of his dismissal. Wilson insisted, of course, that the practice is vital to sound city and national government alike, but that in order to stay afloat we need to conserve our resources. He suggested the development of a Michigan Center for Investigative Reporting; a non-profit establishment that news outlets could essentially contract out for investigative matters.

While Wilson’s dream may seem like just that, he might be on to something. On Monday, the Associated Press announced that it plans to open several regional investigative teams. The idea, according to AP is to “provide reporting and presentation resources for the cooperative’s reporters around the nation.”

In other words, AP is trying to combine all the great ideas of the new journalism era--- the local angle of citizen journalism, the quality reporting we’re accustomed to, and the conservation of resources needed to stay alive in a struggling industry. Now THAT’S what we’re talking about, guys! Way to think outside the box. It looks like journalism may be on its way toward a revolution and not demise. So, to all you journalism cynics, put that in your iPad and smoke it.


The Atlantic magazine

Media Insiders say Internet Hurts Journalism hurts-journalism/7410/


How will journalism survive the Internet Age? the-internet-age/

Newspaper photo by Alex Barth, licensed by Creative Commons under as Attribution Generic 2.0

Rosie the Blogger photo by Mike Licht of, licensed by Creative Commons under

as Attribution Generic 2.0

Monday, March 22, 2010

Food? Water? A man? No need, I have an iPhone...

It was a day in the life of a typical girl, circa 2010. I wake up and have my coffee while watching the morning news on my digital HDTV. Across the room my home telephone rang, and the identity of the caller flashes on my television screen. The caller is my friend Emma, confirming our plans to go shopping that afternoon. We agree on a time, and end our call. But then I remember I wanted to stop at the bank first, so grab my mobile phone and send her a text message.

When Emma arrives at my house to pick me up, I tell her I’m not sure if I have enough money in my account to shop, so we had better stop at the bank so I can double check. No need, Emma whips out her iphone and lets me check my account status online. With my finances accounted for, we hit the road.

We’re shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding, and after scrounging several stores in the mall, I finally find something I like that is in my price range… just not my size range. Eek! The eternal female nightmare rears its ugly head, and I begin to get angry.

Emma, on the other hand, breaks out her iphone yet again. She scans the tag on the dress with the phone, and with the help of her “ShopSavvy” app, she searches for the dress, in my size, at every store location in a 25 mile radius. She finds the dress, in the right size, for a better price at a mall not far from us.

A shot of the iPhone's ShopSavvy app (by majortk, details below)

We go to the mall, the iphone’s navigation system guiding us all the way, and I try the dress on. I take a picture in the fitting room mirror with my phone, and send it to my boyfriend to approve. He does, and I buy the dress.

Whew, even recalling the day is exhausting! But I think it’s a perfect illustration of how technology is impacting everyday life. As improvements to different aspects of our everyday devices continue to develop, there’s one trend that we all can notice—the gaps between them all are closing; a process called digital convergence. Television, radio, print, music, telephone and internet all used to be individual tools that used to create for us a kind of Venn diagram of our daily activities. There was some overlap before, but now the diagram is morphing into one circle, or rather one device, from which all our tools can be accessed.

Each new device promises to get consumers closer than ever before to that nirvana of technological simplicity.

Apple’s new iPad has looked to be, even in its development stages, the be-all end-all gadget for media consumption. Owners can surf the web, watch video, listen to music and, most importantly, access whatever reading material they so choose. Texts that were once only available in print, from novels to newspapers, are all now supposed to be available on a single “tablet” for total convenience.

And while Apple may be the first to properly execute this idea, the idea itself has certainly been around for some time. Amazon’s digital reader “Kindle” has been relatively popular with consumers, according to a Guardian News blog. They say that Kindle boasted 2009 sales around 1.5 million devices, which more than hints to a consumer interest in digital readers. But if Apple is known for anything, it’s that they’re known for everything—that is, combining every perfected media technology into one device with each new item they market.

Not to be outdone of course is Microsoft with their version of a digital reader or, as they say, a “digital journal” called the Courier. Microsoft’s option is more like a true “book” (with two sides that fold together) rather than Apple’s tablet.

Briefly, Verizon Wireless tried to jump on the “all in one” device band wagon when they began advertising their Hub back in early 2009. The system was designed to be a home phone first and foremost, but would run on Verizon’s wireless network. Dubbed the “landline slayer” by, the unit had a 7-inch touch screen display and operated much like the iPhone does now, doing everything from sending texts to streaming live video and accessing any internet site available. You’ll notice that all of those details are written in past-tense… as the system was discontinued last fall.

For most of us, this sounds ideal. We use the internet, phone, television, radio and MP3 music on a regular basis, so condensing all of these necessities into a single tool is not only enticing, it’s inevitable. But as we reformat these technologies to become better integrated with each other, we also reinvent the original technology in question and, in turn, the industry attached to it.

That sounds a little complicated, so let’s take a closer look. With most people getting their music in an MP3 format these days, how many jobs were lost for those who make compact discs? Or what is happening now in the industry of antenna TV makers as the majority of consumers switch to digital television? At media evolves, like anything else, adaptations must occur and sacrifices must be made. Most would argue that these changes are for the better in the long run.

Businesses and non-profits would certainly agree with that. In the last blog, we examined how social networking can aid businesses in reaching larger and/or specific markets. This effect is only magnified when you expand the ways consumers access those networking sites. Or digital music. Or online shopping. There’s a TV channel, website, or smart phone application to suit any interest or, more notably, for any purchasing interest. Converging media so that the internet is easier and quicker to use simply means that the public will… use it! That’s change that businesses can take straight to the bank (lots of pun intended.)

But what if these changes occur in areas that affect us in larger ways than just media consumption? Journalism has long been a vital part of our democratic nation. As an industry really by the people reporting to the people of our communities, journalism is a true checks and balances system of our government. As digital formats for journalism continue to reshape the practice of reporting, the future of the industry seems to be in flux. At the moment, it looks as though print journalism may be finished, along with the jobs of traditional investigative reporters. The checks and balances we’ve come to depend on from newspapers might be in jeopardy.

According to Guardian news, the iPad may be print journalism’s fighting chance for survival. Newspapers would operate fairly normally as far as reporting is concerned, but the distribution would be presented digitally. Of course, this is happening now online, but the iPad format would crisper, more easily accessed and most importantly, would require a subscription. The question of “how do we charge for this” has finally been answered for print news, and hope has been given to loads of reporters who’ve been holding their breath over the past few years. Well, at least Steve Jobs thinks so.

And, like Nick Bilton says in his New York Times article, it wouldn’t hurt to save a few trees either. As long as technology is going to evolve and converge, it may as well move in an eco-friendly direction.

So we can put that on our checklist for digital tool innovations of the future. Eco-friendly: check. Smaller and sleeker: check. Able to perform a variety of tasks and cater to many technological mediums: check. That’s where were headed now. Who knows what tomorrow may hold. According to Wikipedia’s description of digital convergence, a device may not even be necessary as digital convergence moves forward; holograms might be used instead. It’s hard to say what our technological needs will be 10 years from now, but I’d bet on one thing… once we see what the future of media holds, we’ll wonder how we were ever able to live without it.


The Center for Convergence and Emerging Network Technologies

Verizon Hub “Landline Slayer” Officially Unveiled, By Laura June

Guardian News

Can the Apple iPad Save Newspapers?, Blog

Microsoft’s Courier “Digital Journal”, By Nilay Patel

Intel’s Otellini to Unveil “Digital Convergence” Device, By Sumner Lemon

The New York Times

Former Book Designer Says Good Riddance to Print, By Nick Bilton

iPad photo
By myuibe, licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Shopsavvy photo
By majortk, licensed by Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

iPhone Press photo
By magerleagues, licensed by Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Social Media, or Business Necessity?

It was Memorial weekend last summer when, while vacationing in mid-Michigan, I came upon a quaint little bakery called “Cops and Doughnuts.” The shop was once the Claire City bakery and, when the more than 100 year old establishment announced that it could no longer afford to stay in business, nine Claire police officers teamed up to save the historic shop.
Once they took ownership, the cops decided to have a little fun with the situation—“Cops and Doughnuts” was born. They redecorated the inside of the shop to look like a prison cell, the outside was adorned with a bright red siren light, and they renamed some of the more popular pastries with cop-themes, like the “Tazer” Lemon Cruller. They even added some apparel products to their shop, like t-shirts sporting fun tag lines like “You Have the Right to Remain Glazed.”
The shop is surely charming, but the fact remains that it sits rural Claire, MI; a location which doesn’t yield an impressive amount of business traffic. Yet, employees at “Cops and Doughnuts” were glad to tell me how great they were doing. Sales were booming, they were getting calls from around the world for their snarky apparel, and they had even been featured on ESPN. The small town bakery was quickly becoming an international phenomenon… but how? The clerk behind the counter had a one word explanation to give me—Facebook.
Thanks to the social networking site, “Cops and Doughnuts” was able to expand their marketing beyond their small town borders. They had a good idea, sure, but spreading the word was the key to their success. By creating a fansite on Facebook, they were able to quickly and, more importantly, cheaply expand their advertising base. To those who came across “Cops and Doughnuts” on Facebook, it was no doubt just a novelty to have a good laugh at. But, then, the orders started rolling in… and now the nine police officers are laughing all the way to the bank.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and Google Buzz are going above and beyond their call of duty to network strangers and keep friends linked with status updates and photos. In an attempt to better serve their users (or, perhaps, just trying to stay relevant) these sites are constantly adding features, both for entertainment and practical use. Fan sites, like the one that “Cops and Doughnuts” utilized are just the beginning of how individual users and businesses alike can expand their industry connections.
Once a business is up and running, social media doesn’t fall by the wayside. Applications like TwitJobSearch and Facebook Marketplace could turn into what the New York Times is calling “the unemployed’s best friend.” These job search engines make employment openings available to not only a wider range of prospective applicants, but also people who is looking for employment but are better versed in electronic media and wouldn’t check print classifieds.
Just like the Long Tail theory we’ve been discussing so far in the course, social networking has brought less obtainable markets to consumers, and even job hunters. Businesses are certainly seeing gains from making use of these sites. It was only a matter of time before those in the business of doing good jumped on the bandwagon. Non-profits are able to create pages on social media sites similar to the way a business might. The benefit? According to the Wall Street Journal, non-profits can avoid potential “copy-cats” who try to scam their efforts. Reputable organizations of all sizes can gain exposure for their causes just like a business might. Take, for instance, the small awareness group started by a UMD student, called “TweetfCams.” Jennifer Cleary, a senior of communications, started the group to honor her brother Cameron who’s afflicted with Infantile Neuroaxonal Dystrophy (INAD). Cleary has started a blog, a Twitter account, and a Facebook fan page; all of which have become increasingly popular. As of yet, Cleary’s organization has yet to make substantial money towards her cause, but the network connections she’s gaining are truly invaluable, including ties with the Make-a-Wish of southeastern Michigan.
But, of course, this wouldn’t be a JASS class if we didn’t examine how social media is affecting journalism and they way consumers get their news. BBC news says that the journalism industry should “embrace social media” because it givers reporters a wider range of sources, opinions and voices to add to their research, as well as, a wider audience to target with their stories. I think we can all agree this is true, there’s no end of inexpensive if not free news outlets where people can find news that caters to their technological, political and personal interests.
Journalism professors at UMD, though, might point out to you that this open availability to news is more of a problem than it is a solution. Several instructors have expressed concern toward news media which tilts its reporting to the liking of an audience. The Huffington Post, The Daily Show, Fox News and other news outlets attract multitudes of young people, but some say the news they present is skewed to far toward one party to be fair. According to these professors, when the public is able to choose the perspective of their news, they’re not always fully informed.
But, for now, “Cops and Doughnuts” doesn’t care about the effects of social media on journalism and how it could potentially harm the valuable checks and balances system that reporters present to authority. Like most of us, when they log into their Facebook account, they’re just looking at the positive. They add new pictures, update their status with the latest pastry they’ve just created, and they look for what new connections they can make today.

"The New York Times"- Twitter Could Become the Unemployed's Best Friend

"The Wall Street Journal"- Facebook to Non-Profits: More Pages, Fewer Apps

"The New York Times"- How to Market Your Business With Facebook

"Guardian News"- Q&A: BBC World Service News Director Peter Horrocks on Social Media and News

"The Poynter Institute"- Why News Organizations Need a Facebook Strategy


"Cops and Doughnuts"!/pages/Clare-MI/COPS-DOUGHNUTS-CLARE-CITY-BAKERY/97882918529?ref=ts

1st photo: Facebook photo by Brian Solis, licensed by Creative Commons

2nd photo: Kantoor by vlauria, licenced by Creative Commons

"The Huffington Post" Logo, originally uploaded by Pyrogamer (officially part of the public domain, according to Creative Commons)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Creative Commons: Keeping you out of the Clink

To be or not to be… is that the question? Or rather, in the world of distribution, is the question to copyright or not to copyright? Hmmm

Well, on one hand, copyright is a beautiful thing. Musicians, authors, painters, scholars, and creative thinkers of all kinds can protect the sanctity of their work with a copyright. People in the public domain won’t be able to use or alter an original work without permission from the creator. No one would be able to wrongly take credit for their genius, nor would they be able to tweak the work so that its integrity is compromised (lest we forget “Under Pressure” vs. Ice Ice Baby”) Violations of copyright have legal consequences, preventing plagiarism or downright stealing.

On the other hand, though, the world of copyright is a tad strict. Rigid even, to the point where simple sharing of creative works is direct violation of copyright, even when the original creator is attributed and the work isn’t altered. While this may protect the integrity of the property, it could also prevent the promotion of the creator. In other words, if a piece of intellectual property is under lock and key under penalty of law for, roughly, 100 years (approximately the creators lifetime), and members of the public domain (aka the rest of us) have to hunt the creator down and beg for, possibly pay for, rights to use the work in question… well, it might prove to be too much of a hassle. Man, even explaining the predicament is exhausting.

What about musicians like Josh Woodward? He’s a relatively unknown artist, and his main objective at this point in time is to build a steady fan base so he can better market his talent. Of course, he wants to be credited for the hard work he puts into his music, but at the same time he’s happy to gain exposure and share his music with the public domain. In the world of traditional copyright, there’s really no happy medium for Woodward. He either gets to have his music protected with little to no exposure, or he can release his music onto the world and just hope people will attribute the tunes to him… but they may not.

But we are not living in traditional times—enter Creative Commons. CC is a web community which enables users to license their work, protecting their rights to the idea, but (and here’s the twist) implying permission for members of the public domain to redistribute the work according to the creator’s standards. There are a number of different licenses a producer can choose from: from simple attribution (aka “do whatever you want with my music, just let people know I made it originally!”) to the more complex attribution non-commercial non-derivative (aka “use my work, but attribute it to me, use it exactly how it is, and don’t make any money off of it!”)

The benefit for the artist is that they’re able to gain valuable exposure without losing the rights to their creations. The benefit to the rest of us is that we’re able to use and enjoy their talents without breaking the law! Who’da thunk that all those times you shared those silly pictures on your facebook page, you were committing a misdemeanor.

The best part of all of this? Licenses from Creative Commons are free, so artists won’t go broke from protecting their work while sharing it with the world.

The bottom line is, the way we in the public domain are exposed to media is changing dramatically with each year, and it seems no one is willing to compromise. Citizens and consumers of media aren’t willing to give up their music, movies, literature or scholarly research because they didn’t receive implicit permission to use it. And it’s also unlikely that protectors of those works will ever stop prosecuting those who unlawfully use those works, when caught. But, as Harvard Law Professor Charles Nesson said, we need to adapt to the times.

“Internet has helped develop new forms of amateur entertainment,” said Mr. Nesson. “You no longer need a ‘label’ to put out a good song. Soon, we will not be able to tell what is copyrighted and what isn’t. That is why defining the limits of copyright and public right is fundamental to the development of cyberspace.”

So go on, go find that cute photo of the puppy to put in your blog… but make sure you have your Google Image Search set with the Creative Commons filter on. (Wojcicki)

"Maltese Puppy Portrait"
Authored by Yasmapaz of Puerto Rico
Licensed by Creative Commons under the Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Generic License

Lankarani, Nazanin. "A Push in Law Schools to Reform Copyright." The New York Times. 01 12 2009. The New York Times, Web. 14 Feb 2010.

Wojcicki, Esther. "Creative Commons in 2009." The Huffington Post. 21 11 2009. The Huffington Post, Web. 14 Feb 2010.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Power of Pandora's Blog

If you’ve never heard the old tale of “Pandora’s Box,” it’s about a girl living in a perfect, pain-free world who’s presented with a box that she’s told not to open. Of course, she opens it, and unleashes a fury of emotions onto the world. Along with some good, the box held every negative sentiment not yet known to man—greed, jealousy, anger, etc. The world was never the same, but from then on it was a world of truth… with love comes pain, with joy comes sorrow… that’s how life works. Thanks a bunch, Pandora.
The internet has revolutionized the globe in a similar way. With it comes good and bad, and our society will never be the same. Consider, as an example, digital music distribution. Over the past decade, the industry has evolved considerably from a low-key, free of charge novelty to a closely monitored music industry unto itself. And while websites like iTunes continue to make millions from digital music, there will always be an option to obtain the music for free. As soon as sanctions are put on individual websites, another free-of-charge music site will be created that’s even more sophisticated than the last.
Computer viruses work in much the same way. Although software companies will continue to research and develop protection programs to guard computers against viruses, those who create viruses will always be one step ahead. The problem will never really go away.
This ever-changing model of the internet affects nearly every aspect of our everyday lives, from issues as small a shopping to matters as large as global governments. With endless space and unlimited access, could the internet change the way some regimes monitor their public?
It’s no secret that people have long fought against censorship in countries where opinions are controlled and suppressed. As Americans, we’ve observed from afar as Martial Law has devastated the lives of countless free-thinkers who don’t enjoy the same rights we do. But people in those countries have always found a way to defy authority, even if it’s in small ways.
Take, for example, the animated film “Persepolis,” which tells the true story of a young girl growing up in the tyranny of 1980’s Iran. In the movie, as the main character becomes a teenager, she begins to rebel from the strict rules of Islamic Fundamentalism. She goes into deserted alleyways to buy “Iron Maiden” tapes and wears punk clothing under her traditional garb. Western ideas are treated like illicit drugs by the government, but in the underbelly of Iranian society, they still exist.

(photo from the film "Persepolis", courtesy of

Technology has come a long way since the days of punk music on cassette tape, and in turn, so have the methods and spectrum of defying censorship. The internet has served as a portal, for ideas of all kinds, coming both in and out of the country. And now, these efforts which were pioneered so many years ago, like in Persepolis, are happening on a much bigger scale. No situation better illustrates this point than the recent decision of Google to close its search engine in China. The corporation said that it refused to filter search results to comply with the Chinese government, and the decision was met with cheers from human-rights advocates around the world, according to The New York Times. (

The Google move, for a short time, enabled Chinese citizens to view previously censored web searches, including content concerning the 1989 events in Tiananmen Square. Some people in China reacted to the decision as if they had been temporarily liberated, laying flowers and other tokens at the curb of Google’s Chinese headquarters as a display of respect and remembrance.
(photo courtesy of

In a similar act of defiance, authoritative violence in the streets of Myanmar was exposed to the rest of the world by WiFi capable phones in areas where regular video cameras have been restricted by the government. Buddhist monks who protested authoritarian ideals in 2007 were met by immediate and powerful military reaction. This wasn’t the first time that such events have happened in what used to be Burma, and it certainly wasn’t the first time that journalists were stripped of their abilities to report on the atrocities. But in recent occurrences, citizens have acted as undercover journalists, recording the events on their mobile phones, making the images available almost instantly to anyone around the world. (
While this method of renegade journalism may put major news outlets at considerable risk, the main goal is the same as any other reporter—to seek truth. The same technology that fascist regimes have used to monitor their citizens is now being used against them. Repressed people are being exposed to the freedoms of far away lands, and they’re exposing their own hardships to the world. The proverbial “Tree in the Woods” is no more… the tree has fallen, and people, via cyberspace, are making sure that the world can hear it hit the ground. (
Even in the United States, where we enjoy an incredible amount of freedom of speech, we’re able to utilize the internet to communicate more than we were once able to. The World Wide Web extends the megaphone of expression to anyone who chooses to use it, instead of only public figures, like in the past.
Governments that disapprove of such free speech will likely try to suppress these portals as soon as they’re made aware of them, in order maintain control. But, like we’ve seen throughout the short history of the internet, there is no going back. As soon as one venue is eliminated, citizens will develop new and better outlets to express themselves. The world of online communication cannot be closed anymore than Pandora can close her box.

(Photo courtesy of

While dictatorships will likely not cease to exist anytime soon, the workings of the web certainly bring much needed power to oppressed peoples. At the moment, those nations share one important fact with us—we are all netizens. We all subscribe to the principles of truth above all else, and from here on, we will use the internet to share with each other and strive for a world of endless free expression and exploration.

Citations for this Analysis:

"Can Google Beat China?." New York Times 15 Jan. 2010, Print.

Newman, Jared. "YouTube Direct: Why Citizen Journalists Should't Care." PC World 17 Nov 2009: n. pag. Web. 31 Jan 2010.

"Sneaking into Myanmar." ABC News. Web. 31 Jan 2010. .

"Netizens React Over Google." Radio Free Asia. 15 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Jan 2010. .