WordPress, How I love thee…?

I dipped my toe in to the new world of blogging back in 2005, with Blogspot, aka Blogger. I never understood what seemed to be the confessional aspect of blogging. Who would be interested in anything I thought or said, what makes me an expert anyway? blogging-out-loud

So you can imagine my first blog was pretty pathetic, I barely posted, I put no effort into my page and truthfully, I don’t even know if it’s still around. I think my first post was about getting diagnosed a second time with breast cancer so not exactly viral material.

Then in 2012, a college classmate of mine introduced me to WordPress. We were efforting a grassroots campaign to get the word out about some issues affecting college students. The effort was a bust, but needless to say I was amazed at where blogging had gone. I started to notice legit websites were actually hosted by blog sites like WordPress, WIX, or any other number of blog outlets. They looked so good, as if that company was paying a staff of paid employees to code and build the back and front end to their specifications. I also started to notice major news outlets using bloggers on the air on topics such as foeirgn policy or education as if they were experts in the traditional sense. Sarah Palin was discovered by a blogger.

But within a few months of being sworn in she [Palin] and others in her circle noticed that a blogger named Adam Brickley had started a movement to draft her as Vice-President.

Although my friend and I’s effort in our grassroots campaign was a bust, our overall effect was connecting with many people we had not connected with in a very long time, it was evident how useful a blog or website could be.

_TOONBLGWordPress in particular is a great look. It’s easy on the eyes which is key given you want as many eyes reading your blog without those eyeballs getting tired or strained. The level of customization available for a free account is quite vast, which is smart because one could easily get hooked and want to increase their visibility and engagement by purchasing one of the packages WordPress provides for hosting, sharing and content management. As evident in its current iteration, WordPress is available for small blogs all the way to major companies using WordPress as their website. The cons for WordPress seem limited, perhaps being an open source operation would be a deterrent to some big companies from using WordPress as their CMS but for the entrepreneur, WordPress would be an important tool in marketing and making a brand— or voice — available to a wide audience. The challenge then becomes sifting through all the mis-information and fluff to get to the meat and potatoes of a brand, story or event.

FCC: ISPs To Respect Privacy

info protectionData mining. Persuasive messages. Unique clicks. Monetizing the internet.

These were all topics that we discussed in my most recent class about digital convergence, media and how the landscape of media has changed. It was a very interesting discussion, mostly because I got to hear what younger “millennial” types thought about privacy or the lack there of and what kind of information they were okay with giving up. Then we were asked what would we pay for on the internet? This stumped me, I have to admit, because I don’t think there really is anything for which I would pay the internet directly. I guess the closest thing for me is Netflix.wheeler

 

Today on NPR’s All Things Tech I caught an interview with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The interview was about a proposal Wheeler will formally be making March 31 about privacy. This however, is different than the usual discussions of privacy issues that crop up around the internet.

The only thing between you and the internet is your internet service provider (ISP). These providers have a wealth of data and micro data that they collect from their customers and then turnaround and sell to brokers and marketers and credit reporting agencies. This is information that they not only get from their customers when they sign up for service, but also information that they continue to get from the online activities of their customers. What customers search for, what apps they download, what locations a customer visits. Chairman Wheeler is proposing two things: that consumers be able to decide how much their information is worth and how that worth should be reflected in what an ISP charges for it’s service; that ISPs be required to report any breach of data to it’s customers, and that any breach affecting 5,000 or more customers must be reported to the FBI.

Now that is something I would pay for. Being able to control my information, after all it is mine, isn’t it? Better yet, you want my information? Here, now give me free internet.

A Spotlight on Convergence

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, I saw Spotlight recently. The Best Picture Oscar winner is about the investigative arm of the Boston Globe, named Spotlight, and how that team uncovered the massive child abuse and molestation scandal within the Archdiocese of Catholic Boston. Spotlight doesn’t just do an excellent job of portraying journalism at the turn of the 21st century, it also does an excellent job conveying the soon-to-be power of the internet and eventual convergence that will occur between old and new media.

My nostalgia came in watching the early aughts portrayed in hairstyles and clothing, printing presses, flip cell phones and pen to paper. The tone of the movie had a focus and intensity that is very often lacking in current movies, shows and in our current culture. There is a scene in the movie where the team is talking about the final story going to print, how there is more information than there is space in the paper. The decision is made to include a url on the “world wide web” at the end of the article where readers can go for more information. They also list a phone number for victims to call. This scene in particular is fantastic in its subtle nod to the cusp of digital convergence as we now know it. It also made me think—again— just how many directions into which our attention is being pulled today.

Spotlight chronicles and portrays living in the world of Web 1.0, where information on the internet was a one-way street, a place to get information and leave. Today we live in the world of Web 2.0, where the internet graduated to a two-way street; sharing information and receiving feedback on that information. There is now so much information pulling at the eyeballs of every user via data mining gathered from Facebook likes, searches, cookies and now from “super” cookies. Thinking about this, I could not help ask myself, “Would a story like this have been able to come out in such detail today?” The Spotlight team and their editors took time to develop and research the story, protecting themselves and the victims from retaliation from the Church. Would that kind of care be possible in today’s media landscape?

Additionally, this time period in which Spotlight takes place, is also the beginning of the corporate take overs of many media outlets—AOL/TimerWarner merger, and Disney/ESPN were the two big ones, but for the most part there was, at that time, still some independence in media ownership.

And that, is what I was nostalgic for. In taking a moment to turn away from the show that is our current election season and taking a moment to turn off my electronics, I was able to focus. Focus on a movie that looked back at a time when we were really able to focus…intensely, able to engross ourselves in specific content and focus on learning about an issue. That is something worth remembering to do.

I Have A Bad Feeling About Data

I felt a great disturbance in the force….

–Obi Wan Kenobi

Finding that clip, on YouTube cost me an hour of my life thanks to the wormhole of endless Star Wars (and by Star Wars, I mean Episode 4 for you young’ins) clips, documentaries and commentaries. So much stuff to wade through, that I only found that particular clip by entering “Obi Wan Kenobi disturbance in the force” in the search field.

This brings me to the point of this week’s blog post. Data. Data-star-trek-the-next-generation-31159191-1024-768No, not that one. The information kind, like when you mindlessly agree to the terms of services to all those convenient apps on your smartphone. Your DataOr all the information (data) that is collected behind your computer screen via cookies or IP addresses. What about information that should be or supposed to be out there? The kind that helps us make decisions like whether to get the HPV vaccine for your kid or whether one car brand is better than another, or who to cast your ballot for?

Data, information and knowledge all go hand in hand. You need one for the other, right? But what if that data is disrupted, what happens to gaining the knowledge you seek by searching for that data? Enter Donald J. Trump, disruptor extraordinaire. He is the planet Alderaan to the Republican party, and it’s leadership, crying out in terror. The question remains who will be silenced.

Before all this convergence in technology, content and media, there were clear messages and information that was shared, processed and understood for the most part with little disruption. If you wanted information about a vaccine, you consulted your doctor or maybe a medical journal. Which car is better? Consult some mechanics or a Consumer Reports article. What candidate to vote for? Check out the newspaper’s in depth breakdown of candidates positions on issues or watch a debate. That was then….not too long ago, mind you, before all this data on everything became the new way of doing, well, anything. Back when election debates were substantive with effective moderators. Not promoted like a cage match.

Now, we have so much information, so much data available about everything that it defeats the purpose of getting to that educated decision. As an undergraduate communications and political science major, my big project was on media bias. That was the thing 20 years ago, all media were liberal or conservative and in order to be media literate one had to consult several media sources for the same story in order to get the best understanding of the given subject. Today, not only are the lines of bias blurred thanks to the internet, social media, re-purposed content and the personalization of an online presence but there is just so much out there now that it causes disruptions in basic reception. In the end all it becomes is noise, until Donald Trump speaks, then it’s a cacophony.

Bruce Springsteen seemed prophetic in his 1992 song 57 channels:

Well we might’ a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’ a got all nice and friendly
If we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “Bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

He was just 300 channels off.

Privacy, Apples and President Washington

This week in media and news has been a doozy.

In class, we talked about regulations and ethical issues surrounding the internet, which we all know now, encompasses more than just a computer connected to an ISP (internet service provider).

The death of the Supreme Court justice broke online. I personally, got my good old push notification from BBC News and then shortly after, from the New York Times. Then my Twitter feed started filling up about conspiracy theories and what exactly was “a natural death.”

Then came the news that Apple CEO Tim Cook would appeal the court order issued allowing the FBI to gain access to the iPhone of terrorist Syed Farook Rizwan, citing privacy issues and setting precedence.

What timing.

It’s not enough that the most conservative justice on the Supreme Court passes away unexpectedly, let’s throw in a major controversial face off on privacy between Federal law enforcement and the maker of the most popular smartphone in the world. Cook, so far, is steadfast is his defense of privacy, but let’s be honest, he has to be…in order to save his product. Apple, and the rest of Silicon Valley for that matter, have had many opportunities to defend privacy yet did not. Most notably, when Edward Snowden leaked how U.S. citizens were under surveillance. So we have Apple set to appeal the decision of the judge issuing the court order, questioning an age old law called the All Writs Act of 1789 (a law that was passed by the very first United States Congress and signed into law by President George Washington) that could go all the way to the Supreme Court. A Court that right now is in flux, with an even number of justices and a battle royale that is shaping up between conservatives, the current president and presidential candidates publicly calling for delays in appointing a new justice to the court. Were the appeal process of Apple to get fast tracked, would the Supreme Court even hear the case, or kick it back to the appellate courts?

It’s not often that something of this magnitude comes along and brings pause to consider what exactly we use these devices for nowadays and to exactly how much privacy are we entitled.

Debates, social media and television

As I write this week’s blog reflection, I am “second screening” the Democratic Debate on PBS. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff managed to incorporate questions from social media without the result looking like a circus. The graphics were a simple lower third that indicated the question to which the candidates were responding to at any given time. The stage was simple, clean lines and colors. No props needed, unlike the Republican Debate held at the Reagan Library on CNN (Reagan’s Air force One). As I watch and rewind, thanks to my TiVo, I find myself listening more attentively than I have in previous debates, Republican or Democratic, and I have come to the conclusion that presentation makes or breaks communicating a message. This is where radio and television have the advantage over social media.

Think back to the previous debates of both parties. CNN with the aforementioned Air force One, Fox News with their flashy stage mimicking their high energy newscasts, CBS with it’s Democratic debate, CNN with their second debate in Utah and finally PBS with their understated set design even keeping moderators Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff in subdued lighting so as to focus attention on the candidates.Fox FacebookGOPCBS Dem

CNN Tea Party/Republican Debate

PBS Dem

Taking note of this, I could not help think about how news is presented on social media and how television seems to be relinquishing it’s advantage of presentation by seeming to be taking a page from online outlets in how to present news and information—fast and furious.

Linguist and American University professor Naomi Baron makes the case that technology has changed the way humans read, write, speak and listen. She is not wrong. Busier set designs keep the short attention span of viewers, reliance on culling questions for candidates from sites such as Facebook or Twitter instead of listening and the art of follow up questions seems to be dead. These are just some examples of how traditional media (television) has adapted to the rise of social media. Instead of debates of substantive questions, answers and moderators, it is now a clash of egos and celebrity journalists akin to The Hunger Games. Oh, Stephen Colbert beat me to it!

Well, at least we still have PBS.

Web 2.0 and human behavior

I’ll admit, I did not see the value of social media when it was first coming on the scene circa 2006/2007. My first foray was getting a Netflix account and that was largely due to my younger brother. He was talking about all these DVD movies he could get in the mail, watch them and mail them back without worrying about late fees. And here I was still using my Blockbuster card. My brother is eight years younger than me but I still felt like an old fogey, stuck in my analog ways. I did give it a shot, and once I saw TV shows were available, I was hooked.

More recently in class, we talked about an article that was originally published in Newsweek, 1995 by Clifford Stoll. He was a man after my own heart when it came to digitizing the world. I am not an early adopter and my career has been in an industry (television) where technology changes pretty quickly. I was made fun of by co-workers that had come over to my home and saw my 14″ Emerson television (pictured above) and remarked “You work at the Worldwide Leader in Sports and you have this thing as your TV??” This was 1997. Shortly thereafter, I “upgraded” to a 27″ Sony and then of course the flat screens came out right after that purchase. There is an part of Stoll’s article that really hit it out of the park when it came to the internet and it’s effects on human behavior.

What’s missing from this electronic wonderland? Human contact. Discount the fawning techno-burble about virtual communities. Computers and networks isolate us from one another. A network chat line is a limp substitute for meeting friends over coffee. No interactive multimedia display comes close to the excitement of a live concert. And who’d prefer cybersex to the real thing?

Indeed. Who would prefer cybersex to the real thing? Lenina Huxley would for one, the character from the movie Demolition Man, one movie of many (Blade Runner, Minority Report, Back to the Future II, Total Recall, The Net) that predicted the future convergence of technology and media into all aspects of life. Even Clifford Stoll’s 1995 predictions were pretty accurate.

Back to Netflix, I love Netflix circa 2007. I could share and write reviews, rate my movies, connect with friends and family that also had Netflix and send them movie suggestions. And then something happened. I started noticing that Netflix kept “suggesting” the same type of movies, even when I just wanted to browse titles, the site algorithm would show me movies based on what I had already interacted with. I missed browsing the shelves of Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and coming across an obscure title with an intriguing plot or discovering that independent film a big star decided to make. For this reason, I avoid Amazon.

Then I got a Kindle. Should I purchase books from Amazon like everyone else seems to be doing? I don’t want to be stuck with digital titles after I read them. Enter something old becoming new again. My local library! I could borrow books through my library (via Amazon) to read on my Kindle. It’s the best of both worlds. Until, while reading in bed, the kindle slips from your hands and lands on your face. Books are soft. Kindles are not. Not to mention if you forget to charge it. Or you lose your spot in the book.

All these devices bring convenience there is no doubt, what is key is to realize and decide how much of that convenience is actually needed.