Political Blog Entry Alert

January 31, 2009

Not to fear, this is not turning into a blog about politics, but there are a number of interesting websites out there that explore this fascinating topic in a non-partisan way.

One of the most interesting item I’ve come across recently is the Obamameter. This website is tracking the ability of President Barack Obama to keep his campaign promises. The site is tracking over 500 of them and they range across almost every political issue. At the time of this writing, President Obama has, by their count, kept six of his promises, broken one and had to compromise on other.

The thing I like best about the site is the descriptions of the promises and links to news stories and the text of executive orders to update the status of his promises. I appreciate any website that tries to keep our leaders to account for the things that they say.

Another site that has the same goal is FactCheck.org. Run by the University of Pennsylvania, they are a nonpartisan group that posts entries with quality analysis of particular issues. While sadly, they haven’t been updating the site as frequently as they had prior to the election. The analysis of the race between Al Franken and Norm Coleman for the Minnesota Senate seat was very insightful.

The last site I’ll mention is Public Agenda. There’s a lot of different content on the site, but I think its best element is the issue guides. For more than 15 different controversial issues, you can get an overview of the issue, multiple possible solutions to that issue and relevant political polling to see what attitudes on those issues are. The polling is sometimes a bit outdated, but it can sometimes serve as a barometer of general sentiments. They also have a very interesting article about questions to ask when consuming poll data. They say it is for journalists, but I think anyone can have a greater appreciation for the difficulty of polling by looking in this information. This is also a non-profit, nonpartisan site and you can see who funds this website here.

As Thomas Jefferson said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilence.” So I hope these website help make your vigilence a little easier.

Innovations and Stagnations of Youtube

January 22, 2009

I decided I wanted to talk about some new interesting uses of YouTube after I had found a couple of things on the web.

If you remember back to my last discussion of a cool technological advance in YouTube, speech to text in videos, I thought that would be a technology that would really take off. Sadly, it hasn’t. As you can see on the discussion board for the “Gaudi” technology, it seems to pretty much have been abandoned. Given the current economic situation, this isn’t a shocking realization, but I thought this might be a potential revenue generating engine for them.

In any case, this isn’t really a post about the gloomy state of YouTube’s owners, Google. This is about the creative ways a couple have folks are using YouTube in an interactive way.

First, Gamebrood, which was not a blog I was familiar with prior to finding this item, has a link to a YouTube version of Street Fighter, the 2D-Brawler that originally debuted in arcades in 1991. Admittedly, it is a very crude version of the game. You can only choose from four attacks and only when a scripted opportunity comes up. At that point, you click one of the on-screen buttons and a new movie starts to play with the result. It is kind of fun diversion for a few minutes, but the most interesting thing about it (besides the astounding amount of work it must have taken to produce such a thing) is the potential interactivity of a design like that.

Combined with the next interesting movie that I saw created by TanyaTko, some very powerful effects could be created. What her video does is, it automatically pauses the video while a short clock ticks down in the upper left hand corner, after the clock has finished the video resumes. Thanks to BozarthZone’s blog for pointing that one out.

While I’m not totally sold on these specific implementation of these function, just knowing that they are available for creative people to use could lead to some great thing in YouTube’s future.

It’s the Web! On Your E-Mail!

January 14, 2009

There was an interesting discussion on Slashdot (which is an excellent news site, if you are interested in science and technology) on ways to make best use of the Internet if you have extremely limited access while sailing the high seas.

It was a very interesting problem with a variety of possible solutions including using satellite Internet and hitting various Internet cafes while in port. I think the best and most interesting solution was a suggestion to simply have web pages e-mailed to you to read at your leisure with out Internet access.

This is a great solution if you need information like Wikipedia pages or you just wanted to digest the latest news happenings. If you are on dial-up or on a smart phone with expensive cell data plan, but you need some sort of information on a web page, this might be just the ticket.

I came upon this site that has a variety of pages that claim to offer this service, however, I was not able to get a couple of them to work.

The one that did work, however, was listed in the middle, and I’ll quote from it.

You retrieve web pages by sending an email request to the site, where the page “http://www.yahoo.com/” is used as an example and you can substitute the page you actually wish to retrieve.

  • Send an email to agora@dna.affrc.go.jp with a message of www to get instructions. Get a web page by sending an email to agora@dna.affrc.go.jp, with a two line message of:

I got a pretty quick response when I used this blog as the query, and I suspect any heavily text site would work well too. Since the server traffic is pretty low, I wouldn’t worry about using this site for whatever you are trying to do, even thought there is a warning to only use it for research purposes.

So if you only have access to e-mail and you want to hit the web. This might be just the ticket for you.

Do You Need to be on Twitter?

January 11, 2009

As promised, here’s where I’m going to discuss the pros and cons of the microblogging platform known as Twitter. One of the interesting things to point out when discussing this service is that it is widely agreed that this is not the most technologically advanced microblogging site out there. It has relatively frequent downtime (periods where you can’t access the site at all) and doesn’t offer all the functionality of competitors like Jaiku and Plurk.

What it does have though is people. Some people put the user figure at almost a million, although it is tricky getting conclusive hard data on the subject. The platform also has a number of celebrities like Barack Obama, Shaquille O’Neil and John Cleese. It also has a number of media organizations like Fox News, CNN and NBC News.

This very high number of prominent people using the service has its advantages. It is attracting more and more media attention, which in turn which attracts more users in an accelerating cycle, at least for now. The important question for you to jump on board is what is the point of all of this attention. The first thing I’ll point you to is a list of the top 20 posts in 2008 on the subject of Twitter. There’s a lot of great information there, but I’m going to focus on one article in particular that talks about the top uses of the service. While this list was voted on by a group of marketers, I think it holds for a variety of different types of users.

  1. Sharing links to items of interest to your network
  2. Networking for new contacts
  3. Reinforcing current network contacts
  4. Promoting specific content
  5. Re-distribution of content from blog, web site
  6. Twitter cat posts: flight delays, eating habits, who knows what and why
  7. Replacement for Facebook updates
  8. Influencing your network to do and think what you want
  9. Group and project communications
  10. Microblogging conferences
  11. Shilling for Digg and other social news votes
  12. Pitching journalists and bloggers

As you can see, this list shows a lot of different potential uses. They basically break down into two areas. Social networking uses and work uses. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but it helps to break it down in this way.

For me, using Twitter as a socially networking tool fails. As item 6 shows, a lot of this can devolve into fairly irrelevant information that everyone who follows you will now see. This can result in a lot of valuable time lost while trying to get to the useful content like the first two items.

However, as a business tool there is a lot to be said for using Twitter. You can attract attention to your product. You can market yourself as a brand, which is especially useful if you are on the job hunt. You can direct traffic to particular areas of the Internet that you’ve found worthwhile, showing your prowess in getting things done.

So for my money, which in this case is actually none, since Twitter is a free service at this point. Twitter is a very useful business tool, if only because other people are paying attention to it. I find it to be a very poor social networking tool when compared to the powerful integration of something like Facebook, which technically offers many of the same function Twitter does in a closed environment for just the people that you choose.

The Internet is all a-Twitter

January 6, 2009

A question that I have been running into more and more frequently lately is, “What is Twitter and do I need to be on it?”

I’ll answer the first half of the question first and deal with the second half of this question in a later post.

In short (ironically enough), Twitter on its most basic levels is a microblogging service. Originally focused on the cell phone text messaging (also known as SMS) limit of 140 characters per message, Twitter is designed to allow people to write short messages about what they are doing, where they are and interesting things that have happened.

Fundamentally, little has changed in the base service. After you go to their site and sign-up for an account, there won’t be much there until you do a couple of things. First, you’ll want to start to “follow” other Twitter users. Once you start doing that, you’ll see their posts underneath your message bar on the web site. If you’d like to follow me, I’m Dustin_Gervais (That’s an underscore, by the way, which you can get by using the shift key, with the hyphen.) As you can see, I don’t have a lot of posts on the site for reasons that I’ll talk about next time.Anyway, many folks have their accounts set up to automatically follow anyone who is following this. I personally don’t recommend this because it can easily become overwhelming to keep up with so many people, many of which you don’t really know.

After you’ve found a few folks to follow, then you can try sending out a couple of messages yourself. How exactly you use the system is up to you, but for what it is worth, I tend to follow people who have interesting things to say on topics I’m interested in.

Hopefully, this brief primer gives you enough of an understanding to either investigate further or figure out that it isn’t really for you, and I’ll talk a little more about some potential uses next time.