Category Archives: Web/Tech

Push Button Publishing

Here's a very cool little piece at Wired showing how Blogger spawned a lot of the current "push button publishing" services we know today:

At the close of 1998, there were 23 known weblogs on the Internet. A year later there were tens of thousands. What changed? Pyra Labs launched Blogger, the online tool that gave push-button publishing to the people. It was a revolutionary web product made by a revolutionary web of people who went on to build much of the modern net. Here’s how Pyra propagated.

The "family tree" you find when you click through to Wired does a great job showing how the people behind blogger went on to create/influence Twitter, Square, Adobe Creative Cloud, etc.

Blogageddon

In the span of 18 hours I learned that my RSS manager of choice, Google Reader, is going dark as of July 1, 2013 and that the Godfather of Blogging in the Triad is shutting down his blog for a while.  I understand Ed's motivation – I long ago morphed into a leisurely poster here because I just didn't have the time or energy to manage an ongoing dialogue like he has for 12 years – but I'm still really bummed to see him pull the plug. It will be interesting to see if anything fills the online void in Greensboro.

A serious hat tip to Ed for providing a valuable online forum for the Greensboro community. I hope he enjoys the peace and quiet.

Battle of the Unpopulars

Who do you hate more: your municipal government or your phone/cable/internet company? The answer to that question probably depends on which one failed you or which one's bill you most recently grumbled about paying, but after reading about a battle in the NC legislature over the ability of municipalities to provide high speed internet, you might be surprised at how you feel about your local government. From "The Empire Lobbies Back":

After a city in North Carolina built a Fiber-to-the-Home network competing with Time Warner Cable, the cable giant successfully lobbied to take that decision away from other cities.

The city of Wilson’s decision and resulting network was recently examined in a case study by Todd O’Boyle and Christopher Mitchell titled Carolina’s Connected Community: Wilson Gives Greenlight to Fast Internet. The new report picks up with Wilson’s legacy: an intense multiyear lobbying campaign by Time Warner Cable, AT&T, CenturyLink, and others to bar communities from building their own networks. The report examines how millions of dollars bought restrictions that encourage cable and DSL monopolies rather than new choices for residents and businesses…

Big cable and DSL companies try year after year to create barriers to community­‐owned networks. They only have to succeed once; because of their lobbying might, they have near limitless power to stop future bills that would restore local authority. North Carolina’s residents and businesses are now stuck with higher prices and less opportunity for economic development due to these limitations on local authority.

The report, which details industries efforts over the years that eventually resulted in the 2011 legislation that effectively banned municipal netorks, can be found here – and yes it's fairly biased, but still raises some really good points. One excerpt:

Far from providing a "level playing field" the Act has stifled public investment in community broadband networks and no one anticipates a local government building a network as long as it remains in effect. This reality should trouble all in North Carolina, as it cannot be globally, or even regionally, competitive simply by relying on last-generation connections from Time Warner Cable, CenturyLink, or AT&T.

Cities near the border of North Carolina, including Danville, Virginia; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Bristol in both Tennessee and Virginia all offer gigabit services via municipal utilities. Chattanooga's minimum network spped of 50 Mbps both downstream and upstream dwarfs what is available from DSL or cable networks. Many east coast communities outside of the Carolinas have access to Verizon's fiber optic FiOS, which also dramatically outperforms cable and DSL services. Services from AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and CenturyLink cannot compare to the services offered on modern networks.

Sounds like we in the Carolinas are doomed to live in a digital backwater for the foreseeable future. Perhaps municipal networks aren't the answer, but in this era of intense competition between states/cities to recruit new businesses wouldn't it be nice if our municipalities had kick-butt networks in their economic development quivers? And if the private sector can't provide it do we really want our cities/towns hamstrung by the inability to provide it themselves?

So I Just Enrolled in a Course at Cal-Berkeley (Kind Of)

With two kids in college I'm offered many, many opportunities to recall my own years in school. One of my biggest regrets about how I approached my education is that I saw it as something I needed to do in order to not disappoint my parents, to set myself up for a decent job/career, and to have lots of fun partying in the process. I didn't approach it the way I would now – as an opportunity to learn about interesting topics from people who have spent their lives becoming experts on those topics. 

Luckily for me there's a relatively new development in the world of higher education – massive open online courses (MOOCs).  From a story in the Wall Street Journal:  

Professor Jeremy Adelman has taught a world-history class at Princeton University for several years, but as he led about 60 students through 700 years of history on the ivy-covered campus this past fall, one thing was different: Another 89,000 students tuned into his lectures free of charge via Coursera, an online platform.

Those kinds of numbers, and their potential for remaking higher education, have generated plenty of excitement about massive open online courses—dubbed MOOCs. They've also lured venture investors and universities, who have put millions of dollars into companies like Udacity, Coursera and edX, which partner with schools or instructors to offer these courses.

So here I am in my middle years, 25 years removed from my last fling with higher education, and I have the change to learn at the (digital) knees of some of the finest professors from the finest universities in the land. I'm sticking my toe in the water by taking the "Introduction to Statistics" course offered by University of California-Berkeley on edX. Why stats? It and Finance are the two courses I actively avoided taking in school because they were "hard" and I've regretted it on oh-so-many occassions during my career.  Later on I'm hoping to dabble in some courses in various other areas that strike my fancy, and to be honest I'm as excited about this as I've been about anything in a long time.

If you're interested here are the four MOOC resources listed in the Journal story:

Don’t Be a Grammar Goon

Tempted to make fun of someone on Facebook because he doesn't know the difference between lose and loose? Probably not a good idea, and it might actually mean you're a bit of a whank:

There was a time that it gave me a blush of pride to be referred to as “the Spelling Sergeant” or “the Punctuation Police”. I would gleefully tear a syntactic strip out of anybody who fell victim to the perils of poor parallelism or the menace of misplaced modifiers. I railed against atrostrophes and took a red pen to signs posted in staff rooms, bulletin boards and public washrooms. I was, to put it bluntly, really, really annoying…

So if I crap on Jonny’s spelling, I’m either reinforcing an oppressive status quo, or picking on a person with a disability, or both. And taking part in these kinds of insults, even when they’re directed at an Internet troll, encourages other people to participate in this kind of shaming. It’s frankly also pretty ineffective as a debate tactic. I’m not going to change Jonny’s mind, nor help him improve his writing abilities, by making fun of him. He may be a jerk because he’s never learned how to express himself in a healthy way, and I’m not doing much to help him. And reducing my arguments to the level of ad homonym attacks debases my own credibility – because if I have a valid point to make, I should be able to make it without resorting to pettiness. Furthermore, it is guaranteed that somewhere out there on the Interwebs, there is someone I agree with whose reasoned arguments are disparaged, dismissed or ignored because they come wrapped in a package of nonstandard language.

This is no trifling issue, either. I like to shock the new tutors I train by quoting statistics from theInternational Adult Literacy Survey. I ask them to estimate, in a developed country like Canada or the U.S., what percentage of the population has literacy skills below the very basic level needed to function well in our society. People usually guess ten percent, fifteen percent, maybe as much as twenty-five. Then I pull out the sad, stunning facts: nearly half of all North American adults cannot cope with complex written material of the sort that the other half of us take completely for granted. HALF, you guys. This should be considered anational crisis. Not fodder for sport.

The blog post that's the source of these opinions is titled Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People's Grammar on the Internet and it's well worth the read, if for no other reason than absorb the list of privileges we literate members of society enjoy. Here's a sample:

  • I can easily and safely navigate my way around the city I live in because I understand all of the posted signs, warnings and notifications.
  • I can make healthy and informed choices about the products I purchase because I can accurately read their labels and price tags.
  • I can safely use pharmaceuticals prescribed to me without having to remember the doctor’s or pharmacist’s instructions because I can accurately read their labels.
  • When required to visit doctors, hospitals, government agencies, banks, or legal offices, I do not have to invent excuses to bring paperwork home so that someone else can read it to me. If I live alone, I do not have to expose myself to judgement and ridicule by asking the doctor, nurse, agent, clerk, lawyer or other employee to read it to me.
  • I can independently make informed medical, legal, political and financial decisions about myself and my family because I can read and understand important documents.

The companion pieces to this post are also well worth the read. You can find them here and there.

No Email Will Replace a Kiss

During his keynote address at the National Apartment Association education conference last week Tom Brokaw emphasized the increasing importance of in-person communication as people, especially young people, have come to rely more and more on digital forms of communication. He truly hammered his point home when he said, "No email will replace a kiss. No Tweet will replace the whisper of 'I love you' in your ear."

Triad Newspapers Losing the Battle with TV Competitors Online

The lede for this months-old article on NetNewsCheck says it all:

Greensboro is one of those rare places where the local newspaper site doesn’t lead; in fact, the News & Record’s news-record.com trails all three TV news sites in this media market of 1.8 million, according to comScore.

This won't come as a surprise to anyone paying attention, and if you want to know how long the News & Records digital presence has been an issue all you have to do is check out Ed Cone's or Roch's sites and search "news & record."

In fact Ed's quoted in the story:

To Ed Cone, a local journalist and the blogger behindedcone.com, the paper is getting its just desserts. “They gutted their website,” he said, criticizing news-record.com’s new content strategy. “Why would anybody go to their website?”

Really the N&R's site is a story of lost opportunity and it's a shame, because newspapers really had a natural early advantage in the online news market when it was still largely text based. Unfortunately they missed that opportunity and as the action moves to multimedia and mobile apps they'll be playing a very tough game of catchup with the digital properties that have TV DNA and are accustomed to telling stories in short, multimedia bursts.

The article really is a good read, not so much because of the disection of the N&R's ill-fated digital strategy, but because it takes a look at the explosion of mobile users and the trend towards video/multimedia delivery of the news. 

Last note – the article doesn't mention the Winston-Salem Journal or High Point Enterprise, but I suspect the news is even worse for them.  A quick search of the Alexa rankings of the Journal, the Enterprise and the News & Record shows that the N&R's ranking is higher than the Journal's and the Enterprise barely makes a blip (i.e. its ranking is terrible). Really none of the papers' online efforts appear to be holding up well in their competition with the TV sites, and unless something changes soon that situation is likely going to get worse.