Information Verification

Apparently there’s a bit of a kerfuffle over an Egyptian newspaper emphasizing their president over the US president by photoshopping him at the head of the line. That’s not particularly interesting to me, but what is interesting is that a blogger discovered this. This year, I’ve a couple other incidents of mainstream media being caught with their hands in the cookie jar – either not attributing work of a crowdsourced translator or this latest political gaffe. It seems that the public is alive and well, at least when they are pointing out other’s errors.

Journalism and Social Media

I’ve been thinking a lot about journalism, the celebrification of journalists, social media and the amateur celebrity. Now, you’re probably all familiar with the first three, but the last concept has been half-baked in my head for a while, help clarify it if you can. The amateur celebrity is the person who attains some status from social media – I’m one, you’re one, we’re all one if you’re publishing on the Internet. There needs to be some distinction between the producers and remixers of content, the pure recyclers of content (usually those who just post links without commentary) and the consumers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pure consumers – not everyone has something to add to a discussion, although that doesn’t stop them from putting in their two cents regardless. I think the act of publishing and producing content, even remixing content, is very close to what journalists do – take a remix for instance. One takes existing content, puts their own spin on it and publishes. Isn’t that what an editor does when publishing for a newspaper or online source? Take the written piece, select an appropriate image from one of a several news wire service, ¬†maybe tweak the written bit to fit for space and style…

So what separates journalism from social media publishing? Accountability, research, time… certainly a lot of the blogs I read put in many hours just to publish a couple paragraphs, the owners of those blogs have a reputation and have an expertise in the subject, so what’s the difference? It’s hard to say, but it’s got to be a fundamental reason that newspapers are down as well as other traditional media.

Ten Web 2.0 Tools I Can’t Live Without

This post is inspired, or a direct response to, the “Tools of My Trade” post by Steve Wheeler. So here’s the ten Web 2.0 tools that I can’t live (although I would) without:

1. Twitter/Tweetdeck – I grouped these two together because my use of Twitter is non-existent without Tweetdeck. Twitter has gone from a second thought to the first thing I open at work in the morning. In fact, I open my Twitter account and scan it before I open e-mail. I never thought when I first started using Twitter that it would have this profound an effect, but it does.

2. WordPress – Without WordPress, there would be no blog(s) for me. In fact, I chose to buy and host on my own because of the ease of installing WordPress. Certainly I could’ve continued with the free hosting at Edublogs, or moved to a Blogspot location, but for me it only seemed logical to roll my own.

3. Google Search – Yes, I’m a bit wary of the monolithic Google¬† and the amount of information they can potentially know about me. Of course, I’ll trade what they know about me for the wealth of information that is available. Sure, it’s becoming second nature that the first result will probably be the best one for me – which will be an issue once that second nature is unquestioned. Until then, and not only because I used to teach searching techniques, Google Search is crucial.

4. bit.ly – Again, if you follow my Twitter stream (@dietsociety) you’ll know that I use this shortening service exclusively. I like that I can know something about the people who click on the links, and it often leads me to new people I choose to follow (if I’m not already).

5. Scribd – I can’t imagine that this service, where you can read books online, won’t be affected by the iPad, Kindle and other portable e-book readers. Still, lots of good information out there.

6. Flickr – I do maintain only one stream of photos – mostly for the live music I’ve seen and been lucky enough to get a workable photo at. My wife uses it as a dumping ground for all things – so I leave the photos of my life over there. Plus she’s much more talented than me.

7. Yahoo Mail / Gmail – Does this count as a Web 2.0 tool? I’m a chronic checker of e-mail – so much so I forget to check the one associated with my home ISP. I’ve had my Yahoo mail account for just under a decade… so by default I guess it’s not Web 2.0… maybe Web 1.5?

8. LMS – As a user I’ve used Blackboard, Desire2Learn, WebCT 4, Moodle, FirstClass and Sakai. As an instructor I’ve used Desire2Learn, FirstClass and WebCT. I’ve also had administrative powers for most of those systems at one point or another. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t login to one of these systems.

9. Wikipedia / Media Wiki – I used this in my teaching, and often refer to it as a starting point for inquiry.

10. Facebook – Occasionally I use Facebook to keep up on my family’s coming and goings, as well as my friends. Having friends in several different cities across the world – Facebook makes sense. Otherwise, I’m not interested in Farmville or any other Mechanical Turk work.

Twittering Connections as Volatile as the Wind

I’ve never been a huge fan of Twitter and as such, I don’t think too much about it. Although this entire morning I’ve run into several articles talking about it. One of the major reasons I don’t like Twitter is that it’s not deep. I like reading something that gives me context, something to mull over, thoughts to consider, links to other content and more. Twitter is less. And rightfully so, that’s the purpose of it.

Nevertheless, this article mentions Twitter and uses it as a comparison to blogging to see how social networking enacts power laws. It’s interesting, because it grabs everything under the Web 2.0 umbrella and while that’s maybe useful for an overview, it does a disservice to the entire thing. Web 2.0, like every complex structure is made up of differing parts, many times operating with different objectives, if any at all. I don’t think Twitter works like blogs at all (certainly they can, but for the most part don’t) and I don’t believe that social power structures in each system work the same.

The value of being followed is important, yes. It doesn’t mean that communication is enacted. I could be followed by several thousand others, it doesn’t mean that what I’m saying is understood or even further something that anyone would act upon. That requires real power. So when @BarackObama is followed by a hundred thousand…. that’s power and the cult of celebrity – would hundred thousand follow his blog? Or would a million watch his vlog? Oh wait, maybe they will – it’s called the State of The Nation address… Sure Web 2.0 has created it’s own celebrities, who in turn have influence and power, but really we’re not changing the power structure at all. While social networking is allowing people to connect more freely, real power acts as it has done for hundreds of years.

Clay Shirkey’s article about Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality talks about this, especially well summed up in the concluding statements:

In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today. However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)

I see the value of Twitter as a method to deal with quick messages (the idea that a language teacher could use twitter to provide new vocabulary each day that student could subscribe to is interesting), I don’t see the power laws enacted with it. Perhaps that’s because the power of Twitter is in the instantaneous nature of it, the connection is gone in a second… the lasting impression is not always long lasting.