Mediactive http://mediactive.com Don't Just Consume Media. Use it. Tue, 13 Oct 2015 12:14:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mediactive now in Armenian http://mediactive.com/2015/10/13/mediactive-now-in-armenian/ http://mediactive.com/2015/10/13/mediactive-now-in-armenian/#respond Tue, 13 Oct 2015 11:56:59 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3721 Continue reading Mediactive now in Armenian]]> Mediactive_amArmenia-based “Journalists For The Future” has led a project to translate Mediactive into Armenian, and I visited there last week to help launch the new edition. I met some extraordinary people and learned a lot about the media scene there.

As with the original, the book is freely available online, in an interactive edition. You can find it at this link.

Special thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan for funding the project, and for covering the costs of my trip there.

 

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MediaLIT: My Media Use http://mediactive.com/2015/07/07/medialit-my-media-use/ http://mediactive.com/2015/07/07/medialit-my-media-use/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 18:23:49 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3695 Continue reading MediaLIT: My Media Use]]> I’m asking folks taking our “MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload” MOOC course to describe their media use for a full day. In this post I’m combining several posts I did for my regular ASU course, as a demonstration of what I’m talking about. Note to MOOC folks: We don’t expect you to write something this long!

As a “consumer”:

My daily media consumption is enormous, because I do this for a living. Here’s what happened one recent day:

When I wake up I briefly check email and Twitter. If something seems super-urgent I may open an email or click through to a link. Usually I don’t.

At breakfast, using a tablet, I go to the homepages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Financial Times. All of those outlets have a world view, and I want to see what their editors–some of the best in journalism–believe is important. I also check my RSS newsreader, which collects stories and links from a variet of sources I’ve pre-selected.

At my home-office desk:

— I check out a number of websites including Reddit, BoingBoing, Ars Technica, National Review, TechDirt, Jon Oliver (when HBO posts his regular commentary), among others.

— I run Twitter and Google+ in separate browser tabs but don’t try to keep up with it all the time (though I confess I check them more often than I should.) Whether an important story or some ridiculous meme is bubbling up, I’ll be likely to notice it among the people I follow. I also check 5 Twitter lists I follow on these topics: journalism, the media business, technology, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

— Besides regular email, I subscribe to several mail lists on those topics, as well as a great daily list of five items from This.cm, a site that creates serendipity for me. I sort those separately in my email inbox, and read them one after the other. Many of the links have already shown up in Twitter, and many point to the traditional and other media sites I routinely scan.

During the day I’m constantly bouncing around to various media including videos (typically posted on YouTube and Vimeo), audio (NPR and others), and other websites.

After dinner I sometimes watch videos on our television, but almost never live TV. We subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and satellite (Dish). I record some TV series (e.g. “Justified”) and watch when I have time, skipping through the commercials.

On my bedside table I have a hardcover book or two (one from the library and one I’ve bought, the latter almost always written by someone I know), and a Kindle Voyager e-reader. I read for a half hour or so before going to sleep.

Takeaways (similar to what I found when I did this several years ago):

I listen to or watch very little broadcast media apart from NPR (or super-important breaking news, very very rarely).

My main sources of trusted information resemble some of the ones from several decades ago, such as the New York Times (which, like all other media, I do not trust fully, since they do get things wrong from time to time). I get to them in some different ways, however.

In particular, several Twitter lists and Google+ circles (roughly the same thing; collections of people I follow about specific topics) have become filters of great value. I can generally depend on them to send me to information I need to know about. However, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things.

For me, media consumption is an evolving collection of people, sites, conversations, and entertainment. Much of it overlaps. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed — and entertained.

As a creator:

I create a lot of media, too, though not nearly as much as I “consume” (I hate that word; as I’ve told students in digital media literacy, we should use media, not consume it).

On a given day, here’s roughly how I created media. I’m guessing it’s different from what students do these days. Most of what I create is text. Not all, but most.

In the morning, I answered a batch of email. I do this regularly during the day, because I get a lot and I try to keep up with it. I’ll never get to the fabled “inbox zero” but I’ll try. Occasionally I get and send several text messages, most often with my wife.

I post frequently on Twitter, and more occasionally on Google+. (I rarely use Facebook, for reasons I described in my book Mediactive.) 

Lately, I’ve been posting (too infrequently!) to This.cm, a wonderful new service that tries to collect–from a bunch of interesting users–just a few items per day that we all believe everyone should see. The site is in beta so I can’t invite all of you to join it, yet.

My blog doesn’t get enough love, though I do post there from time to time. On the day in question I wasted a lot of time responding to someone who was trying to convince me (actually, his own fans) that I’m wrong about net neutrality.

As a longtime photographer I take lots of pictures. I don’t post most of them, but when I do it’s usually to Flickr or Google+ or my blog. I need to do this more. I don’t have an Instagram account but probably should get one.

There’s a way I semi-create media that most of don’t appreciate: individualized media via online services. Example: I wanted driving directions the other day, and used Google Maps. It produced a page of directions and a map. This is media, too–but just for me.

My other media creation, on a regular basis, doesn’t get seen by anyone but me for some period of time: writing I’m doing for my columns and essays at Slate and Medium, as well as a new book. In a way, those are the most traditional forms of media I’ve been making.

There’s more, but you get the idea!

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MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload — the latest http://mediactive.com/2015/06/11/medialit-a-progress-report/ http://mediactive.com/2015/06/11/medialit-a-progress-report/#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2015 23:16:44 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3679 Continue reading MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload — the latest]]>

We’re in an age of information overload, and too much of what we watch, hear and read is mistaken, deceitful or even dangerous. Yet you and I can take control and make media serve us — all of us — by being active consumers and participants. Here’s how.

Those are the first lines of the video that introduces our upcoming ASU-edX MOOC, called “MediaLIT: Overcoming Information Overload.” They are the course’s guideposts.courselogo

We knew there would be no shortage of material. In a digital age, we’re saturated in media, and a lot of it is junk. (Or, to use guest lecturer Howard Rheingold‘s framing, a lot of information is outright crap.)

We’ve done a lot of thinking about how best to present this to a wide audience, beyond the university students who have been studying the topic in my regular class at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. One way is to make this as up-to-date as we possibly can, in the readings and discussions. If you join us for the course, we’ll be looking at some very current events that illustrate key points.

Another way, and one of (I think) our best decisions early on, is to move this way beyond the standard lecture-readings-quiz format. How? By asking some experts in the media and media-literacy fields to talk with us–and people taking the course–about what they know.

Plenty, as you’ll see if you sign up. Here’s a taste–snippets from the videos we’ll be using in the course–of their wisdom. Such as Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales:

and Margaret Sullivan, public editor (ombudsman) at the New York Times:

and Lawrence Krauss, an ASU colleague who’s one of America’s best known scientists:

and Amanda Palmer, a brilliant musician and Internet innovator:

You get the idea.

These folks are among many who were kind enough to discuss how various kinds of media work (and don’t); the vital role of journalism in our world; how we as consumers of media need to handle the deluge of information; and much more.

I’ve been saying “we” a lot in this post. It’s the only word that fits, because I’ve been working with an amazing team from ASU Online’s EdPlus and edX. CNN’s Brian Stelter (one of our guests) recently told me, speaking of his move from newspapers (the New York Times) to television, that the latter is “a team sport.” So, I can assure you, is a MOOC. This wouldn’t be happening without other people’s time, talent and effort.

We’re well aware that the jury is out on whether MOOCs are going to be a major way people learn in the future. Of course they won’t replace traditional education, I’m optimistic that they will be at least helpful, if not transformative in some ways. We all see this project as an experiment that we hope will move the genre forward.

Most of all, however, we envision this MOOC as useful–for you. While putting it together has been (shhh) a lot of fun in addition to hard work, the point of it all is to bring media and news literacy to a wider community. That’s certainly a goal of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, which has provided funding to help us build and market the course.

I use the word “community” deliberately, because I don’t see the people who sign up for this course solely as students or members of an audience. We want you to be participants, in this project but especially in the use of media in your lives. We hope we’ll be helpful along the way.

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A MOOC for Media Literacy http://mediactive.com/2015/05/05/a-mooc-for-media-literacy/ http://mediactive.com/2015/05/05/a-mooc-for-media-literacy/#respond Tue, 05 May 2015 22:32:06 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3647 Continue reading A MOOC for Media Literacy]]> medialitSome news: We’re launching a MOOC — a massive open online course — on news and media literacy. The course (here’s the registration page) will be based on an online course I currently teach at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and will be open to all who are interested, at no charge.

The  MOOC, which has received funding from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, will be hosted at edX, one of the major–and rapidly growing–course platforms. ASU has become a member of the edX university consortium, and this is the first offering from the school. The course launches July 6, and registration is open now.

(Note: The media-literacy MOOC is not part of the ASU/edX Global Freshman Academy, which will be offering a battery of for-credit courses.)

We’re well aware that the jury is out, to put it mildly, on the ultimate value of MOOCs. Clearly they’ve been oversold in some ways. To think that courselogothey’ll take over education is absurd. Equally clearly, they have enormous potential. This course is experimental by definition, but we have two major goals: to make it a super-useful learning experience, and to learn from what happens in order to improve the next time.

One of the best parts of this project is the people involved. In the past several months we’ve recorded conversations with some of the smartest folks I know in the news and media-literacy communities. They include Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales; New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan; CNN’s Brian Stelter; media-literacy guru Renee Hobbs; and many others. We’ll be featuring these conversations in the course.

This is a team effort in every possible way. I’m incredibly fortunate to be working with the ASU Online folks, who’ve been helping me sweat the details and who know lots of things I don’t. A team of students at the Cronkite School’s Public Relations Lab has put together some great marketing ideas. PhD candidate Kristy Roschke, whose focus is media literacy, is playing a key role in the course development and will be the lead teaching assistant when the course goes live.

MOOCs are open in ways that most university courses are not. Openness is core to my work–such as the Mediactive book, on which the course is largely based, is free to read online and/or download from this site, and is available under a Creative Commons copyright license (“Some Rights Reserved”). I want to apply the principle of openness, as much as possible, to the new project. So I’ll be blogging regularly about how we’re doing this between now and the July 6 launch.

You may find this interesting to watch. If so, and if you think we can improve on what we’re doing, let me know. I’m looking for the best ideas, not just my own.

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Some other media I create… http://mediactive.com/2015/04/28/the-other-media-i-create/ http://mediactive.com/2015/04/28/the-other-media-i-create/#respond Tue, 28 Apr 2015 22:08:16 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3601 Continue reading Some other media I create…]]> A few weeks ago I asked my Digital Media Literacy students to write a blog post about the media they create on a routine basis — email, social media, blogs, phone photos, etc. I wrote a post of my own as an example.

What I didn’t mention in my instructions was another kind of media we create: data that we don’t realize we’re creating, and which we largely don’t control. Here’s an attempt to quantify at least some of that.

When we take a photo with a typical mobile phone camera app, a lot more data get created than just the JPEG file that contains the picture itself. The phone, depending on the hardware and settings, stores some or all of the following: the location where the picture was taken; the time and date it was taken; what compass direction the camera was pointing; whether the phone was moving; and more.

clock permissions Mobile apps in general frequently generate and save — often on remote computers — all kinds of things including location. They copy our contacts’ information. They look at our calendars. They check our phone numbers, the calls we’ve made, duration of the calls, etc.

I consider this kind of collection to be just short of spyware territory. The clock app in my phone has absolutely no legitimate reason to know my phone number and calls, yet it demands that permission. I block that kind of stuff–something I can do because I run an operating system called Cyanogenmod, which has fairly granular permission settings, unlike most mobile operating systems.

I create “cookies” on my computers (laptop, phone, etc.) when I visit other people’s sites and services. Cookies are used for many purposes, including identifying me for return visits, but also to create ways to track what I do.

Using the Web in general is an exercise in being spied on — it’s the fundamental business model for all of the “free” services such as Facebook and Google, as well as countless others. My visits to other people’s sites enables them to create all kinds of usage data on their own servers, not just on my computers.

I can’t prevent the spying entirely, and don’t want to when I’m getting something of high enough value in return. But I use a number of tools to keep the spying to a minimum. They include the permission settings in my mobile phone, and browser plugins that block (at least some of) the tracking. Students in my digital media literacy course are reading about ways to deter the invasion, and I hope they’ll take advantage of them.

People generally are becoming more aware of what we might call unintended data/media creation. That’s a good thing, and perhaps it’ll lead to broader countermeasures.

 

 

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Media I create http://mediactive.com/2015/03/17/media-i-create/ http://mediactive.com/2015/03/17/media-i-create/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 02:56:10 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3586 Continue reading Media I create]]> NOTE: Here’s another item I assigned to my Digital Media Literacy students: For a full day this week, keep track of everything you create with digital media tools of all kinds. This means Facebook posts, emails, personal blogs (including Tumblr etc.), Instagram and SnapChat posts, Twitter tweets, texts (including SMS, YikYak, etc.), videos, photos — everything. The best way to keep track of all this may be the old-fashioned method: carry a pen and notebook around for the day and write it all down. Then write a blog post of 300-500 words describing what media you created. Don’t post details you consider private; I’m not interested in the contents of what you posted. What I am interested in, and hope you’ll be as well, is the degree to which you’re creating your own media and how you’re doing it. (Again, I’ll add links later.)

I create a lot of media, though not nearly as much as I “consume” (I hate that word; as I’ve told students in digital media literacy, we should use media, not consume it).

On a given day, here’s roughly how I created media. I’m guessing it’s different from what students do these days. Most of what I create is text. Not all, but most.

In the morning, I answered a batch of email. I do this regularly during the day, because I get a lot and I try to keep up with it. I’ll never get to the fabled “inbox zero” but I’ll try. Occasionally I get and send several text messages, most often with my wife.

I post frequently on Twitter, and more occasionally on Google+. (I almost never use Facebook, for reasons I described in my book Mediactive.) 

Lately, I’ve been posting to This.cm, a wonderful new service that tries to collect–from a bunch of interesting users–just a few items per day that we all believe everyone should see. The site is in beta so I can’t invite all of you to join it, yet.

My blog doesn’t get enough love, though I do post there from time to time. On the day in question I wasted a lot of time responding to someone who was trying to convince me (actually, his own fans) that I’m wrong about net neutrality.

As a longtime photographer I take lots of pictures. I don’t post most of them, but when I do it’s usually to Flickr or Google+ or my blog. I need to do this more. I don’t have an Instagram account but probably should get one.

For an upcoming online project I’ve been doing a bunch of video interviews with folks who have expertise in various media-related issues. This doesn’t happen every day, however.

There’s a way I semi-create media that most of don’t appreciate: individualized media via online services. Example: I wanted driving directions the other day, and used Google Maps. It produced a page of directions and a map. This is media, too–but just for me.

My other media creation, on a regular basis, doesn’t get seen by anyone but me for some period of time: writing I’m doing for my columns at Slate and Medium, as well as a new book. In a way, those are the most traditional forms of media I’ve been making.

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My class post on what I read (watch, etc.) http://mediactive.com/2015/03/17/my-class-post/ http://mediactive.com/2015/03/17/my-class-post/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 01:07:00 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3583 Continue reading My class post on what I read (watch, etc.)]]> NOTE: For a digital media literacy class I’m teaching, I’ve asked students to do this assignment: Write a blog post of 300-500 words about the media you follow every day. By “follow” I mean, for example, what you read / listen to / watch in email, Twitter, Facebook, YikYak, Instagram, news websites/apps, and the like. Which of these are “news” in the traditional sense? Do you read news articles mostly from recommendations, or do you have some homepages you visit routinely?

Here’s my stab at it–a bit longer than what I assigned, but I didn’t have enough time to make this short. I promised to post by the end of the day today, and will add links later.

My daily media consumption is enormous, because I do this for a living. Here’s what happened one recent day:

When I wake up I briefly check email and Twitter. If something seems super-urgent I may open an email or click through to a link. Usually I don’t.

At breakfast, using a tablet, I go to the homepages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Guardian and Financial Times. All of those outlets have a world view, and I want to see what their editors–some of the best in journalism–believe is important. I also check my RSS newsreader, which collects stories and links from a variet of sources I’ve pre-selected.

At my home-office desk:

— I check out a number of websites including Reddit, Slashdot, All Things Digital, BoingBoing, Talking Points Memo, Ars Technica, National Review, Wall Street Journal, TechDirt, Jon Stewart, John Oliver (when HBO posts his regular commentary), among others.

— I run Twitter and Google+ in separate browser tabs but don’t try to keep up with it all the time (though I confess I check them more often than I should.) Whether an important story or some ridiculous meme is bubbling up, I’ll be likely to notice it among the people I follow. I also check 5 Twitter lists I follow on these topics: journalism, the media business, technology, entrepreneurship and media literacy.

— Besides regular email, I subscribe to several mail lists on those topics, as well as a great daily list of five items from This.cm, a site that creates serendipity for me. I sort those separately in my email inbox, and read them one after the other. Many of the links have already shown up in Twitter, and many point to the traditional and other media sites I routinely scan.

During the day I’m constantly bouncing around to various media including videos (typically posted on YouTube and Vimeo), audio (NPR and others), and other websites.

After dinner I sometimes watch videos on our television, but almost never live TV. We subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime and satellite (Dish). I record some TV series (e.g. “Justified”) and watch when I have time, skipping through the commercials.

On my bedside table I have a hardcover book or two (one from the library and one I’ve bought, the latter almost always written by someone I know), and a Kindle Voyager e-reader. I read for a half hour or so before going to sleep.

Takeaways (similar to what I found when I did this several years ago):

I listen to or watch very little broadcast media apart from NPR (or super-important breaking news, very very rarely).

My main sources of trusted information resemble some of the ones from several decades ago, such as the New York times. I get to them in some different ways, however.

In particular, several Twitter lists and Google+ circles (roughly the same thing; collections of people I follow about specific topics) have become filters of great value. I can generally depend on them to send me to information I need to know about. However, I know I’m missing some important things if I rely only on other people to flag things.

For me, media consumption is an evolving collection of people, sites, conversations, and entertainment. Much of it overlaps. It takes more effort on my part, but I believe I’m vastly better informed — and entertained.

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A half-century after JFK solidified TV’s dominance, a weekend highlights our messy but diversifying media ecosystem http://mediactive.com/2013/11/26/a-half-century-after-jfk-solidified-tvs-dominance-a-weekend-highlights-our-messy-but-diversifying-media-ecosystem/ http://mediactive.com/2013/11/26/a-half-century-after-jfk-solidified-tvs-dominance-a-weekend-highlights-our-messy-but-diversifying-media-ecosystem/#comments Tue, 26 Nov 2013 21:27:06 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3552 Continue reading A half-century after JFK solidified TV’s dominance, a weekend highlights our messy but diversifying media ecosystem]]> By the early 1960s, the news media were closing in on an era of relative equilibrium, at least in the marketplace. While there were still competitive daily newspapers in some communities, the trend was inexorably toward local consolidation and monopoly. Broadcast television was settling into an oligopoly of three networks with scores of local affiliates that owned exclusive licenses to valuable airwaves. Equilibrium meant, for decades to come, massive profits for the owners of these enterprises.

Over four days in 1963, beginning November 22 with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, TV news conclusively claimed a new and lasting mantle: the place where most people got vital news. The stars of TV news – actual journalists in those days – became part of Americans’ households.

Over the past weekend, CBS marked five decades since that grim weekend by streaming its contemporaneous coverage of the killing and aftermath. The stream was more than a history lesson, though: the network was also recalling its own ascension into journalism’s highest realm – an achievement that owes most to to the relentless professionalism of Walter Cronkite and his colleagues during those days.

In 2013 the CBS web stream, and the way the company used it, came in a vastly different context. It was just one of many fast-moving situations in the media business – most involving enterprises that weren’t in the realm of anyone’s imagination 50 years ago – that we saw this Nov. 22-26. They included the sale of a web news startup to another startup; an apparent shakeup at a major business news and information service; and the hiring of a TV superstar by a web company that, by today’s standards, is itself almost old media.

All of this reflected a news and information ecosystem that is seeking a new equilibrium. But don’t hold your breath on this one. We’re in the relatively early days of a messy transition to what (if we do this right) will be a vastly more diverse, and therefore healthier, ecosystem when viewed as a whole – but one that will remain, close to the ground, awash in experimentation, turmoil and change.

The higher-minded (and more financially secure) CBS of a half-century ago aired its JFK coverage without a single advertisement, as did the two other networks of that era. But while CBS deserves credit for putting up the stream this year, to watch it – or any of the short segments CBS pulled out of it – you had to sit through a pre-roll ad. If you stopped the main stream and came back, you got another ad. The company was monetizing, as we say today, but the way it did so was clumsy bordering on cringe-inducing – including, no kidding, a life insurer’s ad preceding JFK funeral footage. Meanwhile, CBS had sent takedown notices to Google’s YouTube (and presumably other sites) ordering the removal of segments of this coverage that other people had posted, notably the overwhelming moment when a close-to-tears Cronkite read the official confirmation of Kennedy’s death. The CBS message: We alone will use and profit from our film of this public tragedy. This was obnoxious, in my view, but CBS did have the right, sad to say, to abuse the copyright system in this way.

Traditional media’s relationship with the Web includes competition with it. During the weekend came the confirmation of a TV star’s move to the web. Not long after luring the talented and prolific David Pogue away from the New York Times, Yahoo hired Katie Couric as a “global anchor,” whatever that means. Both hires are part of a major media/news push by the Internet company, founded in the 1990s, that CEO Marissa Mayer and her colleagues are struggling to reinvent for the 21st Century.

I don’t claim to fully understand what Yahoo is doing with these and other media moves. What most people don’t realize, however, is that its reach is beyond enormous when it wants its still-huge user base to pay attention to something. If advertising has a future at all, Yahoo has every possibility of being one of the organizations that profit from it.

The long weekend also brought more details about what is sounding like serious rethinking, if not upheaval, inside the Bloomberg news and information organization. As the Times reported, some executives – all of whom insisted on anonymity, which raises questions about their (and the story’s) credibility – have “begun to question the role of the company’s news operation.” What we know for sure is that about 2 percent of the journalists have lost their jobs there. The company’s own credibility has taken a hit amid believable reports that business priorities led to the killing of a story about Chinese politicians, though executives have denied this.

Financial considerations have always affected journalism, at all companies, some more blatantly than others, though in recent decades most traditional journalism organizations have insisted they prevented corporate interference. But in an era when hyper-competitive enterprises vie for ebbing and emerging markets, the editorial and business sides of almost all for-profit media operations will clash and cooperate. And it should surprise no one that Bloomberg, which overwhelmingly makes its money on the financial data portion of its business, constantly rethinks the proper personnel mix.

Much, much further down the media food chain came the news that PandoDaily, a startup media company based the Bay Area, was acquiring another financially struggling startup, NSFW Corp. The deal was scarcely noticed outside the still somewhat insular world of tech journalism, but it “caused more than a few tremors in the world of new-media startups,” as GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram noted. Count on a lot more tremors like that one, then, because in a market where there’s so little barrier to entry, lots of people will enter and there will be lots of competition – and, besides, most startups fail.

That’s actually good news, if not for the ones that fail (as I did in an abortive media startup almost a decade ago). It’s good news because it means we’re in a fiercely competitive market, awash with experiments and ideas and, in some notable cases, major-league new investments. It’s also good news because a diverse media ecosystem could produce the kind of variety, at all levels of quality, that will create a better set of news and information choices, overall, than the much less diverse – if vastly more stable – environment whose loss we tend to lament.

Yes, we are losing, at least for the short term, some things we will miss – including the calming authority and integrity of people like Walter Cronkite and his team. But I’m ready to live in a world of diversity and choice, and the complexity that results, where I have to make more of my own decisions about who and what to trust – and where I can be better informed in the end.

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The Tech World is Overloaded with Data http://mediactive.com/2013/11/06/the-tech-world-is-overloaded-with-data/ http://mediactive.com/2013/11/06/the-tech-world-is-overloaded-with-data/#respond Wed, 06 Nov 2013 21:56:47 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3545 Continue reading The Tech World is Overloaded with Data]]> (Note: I assigned my Media Literacy students a post asking for information on data in a topic area they care about. Here’s an example.)

I spend a lot of time writing about technology and tech policy, in books, blogs and in a weekly column I write for the Guardian newspaper’s US website. Luckily, there’s a tremendous amount of data available on this topic.

As with almost anything else, I start with the federal government. The Census Bureau has an enormous amount of useful data including (somewhat surprisingly) an informative introductory page on tech history. The Federal Communications Commission offers a great deal of data about telecommunications and broadcasting, but it is — I fear deliberately — deficient when it comes to up-to-date information about broadband access and cost at the local level. The “Broadband.gov” site is informative but also lacking in some key data.

International data is often incomplete, but the United Nations’ UNESCO  Science and Technology site is helpful.

Needless to say, Google and Wikipedia can be great places to start when looking for data in any specific area. The more detailed the search terms, as usual, the more likely you are to find something useful.

A sampling of other sources:

  • For technology stock market data, CNBC has a useful page with broadly based information.
  • For more detail, I often check the “CrunchBase” database at AOL’s TechCrunch tech blog, which has been compiling information about the tech scene, especially startup companies, for a number of years.
  • The Wall Street Journal offers deep, granular information about companies as well, but its website has a paywall. (I subscribe online, and it’s worth it to me.)
  • Many universities have research units generating significant amounts of data. Typically, these are housed in centers or institutes focusing on one topic. I haven’t found a central database of all such organizations, but there are a number of them by topic. For example, here’s Stanford University’s list of biotech research initiatives.

One of the most important emerging areas in the technology world is called Big Data — describing the massive amount of information we (and companies and governments) are creating every second of every day. It’s simply staggering to contemplate how much there is, and how it’s growing. Articles in the Economist and New York Times do a decent job of explaining the phenomenon.

Big data gives us new insights into our world (and is used for scary purposes, such as in surveillance). One way to make sense of it is through visualization — turning numbers into pictures and animations. One of my favorite ways to explore data this way is an IBM site called “Many Eyes” — take a look around to see what I mean.

 

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A Fine Explainer of Technology and Politics: How a Colorado Community Beat Big Cable http://mediactive.com/2013/11/06/a-fine-explainer-of-technology-and-politics/ http://mediactive.com/2013/11/06/a-fine-explainer-of-technology-and-politics/#respond Wed, 06 Nov 2013 21:54:41 +0000 http://mediactive.com/?p=3540 Continue reading A Fine Explainer of Technology and Politics: How a Colorado Community Beat Big Cable]]> (Note: I asked my Media Literacy students for a blog post analyzing a major story in a topic area they care about. Here’s an example.)

The Washington Post’s technology and policy blog, called “The Switch,” took a deep look at how Longmont, a Denver suburb, beat back the cable-TV industry in a multi-year battle to have the right to install its own fiber-optic communications network. But the article isn’t just about one small Colorado city. It’s about the cable industry’s ongoing campaign to deny people competition.

Here’s a sample from the story, entitled “Big Cable may have felled Seattle’s mayor, but it couldn’t stop this Colo. project“:

There are 27,000 households in Longmont. Even if the city were to connect all of the eligible homes to its existing fiber network overnight, it would still reach only 1,100 residences. Cable companies therefore spent over half a million dollars trying to prevent four percent of city households from gaining access to municipal fiber on any reasonable timescale. That’s around $600 a home, or six months’ worth of Xfinity Triple Play.

Did Longmont set a precedent?

Perhaps that’s why the cable industry has mostly given up fighting Longmont — it’s not worth it anymore. On Tuesday night, voters overwhelmingly approved of the city’s third fiber ballot measure since SB 152, Question 2B. Question 2B asks whether the local government should be allowed to issue $45.3 million in bonds to pay for a city-wide deployment of fiber, one that would finally connect all 27,000 homes, and every private business, to public fiber within the next three years. Proponents estimated that without the funding, it would take a half-century to complete the roll-out. Voters gave it the green light, by a 68-32 percent split. No group came forward to contest the measure. The cable companies had picked up their ball and gone home.

The piece smartly uses a local story to go deep into a national issue. First, it details the long struggle Longmont  had to overcome the cable industry’s money and political clout in the state legislature. Then it shows how the city is just one of many local communities around the country facing this kind of thing. Finally, it demonstrates how a community, with enough tenacity, can outlast even an industry as wealthy — and tenacious in its own right — as the cable companies.

But it is correctly cautious about what message this case sends to other communities that are thinking of doing the same thing. For one thing, it notes that local fiber deployments don’t always work out well for taxpayers. For another, the cable companies definitely don’t see one defeat as a national harbinger.

Indeed, as the Post observes, Comcast led a cable-industry group that poured money into a political race in Seattle this fall — and helped defeat the incumbent mayor, Mike McGinn, a supporter of municipal fiber. (As the story notes, Comcast denies any connection.)

The Post’s story, better than most I’ve seen on this topic, brings home an issue we’re likely to see more often. The end of the piece nicely sums it up:

But what Longmont’s experience does show is how large the gulf is between an incumbent industry that can spend money on a massive scale to promote its interests and advocates of municipal fiber that often lack deep-pocketed allies. Those odds made the triumph of Longmont’s municipal fiber backers all the more remarkable.

I hope the Post will revisit Longmont in a couple of years, to tell us whether this experiment is working. What happens elsewhere may ride on that.

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