Joining American University in Fall 2013

I’m thrilled to announce that coming Fall 2013, I will be joining American University as associate professor of journalism in Washington DC. This brings me back full circle to the town where I was born and had my first real job as a young NASA intern in the 1980s.

The opportunity to pursue research in digital content towards knowledge in the public interest at AU’s School of Communication was too lucrative to pass up. I look forward to collaborative endeavors with Washington DC-area media organizations and the GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) sector to investigate how crowd participation changes our notions of authority, media literacy and public knowledge. Working in a city with entities such as the National Archive, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, PBS and National Public Radio as digital innovators is an exciting prospect, and meshes with my current work with Wikipedia and content co-creation.

The reputation of American University’s ambitious and socially conscious student body was a big attraction, and I’m eager to work with colleagues involved with world-class efforts such as PBS’s Frontline, the Center for Social Media and J-Lab.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my four years at the USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. I will treasure the colleagues, students and friends I’ve made and remain a great supporter of the school. I believe Los Angeles is the most interesting metropolitan reporting ground for journalists and provides a fascinating prototype for the future of the US.

I’m proud that in the four years at USC, I brought high quality instruction and direction to the online program and worked with excellent colleagues to create a new curriculum for a one-year masters program. I cherished the privilege of getting to know all first year journalism masters students at USC through our combined digital class. Together, we explored issues about the impact of digital technologies on journalism and society and I’m confident we will remain in touch through the years, as have my previous students at Columbia and in Hong Kong. I look forward to sharing their joys and watching their career progress. For all its intellectual scope, this is a small business, and I will continue to meet and work with many of the folks I’ve taught, as they become leaders in the field. I’d like to thank journalism director Geneva Overholser for allowing me fruitful years in California with USC, and dean Jeff Rutenbeck for opening new horizons at American University.


Just some of the great students at USC over the years

When I first started researching Wikipedia in 2003, few people knew what it was. The notion of a widely used encyclopedia that “anyone can edit,” was so foreign, Wikipedia editors exhorted themselves to “BE BOLD” in editing it.

Journalism educators and academics now need to BE BOLD in editing their own discipline, as news content has become mobile, location-aware, push-notified and peer-produced. I’m looking forward to pushing those boundaries with an impressive team assembled at American University for years to come.

See the official American University announcement at their web site.

 

First thoughts on Apple’s iBooks Author

Apple announced their iBooks Author app today as their pitch to remake “e-textbooks.”

I was a huge fan of Apple’s Hypercard when it was introduced in 1987, and used their 1990s Apple Media Tool and Open Doc systems, so I’ve been following Apple’s moves for over a decade in multimedia “publishing.”

While I thought today would be the revival of Hypercard “The Next Generation,” I don’t think it meets that goal. Below are my first thoughts on the system that I downloaded and tried this morning:

ABOVE: Sample project started related to my book The Wikipedia Revolution

1. It’s free to download through the Mac App Store, though that means you need to have Mac OS X Lion 10.7 installed. It’s like Keynote on steroids, with the ability to file into Apple’s iBookstore. Preview only happens on an iPad hooked up and “docked” to your computer. No iPhone export, and PDF export brands the file with Apple logo and “iBooks Author”

2. There is no generic file exchange with others — everything MUST go through Apple’s iBookstore, and you must sign up for an account and fill in lots of detailed info, including having a valid US tax ID. Availability to publish is not immediate, you have to be approved by Apple.

3. This is not the Hypercard replacement I, or others, thought it would be even if it is slick and has nice templates.That said, it will find a decent audience of simple book creators.

4. Being captive to the Apple closed ecosystem provides a nice paying audience and Apple’s quality control, but certainly has to give educators pause about how much Apple exerts over the process.

UPDATE: Matt Gemmell has an excellent summary of the issues around iBooks Author, most notably:

“If the book isn’t free, you must sell it via the iBookstore. You can repurpose the content and sell it via any other avenue you like, but you can only sell an iBooks Author-created book file on the iBookstore (where Apple will of course take 30%). You can distribute a free iBooks Author-created book file via any means you wish.”

More to come…

Analyzing Occupy Wall Street, with Rushkoff and Wikipedia

Doug Rushkoff has a great piece on CNN deconstructing the Occupy Wall Street motivations and goals. Just publishing this is commendable on the news network’s part, since he aims his sights right on CNN’s own anchor Erin Burnett for the shallow, gotcha journalism she debuted this week on her new TV show.

I’d also been thinking along Rushkoff’s lines. What exactly was Occupy Wall Street trying to achieve? In many ways, it resembled the WTO protests I covered in 2005 in Hong Kong. That mishmash of protesters from the “Global South,” subsidized farmers from Korea, Southeast Asian sex workers, and domestic maids, among others, had common gripes, but exhibited no central leadership or coherent manifesto. You felt the vibe. You knew what they were against. But you didn’t know where it was going.

WTO protesters in 2005 in Hong Kong

To me, Occupy Wall Street reminds me a lot like the folks who edit Wikipedia — a leaderless grassroots gathering of passionate individuals with similar concerns, trying to find consensus. Rushkoff describes this better as: a “decentralized network-era culture,” concerned about sustainability in their movement, rather than victory.

“It is not about one-pointedness, but inclusion and groping toward consensus. It is not like a book; it is like the Internet,” says Rushkoff.

The full piece is worth the read, because it’s this type of analysis Rushkoff does best: Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don’t get it – CNN.com.

Egypt: Crowdsourcing Speak2Tweet Transcription

With the Internet and mobile blackout in Egypt, a lot of attention has been drawn to the Google project Speak2Tweet, which allows people to call a phone number and leave a message. That audio file is then put up on SayNow, and the page is Tweeted out as @Speak2Tweet.

I’ve collected 1070+ of these messages since it started, and plotted how often they occur on a chart.

What’s fascinating is that onlookers decided it wasn’t enough. So as a grassroots project, Twitter user @BaghdadBrian started a public Google Spreadsheet, and asked for volunteers to catalog all the audio messages, and transcribe them. His request got tweeted, and retweeted.

People came, to the tune of 50 or so simultaneously reading, listening and writing entries. It was so popular, it overwhelmed the limits of Google Docs. (I know, I helped to automate the importation of Speak2Text entries, and things got very sluggish.).

Other volunteers then translated those messages into English (and French, among others). After moving to more restricted access, the results of this crowdsourcing is now served up on http://egypt.alive.in.

Transcripted message from @Speak2Tweet on egypt.alive.in

Transcripted message from @Speak2Tweet on egypt.alive.in

Appreciate for a moment the chain of software and human effort that has been slapped together within two days to accomplish this:

Egyptian -> plain old telephone line -> voice message -> digital recording -> SayNow web site -> @Speak2Tweet twitter feed -> scraper -> Google Spreadsheet -> human transcription -> human translation -> human double checking -> exported to CMS -> appears on web site.

Open source software, APIs and free tools have made this possible. But even more important, crowdsourcing and collaboration are now part of the standard toolkit, and it’s amazing to see how quickly this has become part of our “new media literacy,” such that within hours, it can be harnessed for human rights and crisis response.

(For more on this ongoing trend, please do visit the awesome CrisisCommons project)

Rutgers Student Suicide

I’m on the board of the Student Press Law Center, and this excellent commentary from its executive director was published in USA Today in response to the Rutgers University student suicide.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/letters/2010-10-06-letters06_ST_N.htm

The tragic loss of an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, driven to suicide by a voyeuristic online video, has the nation clamoring for new methods of teaching online civility.

But there is already a highly successful program that trains young people to differentiate between fact and rumor, verify information before they repeat it, take responsibility for the consequences of their words, respect opposing points of view, and weigh the legal and ethical considerations before damaging a person’s reputation. That program is called “journalism.”

When everyone with Internet access is a publisher, school authorities should be stampeding to ensure that all students are taught the journalistic fundamentals to publish responsibly. Far too many are doing the opposite.

Journalism teachers are being driven from the classroom — fired, demoted or transferred in retaliation for their students’ uncomfortably candid journalistic work. Administrators who value the PR illusion of a controversy-free school over the quality of education are creating a hostile climate that makes participation in journalism intolerable for all but the meekest and most compliant students — just when the values conveyed by journalism education are desperately needed.

State officials in Kansas are defunding scholastic journalism programs on the grounds that newsgathering is not a marketable career. They are right. Ethics, responsibility, accuracy and fairness are not résumé credentials; they are essential life skills for membership in a civilized society, which journalism teaches effectively.



Frank D. LoMonte, Esq.
Executive Director
Student Press Law Center

What Hath Wikipedia Wrought?

At Wikisym 2010, I delivered the closing keynote to a great set of academics and researchers from around the world.

It was also the first public venue where I described a new project I’m starting called WikiFactCheck, which attempts to bring the culture of reliable sources, verifiability and citations set by Wikipedia to the task of fact checking news outlets and sources. This will start with focusing on the US “Sunday Morning talk show” circuit, a cause taken up prominently by Jay Rosen and projects such as PolitiFact and Meet The Facts. But the effort can be extended to other domains, such as political debates, speeches and briefings, and I look forward to seeing the brainstorming around this.

See the following for the complete presentation, and feel free to visit the wiki above and contribute your ideas. I will be giving a brief talk at AEJMC in Denver, Colorado about the WikiFactCheck project.

NPR’s advanced HTML Beta

This week I’m at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at Univ. of Texas-Austin, an event that’s been a great source of professional and academic dialogue regarding digital journalism.

One of the neat demos was from NPR’s Kinsey Wilson, who showed their iPad-specific web site. If you visit npr.org with the iPad Safari browser, you’ll get redirected to their beta site created with “HTML5″ – npr.org/tablet (though Dave Stanton of U of Florida points it it’s really XHTML 1.0 Transitional. You don’t need an iPad to see it: use Safari for Mac/Windows or Firefox 3.5+ to visit that URL directly)

Without plugins, they’ve added an audio clip playlist manager that’s pegged to the bottom of the screen. On a landscape laptop screen, it looks a bit big and intrusive.

On a portrait-screen iPad with high pixel density, it’s very nicely sized and placed.

Wilson said the NPR team took about three weeks to finish the project. When the iPhone first launched, Steve Jobs famously said you don’t need apps, since rich web content is all you need. We know now Jobs changed his mind, but NPR is showing how you can make a web page feel very “app-ian” with some simple HTML additions.

China’s Social Networking Sites

With the rumors of Facebook getting into China this year, VentureBeat has put out an excellent roundup of the big four social networking sites in China:

  • RenRen
  • Kaixin001
  • Qzone
  • 51.com

What’s interesting is that each one comes from a different angle: students, music/games, instant messaging and rural users (respectively). That makes for an interesting scrum, as no single service rules the landscape quite like Facebook does in the US.

I’ll be on KCBS radio tomorrow to talk about Facebook’s prospects.

In general, RenRen (nee XiaoNei) is the most like Facebook, as it launched as pretty much a pixel-for-pixel clone. It has a valuation of approximately $1.2 bln with Softbank recently buying a 35% stake.

I’m not hopeful Facebook will make any successful splash in the China market, though the way it’s been reported via sina.com, there’s every indication this is just an unsubstantiated rumor.

iPad the Spork

After two days of showing the iPad to the community at USC, I got an interesting questions from a student in class: “It isn’t really a computer, it really isn’t a mobile device, so what is it?”

The best explanation I came up with: a spork.

It’s a digital spork.

Spork
Spork

Now I mean that in the most affectionate way. Rather than doing neither thing well, it does two things quite competently in one tight package.

It’s a browsing device with a large bright screen, powerful processing for multimedia and enough storage/connectivity to mimic a laptop. On the mobile side, its 10-12 hour battery means you constantly use it without rationing your time (this could be a bad thing), you can toss it in your bag without thinking twice, and you can lean back in bed or lounge at the beach to use it.

Now, the “lean back” aspect makes things interesting.

This is what makes the device so exciting for publishers and TV folks.

See, this whole laptop-based “lean forward” crouching over your keyboard phenomenon is foreign to them. It’s too participatory. You’re at your keyboard, ready to comment, to chat, to pan, to praise. You’re multitasking,  your attention is scattered, and you’re almost always one tiny step away from being bored and doing something else.

Traditional media companies aren’t used to that, and haven’t understood what to do with it.

Instead, the iPad brings back the passive, single-tasking, lean-back experience. Lean back is what they understand — couch potatoes, lounge chair magazine leafers and bathroom readers. You’re doing one, and one thing only.

So the iPad gives them hope the pendulum can swing back away from the wild chaotic bazaar of the mouse-based desktop, and back towards what they understand. And to help monetize this, they now have the elusive micropayment system they’ve been missing for a while — the iTunes Store. Years of Apple iPod and iPhone consumers buying songs at $0.99 and apps at $0.99 have conditioned the populace to pay these micro-amounts, driven by an ephemeral impulse buy for content.

Or so the industry hopes.

It’s a very real possibility it will be successful, even if I don’t particularly care for the trend.

Paid apps already available from Time and ESPN replicate the web content on those sites, but with more interactivity and a rich multimedia display. Folks who think this is folly, that the same content can be had for free on the web, and will kill the iPad paid-content market, need to consider consumer behavior more carefully.

By that logic, bottled water companies should not exist because of course we have free water everywhere, from taps and bubblers.

We know otherwise. That Evian, Perrier, SmartWater (and even Aquafina selling what is practically the same as tap water back to us) make money, and lots of it, is no secret. There is upselling of what is commodity. And if there’s ever a perfect partner for making that work (reselling what is common at high markups) it’s Apple.

And that’s what we’ll see — a bustling marketplace for captive content. That’s not my concern per se. What does give pause is a whole new generation of content that is not linkable, commentable or recordable. The iPad is a closed box, and for that reason, the rich discourse (and ugly trolling) goes away. But along with that goes the chaotic mashed-up marketplace that has spawned a creative content community.

For that reason, I hope the iPad will be good like a spork is good on a camping trip –something that will do the trick in adverse conditions, but not something you’d want for your main dining experience. Because that lean-back experience takes away the culture of the read-write web, and that would be a step backwards.

Update: my friend Cory Doctorow has an even stronger warning when it comes to the iPad: “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)“.

iPad Reflections

Saturday was the day that thousands of users obsessively checking UPS.com for their package status  finally got their gleaming white box of iPad.
With an entry price of $499, Wifi networking, a fast custom A4 processor made by Apple, and 16 Gbytes of storage, the iPad promises to be a compelling media consumption device. I say consumption, because it doesn’t come with a camera at this time nor does it come with any removable storage for expansion.
So does the iPad meet the hype? In the first 12 hours of use, I’d say yes it does. And it has great implications for traditional print publishers.
First the very basic physical aspects: it’s a 9.7″ 1024×768 pixel screen, or about the same screen size as a respectable laptop of a few years ago. The difference is, this is thin, portable and held vertically. It’s a classic lean-back instead of lean-forward experience. With no physical keyboard, you naturally hold it in portrait mode, about a foot from your face. That gives the pixels much higher impact on the eyes as it fills your visual senses.
When it comes to operation, one cannot underestimate the value of the intuitive direct manipulation interface — scroll by swiping, zoom by pinching, enable by tapping. There really is no manual for this thing, because you can learn everything you need to know in about a minute of experimentation.
Apple boasts the device can go 10 hours on a full charge. Most  testers have found Apple was modest, and have exceeded that in real world tasks. One caveat: because the battery is so capacious, one really does need to use the included 10 watt adapter to charge the iPad in a reasonable amount of time. Plugging the tablet device into a computer’s USB port will charge it much less slowly, taking up to four times as long and not being able to charge overnight.
The screen is plenty bright in daylight, as that’s something Apple perfected some years ago. However, since we’re used to screens that stand almost vertical, putting this down on a table, even at an angle, will bring up lots of glare, especially outdoors. The keyboard is usable, but not for touch typing. For brief bursts it’s fine, and more pleasant than using the miniscule iPhone or iPod touch virtual keyboards.
Content
In some ways the iPad is a retro concept. With a fixed well-known screen size for content developers, and apps that need to be installed before one can experience rich content, the iPad model is reminiscent of the golden era of CD-ROMs. That was a time where every pixel on the screen could be manipulated, and any mode of interaction was possible with rapid-fire crisp response because everything was local to the computer. This resulted in great tools and content, including Voyager CD-ROM books, Apple’s Hypercard and multimedia encyclopedic content from Encarta and Britannica. Strangely enough, iPad may bring us back to recapture that cutting-edge 1995-era multimedia technology.
Contrast that with web pages viewed on a general purpose computer, which has been the focus of “interactive content” since 1995. While basing the dot-com revolution around Web browsers and Internet-hosted content certainly allowed for great advances in connected applications and collaboration, it was lacking for rich media experiences. Macromedia (now a part of Adobe) pushed the envelope by giving us Flash, but even then most sites amble along awkwardly with a mishmash of dynamic HTML, and give us a but a small window of interactive Flash.
The situation changes quite a bit with iPad.
Right now, the two choices for content creators is to go the “app-ian way” or to innovate with web content. Remember: the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch don’t support Adobe Flash.
Apple doesn’t mind closed solutions but only if *it* is the purveryor of the proprietary product. Therefore, Apple didn’t want to give entire swaths of its prized iPad real estate to another company. The other solution that has developed is the HTML5 spec, which has been trumpeted as the way to replicate Flash’s video and advanced multimedia capabilities in a standard way, and is supported by the Apple’s Safari browser.
The apps released so far for iPad have been impressive, which has invigorated the art of visual news design, now that designers (unshackled from HTML and CSS) have the entire screen the play with. The content from NPR, Match (France), Yahoo! Entertainment and even the usually bland Associated Press all show promise that go far beyond what you see from their respective web sites.
In the coming months, look for news outlets to experiment heavily with both approaches.
So far the range of iPad apps exhinits a curious mix of charging for the app, charging for the content, or making money from advertising.
Consider what we have right now on launch day, you can find an array of models from various news organizations including:
Pay for app, pay for issues (Time)
Pay for app, free content (CNN, ESPN ScoreCenter XL)
Free app, pay for content (Wall Street Journal)
Free app, selected free content, ads (NY Times, subscription forthcoming)
Free app, free content, ad support (IMDB, Yahoo Entertainment)
Free app, free content (NPR, BBC)
Tablet style computers have been around for years now. So what makes Apple’s move interesting? The allure for publishers is that Apple has tackled the problem no one in media has been able to solve — micropayments. Apple’s iTunes Store system has suddenly made even $0.99 transactions possible and profitable, since people are already signed up, credit card in hand, and comfortable with pulling the trigger to pay for ephemeral content. That’s a major cultural shift traditional media organizations are eager to join.

Saturday was the day that thousands of users obsessively checking UPS.com for their package status  finally got their gleaming white box of iPad goodness.

Specs

With an entry price of $499, Wifi networking, a fast custom A4 processor made by Apple, and 16 Gbytes of storage, the iPad promises to be a compelling media consumption device. I say consumption, because it doesn’t come with a camera at this time nor does it come with any removable storage for expansion.

So does the iPad meet the hype? In the first 12 hours of use, I’d say yes it does. And it has great implications for traditional print publishers.

First the very basic physical aspects: it’s a 9.7″ 1024×768 pixel screen, or about the same screen size as a respectable laptop of a few years ago. The difference is, this is thin, portable and held vertically. It’s a classic lean-back instead of lean-forward experience. With no physical keyboard, you naturally hold it in portrait mode, about a foot from your face. That gives the pixels much higher impact on the eyes as it fills your visual senses.

When it comes to operation, one cannot underestimate the value of the intuitive direct manipulation interface — scroll by swiping, zoom by pinching, enable by tapping. There really is no manual for this thing, because you can learn everything you need to know in about a minute of experimentation.

Apple boasts the device can go 10 hours on a full charge. Most  testers have found Apple was modest, and have exceeded that in real world tasks. One caveat: because the battery is so capacious, one really does need to use the included 10 watt adapter to charge the iPad in a reasonable amount of time. Plugging the tablet device into a computer’s USB port will charge it much less slowly, taking up to four times as long and not being able to charge overnight.

The screen is plenty bright in daylight, as that’s something Apple perfected some years ago. However, since we’re used to screens that stand almost vertical, putting this down on a table, even at an angle, will bring up lots of glare, especially outdoors. The keyboard is usable, but not for touch typing. For brief bursts it’s fine, and more pleasant than using the miniscule iPhone or iPod touch virtual keyboards.

Content

In some ways the iPad is a retro concept. With a fixed well-known screen size for content developers, and apps that need to be installed before one can experience rich content, the iPad model is reminiscent of the golden era of CD-ROMs. That was a time where every pixel on the screen could be manipulated, and any mode of interaction was possible with rapid-fire crisp response because everything was local to the computer. This resulted in great tools and content, including Voyager CD-ROM books, Apple’s Hypercard and multimedia encyclopedic content from Encarta and Britannica. Strangely enough, iPad may bring us back to recapture that cutting-edge 1995-era multimedia technology, which kind of got lost in the shuffle of “the net.”

Contrast that with web pages viewed on a general purpose computer, which has been the focus of “interactive content” since 1995. While basing the dot-com revolution around Web browsers and Internet-hosted content certainly allowed for great advances in connected applications and collaboration, it was lacking for rich media experiences. Macromedia (now a part of Adobe) pushed the envelope by giving us Flash, but even then most sites amble along awkwardly with a mishmash of dynamic HTML, and give us a but a small window of interactive Flash.

The situation changes quite a bit with iPad.

Right now, the two choices for content creators is to go the “app-ian way” or to innovate with web content. Remember: the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch don’t support Adobe Flash.

Apple doesn’t mind closed solutions but only if *it* is the purveryor of the proprietary product. Therefore, Apple didn’t want to give entire swaths of its prized iPad real estate to another company. The other solution that has developed is the HTML5 spec, which has been trumpeted as the way to replicate Flash’s video and advanced multimedia capabilities in a standard way, and is supported by the Apple’s Safari browser.

The apps released so far for iPad have been impressive, which has invigorated the art of visual news design, now that designers (unshackled from HTML and CSS) have the entire screen the play with. The content from NPR, Match (France), Yahoo! Entertainment and even the usually bland Associated Press all show promise that go far beyond what you see from their respective web sites.

In the coming months, look for news outlets to experiment heavily with both approaches.

So far the range of iPad apps exhibits a curious mix of charging for the app, charging for the content, or making money from advertising.

Consider what we have right now on launch day, you can find an array of models from various news organizations including:

  • Pay for app, pay for issues (Time)
  • Pay for app, free content (CNN, ESPN ScoreCenter XL)
  • Free app, pay for content (Wall Street Journal)
  • Free app, selected free content, ads (NY Times, subscription forthcoming)
  • Free app, free content, ad support (IMDB, Yahoo Entertainment)
  • Free app, free content (NPR, BBC)

Tablet style computers have been around for years now. So what makes Apple’s move interesting? The allure for publishers is that Apple has tackled the problem no one in media has been able to solve — micropayments. Apple’s iTunes Store system has suddenly made even $0.99 transactions possible and profitable, since people are already signed up, credit card in hand, and comfortable with pulling the trigger to pay for ephemeral content. That’s a major cultural shift traditional media organizations are eager to join.