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A New Venture

July 24, 2010

Hi folks. I’ve temporarily abandoned this blog in favour of writing TV reviews, something I’m currently feeling more passionate towards. So if you’re interested, check it out. Right now I’m reviewing season one of the show Alias, starting right from the beginning. So come, follow me to a new home and, hopefully, enjoy.

Paywalling Blogs is Good News, Sort Of

June 12, 2010

Blogs Are Becoming More Mainstream

I love blogs. I really do. I spend a great deal of my time reading them, on subjects from television to intellectual property law to food to my friends’ miscellaneous travelogues/music reviews/rambling blogs. I read a lot more blogs than I do newspapers or magazines. So why does it make me happy that the Financial Times (FT) is putting one of its blogs behind a paywall? It will help make blogs more of an integral part of newspapers and less of an optional addendum.

Some of the paper is stuck behind a paywall

Paywalls for blogs is a good sign

Many online news sources, from the FT to Reuters, have blogs. But these blogs are usually detached from the main site, as though they were an afterthought. Someone at the newspaper saw how many people like blogs and thought: “My newspaper should have a blog.” This separation can be as simple as the URL.

To go back to the FT as an example, one of their blogs that I read, Dear Economist, is hosted at blogs.ft.com/undercover rather than ft.com/undercover. This might seem superficial to you, but it’s representative of the way newspapers treat blogs. They’re not quite part of the newspaper, they’re often written differently (sometimes, the amount of links used in a blog  is out of the ordinary, too) and sometimes the opinion of the blogger is not the same as the opinion of the employer:

Felix Salmon is a Reuters blogger. Any views expressed may or may not be his own, but in any case are very unlikely to be those of his employer.

This quote is meant as a joke (I think) but to me it signifies even more that blogs are somehow less than newspaper columnists. When was the last time you picked up a newspaper and saw a disclaimer like this under the name of your favourite TV critic columnist? I’ve never seen anything like it in print.

Columnist and bloggers: what’s the difference?

Online-only news sources I read, which are basically blogs (here’s a food-related example), often have multiple contributing authors who write on specific subjects. The difference between the way Serious Eats organizes their posts and the way the FT does is that all of the posts are part of Serious Eats. They’re not separate entities like the FT bloggers.

So I am looking on the bright side of the paywall extension to blogs and hoping that the blogs might one day get more recognition in print. As people start to read regular print columnists on internet-enabled devices (iPads, smartphones, etc.) the integration of blogs becomes more important. I want the FT to ask themselves what the difference between a blogger and a columnist is, and start to realize that maybe there’s merit to merging the two, perhaps hosting them at columnists.ft.com.


Old Billy Was Right

June 10, 2010

Let’s Kill All the Lawyers, Kill ‘em Tonight

This song’s on my mind because I just saw The Eagles play a few nights ago, and only last night realized that this was a Shakespeare reference (thanks to a silly lawyer drama that I watch). But the sentiment of the line I quoted has also been on my mind a lot with regard to the law firm of Dunlap, Grubb, & Weaver and their campaign of suing thousands of alleged file-sharers (or threatening to sue, at least).

Justice might be blind, but these lawyers know exactly what they're after (money)

But it’s legal

Yeah, what these lawyers are doing isn’t illegal. The actual laws they are enforcing are good: protect copyrights, get money for indie filmmakers (including the makers of The Hurt Locker and Far Cry). They even go as far as to say that their intent is to “SAVE CINEMA.” The unfortunate part is how they go about doing it and the maximum fine that exists for illegally purchasing a movie.  Here’s a hint, the maximum fine for illegally downloading a movie is a LOT more than the max for shoplifting in Washington, D.C. where the law firm is located. $150,000 for downloading, $300 for shoplifting.

I think one of the worst parts of this campaign is that they advertise as a company that wants to save cinema. Suing individual downloaders is not going to do that. Being creative and coming up with a way to get people to see these indie movies (hey, did you know that lots of people downloading a movie means your movie gets buzz, and so people might go see it?) will be worth a lot more in the long run than grabbing cash from the alleged file-sharers.

Why alleged?

I keep saying alleged because all the law firm gets as evidence is the IP address of the supposed criminals. If we lived in a world where it was completely impossible for two people to use the same computer, the same wireless at the neighbourhood coffee shop, to spoof another person’s IP, etc. etc. then this would be pretty solid evidence. Your IP would be like your computer’s DNA or fingerprint.

But unfortunately your computer’s IP is more like your favourite perfume. It can rub off on other people, they can buy the same kind as you, or just steal a spritz here and there when you’re not looking. Does that sound like shoddy evidence to you? It sounds like shoddy evidence to me.

Other solutions

A commenter on Ars Technica’s Tech Law and Policy blog suggested the following:

Downloading one file for personal use: $5 for an MP3, $40-50 for a movie, $100 for a video game.
Sharing one file: $25-50 for an MP3, $150-300 for a movie, $500-1000 for a video game.

This seems much more reasonable. Unfortunately, at this price, the US Copyright Group probably wouldn’t find it very profitable to sue all these alleged file-sharers. Fortunately, there are groups and judges more sympathetic to the victims of Group’s extortion-like suits, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Judge Rosemary Collyer.

Privacy: How Important Is it Really?

May 29, 2010

Privacy Has New Meaning

Privacy, especially with regard to Facebook, has been in the news a lot recently. If you’re not caught up, or don’t nerd out about this stuff like me, here are a few links to get you caught up. Now that you’re informed, here’s a statement you won’t hear often: I side with Mark Zuckerberg on some of the privacy issues (though I don’t support advertisers or applications stealing your information without your consent), namely that on Facebook, you do want to share.

These people are even sharing their arms

As privacy controls become stronger and easier to use, people will share less. I know that I do. If you’re not friends with me on Facebook, all you’ll see is a picture and my sex. But this emphasis on hiding every single detail about yourself seems overblown. Unlike when Facebook began, many people are now smarter about what they share on Facebook. I don’t treat it as a friend that I can talk to about anything.

Share, but pay attention to what you share

I moderate what I share on Facebook. I won’t tell it if I’m in a relationship or if I have to go to the doctor. But on the flip side, I like that I can talk to people on it and especially that people will read what I say, even if it’s nonsensical. And with more privacy controls, people will inevitably talk to fewer people; and isn’t that not the point of social media?

Consider LinkedIn. I use LinkedIn. On it, you can see a lot more about me than on my Facebook. Basically the entire contents of my resume is there, and that’s not uncommon. Unlike Facebook, you don’t even need to be connected with me on LinkedIn to see this information and that’s because the service only works when as many people as possible can view your information.

You really do want to tell me about yourself

But maybe you’re saying that Facebook and LinkedIn aren’t a good comparison. One is for friends, one is for getting work. But I think the idea is the same. People want to share. At least, I do. I tweet. I blog. I have LinkedIn and Facebook profiles. When I do these things, I’m telling random people on the internet (the scariest type of people) all about myself. And when people come to my blog and comment who I’ve never met before? I’m damned excited.

The point of all this is that I believe people are putting too much emphasis on Facebook’s many privacy debacles. Simply the act of putting some information up on Facebook, like a photo of you or how cute you think your new puppy is, is a sign that you want to share it. It’s great that you want control over who you share it with, but really the important control is that you pay attention to what you share. You don’t tell Facebook things that are private, so in the end, why do you need to make sure that Facebook keeps it private?

Think about Facebook as though it’s a friend, but also a huge gossip. Anything you tell it gets spread around. Moderate what you tell it, and you can still get along great. Tell all, and you’ll end up on the front page of the Facebook equivalent of the tabloids: everyone you know talking about how you broke up with your significant other and the first person you told was your good buddy Facebook.

How E-Books Might Change More Than Just A Business Model

April 29, 2010

How simple links might change everything

In a blog post, it’s a simple task to turn some text into a link. It’s not much different in an e-book; the coding and the process, yes, but the idea, not really. But links and blog posts have always gone together pretty well. Books, on the other hand, well, they’re entering new territory.

The books they are a changin'

How will links change the way we write and read books?

Links are intrusive in printed books. They’re either in the margins or in the text, but either way they’re asking you to put down the book, find a computer type in a link. You can’t copy and paste the URL or just click on it. But that doesn’t mean links haven’t been used in printed material — especially textbooks, reference works and bibliographies/citations.

So when you have a website that’s related to a book you’re writing, what do you do? You probably won’t want to create a related links section, say, at the end of a chapter, which is sort of one way that blogs provide links. To be as unintrusive as possible, e-books probably want to imitate other internet writing and just link certain text, but this means creating possibly different versions of a book for the e-book and the printed book.

Linking changes things

As I’ve said before, linking to things makes explaining some things redundant. When you’re writing an e-book, you should take this into consideration. Instead of including a whole chapter or section on what Wikipedia is in, say, a book about interesting websites, you could link to their about page. This leaves more room for analysis, and for original information.

But since the same can’t be done in a printed book (links are irritating in printed matter, much of the time), it’s important to consider how to treat e-books in the future. Questions like “how much should a printed copy and an online copy be different?” and “how will the popularity of linking in books help sell more books” as well as “can/should we advertise in e-books?” come to mind.

Advertising in e-books

If people start advertising in an e-book, it opens the door to selling premium e-books (ad-less) and also selling ads in e-books. I still won’t be buying e-books, regardless of ads, for a while, because they’re inconvenient for me (I usually read books in places where I don’t have my computer/readers are expensive). But I suspect people might not be entirely adverse to ads in e-books, especially publishers; extra revenue is hard to come by in publishing, and capitalism usually beats out squeamishness.

Blog Archetypes: A Forum By Another Name

April 25, 2010

What is The Ideas Project?

The Idea Project is a collection of articles, videos, links, podcasts and other media that focus on communications and social media. It has videos from experts like Clay Shirky and Chris Anderson, an editor at Wired. You can navigate through various themes (Business/Investing, New Applications, etc.), a list of experts or a Q&A section.

The Ideas Project's Idea Map

What’s the archetype?

It’s not a site I immediately understood. But as soon as I found it, I knew I wanted to write about it. It’s not one element of the site that’s unique; there are other sites that have a question/answer format, a video format, etc. but the combination of all its elements. It’s a lot like a well-moderated open thread on a forum. Community members and experts pop by to give their opinion and answer questions while a lot of other non-members (lurkers) sit on the sidelines and watch the goings-on.

What’s so good about The Ideas Project?

For a site about communication and social media, it’s important to reflect the good qualities of social media (providing interesting links, connecting people) and The Ideas Project does so admirably. The home page is clearly designed to introduce people to the kind of content the site provides and also the newest, highest recommended stuff.

Here’s some content

Last time I wrote a Blog Archetypes post, I put up some samples of articles to illustrate a point. I’m not really doing the same thing here, but in this and future Blog Archetypes posts I’ll give you a few links to stuff I read or watched on the site I’m talking about.

Social networks are a platform for joint creation

The web is evolving into a massive ideas exchange

Real-time connections are “ambient intimacy,” like in a village

Which Widgets Work

April 11, 2010

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube — Do We Need Widgets for Everything?

Before you read past this sentence, take a minute and look at a blog or news website that you frequent. Back yet? What widgets did you see there? (By widgets, I am referring to little boxes that appear either on the right or left side of the main body of a website. On my blog, the widgets you see are my Twitter feed, a list of categories, and recent posts.)

This wolf is not interested in how many Facebook friends your website has.

Facebook Widgets

Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these widgets before. But I want to talk about the one that tells you how many Facebook fans a website has and displays the pictures of (usually) 10 random fans. Every time I see it, I cringe. I couldn’t care less about the fact that a given website has 5,625 fans and that four of them are named Deanna, Tracy, Michelle and Ralph. That’s not a random selection, it’s from looking at a safe social networking practice article on Examiner.com.

Websites should avoid widgets like the Facebook friends one. Widgets aren’t about displaying your fan base or popularity but about helping your reader. If you want to have a button that allows visitors to become a fan on Facebook, great (that’s included as part of the Facebook fan widget). But keep it small and focused so it doesn’t clutter; having some empty space in your sidebar isn’t a problem.

Which Widgets Work

If the Facebook fan widget is an example of what doesn’t work for me–it doesn’t help the reader, feels like they’re thrusting “become a fan” in your face–what does work?

  • Popular articles. This widget is great for getting visitors to look deeper into your content without you having to link to older articles in each new post, which can be awkward if it starts to look too forced.
  • Recent articles. See above.
  • Related videos. Maureen Ryan’s TV blog is a great example of “related videos” done well. The videos are always current and often related to a specific article — they’re not just gratuitously there. Also see all the other widgets on her blog, such as the “Tonight in Prime Time” schedule. Tying your widgets in to your site content is the best way to make them relevant and useful rather than just dead weight in your sidebar.
  • Blog roll. Related blogs/websites that visitors might be interested in.
  • Tags and categories. Help your readers find the content they like; making it difficult to search for specific content is a good way to get me to leave your website.

Above all, widgets should be of use to the reader. Even advertisements do more for me than seeing how many Facebook fans your website has. And if advertising is more appealing to me than your widget, that is a problem.

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