American Censorship Day

On 11/16, Congress holds hearings on the first American Internet censorship system. This bill can pass. If it does the Internet and free speech will never be the same:

“These bills were written by the content industry without any input from the technology industry. And they are trying to fast track them through congress and into law without any negotiation with the technology industry.”

Please sign up and do what you can to help oppose this draconian and pointless bill.

How Journalists Can Start Using Google+ Now

As much as I love Twitter, I’ve been spending a lot more time on Google+ over the past couple of months. The growth of the network has been absolutely explosive, and readers are flocking there in droves. Since part of my job at the Knight Digital Media Center is working on their social media presence, and the other part involves helping journalists to use digital tools effectively, I wrote up this blog post yesterday:

How Journalists Can Start Using Google+ Now

The jury’s still out on whether Google+ will eventually become a Twitter or Facebook killer. Talk to Facebook users and they’ll tell you Google+ is irrelevant – that the audience is too small, that their friends aren’t there1, or that only early adopters and geeks are posting. Business Insider says Facebook will wipe the floor with Google+. But the numbers tell another story, and if it’s not time for journalists to start using the platform today, it’ll soon be too big to ignore.

Meet me there!

Ten Reasons I Prefer Google+ Over Facebook

As if managing Facebook and Twitter wasn’t nuts enough, I’m now totally hooked on Google+. The sooner all my friends migrate from Facebook to G+, the better. Not that I expect that actually to happen, but I wouldn’t mind :) I’ve always preferred Twitter over Facebook because of its public nature (a well-curated Twitter firehose has a much higher information quotient than a Facebook stream), but Google+ cranks that equation up a notch by giving you the perfect combination of public and private, without Twitter’s character limitations. In a nutshell:

  1. Posts don’t get cut off after 420 characters like they do on FB, forcing you to add the rest of your post as comments.
  2. You can actually edit posts and comments after they’ve been made, so you don’t have to delete and repost.
  3. You can actually use bold and italics (imagine that!)
  4. Cleaner design.
  5. The Circles concept gives you way more control over who sees your content. You can be as public or as private as you want to be. Share with the world or just one person or any subset thereof.
  6. You actually own your own data – you can export your entire history of content, and all of your contacts – to back it up take it elsewhere if you ever want to (FB shuts down all attempts to do that).
  7. Perfect combination of the privateness of FB with the publicness of Twitter, so you get exposed to a much broader range of content than you do on FB.
  8. No Farmville!
  9. No ads (yet)
  10. Great collaboration tools (Huddles, Hangouts), great suggested reading (Sparks).
  11. Animated GIF support (no really, it’s cooler than you think – click through)

Oops, that was eleven. Want an invite? I’ve got 150 to pass around. Have a mint, they’re free!

A Guide to Twitter for Facebook Users

Some of my Facebook friends have been asking why I seem to spend more time on Twitter than on FB, and wonder what I see in it. I’ve started to realize that a lot of Facebook users kind of misunderstand Twitter, and don’t realize how much value is there. The two networks represent very different kinds of parties, and it’s not like you have to choose one or the other – you get very different things from each of them. I can’t imagine not doing both!

Finally decided to put together this little guide to clarify a few things. Hope you find it useful!

Image via Boing-Boing
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Content Farms and the Demand Media Cesspool

Never mind black-hat SEO and the mostly closed ecosystem of the second internet (Facebook) – the web is facing a possibly even bigger nemesis in “content farms” like Demand Media, which attempt to game the search + advertising money machine that is Google. I knew that content farms were a big problem (Google even recently released a Chrome plugin that would let end users identify non-useful content on the internet so it could be deprecated in search results). But check out the infographic below. It’s all interesting, but wrap your head around the the raw numbers: “Demand’s goal is to publish 1 million articles/month (30,000 articles per day)” — all crap content written by underpaid writers churning out intentional baloney, all with the intention of skimming pennies and dollars out of AdWords. In the process, they’re wrecking the quality of the search results you rely on every day, and filling the web with bile and nonsense. Staggering.

Demand Media Breaking the Bank

Looking Back on ZiffNet: 20 Years in Technology Publishing

Social networking and online publishing weren’t always about the web. When I got my start at ZiffNet – an umbrella organization for the family of Ziff-Davis computing magazines – “online” meant CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. At the time, CompuServe was only accessible in command line mode, through terminal emulation software. Seems impossible by today’s standards, but at the time, it was the state of the art. The Ziff-Davis presence on Prodigy and AOL came a bit later, and were graphical – some of the first to take advantage of the then-new new Windows operating system.

We were lucky to have been in the cat bird’s seat when the web hit in the early ’90s (though we were also blind-sided by it, since our business model was all about charging for connection times). I was lucky to have been there at the birth of the web, and got to help create Ziff’s first web presence, which in turn inspired me to launch Birdhouse (first as an arts collective, then later as a blog, and later as a hosting service).

A lot of water under the bridge since then – incredible to contemplate how the landscape of online publishing has changed since then. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of ZiffNet, ZDNet has published a ZDNet 20th Anniversary Special, with memoirs from myself and others involved at the time. ZiffNet launched my passion for technology and my career. I’ve re-posted my own contribution below, for posterity.

See also: Photo gallery: ZDNet through the years, 1997-2010 as well as Michael Kolowich’s recollection of the start of Interchange – a service that was designed to blow the doors off the online services of the time, but that was eclipsed by the birth of the web: ZiffNet: ‘Project Athena’ and the moment of conception.

Continue reading “Looking Back on ZiffNet: 20 Years in Technology Publishing”

Subscribing to TED Talks in HD with TiVo

When you burn out on the TV wasteland and want some actual brain food, podcast junkies will tell you that one of the most reliable sources of high-quality content is the seemingly bottomless series of TED Talks. Brilliant minds in every topic field, from recycling to neuroscience, reefs to religion, get 5-15 minutes to hold forth, bend your brain, and make you a better person. TED has expanded beyond its roots, and TED talks are now held all over the world at satellite conferences, meaning there’s an endless supply of great content. The site graciously provides the talks as archived video, always available.

TED’s not a cable channel, but its content is accessible via RSS. If you’re a TiVo user, you’ve got a two-part problem: 1) How to get something akin to a TED Talks “Season Pass,” so you always have access to recent stuff, and 2) How to get the talks in HD format, since standard-def internet content looks horrible on an HD TV.
Continue reading “Subscribing to TED Talks in HD with TiVo”

Photo365 Project

A few years ago, we started hearing about intrepid souls committed to taking one photograph per day for an entire year. Shortly after, a web site designed to accommodate people doing the project popped up ( Yesterday being New Year’s, there was a lot of talk on Twitter from people wanting to dive in. Rapped about it with some friends, and four of us decided to go for it in 2011.

Since almost everyone these days is on Flickr, Instagram, Facebook etc., and since almost everyone has a phone in their pocket capable of taking relatively high-quality images, it’s never been easier. In fact, many people already take at least one photo per day without even trying. There are even 65 people on who have committed to doing the project (here’s mine).

I’ll be posting to Instagram as usual, and using the Flickr app for iPhone to push some of those photos up to a dedicated Flickr set. There’s also a very large Flickr group consisting of people doing the project (see instructions on that page).

Here’s an embedded slideshow of my set, which will grow longer as the year goes on:

Birdhouse Updates is Back

A few years ago, before Twitter and Facebook cleaned the clock of the blogosphere, I used to do all my posting here, and sent regular email updates summarizing activity at Birdhouse. But like most bloggers, the meteoric rise of Twitter and Facebook took a lot of the wind out of the sails of this site, and I started posting a lot of content at social networks instead.

Contrary to popular belief, Twitter did not “kill” this blog. I’ve been posting here all along, just with much less frequency. If you stopped reading when I started Tweeting, scroll back through the past couple of years – there’s still been action on Birdhouse.

Still, I’ve never quite felt comfortable with putting so much on the social networks. I want to own my content. I want to control the design. I want to control how media and code samples are embedded. I don’t always like being restricted to length limits. I really really don’t like that almost everything posted to Facebook is invisible to most of the world (I feel strongly that the internet is at its best when it’s a public square).

Long story short, in 2011 I intend to start posting more content to Birdhouse. And I’m resurrecting Birdhouse Updates, the email digest version of this site. Want to get occasional updates of new stuff happening here? Enter your email on the Birdhouse Subscribe page and reply to the confirmation email you’ll receive. (If you’re reading this via email, you’re already subscribed).

For the geeks among you, I’ve written a new WordPress plugin called SoloMail, which I’ll be using to send the updates. Let me know if you find it useful.

Blogging isn’t dead! (it just smells funny :) Happy 2011.