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August 23 2012

16:03

August 20 2012

17:39

Stanford tool unlocks patterns in email dumps

Thanks to a chance encounter, the researcher behind an email archive analysis tool developed at Stanford's computer science department is finding ways to help investigative journalists dive into massive public record dumps. Read More »

January 11 2012

15:51

Bring back the busy signal

Email and communication are badly broken and the solution isn’t so much new technology as new norms. We need to redefine “rude.”

The problem is clear: If you’re like me, you get so much email that you can’t possibly answer it promptly if it all, and messages that do matter get lost under mountains of rubbish. Under old norms — from the era of letters and phone calls and knocks on doors — ignoring a message would be considered rude.

Perhaps what should be considered rude today is expecting you to immediately answer a message you didn’t ask for. And shouldn’t it be presumptuous for people to say they want “only 20 minutes” of your time, with no knowledge of how busy you are and how those many 20 minutes add up? Don’t we need new signals to let people know that we won’t answer every message, that some just aren’t important enough? Shouldn’t the person asking for our attention feel obliged to explain how the contact is relevant to our needs and desires? And shouldn’t we have a right to tell people that we can’t or don’t want to talk right now? Bring back the busy signal!

We are in a process of negotiating new norms for new circumstances. That is what we are also doing in the realm of privacy as we parry for a consensus about what’s OK to share with and about friends and what’s OK for a company to know about us. In public, we’re trying to settle on proper behaviors relating to talking on a mobile phone on the street or a train. Many of us are testing the line of old rudeness when we pull out a smart phone to read it when in the company of another person (e.g., if the other person answers a phone call, it’s fair game for me to check my email, right?) or when someone in person interrupts the conversation we’re having on our smartphone. And most of us wish for norms that would manage the problem of trolls and assholes and their bad behavior online.

Norms. Technology is causing change and our behaviors lag that until we settle on new norms. We start by trying to enforce old rules until we figure out that they are irrelevant. Then we operate without rules.

Then we lie. In the early digital days, when we missed an email, we’d say, “My email must be broken.” We’d throw AOL under the bus. But then Outlook and Google came along and email got better. So next came, “You must have been caught in my spam filter.” Then spam filters got better. Now, we can shrug and say, “Oh, sorry, Gmail must not have thought you were a priority.” VC Fred Wilson told his readers that if Gmail sends a missive to his “everything else” list then “I most likely won’t see it.” Same for me. We’re just blaming technology and technology can improve, robbing us of excuses.

danah boyd takes the occasional email sabbatical, letting would-be correspondents know that she simply will not see, open, or respond to any email sent between two dates and challenging them to find her if really necessary. I needed to reach her recently and succeeded (but I’ll do her the favor of keeping my path secret). Though danah’s method is tempting, it’s no solution, for we would miss communication we do, in fact, need.

The real problem is that we don’t have control. Bob Wyman, a brilliant technologist at Google (founder of PubSub and other startups), sat me down recently and explained the original sin of email: that the sender controls when the recipient should. It took me a while to understand that. Sender-control opens the door for people you know to make demands on you without you wanting them to. It opens the door for people you don’t know to bother you. And, of course, it opens the door to spam.

Google+, on the other hand, gives the recipient control: I decide whom to circle or follow and whom I wish to read. Soon after it started, Google+ had a spam problem: anyone could send you notifications. So G+ gave you control over that, limiting notifications to people you follow. Sadly, that cuts off the serendipitous ability of anyone out there to reach you. But it was a necessary change, else G+ would have become spammed to death. The other area that can be spammed is comments and G+ is having to add more and more controls. Bottom line: Recipient must control. Bob’s right.

None of that solves the social problem, though. We still need to be able to tell some people that we are too busy for them, that they don’t matter to us, that we don’t want to do what they are asking us to do, that we are not interested in what they have to say, that they are bothering us, that we aren’t friends, that we aren’t going to read what they send us, unbidden … without being considered rude. One way or another, we need to make such unpleasant communication part of our new norm. We need to learn how to say “no.”

We see the beginnings of that negotiation in Twitter: Anyone can follow me (unless I block them) but no one can send me a direct message until I follow them. So people ask: If you follow me I can send you a message. Is it rude not to? We’re figuring that out. If I do follow this person and he abuses the privilege, spamming my feed or sending me too many DMs, then I’ll unfollow him. Is that rude?

I needed to reach Fred Wilson, whom I know, not long ago. I know Fred is a very busy man with no end of people begging for attention (and money). So I don’t bug him unless I need to. But when I needed to, he didn’t answer me and I figured my message was likely being relegated to “everything else” by Gmail because I’m not a regular correspondent with Fred. I pinged Fred on Twitter; he responded immediately. Bugs in the system.

Leo Laporte has confessed that for some communication, he waits until the person sending a message sends it a few times. If it’s that important, goes the thinking, then they’ll try again and that will make it bubble up. I’ll confess to having done that, too. Rude? Perhaps. But it’s one way to get others to prioritize your mail.

Leave it to Europeans to try to regulate email behavior: VW is deactivating mobile messages to employees in off hours. But that’s not very satisfying: What if there is an emergency? What if you want to meet a colleague for a drink on a trip? What defines regular off hours in an international corporation?

We keep looking for solutions for recipients, coping with the increasing tide of irrelevance overtaking us. But that only makes it worse for legitimate senders and increases the risk that someone you want to get through can’t. What if you need to reach someone you don’t know? There needs to be an airlock someone can enter and knock, asking you to open the door and telling you why it would be worth your while. LinkedIn is rather like that, trying to use social connections to reach others through degrees of separation. Problem is: it creates one more way to send beseeching requests to people along the way: “Will you introduce me to so-and-so? Will you use your social capital with her on my behalf?” What if I don’t want to? Is that rude?

I face this problem with students in schools other than my own who come asking for interviews. I feel awful saying no — especially because I work at a journalism school that sends students out to interview others. But I get so many of these requests — “I just need 20 minutes” — that if I tried to be a nice guy and responded to them all, I’d have no time for my own students and my own work. The rare student who asks a cogent, well-thought-out, well-researched, and brief question will get a response so long as I have time. Too many of these requests are wildly broad: “What is the future of journalism?” Honest to God, I get that one often. I don’t bother; they seem to be thoughtless shotgun queries. If the student asks a question I’ve written about and I have time, I’ll send instructions about how to use Google’s “site:” search and find it on my blog. But most times, I have to say no and I feel like a shmuck being put in the position where I feel guilty doing so. I don’t like circumstances to make me feel rude.

I have no solutions. The technology will improve. Maybe Google+ and Facebook with their recipient controls become primary means of communication with people we know and email becomes an everybody-else channel with smarter and smarter Gmail filters to bubble up the ever-rarer relevant message. But that won’t solve the social problem. We need to settle on new norms that redefine what’s polite and appropriate and what’s not: what’s rude.

December 19 2011

07:37

Magazine editing: managing information overload

In the second of three extracts from the 3rd edition of Magazine Editing, published by Routledge, I talk about dealing with the large amount of information that magazine editors receive. 

Managing information overload

A magazine editor now has little problem finding information on a range of topics. It is likely that you will have subscribed to email newsletters, RSS feeds, Facebook groups and pages, YouTube channels and various other sources of news and information both in your field and on journalistic or management topics.

There tend to be two fears driving journalists’ information consumption: the fear that you will miss out on something because you’re not following the right sources; and the fear that you’ll miss out on something because you’re following too many sources. This leads to two broad approaches: people who follow everything of any interest (‘follow, then filter’); and people who are very strict about the number of sources of information they follow (‘filter, then follow’).

A good analogy to use here is of streams versus ponds. A pond is manageable, but predictable. A stream is different every time you step in it, but you can miss things.

As an editor you are in the business of variety: you need to be exposed to a range of different pieces of information, and cannot afford to be caught out. A good strategy for managing your information feeds then, is to follow a wide variety of sources, but to add filters to ensure you don’t miss all the best stuff.

If you are using an RSS reader one way to do this is to have specific folders for your ‘must-read’ feeds. Andrew Dubber, a music industries academic and author of the New Music Strategies blog, recommends choosing 10 subjects in your area, and choosing five ‘must-read’ feeds for each, for example.

For email newsletters and other email updates you can adopt a similar strategy: must-reads go into your Inbox; others are filtered into subfolders to be read if you have time.

To create a folder in Google Reader, add a new feed (or select an existing one) and under the heading click on Feed Settings… – then scroll to the bottom and click on New Folder… – this will also add the feed to that folder.

If you are following hundreds or thousands of people on Twitter, use Twitter lists to split them into manageable channels: ‘People I know’; ‘journalism’; ‘industry’; and so on. To add someone to a list on Twitter, visit their profile page and click on the list button, which will be around the same area as the ‘Follow’ button.

You can also use websites such as Paper.li to send you a daily email ‘newspaper’ of the most popular links shared by a particular list of friends every day, so you don’t miss out on the most interesting stories.

Social bookmarking: creating an archive and publishing at the same time

Social bookmarking tools like Delicious, Digg and Diigo can also be useful in managing web-based resources that you don’t have time to read or think might come in useful later. Bookmarking them essentially ‘files’ each webpage so you can access them quickly when you need them (you do this by giving each page a series of relevant tags, e.g. ‘dieting’, ‘research’, ‘UK’, ‘Jane Jones’).

They also include a raft of other useful features, such as RSS feeds (allowing you to automatically publish selected items to a website, blog, or Twitter or Facebook account), and the ability to see who else has bookmarked the same pages (and what else they have bookmarked, which is likely to be relevant to your interests).

Check the site’s Help or FAQ pages to find out how to use them effectively. Typically this will involve adding a button to your browser’s Links bar (under the web address box) by dragging a link (called ‘Bookmark on Delicious’ or similar) from the relevant page of the site (look for ‘bookmarklets’).

Then, whenever you come across a page you want to bookmark, click on that button. A new window will appear with the name and address of the webpage, and space for you to add comments (a typical tactic is to paste a key quote from the page here), and tags.

Useful things to add as tags include anything that will help you find this later, such as any organisations, locations or people that are mentioned, the author or publisher, and what sort of information is included, such as ‘report’, ‘statistics’, ‘research’, ‘casestudy’ and so on.

If installing a button on your browser is too complicated or impractical many of these services also allow you to bookmark a page by sending the URL to a specific email address. Alternatively, you can just copy the URL and log on to the bookmarking site to bookmark it.

Some bookmarking services double up as blogging sites: Tumblr and Stumbleupon are just two. The process is the same as described above, but these services are more intuitively connected with other services such as Twitter and Facebook, so that bookmarked pages are also automatically published on those services too. With one click your research not only forms a useful archive but also becomes an act of publishing and distribution.

Every so often you might want to have a clear out: try diverting mailings and feeds to a folder for a week without looking at them. After seven days, ask which ones, if any, you have missed. You might benefit from unsubscribing and cutting down some information clutter. In general, it may be useful to have background information, but it all occupies your time. Treat such things as you would anything sent to you on paper. If you need it, and it is likely to be difficult to find again, file it or bookmark it. If not, bin it. After a while, you’ll find it gets easier.

Do you have any other techniques for dealing with information overload?

 

December 08 2011

17:27

Daily Must Reads, Dec. 8, 2011

The best stories across the web on media and technology


1. The choice of BBM over Twitter in the recent UK riots illustrates social stratification (Guardian)

2. New businesses pop up to teach web programming (Wall Street Journal)

3. How Twitter's trending algorithm picks its topics (NPR)

4. 70% of Americans have no idea what geolocation apps are (ReadWriteWeb)

5. David Goetzl: Email is the new social (MediaPost)




Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



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September 18 2011

20:18

Email viewing habits: where do you read your email? - Mobile cuts webmail

Read Write Enterprise :: Litmus, a company that tracks and tests email campaigns has taken a close look at where people are viewing their email. According to Litmus, the stats provide some interesting insights into email habits. Outlook is still king, Webmail is in sharp decline, and Google Chrome is gaining share very rapidly. The comparison is from July 2010 to July 2011. Use of mobile devices to read email is cutting into Webmail severely. Opens in mobile devices have jumped from 7% to 15% in one year. Desktop opens dropped from 55% to 53%, and Webmail dropped from 38% to 32%.

Continue to read Joe Brockmeier, www.readwriteweb.com

April 01 2011

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

20:07

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Hoax email Charlie Sheen

image from JonnyCampbell

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

09:39

The Charlie Sheen Twitter intern hoax – how it could be avoided

Jonny Campbell's Charlie Sheen internship hoax

Image from jonnycampbell.com

Various parts of the media were hoaxed this week by Belfast student Jonny Campbell’s claim to have won a Twitter internship with Charlie Sheen. The hoax was well planned, and to be fair to the journalists, they did chase up documentation to confirm it. Where they made mistakes provides a good lesson in online verification.

Where did the journalist go wrong? They asked for the emails confirming the internship, but accepted a screengrab. This turned out to be photoshopped.

They then asked for further emails from earlier in the process, and he sent those (which were genuine) on.

They should have asked the source to forward the original email.

Of course, he could have faked that pretty easily as well (I’m not going to say how here), so you would need to check the IP address of the email against that of the company it was supposed to be from.

An IP address is basically the location of a computer (server). This may be owned by the ISP you are using, or the company which employs you and provides your computer and internet access.

This post explains how to find IP addresses in an email using email clients including Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and Outlook – and then how to track the IP address to a particular location.

This website will find out the IP address for a particular website – the IP address for Internships.com is 204.74.99.100, for example. So you’re looking for a match (assuming the same server is used for mail). You could also check other emails from that company to other people, or ideally to yourself (Watch out for fake websites as well, of course).

And of course, finally, it’s always worth looking at the content the hoaxer has provided and clues that they may have left in it – as Jonny did (see image, left).

For more on verifying online information see Content, context and code: verifying information online, which I’ll continue to update with examples.

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March 04 2011

19:30

Posted email addresses for NYT Mag reporters: A flashback to 1995

The new regime has taken over at The New York Times Magazine, and among the visible changes online is the addition, at the bottom of stories, of an editor’s credit and the email address of the writer. Jack Shafer’s written about the editor’s credit, but I’m more interested in the email addresses, which (correct me if I’m wrong) I believe is the first time the Times has ever attached reporter email addresses to stories in any sort of consistent way. (Times writers have their own author pages, but the “Send an E-Mail to Frank Bruni” link hides the email address via Javascript.)

My interest is mainly in the opportunity to repost one of my favorite all-time Lab documents, which Zach Seward wrote about two years ago. It’s a transcript from a conference we held here at the Nieman Foundation back in 1995. The conference was entitled “Public Interest Journalism: Winner of Loser in the On-Line Era” (we dug hyphens back then), and one of the sessions featured Esther Dyson interviewing the then-relatively-new publisher of The New York Times, Arthur Sulzberger. It’s the oldest documentation I’m aware of the Times’ perspective on its journalists getting feedback from readers. Here’s the relevant excerpt of the transcript, after Sulzberger tells Dyson that they’ve always gotten feedback from readers, even pre-Internet:

MS. DYSON: Yes, and you get that feedback when you go to cocktail parties at Michael’s, and people come up to you who are your elite readers. But now, you’ve got some guy who can’t really spell, who wants to waste your reporter’s time sending him Email.

MR. SULZBERGER: …I don’t think that’s going to happen. And maybe I’m fooling myself, but I really don’t think that an individual reader directly to reporter, that that’s going to be a major factor in how this is going to design itself.

MS. DYSON: But it’s going to be a major factor in how they have their time wasted, or how they have their time enriched.

MR. SULZBERGER: Are you making the assumption that we’re going to put all of our reporters online? Is that the assumption built into the question, that every day, all of our reporters will have hundreds and hundreds of Email’s that they’ve got to respond to?

You can pick up a pen today and misspell a letter any one of our editors, reporters, business folks. Most — I will speak, I think, candidly for the newsroom — most of those letters go unanswered. It drives me nuts, but it’s true.

Anyway, go read the whole thing and have your own journalism version of I Love the ’90s.

December 18 2010

01:07

Asking for help~~ please~~~~~ about email hack

I want to know the password of an email~ it is @126.com , but I cannot find anyone around who can help me , and those things download from the internet are all useless, so I am here , hoping if anyone can give me a little help, I will be really grateful, just spend a little time ,please~ thanks a lot, truethfully.

November 19 2010

15:00

October 18 2010

15:30

Launch! Five lessons from the first months of running a news startup

Six exhilarating, nerve-scraping months ago, I left my daily newspaper job to put my livelihood where my mouth is: to build a topical local news service serving riders of public transit in Portland, Oregon.

In print, Portland Afoot is an image-rich four-page monthly newsmagazine about “low-car life,” distributed by mail to homes and, starting in the next month or two, to workplaces. Online, it’s a heavily reported wiki, with evergreen pages on every bus route, bike law, and commute subsidy in town, among many other things.

Crazy? Obviously. But four months after launch, I’ll tell you this: I’ve never been learning more or learning faster. Now that I’ve become one of the entrepreneurs I’ve covered here at the Lab, Josh has generously invited me to spin out a few of the practical lessons I’ve been spooling up. Let’s start at the beginning.

Start scheduling meetings immediately, at least one each week, and do not stop.

Michael AndersenYou know how one hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight? One coffee date before your launch is worth two coffee dates after your launch.

Maybe it’s because people like to be in the know. Maybe it’s because they’re proud to see their advice shaping your product. Maybe it’s because they have a reflex to root for risk-takers. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, the earlier people hear about your plan, the more they’ll want to help you. And “people who want to help you” happen to be the things you’re about to need more than anything else in the world.

Loop in local institutions that share your interests.

I thought I was picking a topical niche for the sake of our audience (harried readers without time for irrelevant news) and our sponsors (retailers wanting to target green consumers at the neighborhood level). What I didn’t realize was that I was also opening my arms to a whole universe of private local organizations predisposed to help me succeed.

Portland Afoot needed early subscribers and legitimacy; celebrated local-news blog BikePortland.org ran a positive preview. We’re planning a neighborhood-specific product; the Willamette Pedestrian Coalition, a regional advocacy group, helped me brainstorm the contents. We needed a pilot location for my workplace-distribution scheme; the Swan Island Transportation Management Association, a federally funded traffic-reduction nonprofit, agreed to host it in the industrial area they oversee.

Spare me the warnings about lost independence. Yep, that’s a major risk, and I’m doing my best to deal with it through full disclosure. But it’s a jungle out there and you’re not going to survive without friends. In our case, the whole revenue model depends on print distribution partnerships; entanglements are a fact of life. If your news startup is ever going to get important enough to make enemies, it’ll need to make a few friends first.

If you’re going to sell ads, sell two cheap ones before you launch.

Justin Timberlake and Jesse Eisenberg in The Social NetworkMy gut says Justin Timberlake is right: a website with ads is like a great party that has to be over at 11. I’m sure Portland Afoot would have a few more print subscribers, a bit more web traffic, and most importantly a few more superfans if it had launched with zero ads.

But this nonprofit business, unlike Facebook, is not headed for an IPO. It’s got about a year to succeed or fail to pay my rent. And though I haven’t yet started selling ads in earnest, I’ve done enough to guarantee that you second ad is easier than your first, and your third ad is easier than your second. Prove to advertisers that your audience has worth by getting some ads on the page.

You are not too cool for e-mail.

I hate spam. I hate it so much that when we launched, I promised to ping our mailing list no more than once every three months. It’s a promise I’ve kept — and it was a big mistake.

For people who care about you, regular emails aren’t spam. They are reminders that you exist and are doing wonderful things of which they approve. How do I know? Because nothing — not direct mail, not inbound links, not tables at neighborhood events — drives traffic or action like a mass email to people who’ve opted to receive it. One of my lucky breaks before we launched was that I popped a single box on the site to start building a list of the emails of early visitors. Here’s the PHP script. Steal it.

The weirder your product is — and ours, a heavily reported wiki and four-page monthly magazine, is almost as weird as they come — the more important email, with its universal familiarity, becomes. Email is the U2 of Internet communication — all these years later, it’s the one thing we all still share. Embrace it.

Launch as close as possible to the summer solstice.

Trust me — you’re going to need the energy.

September 11 2010

17:35

Vancouver Net Tuesday September 2010: Email isn't dead yet!

 

 TOPIC: Email communications – still alive and kicking

It’s easy to get distracted by that new-fangled social media stuff (so shiny!), but the folks on the ground in non-profits know that the real action’s in email. That’s where you raise the funds to advance your mission. That’s how you get people to show up to events. That’s how you get petitions signed.

There’s plenty of life left in email communications, and learning how to test, optimize, and integrate email campaigns is (I reckon) the best investment you can make in the online space.

read more

May 28 2010

11:20

Senior-Friendly Tools to get Grandma Wired

Over the years my family and I have worked together to help my Grandmother get wired. She now uses Google Search, reads her news online, sends and receives email, and even uses Facebook to check-in with family and friends. Using the internet isn't a new concept to my Grandmother, though it's not really something she finds very intuitive either. That said, she understands the power of these tools, and relishes the opportunity to learn more.

My Grandmother also has a whole network of friends who are at various stages of computer use/online adoption. Recently, she asked me if I could share any resources for her and her friends to be able to network, learn and socialize on the internet.

read more

January 05 2010

06:54

December 17 2009

06:38
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