Crying Out for Clarity

Interesting post and thread at Signal vs Noise on the overuse of buzzwords, particularly on job applications. One thing caught my eye, though: the assumption that shorter, briefer is better. One commenter wrote: “I’ve always noticed that the shortest emails come from those with the most power in the organization.” That’s probably because they’re using a BlackBerry. Shorter isn’t necessarily better, although it might be. Clarity is better. Not always the same thing. (Having just read through a dozen award applications I see a crying need for clarity.)

Anyway some horrible buzzwords that crop up in the comments or my head:

  • anything with 2.0 in it
  • ‘space’ meaning market
  • ‘interface’ as a verb
  • stakeholder
  • grow as a transitive verb
  • more buzzwords here.

The Thai Coup – Another Blogger Scoop?

Daniel Cuthbert, a blogger/photographer at MetroBlogging, writes in the aftermath of the Thai coup about how bloggers again apparently beat the pros to the mark:

I myself noticed how few traditional news networks were a the scene at 11pm on the 19th, and it seemed that the news reports that were being delivered were being done by people in news studio’s and not ones physically there.

Blogging has changed the way the public now receives information. Gone are the days of waiting for the big guns (CNN/BBC/Reuters) arriving at the scene to give the report, now local residents take it upon themselves to write up what’s happening and post it on their blogs. In recent events it’s these personal accounts that lead to the news agencies referencing.

The London bombings on 7/7 saw the first initial reports coming from local bloggers who lived near to the blasts. In India, local bloggers were the first to react to the terrorist attack on the Mumbai train attacks and the public found these blogs more up to date with information than local TV channels.

Interesting stuff, and, if true, not a little scary for us old hacks. I was there for the last coup, which dates me considerably, but I do recall how we covered it: We heard about it from our local reporters who used to walk around with a radio in each earplug, even at weekends. We were out on the streets pretty quickly, armed with cellphones the size of wellington boots, but sometimes that isn’t the place to cover coups. Offices need manning, stories need writing, and those journalists who are on the street may not necessarily look like them. That said, I’ve read some glorious stuff about the Thai coup from bloggers, including from Daniel himself, and this extraordinary, and speculative, analysis from Scott Rosenberg at Monsters & Critics. Early on there was good stuff at Global Voices Online, too. And 19sep, Gonzo Journal, Bangkok Recorder, etc.

I don’t know what the long term implications of all this are. I think bloggers can outwit journalists easily, especially in the early hours of a big (partly) visible news story like this. But what happens when the story starts to run longer than a couple of days? Perhaps the answer lies with Reuters, which is investing in efforts like NewsAssignment.net, a sort of publicly sponsored investigative journalism project. Oddly enough, it was Reuters I was working for back then during the 1991 coup.

Loose Change – Radio, Ricky and Rabid Readers

Some stuff I thought you might like:

Email Wins Over RSS?

I’ve been obsessively watching email subscription to my blog via Feedblitz and while we’re talking modest numbers here, it’s great to see people signing up. (It’s on the left hand side of the blog below my smarmy mugshot.) Much more personal somehow, than an RSS subscription.

Which doubles the pain when someone unsubscribes. Was it something I said? Something I didn’t say? The way I said it? What’s the etiquette on this?

Email subscription to blogs is actually a pretty useful tool. It may look like a step back from RSS but actually it has its uses. I use it for those blogs that I definitely want to read, and can’t afford to ignore (knowing that some days I’ll only get around to checking my RSS reader once or twice.) Email I’ll always read. And most feeds look nice in Feedblitz.

But maybe Feedblitz has missed a trick. Given email is a two way street, wouldn’t it be good to make the Feedblitz subscription more interactive? Allow readers to comment on a post just by hitting ‘reply’, or at least to offer feedback to the writer (especially when they unsubscribe a day after subscribing.)

Going Through the Security Motions

The Associated Press profiles security guru Bruce Schneier. Bruce writes clearly and well, and apparently got a mention in “The Da Vinci Code”. He’s also very critical of Post 9–11 overreaction: “Eventually we will all come to our senses about security,” he says. “I think it’s 10 to 20 years. A generation.” His argument: less showmanship, more cost-effectivenesss. Amen.

To that I’d add consistency. Those implementing security need to apply the same level of alertness whether it’s 1 am or 1 pm. They also need to be involved in the decision making and planning process — at least enough to understand that looking under a car for a bomb is not just about going through the motions of looking under the car. (My favorite example of this is when security guards in Asia make a great song and dance of inspecting the inside and underside of an SUV, but then entirely ignore the external hard cover for the spare wheel stuck on the vehicle’s rear door.)

Security is a process, but it’s not just a procedure.

MySpace Cleansing

Highlight of my Monday morning so far:

Hi jeremy,

You have been invited to join the Colon Cleansing Treatment group on MySpace.
 
Click the link below to see the group:
http://groups.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=groups.groupProfile&groupID=103939131

Feel free to join on my behalf.

The Rise of the “How To” Movie

Screencasting goes commercial?

I’m a huge fan of screencasting — short “movies”, most often of what you’re doing on your PC as a easier way of explaining how to use a piece of software — and I think it has huge potential. (Here’s a loose wire directory of screencasting stuff.) So it’s not much of a surprise that folk are going to try to make money from it. One of the first out of the traps is Tubetorial, which offers a bunch of “how to” screencasts supported by ads.

Initial reactions are mixed. Lee Odden of Web Pro News interviews the guy behind Tubetorial, Brian Clark of Copyblogger, who says he’s hoping viewers will submit their own screencasts. Darren Rowse of problogger wonders whether it’s going to be possible to maintain quality and whether video lends itself to the kind of audience they’re after. Martin Neumann of ePublishingDaily.com wonders at the mismatch between the (wet floor Web 2.0) glitz of the site, and the rather less polished videos themselves.

My tupennies’ worth? These kinds of things, like podcasts, can vary in quality wildly. It’s easy enough to do a screencast, just as it’s easier enough to do a podcast. But to raise the quality to a professional, or semi-professional level, requires a lot of post-production work. I would expect to see more of the latter in something like this, if the user is expected to view it as a ‘commercial product’, with what we Brits call commercials tagged on the end.

Secondly, delivery is important. A huge amount of blog inches is dedicated to making blog posts zing, and yet a lot of people making podcasts and videocasts and screencasts don’t seem to apply the same rules. The script should be tight, entertaining and informative. The delivery should also be, and, if video is involved, so too should that. If you’re talking to camera, as presenters on tubetorials do, look good, rehearsed and at the camera.

That said, I think screencasts as a way of conveying information are the way to go, and these guys are definitely worth watching.

The Economics of Journalism

Daniel Harrison at the The Global Perspective takes issue with my post about media companies no longer being about content and all about the medium. He makes a fair point, and it’s a good thoughtful post (I’ll forgive him getting my name wrong), concluding that “it is misleading to get side-tracked into a debate on medium, when content is what it’s about”:

The medium is changing, but this is nothing new. One hundred years ago most newspapers did not have pictures; now they do. So what? The act of news reporting and delivery is what the economics of journalism is about.

I don’t think, sadly, this is true.The economics of journalism is to make money through advertising, and to a lesser extent, through subscription. The content — how many reporters can be hired, how far they can travel — is largely determined by this. Some publications manage to ignore this with the help of wealthy patrons, but eventually they all fall into the same equation. Newspapers have been economic for so long because they represented a viable logistical operation for delivering content (and advertising). But if the technology of logistics changed, so would be the business model. That is what is happening now. The delivery mechanism has changed so radically that it’s also changing the content mechanism. If bloggers on the streets of Bangkok can get pictures and news of a coup before the wires and TV crews, why not make that part of your content?

His commentary is in the context of the broader tug of war between bloggers and journalists — one he is right to say has a tendency to get too personal, too vitriolic. This is one of those weird artefacts of this period of change, and we’re going to look back and wonder what all the fuss was  about. There will always  be room for professional journalists — reporters, editors, commentators and columnists — and Daniel is right to say that content, in that sense, is still going to be a priority for many media companies. But it will be in a much changed environment, where the walls between creator and consumer are broken down, where delivery, creation and sharing are part of the logistical machinery, and where a well-known, respected blogger is as credible as a well-known, respected journalist.

The Media Paradox

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine hits the nail on the head again when he says, not for the first time: “The successful media companies of the new age will be the ones that enable media wherever it wants to be.” But in that phrase lurks an interesting paradox: Media companies (itself shorthand for mass media) are no longer about content, and all about the medium. For the past 80 years the mass media has been about leveraging the technologies available to deliver standardized content over as large an area/population as possible. Now it’s about using the technologies available to enable as large a population as possible to swap their own content.

VOX Rocks (Not)

Unless you’re a real masochist, I wouldn’t bother installing the latest add-on for Skype, VoxLib (Windows only, sorry). It’s a nice idea, insofaras I can understand it, but it sure messes up your system. VOX in theory allows you to make Skype (and SkypeOut) calls via any telephone. It gets complicated, and it certainly didn’t work for me — I somehow found myself in a Skype conference with someone who was speaking no language I recognised. (The website is here; a slightly better explanation of how it works is here. [Download Squad]).

But the real problem is that the software isn’t ready. It didn’t install properly, and that is usually it for me. But I thought I would persevere, and since then I’ve had a couple of blue-screens-of-death crashes. VOX doesn’t even recover gracefully: Upon reboot, I get some weird error message boxes, no icon in my system tray to indicate that VOX is actually running, no sign of VOX in my Applications list in Task Manager, but still some suspicious processes hogging the computer’s resources. Only by closing them down does my computer work properly again. My advice: wait until VOX gets its act together.

And curse companies that release software which isn’t ready.

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