Monthly Archives: June 2011

app review: color = better concept than execution

Say you’re getting ready to host an alumni reunion or open house event, and you’d like your visitors to create a community-driven photo album. This is, in theory, possible with the Color geosocial photo application. But good luck making it work easily.

Ed Tatton of Westchester Community College and Greg Kie of SUNY Canton talked a few of us attending the SUNYCUAD Conference earlier this month into trying to create just such a photo album. You’d think people who work in web communication and/or social media for a living could figure this out with little difficulty. Ah, not so much.

The resulting community album (see active view. above right) took a lot of work. Taking the picture is easy enough: Just open the app and click on the color wheel (center button, colored when you’re in camera mode). But for a social application, the real difficulty comes when you try to get, you know, social.

For what seemed like an hour, about a half-dozen people who work on the web for a living had great difficulty creating a community album. I created any number of albums no one could join and that I couldn’t delete. Finally, after seemingly doing the same thing over and over, something worked and suddenly we had a shared album. You can see the results of a couple of days of fiddling at right. As for the buttons along the bottom: The map icon stands for “take photos together” (if you can figure out how to do it), the globe means “see all your albums” (for a globe?), the color wheel means take the picture, the calendar means “view your albums by day” and the envelope means “messages you’ve received” (i.e. likes and comments).

Note that you cannot friend anyone for a permanent relationship, which — given the appeal of enriched connections in social media — seems an oversight. After you take a photo, you can press a paper-airplane icon to share it by Twitter, Facebook, e-mail or SMS. Yes, that’s OR, not and.

Looking at Instragram, which I consider a great geosocial photo app, the competition isn’t even close. Instagram encourages you to find and friend contacts, and offers easy ways to do so. When you take a picture, you can share it simultaneously via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, Flickr, Tumblr, Foursquare AND Posterous (if you want). While the geolocation feature with Instagram is still buggy for me, you can create an album via hashtag — as the #pancaketweetup album at right shows. Instragram’s menu includes helpful words that break things down very simply: Feed, Popular, Share, News and Profile, and submenus are intuitive as well. Interaction via comments and likes are very easy.

All apps have to start somewhere, and Color does bring a good concept to the table. That it is difficult to come together at that table with others is unfortunate — since connections and content are the currency of social media — but maybe the app’s developers will figure a way for its execution to improve.


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august 2005: milestone in demise of journalism, rise of personal narrative?

[Last week I was on a committee reviewing high school applicants for a scholarship sponsored by our local press club. Applicants were bright and articulate, but of all the samples they provided, only one constituted what I consider traditional objective journalism; all else were first-person narratives or editorials. As this media historian wondered whether we should be concerned about the demise of what we’ve considered journalism in favor of the personal narrative — and what that means for all of us — I recalled my August 2005 blog entry that, in retrospect, could be read as eerily prophetic.]

A manchild talks about his enthusiasm for collecting sports sneakers. A woman talks about her business of building customized homes. Deepak Chopra talks about his work as a self-help guru. Cliffjumpers, skateboarders and models parade across the screen to tell their stories before disappearing within a few minutes.

Welcome to the world of Current TV, the much-ballyhooed brainchild of Al Gore. How long you stay depends on how much you like to hear people talk about themselves.

Current TV positions itself as the voice of everyman, a power-to-the-people engine that tells stories about interesting folks. And maybe it does that. But the impression that I get is that it’s about people who like saying look at me! angling for their 15 (or less) minutes of fame, as well as studio hosts who aim for a bit of MTV attitude, albeit with a little more intelligence. Sometimes. (A report on cliff jumping was followed by a young telegenic host exclaiming That video was siiick! Wha?)

Since some whose opinions I respect like the network, I worried that I was alone in this observation … but Kay McFadden, the Seattle Times TV critic, admits similar feelings. If Current’s creators got one thing right in targeting the 18-to-34 crowd, it’s the relentless “I-I-I” approach to reporting, she writes. Like the Web log mania presently in vogue on the Internet, no story is worthwhile unless it can be sifted through the presenter’s personal history. An hour of Current TV contains more talking-to-the-camera asides than an entire night of Fox sitcoms.

The network started behind the 8-ball to me (Argh! More first-person prattling!) since Gore and Co. bought the broadcast license of NewsWorld International, a CBC-produced network that brought home reports from their journalists and other top news agencies around the world. Longform reports on everything from the tsunami aftermath to the Iraqi elections to the London attacks had great depth and storytelling, offering an excellent alternative to the America-centric reporting of U.S. networks. But the big, global pictures of NWI have been replaced by the little, first-person narratives of Current TV. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather know more about international political currents than why some guy wants to collect sneakers.

OK, some of the pieces are quite well-done, and I’ll take the surprising cinema verite of Current over the calculated disinformation of old Gore foe Fox News any day. But ultimately, Current seems a jumble of less-than-seven-minute personal narratives, with all the sound and fury signifying nothing but another attempt to snare the 18-to-34 demographic which, in McFadden’s words, ends up feeling even more packaged than a late-night infomercial.

If, as some pundits suggest, Current TV is the future of television, maybe I should just get rid of my cable now and spend that money on books instead. Maybe it’s just me.


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ingredients + improvisation = keys to success anywhere?

A misadventure of the weekend for #pancaketweetup — which strayed from delight to despair to desperation to determination to diligence to deliciousness — made me ponder some key tools to success anyone’s workplace. What I learned: Ingredients and improvisation mean a lot.

For those who don’t know, #pancaketweetup is a monthly virtual online breakfast gathering via social media. It started as a joke between @LaneJoplin and I, but now attracts dozens of participants worldwide, has seen meals from every continent but Antarctica (here’s hoping) and even served as a signature part of the Canadian Post-Secondary Education conference (#pseweb). You can make other foods than pancakes, as demonstrated when I planned to pull together leftovers for what I originally termed Found-Object Omelette on Saturday morning.

The ingredients themselves were quality — eggs, green pepper, mozzerella cheese, sausage and pepperoni, most leftover from homemade pizza — and intriguing enough that my friend Dan Rapp the ad man dubbed it a “Pizza Omelette.” Fair enough. But then I kept having to add eggs to balance the multitude of other ingredients as the butter didn’t fold in and by the time I put it into the pan, it had all the makings of a grand train wreck.

Throughout the process, I kept improvising the mix, the consistency, the plan. Spatula in hand, I toiled ceaselessly once it hit the pan, until I released it was more like scrambled eggs than an omelette. With this new current emerging, I hoisted my sails to tack in this new direction and — voila — the result was what I called Pizza Scramble (see recipe). And you know what — it was really good! And enough left for dinner as well!

Yes, I’ve just bored you with my cooking story, but I have a point. The end product worked because I had good ingredients and no fear of improvisation. In the workplace, I’d say ingredients involve putting the right people in place and giving them the tools to succeed. And improvisation is a necessary part of any experience (to the point I recommend to students they take an improv theatre course).

With the right employees, you can accomplish a lot, even if they don’t necessarily fit into some kind of cookie-cutter hole. I like to work with folks showing enthusiasm, growth potential and willingness to learn over those who may look better on paper but won’t want to learn, grow and be part of a team. As for improvisation … when is the last time you’ve had a day that went according to plan? The ability to think on your feet, brainstorm new (sometimes crazy) plans and seek alternate routes to meet your goals when necessary are critical when management decisions may involve seconds, or nanoseconds. Where being able to turn on a dime is a trait beyond value.

Moreover, it reminds us the greatest adventures involve trying new things. As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs … even if you don’t end up making an omelette after all.

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recipe (for disaster?): pizza scramble (nee found-object omelette)

6 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup mozzarella (approx.)
1/4 cup chopped pepperoni (approx.)
1 Johnsonville sausage (jalapeno and cheese = my favorite)
1 medium-sized green pepper
large dollop of optimism

Serves 2 hungry people, or 1 hungry person for lunch and dinner

Slice up green pepper into manageable pieces (less than 1 inch squares). Microwave sausage, then realize this has made it easier to slice; slice it anyway. Slice mozzarella into (attempted) small cubes.

Mix together 4 eggs. Add 2 tablespoons butter. Realize this doesn’t mix well. Upgrade from fork to wisk to hand mixer. Panic. Add 2 additional eggs to account for large number of ingredients.

Pour mix into pan. Realize it will not make omelette as intended. Panic . Decide to serve it as a pizza scramble, sort of like a western scramble, but not. Break up dish a la scrambled eggs. Work hard at scraping to keep it from sticking to pan.

When it looks done, place on plate. Consume. Enjoy.

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no gurus: we are all social media students.

Perhaps no term draws greater disdain from web communication practitioners than the phrase social media guru. It’s vain, it’s pretentious, it’s arrogant … and, if you use it to describe yourself, it’s almost certainly wrong.

Social media is an ever-evolving landscape. New platforms, apps and communities appear all the time. Best practices are established, demolished and reshaped. And Facebook is bound to change everything it does at any moment. At best, we are all social media students — paying attention, comparing notes with colleagues and realizing this field requires non-stop learning.

By all means, seek out experts among those who have tried (and failed) things in social media. And seek out classmates — those traveling this field’s fascinating learning curve and studying it together. Twitter is a never-ending classroom where even the most seasoned can learn something from novices who express great ideas or insights. Even with my geosocial presentation last month at PSEWEB and later this week (!) at SUNYCUAD, I expect to learn from my audience, just as I learn by attending any presentation.

So if someone says they know everything about social media, then they know nothing about social media. But if we admit we are still learning social media, anything is possible.


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if you’re getting criticized, at least you’re doing something.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven “sure-fire” literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.
— William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I picked up a copy of Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! over the weekend at the Oswego County SPCA‘s yard sale fundraiser. In addition to being full of words spiteful and sensational over works famous and forgotten, it offers a great lesson for everyone working hard at something who suffers the barbs of the jealous, the ignorant and the uninformed.

[I]n the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.
— Mark Twain on James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Deerslayer”

At conferences and in online communities, I hear from such folk regularly. They talk of some exciting new direction they try to steer their institution toward, only to deal with cross-currents of those who prefer still waters to charting new currents. Of plans for the greater good that garner resistance from those looking to pad their own ego. Of ideas for user-centric websites that get blank stares and requests to prominently post a mission statement that means nothing to anyone.

The scientific machinery is not very delicately constructed, and the imagination of the reader is decidedly overtaxed.
— New York Times review of H.G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man”

Such motivated, creative people who deal with criticism and petty complaints  have something in common with the recipients of brickbats in this book: They’re doing something. Perhaps something awesome. Perhaps something that represents a small step in the right direction. And perhaps something slightly misguided. But they are trying to break a stale and staid status quo. They are trying new things. Good for them! If you’re one such person, good for you!

This obscure, eccentric and disgusting poem.
— Voltaire on John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”

Great writers did not become famous by not publishing their work for fear of criticism; they forged ahead believing their work had value and a potential audience. Whether anyone’s fresh ideas succeed or not, there is much more success in trying something than in never taking risks at all.


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