Archive for the ‘media’ category

The Web 2.D’0h! Roundup

5, September, 2008

Another look at the menace, mediocrity and occasional magnificence around the world of social media.

Architects of the Doomed User Experience

Navigation Arts–a Washington, D.C.-area design firm best known for its work for defense contractors, trade associations and government agencies–has helped relaunch the Charlotte Observer’s website. A leader in usability and enterprise websites, Navigations Arts has produced. . .

. . .a site nearly indistinguishable from its peers that have stuck stubbornly with the newspaper-with-multimedia-and-nervously-managed-user-interaction model that has proven so incapable of producing sufficient revenues for newspaper publishers across the country.

To paraphrase the sounds of the season: Is this the change we need?

  • For community features the Observer it has deployed Pluck, the popular off-the-shelf 2.0-in-a-box application suite.
  • It uses the two-layer drop-down navigation you can find on any custom WordPress template worth $75.
  • It makes the misstep of labeling video as video ["hey, lookit, Marge, they got movin' pictures on this website!] instead of according to the underlying content.

Worst of all, the site also ubiquitously highlights the sad, sweet, desperate “subscribe and get miles” link that demonstrates a profound, perhaps fatal misunderstanding of how news companies need to operate in a digital world.

Note to the Observer’s Dept. of Clue Procurement: It’s not about selling newspapers any more.

Imagine Henry Ford selling the Model T with an ad that says, “Buy the car and we’ll give you discount on a horse too!”

A Look Behind the Curtain of Wikipedia

Wikipedia is supposedly all about “transparency,” allowing users to see who’s been authoring and reauthoring Wikipedia pages. In practice, exploring this information is like reading source code for a mortgage disclosure document.

The Palo Alto Research Center has debuted WikiDashboard, the beta version of a tool designed to help you visualize who’s been up to what on the back end of those Wikipedia entries. It’s the newest of several tools that take up this task.

Here’s an image identifying the most prolific authors of the Wikipedia entry of John McCain.

Click on their names and see what they contributed to the entry, how much they contributed and what they’ve added to other content around Pediaville.

n.b.: Would all Wikipediasts stop using that term “disambiguation”? It’s a smug, exclusive word that says to the world: We’re wonky digitalinfogeeks. Join our club or stay the hell out. Makes you wonder just how committed the architects of this project are to creating an encyclopedia “by and for” the people.

And finally, Our Regular Sighting of the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse ™:

www.buyyourfriendadrink.com

Have you spotted other middling, memorable or malignant examples of social media webbery? Please share the wealth and leave links in the comment section below.


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Exclusive Photo: Sarah Palin as a Goldwater Girl!

4, September, 2008

Let’s imagine the presumptuous VP nominee Sarah Palin was a teenage Goldwater Girl, an earnest young Republican back in the day when Sen. Barry Goldwater rocked the house at the 1964 RNC.

Here’s what she might have looked like as a candy striper at the 1964 Convention:

This wonderful bit of trickery comes to you thanks to www.yearbookyourself.com. It’s a tweaky tool that lets you upload a photo of yourself, mess around just a bit, and produce an image of what you might have looked like had your yearbook photo been snapped during various years from 1950 through 2000.

But: Here we go again, we eliteliberaleastcoastmediaestablishmentrunningdogs having sport with Palin rather than taking her seriously. Palin, 44, was born in 1964.

So to set the record straight, here is what she may indeed have looked like around the time she really graduated, 1981:

[A tip o’ the fez to the always-ahead-of-the-pack Very Short List Web e-mail newsletter for the pointer to yearbookyourself.com.]

p.s. By popular demand, the author at his 1952 graduation.


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VanityFairer: The Magazine’s Social Faux Pas?

2, September, 2008

Seems like everybody and his posse is trying to figure out how to use Twitter to promote a business. A lot of these feeds are loaded with ham-fisted promotions that are as likely to repel as attract. Mainstream media have been no more skilled than your typical supplement pusher, for the most part.

Which brings us to Vanityfairer, a Twitter “fan”feed by someone who identifies “her”self only as Vanity Fair Wayfarer and whose bio reads only “I heart Vanity Fair magazine.”

“Her” updates are really pretty good–mainly pointers to stuff about, in or related to content from the celebrity-addled, scrumptiously visual, annoyingly literate and therefore-hard-to-ignore glossy.

So is this a real fanfeed, or a Twitter Potemkin village?

I couldn’t find any reference to the Vanity Fairer feed on VF’s website.

But back in June VF Daily did a characteristically high-ironic item about the magazine’s new Facebook page. Editorial assistant Bill Bradley writes that he’d been charged with getting 10,000 members for a VF page in two months, at pain of losing his job. [As of this writing, the Facebook page has 8,610 fans, and according to the site, Bradley is no longer in the employ of VF. Of course we have no idea whether this is true.] So clearly someone at VF has been pondering what the magazine should do in the world of social media.

[In fact, read this wonderful entry from Vantiy Fair Daily about VF mid-level editorial staff’s recent indoctrination to social media by Conde Nast, which led to the whole Bradley gambit.]

Back to Vanityfairer: It looks to me like the Twitter feed is an undisclosed VF inside job. Vanity Fairer is following a conspicuous list of 51 prominentos from the worlds of technology and media [including Tim O'Reilly, Esther Dyson, WSJ's Kara Swisher, 2.0 author Sarah Lacy, John Dickerson of Slate, Gawker, Ana Marie Cox and TechCrunch, A-list tech bloggers plus a few C-list hangers-on like me].

The trick to building a Twitter posse, as savvy Twitsters know, is to “follow” people whom you hope will follow you back–or actually maybe write a blog item about the Twitter stream to gain some 2.0 brainshare [!]. So there is clearly something tactical and ambitious about Vanity Fairer’s “following” list. Vanity Fairer appears to be following none of her own personal friends, for instance. A bit curious.

[I should point out that as of this date, the only people who have taken Vanity Fairer’s bait are CNN social media ubiquitist Rick Sanchez, MSNBC cartoonist Daryl Cagle and someone named Vitor Fasano, who Twitters, I think, in Portugese. And me.]

I direct-messaged Vanity Fairer to see what’s up. “She” wrote this:

Good to hear from you, am actually a fan of *you*rs (Drama 2.0) too! Yes, I am just a fan of VF mag; pretty sure they have no idea I exist. [The reference to “Drama 2.0″ regards a mysterious fellow from the world of online advertising and marketing whose schtick is a hilarious bitter cynicism about web 2.0 foolishness. Which is to say his blog is kind of like mine, but his is really good and apparently makes money.]

Then this, an hour later:

p.s. I wish VF HAD put me up to this, it’s something they should be doing!

Then this, after I asked why she was following only media luminaries but not friends:

Have another acct on Twitter 4 friends; this acct lets me “play” a bit anonymously. Media lums I follow here r people I think VF wld follow?

Huh.

For now, let’s have some sport and, what the heck, assume the worst about Vanit Fairer.

If Vanity Fairer is an official VF venture–someone doing the corporate flagship magazine’s bidding but disguised as an independent fan–that’s a bad move by Conde Nast.

Rules No. 1 through 10 of social media are “Don’t f*ck with people.”

Don’t use social media to play pretend. If you want to make a cool Twitter feed for your publication, go for it. But don’t make like it’s not yours. If you’re a real independent fan of the magazine, launch a Twitter feed. But if you have some some sort of entanglement with the pub, say so. No shame in it.

Of course, circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, it’s possible that Vanity Fairer is an independent effort. In which case I am once again spewing nonsense into the digital void. The only consolation is that this is not the first time, nor likely to be the last.

But if I’m right. . .

Vanity Fair has made its reputation by illuminating the world of tuxedo-and-ball-gown “high” society.

Wouldn’t it be a hoot if it stomped into this foreign new social swirl like a drunken hillbilly?


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RealClearPolitics: Winning the Digital Journalism Race

29, August, 2008

Not long ago I castigated Congressional Quarterly for presenting high-quality reportage on political polling via a blog. They’re missing a great journalistic opportunity–to present daily analysis of the latest state-by-state Obama vs. McCain polls in a way that takes full advantage of the interactive visual medium that is the new platform for journalism.

It’s a classic case of old media not understanding what to do with their great stuff. Failing to “unlock the value” of their work, as they say in the corner offices.

Anyway, I’ve since discovered that such a map–a dataviz, or datavisualization, in web argot–exists. Unsurprisingly, it’s the work of a new media firm unburdened by an analog heritage.

The map is produced by RealClearPolitics, an online-only political analysis operation.

The map is a thing of digital beauty, a tool that lets you dig into good polling data smartly analyzed and interact with it by imagining various scenarios.

What if current polling holds through November? [Results shown above, pre convention "bounce."]

What if Obama wins Virginia and New Mexico and the rest of the ’04 results are unchanged? [Obama wins by a hair.]

What if McCain sweeps the rust belt of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan? [McCain by a mile, even if he loses Florida, etc.]

You can base all of these scenarios on the latest polling data so you can see how realistic your own speculations are.

It’s great work, a simple dataviz that presents best-of-class information in a fully interactive way that delivers a very high level of public service. It’s “civic engagement” on a screen.

If old media doesn’t start winning this kind or race soon, there will be no doubt who will carry the contest for the media future.

No matter who the President is.


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DNC Exposes a Gap in the New Media Ecosystem

27, August, 2008

As part of my utterly ineffectual campaign to embarrass the journalism establishment until it capitulates to my irresistible wisdom, I’m doing my best to boycott mainstream media coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

There are 15,000 journalists in Denver. There are 4,000 delegates.

At a time when news leaders face the urgent need to reinvent themselves around crushing economic changes, they’re squandering precious journalistic resources earnestly covering an event that’s part infomercial, part pep rally and part goofball Americana parade. All right now, let’s listen to State Sen. Rhubarb Buttwhistle’s intro to Gov. Louis Meander’s tribute to Adlai Stevenson! Tough questions, you say? Tell me, Mdme. Janie, is this convention hat really from 1956?

Yo, journalists: Is this what you went to school for? Isn’t there a meth lab in a house jointly owned by a city councilman and a corrupt contractor catching fire back home or something?

So anyway, I figure this is a great time to check out the emerging media. You know, those bold, independent voices unfettered by the groupthink of corporate media and resistant to the virus of party politics.

I went looking for a source that pulled together an eclectic mix of the best independent voices from non-mainstream, non-corporate media. Certainly some new media visionary was at this task right now, mining the indie datastream for precious nuggets, producing a truly fresh, truly independent, crisply edited feed representing news and opinions spanning the spectrum of politics, age, gender, lifestyle, social class and headwear preferences.

Um, no.

I found four varieties of DNC blog aggregation going on.

Big Brands (Washington Post, The New Republic, Politico) These mainstream outlets simply have their staff use blogging software to get their content on the screen faster. Also saves money on copy editors. Independent? Not so much.

Digital Algorithmic Aggregators (DayLife, Topix) These wrap a skin of a harried producer’s choices around an armature of machine-generated content, usually from mainstream sources. Curated? Not so much.

Lefty Blogs (Huffington Post) and Righty Blogs (RedState). Interesting for three or four clicks. Then, very quickly, thin and stifling.

I spent well over an hour searching for a dispassionate curator who undertook the task of presenting an eclectic mix of high-value content representing a range of views, avoiding both mainstream news and an ideological filter. I searched in vain.

I guess it makes sense. Big media brands are invested in promoting their own folks. Lefties and Righties want to ventilate only the viewpoints their benefactors embrace. The machine aggregators just want to assemble eyeballs at the lowest costs.

All of this exposes an interesting gap in the new media marketplace. Lots of great independent content is being created from and about the convention. Nobody I could locate is making an intellectually honest attempt to select the highest quality stuff and make it accessible in a single place with a single RSS feed. If it included multiple media–pix, Tweets, videos, etc.–so much the better.

I know there’s an audience for this. I know there are people capable of producing this.

And yet. . .there it isn’t.

The digital media marketplace being what it is, I wonder if this task isn’t best suited to a journalistic foundation or university program. [This isn't a grant proposal, honest.]

Of course, it’s entirely possible that there is a politically independent, journalistically sound effort to curate the best non-MSM content produced by a variety of sources coming out of the DNC in something like real time.

If so, I’d love to hear about it.

It would make my pitiful solo boycott of MSM DNC coverage so much more satisfying.

Worst DataViz Ever: CQ’s Poll Tracker

13, August, 2008

I often write about great datavisualizations–applications that use interactive graphics to illuminate a database in inventive ways. A great dataviz explains stuff in a way words alone cannot.

Today I’d like to pay tribute to one of the worst data presentations of the political season: Congressional Quarterly’s Poll Tracker.

Let me say first that it’s a great idea to take the most recent state-by-state presidential polling data from the most credible sources and update it daily. Put some experienced reporters on it so they’re not fooled by bogus numbers. This will produce an electoral map showing the latest polls in all 50 states. What more could an obsessive horse-race watcher ask for?

Unless you decide to just report the data in a blog, without connecting it to a map, and just leaving it in the order that the data comes in. Here’s what you get:

I thought this presentation looked eerily familiar. Then I recalled the two-year mobile broadband service contract I signed over the weekend. You know the way they print out those contracts on long receipt tape? And they have to fold it over four times just to get it in the bag? That’s what the CQ “dataviz” reminded me of.

This is a classic case of journalists not understanding that how you present data is just as important as the underlying data itself. Stick that daily-updated state-by-state polling data on a map, float the data on flash pop-ups and you have a powerful application, a real reader service and eyeball draw. Leave it in a blog and all that reporting. . .turns invisible.

To be fair, CQ does have projection data on a map for House, Senate and Governors races. It doesn’t appear to take the most recent polling data into account, but it toggles neatly between current landscape and projected election outcomes.

Oh, wait, look! There is a “President” map that presents the latest polling data! My mistake!

Oh, never mind. . .that’s the results from the 2004 election.

Their mistake.


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Online Journalism Awards and The Audacity of Hope

6, August, 2008

When I first saw the list of the finalists for the 2008 Online Journalism Awards, sponsored by the Online News Association, my response was despair: Almost 100 finalists in 23 categories. My carpal tunnels began to swell shut just at the thought. This smelled to me of those contests where every entrant is declared a finalist in order to pack the awards dinner.

Well, questions of motivation aside, the list is full of spectacular stuff. I use the word “spectacular” to describe online journalism very rarely. But I clicked into the list with dread and came away surprised and delighted–and feeling something like hope–more often than not.

I won’t critique the list or pick my favorites, but offer just a few observations:

When a major news organization dedicates itself to telling a story with multiple media, it can create a thing of beauty and power. True to the claims of those who insist there is a future for capital J Journalism in the digital age, the projects often provide a deeper and richer and fuller journalistic experience than projects whose toolkit is limited to 26 letters. Just two examples: Reuters on 5 years in Iraq, Dallas Morning News on Unequal Justice, which investigates a scary pattern in Texas of murderers who are given probation.

Political commentary done digitally can be as incisive as the kind using words alone. Example: Beliefnet’s God-O-Meter, which does regular visual news reports on the spiritual tweakings and tinkerings of Barack Obama and John McCain:

At least some journalism students due to replace the legions of buyoutees in Ameica’s digital news operations are ready to take over. Witness South of Here, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Facultad de ComunicaciĆ³n at the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago, Chile. These kids have chops their parents often don’t.

On Digital Jouralism Worst Practices

Of course, I can’t let this opportunity pass without at least a brief mention of persistent Worst Practices in Digital Journalism.They are also frequently evident among Online Journalism Award finalists.

Segregating “video” from other parts of a package, or even labeling it as video. Media of all types should be integrated into a whole package. Calling out “video” rings of an anachronistic brag: “Hey, lookit, we did some video, too!” I demand this practice be stopped immediately.

Layering a show-offey Flash entry page above the package. Flash pages waste time, bandwidth and user patience. They add no value. They impress nobody other than their own designers. Stop it, I tell you, stop it!

Placing the whole 3-part, 120-inch wordroll at the center of a digital package. Long blocks of text work okay on paper. They deliver a lousy experience online. Keeping those wayback-style reports at the center of digital packages tells me the newspaper folks are still in control of the website, fighting the future, defending the interests of their print reporters and slowing the new organization’s transition to a financially stable future. In fact, how about this: Instead of sticking “videos” in the sidebar of an article, how about putting “articles” in the sidebar of a visually-driven presentation. ["Hey, lookit, we wrote an article about this too!"] Editors who take offense at that suggested inversion, I submit, may want to consider that next buyout offer very seriously.


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