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July 18 2011

20:54

Blocked U.S. imports? - Apple Inc. accuses HTC of patent infringement

TechJournal South :: Apple Inc. claims that HTC, the second largest smartphone maker in Asia, has infringed its patents related to software architecture and user interfaces in portable electronic devices. Apple filed two complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, DC, which can block imports into the U.S. market.

Continue to read www.techjournalsouth.com

July 17 2011

22:04

Experimental - Google tests an interface optimized for infinite scrolling

Google Operating System (unofficial) :: Alon Laudon spotted a new experimental interface for Google's results pages. The most important change is that most navigation elements continue to be visible even when you scroll down. The navigation bar, the search box and the search options sidebar have a fixed position, which means that you no longer have scroll to the top of the page to edit the query or switch to a specialized search engine.

Continue to read googlesystem.blogspot.com

December 01 2010

15:30

Keeping track of political candidates online: Web archiver Perpetually follows the digital campaign trail

There is one huge, almost infinitely wide memory gap in our culture that can be summed up with this question: Where does the Internet go when it dies? Not the whole Internet, but the individual websites and pages that every day are modified and deleted, discarded and cached. Who can a journalist turn to when needing to look up the older version of a website, a retired blog, or a deleted Facebook post?

It turns out, not many people. The hole that Nexis plugs for academic papers and the newspapers of the world has few equivalents online. The once excellent Wayback Machine: Internet Archive — an attempt at a complete, Library of Congress-worthy web archive — is now fairly useless in today’s social-media driven web world, storing a slipshod record of photos, multimedia, and basically anything that’s not Web 1.0, and on top of that, taking up to a year for updates to appear in its index after its spider has crawled a site.

This election season, as candidates propped up their digital campaign booths online with Twitter feeds and new, snazzy websites, Darrell Silver, founder of the Perpetually Public Data Project, realized this was actually kind of terrifying. For all the thousands of reporters following candidates’ buses and rallies, there was no mechanism to follow the campaign trail online. Anything pledged on a candidate’s website could be wiped out with the click of a mouse — and without so much as a peep.

To fill this collective memory hole, for the 2010 midterms, Perpetually archived the websites — and the Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter accounts — of every politician it could find: all the major candidates for all 435 House and 37 Senate races. And it archived every change at every second of every minute: Flash, blog posts, photos, whatever — with the exception of YouTube videos, which have a copyright conflict, and he decided to discard.

The result has been a great experiment that’s made at least one news splash and brought the technology onto the Huffington Post. After the election, Silver added every congressperson — newly elected or not — and every governor to Perpetually’s database. Imagine the difference at some point in the future: Anyone will to be able to zoom into any point in the past, load up a politician’s website, and see how things stood on any given day in any given year. And then, a few clicks more, to be able to scroll through the politician’s history and to create a larger story about the politician over a wide, career-length timespan. “We’re trying to be the undebatable reference point for the source material and the proof of what happened when,” Silver said.

The site, thus far, has given that goal its best shot, although it has got a way to go. In terms of the breadth of his archive and the depth of its storage, Silver’s peerless. ProPublica’s Versionista is perhaps his closest competitor, but for now it doesn’t track candidate sites, only the Whitehouse.gov site. Moreover, the Versionista platform shows only specific html-coded changes, so it monitors mostly text and lacks a screenshot archive, a complete record of images, and interactive elements. Silver had many of the same critiques — lack of interactive elements, a generally superficial archiving — for the Wayback Machine (not to mention its dinosaur lag-time in updating its archive).

If his database is the gold standard for Internet archiving, on Perpetually’s front-end — the site visitors use to navigate the database — the story was less nice. In the rush to get things up, a shaky vision for the project created the odd mess of creaky widgets, bridge-to-nowhere links, and brilliant data-archiving that were the site for the few weeks it was live.

The site as it existed is a good case study in how a great concept with poor execution can crash and burn — and then potentially redeem itself. In Silver’s defense, he had little time to get things together. Perpetually began archiving candidates’ sites in June — not knowing exactly what he would do with the data — and managed with only a team of five to have a website up for the general public by early October.

But it was painful to use. You could see that some idea, some vision, was at work, but it was hard to see how whoever was behind the thing actually thought they could pull it off. Links broke, videos gave errors, and community was non-existent. The annotations page — an absurd Tumblr-style page with no entries limit — with a larger user base would have sent an average laptop crashing to its knees, and text-diff mode gave an html page read-out, a fairly frightening chunk of words and symbols specializing in alienation and confusion.

The good news, though, is that as far as Perpetually’s future is concerned, its history doesn’t matter: Perpetually has gone into hibernation for a complete overhaul and redesign. “One of the things I learned is that there’s a huge amount of interest of tracking politicians who are nationally or locally interesting,” said Silver. “But you have to provide a lot better and more immediate goals and feedback.”

Silver’s looked at the Guardian’s expense-scandal tracker for ideas on how to use better crowdsourcing mechanisms, like promoting what’s interesting and highlighting top users. And he likes Versionista’s feed-subscription service that gives users instant notification of changes made by a specific candidate. Silver — who is far more of a tech geek than politico — just did not understand a political junkie’s motivations, but he’s clearly getting there, and it is likely that his redesign will showcase a savvy pastiche of social media tools he culls from around the Internet.

If these changes make the site user-friendly, journalists should rejoice. As it stands, the tools available to journalists to retrieve information about a candidate’s online campaign trail are unreliable and incomplete, jeopardizing online accountability. We’ve already seen how easily that can happen. Perpetually provides a common resource to circumvent this problem. “That ability to see, to go beyond the Wikipedia summary is vital to…the history to what this person is saying,” Silver put it.

Non-journalists — whoever these people might be — have reason to celebrate, too. It’s easy to imagine a day when early website incarnations have Americana value, like The Museum of Moving Image has archived online has rediscovered in presidential TV ads. The White House itself seems to be getting in on the idea. It’s created “frozen in time” portraits of previous administrationswebsites, anointing them with the exclusive “.gov” extension along with the program.

These are big ideas — an institutional memory hole, the making of a blog into classic memorabilia — and the opportunity is there for Silver to make them a reality. But before any of that happens, he still has to get the details right. He says has set forth three things he believes his audience wants and that a remade Perpetually must do for them:

“People want to know about significant changes and want to research the candidates they don’t know about. [They] want to be kept up to date and want a way to do that really easily. The third thing they want is to participate. They all want to improve the election process and want to discuss and do it in an efficient way.”

News organizations, take note: Leading up to 2012, Perpetually’s a site to watch.

October 21 2010

20:30

October 08 2010

14:00

This Week in Review: A surprisingly sensible move online, two ugly falls, and questioning hyperlocal news

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week's top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

Another old-media stalwart goes online: This week’s biggest story is a lot more interesting for media geeks than for those more on the tech side, but I think it does have some value as a sort of symbolic moment. Howard Kurtz, who’s been The Washington Post’s media writer for pretty much all of its recent history, jumped this week to The Daily Beast, the aggregation and news site run by former magazine star Tina Brown and media mogul Barry Diller. Kurtz will head the site’s D.C. bureau and write about media and politics. He’s about as traditional/insider Washington media as they come (he also hosts CNN’s Reliable Sources), so seeing him move to an online-only operation that has little Beltway presence was surprising to a lot of media watchers.

So why’d he do it? In the announcement story at The Daily Beast, Kurtz said it was “the challenge of fast-paced online journalism” that drew him in. In interviews with TBD, Yahoo News and The New York Times, Kurtz referred to himself as an “online entrepreneur” who hopes to find it easier to innovate at a two-year-old web publication than within a hulking institution like the Post. “If you want to get out there and invent something new, maybe it is better to try to do that at a young place that’s still growing,” he told TBD.

Kurtz has his critics, and while there are some (like the American Journalism Review’s Rem Rieder) who saw this as a benchmark event for web journalism, several others didn’t see The Daily Beast as the plucky, outsider startup Kurtz made it out to be. PaidContent’s David Kaplan said that with folks like Brown and Diller involved, The Daily Beast has a lot of old media in its blood. (It may merge with Newsweek soon.) Salon’s Alex Pareene made the point more sharply, saying he was going to work for his “rich friend’s cheap-content farm” for a “fat check and a fancy title.” As Rachel Sklar told Politico (in a much kinder take), for Kurtz, this is “risk, but padded risk.”

Maybe the fact that this move isn’t nearly as shockingly risky as it used to be is the main cultural shift we’re seeing, argued Poynter’s Steve Myers in the most thoughtful piece on this issue. Kurtz is following a trail already blazed by innovators who have helped web journalism become financially mature enough to make this decision easy, Myers said. “Kurtz’s move isn’t risky or edgy; it’s well-reasoned and practical — which says more about the state of online media than it does about his own career path,” Myers wrote. For his part, Kurtz said that his departure from the Post doesn’t symbolize the death of print, but it does say something about the energy and excitement on the web.

Of course, people immediately started drawing up lists of who should replace Kurtz at the Post, but the most worthwhile item on that front is the advice for Howard Kurtz’s replacement by Clint Hendler of the Columbia Journalism Review. Hendler argued we’d be better off with a media critic than with another studiously balanced media writer. According to Hendler, that requires “someone who is willing to, as the case warrants, state opinions, poke fun, call sides, and make enemies.”

A reporter and a newspaper chain’s sad scandals: Two media scandals dominated the news about the news this week. First, Rick Sanchez up and got himself fired by CNN last Friday for a radio rant in which he called Jon Stewart a bigot and suggested that Jews run the news media. Sanchez apologized a few days later, and The Huffington Post’s Chez Pazienza mined the incident for clues of what CNN/Rick Sanchez relations were like behind the scenes.

There are a couple of minor angles to this that might interest future-of-news folks: Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice used the situation to point out that those in the news media are being targeted more severely by partisans on both sides. (We got better examples of this with the Dave Weigel, Octavia Nasr and Helen Thomas snafus this summer.) Also, Sanchez was one of the news industry’s most popular figures on Twitter, and his account, @RickSanchezCNN, may die. Lost Remote said it’s a reminder for journalists to create Twitter accounts in their own names, not just in their employers’.

Second, The New York Times’ David Carr detailed a litany of examples of a frat-boy, shock-jock culture that’s taken over the Tribune Co. since Sam Zell bought it in 2007. (Gawker and New York gave us punchy summaries of the revelations.) The Tribune is possibly the biggest and clearest example of the newspaper industry’s disastrous decline over the past few years, and this article simply adds more fuel to the fire. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum noted that the article also contains the first report of Zell directly intervening in news coverage to advance his own business interests. Meanwhile, the Tribune is slogging through bankruptcy, as mediation has broken down.

New media analyst Dan Conover saw the Tribune fiasco as evidence that the news business doesn’t just need to be reformed, it needs to be blown up. “We are past the point of happy endings, beyond the hope of half measures, and we know too much now to keep accepting the smugly reasonable advice of the Old Order’s deeply conflicted spokespeople,” he wrote. It’s quite the righteous-anger-fueled rant.

The hyperlocal business model questioned: We talked a bit about hyperlocal news last week, and that conversation bled over into this week, as Alan Mutter talked to J-Lab’s Jan Schaffer about her fantastic analysis of local news startups. Mutter quoted Schaffer as saying that community news sites are not a business, then went on to make the point that like many startups, many new news organizations go under within a few years. The money just isn’t there, Mutter said. (The Wall also has 10 takeaways from Schaffer’s study.)

For those in the local news business themselves, the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Joy Mayer provided some helpful tips and anecdotes from West Seattle Blog’s Tracy Record, and the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles put together an online news startup checklist. Meanwhile, the hyperlocal giant du jour, AOL’s Patch, continued its expansion with a launch in Seattle, and dropped hints of a plan to get into newspapers. TBD’s Steve Buttry assured local news orgs that they can compete and collaborate with Patch and other competitors at the same time.

The iPad’s explosive growth: It’s been a little while since we heard too much about the iPad, but we got some interesting pieces about it this week. CNBC informed us that the iPad has blown past the DVD player as the fastest-adopted non-phone product in U.S. history with 3 million units sold in its first 80 days and 4.5 million per quarter, well more than even the iPhone’s 1 million in its first quarter. It’s on pace to pass the entire industries of gaming hardware and non-smart cellphones in terms of sales by next year. The NPD Group also released a survey of iPad owners that found that early adopters are using their iPads for an average of 18 hours a week, and for a third of them, that number is increasing.

When the iPad first came out, many people saw its users spending that time primarily consuming media, rather than creating it. But in an attempt to refute that idea, Business Insider put together an interesting list of 10 ways people are using the iPad to create content. And marketer Hutch Carpenter looked at the quality of various uses for the iPad and predicted that as Apple and app developers improve the user’s experience, it will become a truly disruptive technology.

More defenses of social media’s social activism: Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker piece questioning Twitter’s capability of producing social change drew no shortage of criticism last week, and it continued to come in this week. Harvard scholar David Weinberger made several of the common critiques of the article, focusing on the idea that Gladwell is tearing down a straw man who believes that the web can topple tyrannies by itself. Other takes: Change Observer’s Maria Popova argued Gladwell is defining activism too narrowly, and that online communities broaden our scope of empathy, which bridges the gap between awareness and action; The Guardian’s Leo Mirani said that social media can quickly spread information from alternative viewpoints we might never see otherwise; and Clay Shirky, the target of much of Gladwell’s broadside, seemed kind of amused by Gladwell’s whole point.

The sharpest rebuttal this week (along with Weinberger’s) came from Shea Bennett of Twittercism, who argued that change starts small and takes time, even with social media involved, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. “As we all continue to refine and improve our online social communities, this shift in power away from a privileged few to an increasingly organised collective that can be called at a moment’s notice [presents] a real threat to the status quo,” he wrote.

Reading roundup: A few more nifty things to check out this weekend:

— A few cool resources on data journalism were published this week: British j-prof Paul Bradshaw wrote an invaluable guide to data journalism at The Guardian, taking you through everything from data collection to sorting to contextualizing to visualization. ReadWriteCloud’s Alex Williams followed that post up with two posts making the case for data journalism and giving an overview of five data visualization tools. And if you needed some inspiration, PBS’ MediaShift highlighted six incredible data visualization projects.

— The offline reading app Instapaper has become pretty popular with web/media geeks, and its founder, Marco Arment, just rolled out a paid subscription service. The Lab’s Joshua Benton examined what this plan might mean for future web paywalls.

— Several mobile journalism tidbits: TBD’s Steve Buttry made a case for the urgency of developing a mobile journalism plan in newsrooms, The Guardian reported on a survey looking at mobile device use and newspaper/magazine readership, and the Ryerson Review of Journalism gave an overview of Canadian news orgs’ forays into mobile news.

— Northwestern j-prof Pablo Boczkowski gave a fascinating interview to the Lab’s C.W. Anderson on conformity in online news. Must-reading for news nerds.

— The real hot topic of the past week in the news/tech world was not any particular social network, but The Social Network, the movie about Facebook’s founding released last weekend. I couldn’t bring myself to dedicate a section of this week’s review to a movie, but the Lab’s Megan Garber did find a way to relate it to the future of news. Enjoy.

September 15 2010

17:00

Twitter as broadcast: What #newtwitter might mean for networked journalism

So Twitter.com’s updated interface — #newtwitter, as the Twittery hashtag goes — is upon us. (Well, upon some of us.)

The most obvious, and noteworthy, changes involved in #newtwitter are (a) the two-panel interface, which — like Tweetdeck and Seesmic and other third-party apps — emphasizes the interactive aspects of Twitter; and (b) the embeddable media elements: YouTube videos, Flickr photos (and entire streams!), Twitpics, etc. And the most obvious implications of those changes are (a) the nice little stage for advertising that the interface builds up; and (b) the threat that #newtwitter represents to third-party apps.

Taken together, those point to a broader implication: Twitter.com as an increasingly centralized space for information. And even, for our more specific purposes, news. Twitter itself, as Ev Williams put it during the company’s announcement of @anywhere, is “an information network that helps people understand what’s going on in the world that they care about.” And #newtwitter, likely, will help further that understanding. From the point of view of consumption, contextual tweets — with images! and videos! — will certainly create a richer experience for users, from both a future-of-context perspective and a more pragmatic usability-oriented one. But what about from the point of view of production — the people and organizations who feed Twitter?

The benefits of restriction

We commonly call Twitter a “platform,” the better to emphasize its emptiness, its openness, its agnosticism. More properly, though, Twitter is a medium, with all the McLuhanesque implications that term suggests. The architecture of Twitter as an interface necessarily affects the content its users produce and distribute.

And one of the key benefits of Twitter has been the fact of its constraint — which has also been the fact of its restraint. The medium’s character limitation has meant that everyone, from the user with two friends following her to the million-follower-strong media organizations, has had the same space, the same tools, to work with. Twitter has democratized narrative even more than blogs have, you could argue, because its interface — your 140 characters next to my 140 characters next to Justin Bieber’s 140 characters, all sharing the space of the screen — has been not only universal, but universally restricted. The sameness of tweets’ structures, and the resulting leveling of narrative authority, has played a big part in Twitter’s evolution into the medium we know today: throngs of users, relatively unconcerned with presentation, relatively un-self-conscious, reporting and sharing and producing the buzzing, evolving resource we call “news.” Freed of the need to present information “journalistically,” they have instead presented it organically. Liberation by way of limitation.

So what will happen when Twitter, the organism, grows in complexity? What will take place when Twitter becomes a bit more like Tumblr, with a bit of its productive limitation — text, link, publish — taken away?

The changes Twitter’s rolling out are not just cosmetic; embedded images and videos, in particular, are far more than mere adornment. A link is fundamentally, architecturally, different than an image or a video. Links are bridges: structures unto themselves, sure, but more significantly routes to other places — they’re both conversation and content, endings and beginnings at once. An image or a video, on the other hand, from a purely architectural perspective, is an end point, nothing more. It leads to nowhere but itself.

For a Twitter interface newly focused on image-based content, that distinction matters. Up until now, the only contextual components of a tweet — aside from the peripheral metadata like “time sent,” retweeted by,” etc. — have been the text and the link. The link may have led to more text or images or videos; but it also would have led to a different platform. Now, though, within Twitter itself, we’re seeing a shift from text-and-link toward text-and-image — which is to say, away from conversation and toward pure information. Which is also to say, away from communication…and toward something more traditionally journalistic. Tweets have always been little nuggets of narrative; with #newtwitter, though, individual tweets get closer to news articles.

We’ve established already that Twitter is, effectively if not officially, a news platform unto itself. #Newtwitter solidifies that fact, and then doubles down on it: It moves the news proposition away from a text-based framework…and toward an image-based one. If #twitterclassic established itself as a news platform, in other words, #newtwitter suggests that the news in question may increasingly be of the broadcast variety.

“What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”

“Twttr” began as a pure communications platform: text messages, web-ified. The idea was simply to take the ephemeral interactions of SMS and send them to — capture them in — the cloud. The point was simplicity, casualness. (Even its name celebrated that idea: “The definition [of Twitter] was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds,’” Jack Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times. “And that’s exactly what the product was.”)

The interface that rolled out last night — and that will continue rolling out over the next couple of weeks to users around the world — bears little resemblance to that initial vision of Twitter as captured inconsequence. Since its launch (okay, okay: its hatch), Twitter has undergone a gradual, but steady, evolution — from ephemeral conversations to more consequential information. (Recall the change in the web interface’s prompt late last year, from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” That little semantic shift — from an individual frame to a universal one — marked a major shift in how Twitter shapes its users’ conception, and therefore use, of the platform. In its way, that move foreshadowed today’s new interface.) Infrastructural innovations like Lists have heightened people’s awareness of their status not simply as communicators, but as broadcasters. The frenzy of breaking-news events — from natural disasters like Haiti’s earthquake to political events like last summer’s Iranian “revolution” — have highlighted Twitter’s value as a platform for information dissemination that transcends divisions of state. They’ve also enforced users’ conception of their own tweets: visible to your followers, but visible, also, to the world. It’s always been the case, but its’ one that’s increasingly apparent: Each tweet is its own little piece of broadcast journalism.

What all that will mean for tweets’ production, and consumption, remains to be seen; Twitterers, end-user innovation-style, have a way of deciding for themselves how the medium’s interface will, and will not, be put to practice. And Twitter is still, you know, Twitter; it’s still, finally and fundamentally, about communication. But the smallness, the spareness, the convivial conversation that used to define it against other media platforms is giving way — perhaps — to the more comprehensive sensibility of the networked news organization. The Twitter.com of today, as compared to the Twitter.com of yesterday, is much more about information that’s meaningful and contextual and impactful. Which is to say, it’s much more about journalism.

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