“Crowd Powered Media” can’t be Crap

Citizen journalism is a great idea; and hats off to NowPublic for being recognized for their efforts in this area:

NowPublic announced Monday that the fast-growing citizen journalism website has scored 10.6 million dollars (US) in financing to fuel its drive to become the world’s largest news agency.

The Vancouver-based start-up says it is growing at a rate of 35 percent monthly and has nearly 120,000 contributing “reporters” in more than 140 countries.

In part of a trend referred to as “citizen journalism,” NowPublic lets anyone with digital cameras or a camera-enable mobile telephones upload images or news snippets for dissemination via the Internet.

Citizen journalism website gets multi-million-dollar boost

But a quick check for stories on the site exposed the problem with “Crowd Powered Media” – a lot of it really sucks. I decided to check my local news on the site. It correctly determined that I was in Natick and served up what meager content it had – photos from the 2006 Boston Marathon. Not exactly the kind of current information I was looking for.

Further down the page there were sections for Massachusetts and US News. One of the stories, “The Couple Founds Out That Freedom Of Speech Was History,” caught my eye due to it’s strange headline. I clicked through to the original story and was confronted with some of the most perplexing prose imaginable. Here’s just a taste:

Do you know why the communist regime and the many dictatorship regimes had got their ways? Do you know why the peoples that still live in such a regime are suffering? These evil regimes had got their ways because they depended on the ignorances of the peoples, and the more peoples that were less educated the better for them to carry out their suppressive plans.

Huh? I don’t know – perhaps English is the writer’s second language. From his profile I was not able to learn much. I did see that he recommends that kids get their parents’ permission before reading the site. An excellent recommendation.

I read a number of stories in different categories and found that most of them were pretty bad. I’m all for user generated content and citizen journalism; but those things can’t simply become synonyms for shitty writing. Based on what I saw on NowPublic, that’s a real risk. To make matters worse, Time Magazine has named the site one of the 50 Best Web Sites of 2007.

Social media and user generated content are still nascent and need to prove their merits to a largely skeptical society. Producing sub-sub-sub-par content, while perhaps satisfying for its creators, may well alienate the people this new media is intended to serve.

[tags]NowPublic, Citizen Journalism, Crowd Powered Media, News, Social Media, Journalism[/tags]

Tag clouds: gadget, gizmo, gew-gaw or generation gap?

Yesterday I had a meeting with some smart people – really, legitimately smart people – to discuss creating a Web presence for the organization they run. I’d brought a few examples of sites that show a balance between presenting as an expert group and an advocacy group. One of these included a tag cloud on the front page.

Several people voiced concern that the tag cloud could be confusing or alienating and that it was something that didn’t add anything to the site. I’ve been thinking about that since yesterday and totally disagree. This is a device for visualizing the prominence or popularity of ideas. It can be viewed as the equivalent of an index for non-linear content. Would these smart guys argue that books would be better without indexes? I don’t think so. If you think about it though, an index is a far less intuitive means for displaying and organizing ideas.

First of all, you need to know which ideas are important before the index will do much good. You also need to remove yourself from the content in order to access the index; and finally, it is only by reviewing the contents of an index (which may span several pages) carefully that you can get a sense of the weight or prominence of the ideas it includes. Compare that to a tag cloud. It can be persistent on every page of content. By using size, it makes it very easy to see which ideas are most important and it allows access to those ideas in a simple and organized way.

I don’t know, it makes perfect sense to me. Does anyone find tag clouds confusing?

[tags]tag clouds, social media, generation gap, index. visualization[/tags]

Digging Stickam

Back in January I signed up for and wrote about Stickam, a live video community. I fooled around with it for a while, could imagine how it might be used but never really got that into it.

A few weeks ago it popped into my head to try it again and since then I’ve been using it almost every day. Not for anything profound or earth-shattering; but only to connect with people and pass some time in pleasant company. This past week though the site has been having trouble due to an increased load. I’m hoping that things will settle down again soon.

[tags]video, stickam[/tags]

Bully for Buzzword

Back in March I saw Virtual Ubiquity present their Web-based word processor – Buzzword – at WebInno11. The demo really kicked ass and I wanted to get my hands on it. In early June I got my chance when I was invited into the beta program. I’ve fooled around with Buzzword on and off for a while and can say that while it’s clearly still beta I am very impressed and excited.

It’s a really polished looking product that has functionality beyond those of some existing commercial software. It’s formatting capabilities in particular need to be seen to be believed. I also really like the ability to share editing of documents with others – I had to test it on my own but it worked really well. At the moment, you can’t spell check (which I depend on) or save documents locally (which, like spell, will be available).

Check out what some others are saying about Buzzword:

2.0 – Rich Internet Experience
GigaOM
Venture Beat

Given that this is relatively early-stage software, it is a very strong effort and one that I’ll be using more and more as additional features come online.

[tags]Virtual Ubiquity, word processor, buzzword[/tags]

Photowalk wrap

Last Thursday’s photowalk sure was a lot of fun. Ten of us met on the Esplanade and hung around there for a while. We headed into the Back Bay and headed down toward the Public Garden alternating between Marlborough Street, the public alleys and Comm Ave. The chimneys and chimney pots were something that caught my attention. I went to college at Emerson back in the 80s and spent a lot of time in the area but never notice the chimneys. Here are a couple of the ones I liked:

Back Bay Chimney

Back Bay Chimney

Back Bay Chimney

We ran across a group of people at the First and Second Church (at Marlborough and Berkeley) discussing a kid’s book one of them had recently published. I took a few shots in the area but nothing special.

The two Hancock buildings looked great that evening and I did take a couple of pictures of each:

Old Hancock

Hancock Tower

The Public Garden is always pretty nice. I’ve wanted a shot of the ether statue for a while and was able to grab one:

Ether Statue

After the Garden we headed down Charles Street and over the top of Beacon Hill. There were a few nice things to see up there. Here’s one I like of a utility symbol mural on Revere Street:

street symbols

We refreshed at Kinsale and went our separate ways. I still had to walk over the river to get back to my car in Kendall Square. Crossing the Longfellow Bridge, I stopped a few times to take shots of traffic passing. Here are a couple:

Red Lines - Longfellow Bridge

bent light Storrow Drive

All in all, it was a pretty fun night. I got some good pictures and am looking forward to seeing everyone else’s shots soon.

[tags]Boston, SMCBoston, Photography, social media[/tags]

One of the dumbest stories I’ve seen in a long time

I saw this on my local news last night; and today it is on the front page of CNN.com: Experts warn of lightning-strike injuries with iPods.

Emergency physicians report treating other patients with burns from freak accidents while using personal electronic devices such as beepers, Walkman players and laptop computers outdoors during storms.

Now maybe I’m missing something here, but getting stuck by lightning – with or without and iPod – is a pretty big deal. The coverage did point out that personal electronic devices don’t increase ones likelihood of being struck . . . so why did anyone even bother doing the story? As a PR guy, when I read or watch the news, I find myself asking, “who’s behind this story? what might be their agenda?” and frankly I have no idea about this one. Just dumb.

[tags]lightning, ipod, injury[/tags]

Photowalk tomorrow – I’m excited . . . but should I be?

Yes the photowalk I’ve been planning is almost here and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to it; but after my own recent experience with urban outdoor photography and a spate of other posts along similar veins, I wonder if I ought to be.

Let me give you a taste for what people have been saying:

A few days ago, I fretted about the possibility that Boston might follow places like New York and Silver Spring, Maryland, and try to restrict what you can take pictures of in public places.

Turns out it’s already happening, even without any action by municipal officials.

Universal Hub – Restricting street photography in the Boston area

Welcome to Boston

Also known as NAZI FUCKING GERMANY! Or the SOVIET FUCKING UNION! I’ve written about the idiocy of our domestic reaction to terrorism once or twice, but it continues to piss me off. I was up at an unholy hour this morning to get someone to Boston’s South Station. It was a wicked nice, foggy morning, so afterward I thought it would be a good idea to wander around the waterfront and take some pictures. Silly me: PHOTOGRAPHY IS A TERRORIST ACTIVITY.

fornya.com – Welcome to Boston

So how will some number of camera-toting clowns snapping the city be seen by the powers that be? Will it be recognized as a legal and protected assembly of carefree clicksters? Or will we be viewed as a coven of creeps casing the city for strange and nefarious purposes. Being an over-the-toptimist, I always expect the best . . .

How about you? Have you felt the man bearing down on you for doing your thing with camera in hand?

If you want to come and join the fun, here are the details:

Thursday, July 12th
6:00PM
The Esplanade (at Gloucester St.)
Map

[tags]Boston, photography, trouble[/tags]