Archive for the ‘blogging’ category

Obama and McCain’s Blogs, Writ Large

3, September, 2008

A while ago I wrote about a very cool tool called Wordle. You stick a URL or feed into the tool and it produces a visualization–a word cloud–that demonstrates how often words are used in a particular document or blog feed.

Just for sport, I compared results from an official Obama blog and an official McCain blog.

Obama’s blog:

And here’s McCain’s:

Fun stuff: The candidates talk a lot about themselves. Obama’s focused on Ohio, McCain on Missouri. Obama’s often used words: “get” and “can.” McCain’s: “reform” and “America.” Both write more about Gustav than each other.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. The Obama blog I’ve Wordled is the campaign’s main one. McCain’s main blog doesn’t have a single RSS feed [the feeds are parsed by issue]. So I had to cut and paste text from a bunch of recent entries from McCain’s blog and let Wordle have at it.

As for McCain blogs that do have a single RSS feed, let’s look at what they’re talking about in the “McCain Report” blog, written by the trench-warfare-mustard-gas-tosser Michael Goldfarb.

That blog talks about Obama a lot.

Alas, no apples-to-apples there, either. Obama’s site doesn’t have a negative campaign blog.


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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.

The Feds and Social Media: EPA Goes Blogging

24, July, 2008

From the Who Knew? files: The Environmental Protection Agency has been hammering away at a group blog since April.

Don’t worry, it’s not the Bush hacks extolling the virtues of offshore drilling. Greenversations is written by a group of civil servants at the agency who explore greenish issues in a personal way. As they go, they often mention EPA services that can help you, the citizens of America, live a greener life.

Here’s Lina Younes, head of the agency’s multilingual communications office, on how the agency helped her fix her leaky toilet, in a manner of speaking.

I learned about the WaterSense program through EPA and found out that the new toilets with the high-efficiency WaterSense label were finally available in the Maryland area where we live. We studied various options. We considered the dual flush toilets that we’ve seen in Europe and more recently in EPA’s Potomac Yard green building, but we finally opted for single flush toilets that use 1.28 gallons per flush and we couldn’t be happier. They do the job and we’ve put a stop to those leaky toilets, finally.

The entries appear to be vetted by EPA staff. But I came across some useful stuff. In this entry about what to do with an old cell phone, I came a fairly cool federal publication on The Lifecycle of a Cellphone. It’s made for kids, but I learned a lot about the resource intensive manufacturing process of phones, and where the motes of deadly toxin are embedded.

The whole point of Greenversations is to “open up the agency to the public,” to digress into 2.0 communications vernacular, and “put a human face on the agency.” It appears to accomplish this. Yes, but will anyone read it? Hard to imagine someone engaged enough with environmental issues to read blogs would be attracted to this 2.0 public service announcement outlet, however well done.

Comments are moderated, as you might expect. But Greenversations has at least some tolerance for agitprop. A response to an EPA science writer’s introduction of a new regular blog item on environmental science:

Steve Holmer says:

July 23rd, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Rather ironic, but it is encouraging that EPA staff have not given up on science. However, reading today’s Washington Post about how Director Johnson repeatedly lied to Congress about the decision concerning the CA waiver doesn’t leave one feeling like EPA has yet turned the corner.

Looking forward to better times ahead,

Ah, yes, but now about the government has a database of people who have made comments critical of high-level federal officials! Is Mssr. Holmer safe from government harrassment, even under the provisions of the Patriot Act?

From the Frequent Questions page:

Why do you ask for my name and email address when I leave a comment? How do you protect my privacy?

Providing your name or email address is optional. We ask for your name so that it is easier to carry on a conversation, so we will publish it along with your comment. We ask for your email address so that we may contact you if necessary. We will not publish your email address.

To protect yourself, please don’t include information that identifies you in the body of your comment, such as email addresses or phone numbers. We don’t edit comments, so we won’t be able to publish comments containing such information.

Huh. I wonder of Mssr. Holmer included his real e-mail address. And if he did, whether he got a response “thanking” him for his “valuable comment.”

If any of this interests you, you can always follow Greenversations on Twitter.

But you knew that.

Five Lessons From a Year of Blogging

13, July, 2008

One year ago I launched this blog with a notion but no clue.

The notion was that I wanted to make sense of the baffling, bad but somehow occasionally powerful stuff that was emerging under the aegis “Web 2.0.” [It has lately been usefully redubbed “social media”]. I’d just left the employ of Steve Case’s $500 million scheme to reorganize the healthcare system, partly via 2.0 tactics. Before that I’d been an editor at The Washington Post, spending some of my time trying to help reorient the paper to the web.

So it was a good time to wrap my brain around this developing technology and figure out where it was headed, and where it might take me.

You can find a lot of lessons on other blogs about how to build traffic. You’ll find sociological treatises about what blogging means to democracy, commerce, media and the written word. This ain’t that.

Essentially what I’ve done here is whack the 2.oh. . .really? birthday pinata and pick up a few edible morsels that have fallen onto the floor. Following are five to chew on. They certainly don’t apply to all blogs, which have many different purposes, audiences and authors. So for what it’s worth, here they are.

A personal blog is as valuable to the writer as the reader. A near-daily obligation to write forces you to learn something new or create an insight about something you already know. Writing a blog lets you educate yourself in public.

Entry titles are as important as content. Titles should be dead-clear. Web users are brutally impatient prowlers, unforgiving of ambiguity and unlikely to hang around to figure things out. But provocative works too. Three of my more inane items scored big because their titles promised some mischief: Hillary Needs a Widget; Dilbert, You Ignorant Slut; and Dear Facebook: Bite Me.

Don’t expect your best content to be rewarded. Accept that blog audiences are so unpredictable and that some of your most valuable gems will stay buried. For instance, I remain convinced by my treatise Adsense? Nonsense! is a devastating comic romp that brilliantly lays bare the false premise upon which Google’s vast worldwide empire is founded. 34 people have read it. One of them left a comment as inscrutable as mental ward haiku. The alternative explanation for this lack of attenton is that the entry is full of crap. There’s a lot of that in blogging too.

Stand on the roof in a thunderstorm holding up a rake. You never know when lightning will strike, but you can improve your odds. When you write something really good, send it to other bloggers whose audience you’d like to reach. This will usually fail. But if you get a link from a big blog, bar the door. A link on Huffington Post drew over 10,000 readers to Al Gore vs. Drew Carey: Another Nail-Biter! A prominent link on Jim Romensko’s journalism news blog sent almost 1,500 angry journalists to Proposed: Death to Bylines. I’ve sent out dozens of notes to bloggers pimping other entries and gotten nada. You just never know.

Write short and use pictures. This one is straight from the “Duh” files. You should make regular exceptions, of course. But as a daily practice, short and visual serves readers well. Authors too. I wish I followed this one more.

Maybe next year.

Which Way to Voxford?

21, April, 2008

My good friend John Kelly, a tenured lumberjack journalist [my new term for those who chop down trees to publish words], has a hilarious piece in The Guardian. It’s about how people find his blog.

Kelly, a former colleague of mine at The Washington Post, has been whiling away the months as a visiting scholar at Oxford, studying citizen journalism or some such rot. His blog, Voxford, is full of sharp observations from the psychic border shared by the US and the UK. To read it during lunch is to risk spattering your screen with bits of tuna fish from laughing out loud.

Anyhow, his Guardian story is about the strange search queries that bring people to his blog. Since he’s so close to Fleet Street, his blog is full of references to the sort of goofy smut you find in the British tabs. Some of the searches that have brought people to Oxford include:

Penis grab off

How to grab a woman’s breast without getting caught

Why does my groin, face, beard and head itch?

Picture of tourist diarrheaing

I’m afraid my own U.S. based blog can’t compete with that. I do well with “scariest video on the web” and “hillary widget,” but that’s the best I have.

Of course, now that I’ve used the same words in my blog–I refer to penis, breast, groin, and diarrheaing, among others–I may get some of that traffic too.

Which I think answers the question raised by the only other marginally exotic search that led people to my blog: “web blogging is it really as good as eve…”?

The 2.D’oh! Round-Up: Crowdsourcing Dead Bloggers, etc.

11, April, 2008

Amazing, amusing and alarming observations from the world of Web 2.0

Miller Analogies Test Item of the Week

Twitter is to Blogging what Telegrams were to . . .

a.) FedEx

b.) Airmail

c.) e-mail

d.) Strip-o-Grams

If you’d read Ted Rheingold’s Web Journal (via TechMeme), you’d know the correct answer is b. At least according to Ted.

Let’s Crowdsource Dead Blogger No. 3!

Veteran newshacks know that in order for lifestyle journalists to legitimately proclaim a trend, they need to find at least three (3) examples of the thing in question.

Inexplicably, the New York Times slipped its blogging-yourself-to-death story into print with only two actual dead bodies at the keyboard. Oh, sure, they found a few people on the edge, and a had a bunch of expert commentary and all that. But still. [Truth told, we are beginning to suspect the Gray Lady broke a hip when she moved into that fancy new nursing home on 8th Avenue. She hasn’t seemed her old self since.]

But remember what they say in Journalism 2.0: The story is a process, not a finished product. So let’s crowdsource that dead-blogger story to find that missing example. There must be another stiff in jammies out there. Drawing on the power of distributed network reporting, we’ll find it.

Just use the comment field below.

But please notify the authorities first.

And finally, from the Are You Sure This Isn’t from The Onion? Dept.

Via The Smoking Gun:

Perez Hilton Calls Blogger A Defamer: Gossip kingpin sues online rival over published sex claims

In Which I Unwisely Bite the Hand That Feeds Me

7, April, 2008

First, let me say I’m delighted that Time.com has selected this humble blog among its Top 25. I apologize to the many superior bloggers (I counted this morning, and they number well into the thousands) that did not make the list.

But now Time has put me in a bind. Having been described as author of a blog that’s “a welcome counter balance to the relentless pom pom waving of folks that cheer anything called Web 2.0.,” and having “what appears to be a permanently cocked eyebrow on the use of 2.0 tactics in mainstream Web sites,” I am tasked with the responsibility of. . .cocking that very same eyebrow at Time.com’s Top 25 list itself.

The Verdict: Time’s Top 25 is a user-experience mess– mostly because it puts its own interests above the users.’

Look, I’m no happier about this than you are.

Point No. 1. See the logo-of-logos of all 25 top blogs? One expects to click on an individual logo and go directly to that blog. Um, no.

Okay, so you click on the logo-logo and you’ll go to a list of all the winners, right? Um, no.

Just like the screen grab I’ve pasted below, the image connects you to the writeup for the first blog listed, the Huffington Post.

Time\'s Top 25 Blogs

Yes, maddening. I know.

Point No. 2: If you’re wondering why Time.com would do such a thing, you haven’t been paying attention to the darkish world of web commerce. Planking out a complete list of all the winners right on the front would prevent people from clicking the “enter” prompt–from which they need to click through the entire freakin’ list, one by one, to see all the Top Blogs. Which of course generates (wait, let me do the math. . .) 25 page views. I’m no CPA, but I believe 25 page views are more valuable than the five or six that would be generated by a scannable list of all winners.

Let me rush to say that I am not the first to point this out. The excellent Valleywag blog (one of the many thousands of blogs superior to mine that did not make the list!) put it thusly, quoting the intemperate Drew Curtis about the whole Top Blogs enterprise:

Fark.com’s Drew Curtis sums it up: “That’s the point — pick shit people don’t agree with, generate controversy, SPREAD THE FUCKING THING OVER 50 PAGES WITH NO INDEX, profit.” We suspect if Fark actually showed up on the list — nah, Curtis would still tell ’em they were hosers. Here, we’ll make it easy for both you and Drew. Rather than clicking “next” two dozen times on Time’s page, just read our one-page version. . .

Point No. 3. To be fair–and as a Top 25 blog we strive endlessly to be fair–you can get at that whole list at Time.com. Just scroll down the page, past a [maddeningly coldlinked!] box titled The Top 5 Blogs, then click on a text link reading “See the Complete List.” [Why not “See Complete Top 25 List”? Usability Team, Code Blue!]

But here the blogs are ranked in order of highest-rated by the Wisdom of the Crowds. Finally: a 2.0 feature! Time.com has spoken, now the readers can speak back.

As of this writing, the highest rated blogs, tied with an average rating of 9, are Indexed and Reverse Cowgirl (!). This humble blog, meanwhile, is mired in the low-middle with an average rating of 5.

I would of course do nothing to discourage true fans of this humble blog to go to the site and nudge my rating up a bit, so at least I don’t fall below the basement-dwelling Andrew Sullivan.

Or I can bask my incredibly good luck, take whatever good mojo comes my way, keep my eyebrow cocked like a Beretta in a Texan’s back pocket–and wonder. . .whether writing this entry was such a good idea.

I’m just guessing here, but this humble blog may not be among Time.com’s Top 25 next year. After all, there are thousands of blogs that are better.