Forget Blogging - It's Social Media That Will Change You

Back in April 2006, Tim & I helped organize a a day-long seminar on podcasts, wikis and blogs at NJIT. It was designed for non-technical business professionals to learn about these new tools and how they might be used in a corporate setting . Though I had been blogging for a while elsewhere, Serendipity35 was a new thing. I had been doing podcasting in preparation for NJIT to enter iTunes U. Still, we ended up doing the session on wikis.

Though the term "Web 2.0" had been around since 2004 when Tim O'Reilly defined it as business embracing the web as a platform and using its strengths, you didn't hear the term being used that much. My post has had 25,000+ reads since then, probably just because of it containing the keywords podcast, wiki, blog and business.

Three years ago, Business Week did a cover story on blogging called "Blogs Will Change Your Business." It was one of their first big pieces on "bottom-up media" and "news as conversation." Many people, especially in the business world, associated blogs with "trivia, banality, venom, and baseless attacks."

"Beyond Blogs: What Business Needs to Know" was one of their June 2008 cover stories. Like my old post, that 2005 article continues to draw many online readers. Type in "blogs business" at Google today and the story comes up at the top of the results. 2005 was before YouTube, Facebook was a college baby and no one could Twitter, but the magazine warned that "Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out. Catch up...or catch you later." Business Week set up a blog at Blogspotting.net that is still going.

So, let's update that seminar a bit here. They started their new article by crowdsourcing the research. They posted questions on Blogspotting and asked what needed to be updated in the 2005 article and readers makes lots of suggestions. So they annotated the original article and added lots of notes and clarifications and created an updated version. But, being that they are still (this year) a print magazine, they had to publish a new print version too. In that version, they admit to having missed a part of the blogs story - the 2.0 part.

Sure, blogs would become the new printing press making lots of folks publishers, journalists and editors. But they also would be just part of the revolution. The other DIY tools (podcasts, wikis...) and social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn...) would actually grab more people than blogging. (They cite a recent study from Forrester Research saying that only a quarter of the U.S. adult online population even bothers to read a blog once a month.)

Not all of what they see going on is good for business: rivals become "friends," share company information, post pictures of products and employees, spend hours on Twitter, YouTube. IBM set up its own social network for employees called Beehive and it has 30,000 employees on it. Good for business?

What changed in that updated version of their old cover story? The first thing to change was the title - delete "blogs" and go to "Social Media Will Change Your Business."

How many are there out there? Technorati was indexing 112 million blogs early in 2008 and reported that 120,000 new ones appear each day - BUT only 11% of blogs have posted within the past two months, so the real number is probably more like 13 million blogs. (Other sources say it's more like 4 million, but that's still a lot of blogging going on.)

Do you count the microblogging hit Twitter in there? Personally, I don't see the appeal of these 140 characters maximum posts, but more than a million people do.

What about wikis? The British telecom giant, BT, has more than 16,000 employees collaborating on wikis. They use the same open-source software that Wikipedia and Tim & I use for our wiki. Their employees use them to write software, map cell-phone base stations, launch branding campaigns and allow engineers in Asia to pick up a project as Europeans go to bed.

Business Week found that "An intern can amend the work of a senior engineer. Meanwhile, some 10,500 employees at BT are already on Facebook. BT is also offering an internal social network. But just like Facebook and Twitter, it won't work unless it attracts a crowd. [They] can't force anyone to use it. It would be fruitless to try... [all they] can do is provide tools and watch."

That leaves podcasting. Podcasting hasn't caught on as dramatically. According to some sources, "podcast awareness" has increased from 22% of the public in 2006 to 37% in 2007 and may reach 50% this year. More than 70% of all podcasts are still heard/viewed on computers and not on a portable media player like an iPod. (Remember that the POD originally meant "portable on demand.") The listener market is currently estimated at over 6 million. A number of traditional media sources offer podcasts (The New York Times, Forbes, The Scientific American, Time etc.) Podcast advertising is perhaps the best indicator of where this medium is headed in business. The predictions are for a compound annual growth rate of 154% from 2006 to 2010. ($3.1 million revenue in 2005. The iTunes software still dominates podcasting and is the big (but not the only) podcast distribution point for content with 38 million iTunes users.

We'll check back in a few years and see what else we all missed.


Do Some Good While You Are Online


Do something good for the world while you are online today. If you click on the links below, you can do just that.

There's no obligation, no login, no cost to you, other than a few moments of your online time.

Suspicious? Each of these sites is sponsored by companies who donate a small amount of money for each person that visits, sees their advertisement and clicks on the icon button. If one of the sponsoring companies appeals to you for shopping, you can go further and click their link too - if you make a purchase after following their link, then an EVEN GREATER donation will be made to that charity by the sponsor.

If a cause is of particular interest to you, bookmark the site as a favorite and visit it often. YOU MAY ONLY CLICK ON ANY PARTICULAR LINK ONCE PER DAY - additional clicks will be ignored.


The Hunger Site
Every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger. 75% of them are children. You can donate simply by two mouse clicks right now.

The Child Health Site
1, 270 children die each hour from preventable diseases such as malaria and measles. Just having Vitamin A can help save many of them. Your click makes a donation.

The Breast Cancer Site
43,300 mothers, sisters, and friends will die from breast cancer this year. Give underprivileged women access to mammograms by following this link... because early detection saves lives.

The Rainforest Site
Two acres of rainforest disappear every second and you can save it just by following the link and clicking the donation button at the site.

There really is no good reason for you not to make several free donations right now.

via Escaped Thoughts


The Myth of the Google Generation



From Jane in the UK comes an email about my comment about students not being as tech-literate as people sometimes assume with a link to The British Library which is reacting to a study that looks at the myth of the "Google Generation." Based on this particular research, the British Library argues that libraries will have to deal with the reality that these digital young people simply lack information skills. I thought libraries always had to deal with that lack of skills, but I realize that what the study addresses is that the expectation of tech literacy is a false one. The widely-held notion that kids born or brought up in the Internet age are not only web-literate, but able to do all technology is probably more accepted by the media and the general public than by educators.

The virtual longitudinal study cited was done by the CIBER research team at University College London. It shows that although young people demonstrate an apparent ease and familiarity with computers, they rely heavily on search engines, view rather than read and do not possess the critical and analytical skills to assess the information that they find on the web. The report is called Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future (PDF).

It also shows that research traits that are commonly associated with younger users like impatience in search and navigation, and zero tolerance for any delay in satisfying their information needs are now becoming the norm for all age-groups, right up to undergraduates and their professors. One thing that really caught me in the report is the idea that students are becoming "viewers" rather than "readers" of online information.

Anyone want to argue that American students are any better at information literacy?

The British Library and JISC commissioned this report which was conducted by the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research (CIBER) at UCL.

Listen to a podcast about the report from the launch event at the British Library from the JISC website

Is This Course Useable?


I was working on updates for the graduate visual design course I teach at NJIT last night. As I was looking at some files on web usability, I was struck with an unexpected similarity. Here's the traditional process of creating a web site from a usability perspective: plan, analyze, design, test and refine.

Staring at that in a recursive cycle on the screen, it hit me. It's instructional design. Okay, no great revelation there, but do most educators or curriculum designers ever take into account some of the concerns of a usability specialist when they design lessons or a course?

Accessibility is a part of usability that some designers address and I actually heard this week at a virtual worlds workshop some concern for Section 508 compliance in using Second Life. (Hurrah for schools paying attention prior to a lawsuit!) The Usability First website has a good glossary of usability terms, and is good example of usability itself.

Usability really addresses the relationship between tools and their users and the effectiveness of a tool (LMS, course site, software, assignment, rubric...) means it must allow users to accomplish their tasks in the best way possible. What makes a website or piece of software usable? Let me take some basic topics and questions of usability and apply them to course (re)design.

  • How well does the functionality fit student/user needs? (Students have needs that the course should address? Wow.)
  • Does the tool fit the student's expectations? (Did you bother to find out in planning what are their expectations?)
  • How will the course be tested before it is used for credit? (Test he course before the semester? Radical idea.)
  • Is the content easy to learn? (It's not asking if the content is difficult, but rather if it is easy to learn - not the same thing.)
  • How memorable is the content? (As in that really funny TV commercial you love but can't tell me what product it is selling.)
  • Is the software "error tolerant?" (What about the assessment and the instructor?)

The Web Communications Division (for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs) works with many federal agencies, and offers a really good online guide for developing usable sites.

The Usability.gov site is actually a nice example of a clean, intuitive, visually appealing design for distributing information - not unlike a course site. It has planning tools, lots of templates, examples and guidelines. I can see education applications from amny features. Planning to survey students using an online survey in your LMS or using something like Survey Monkey? You might want to check out one of their samples like this EPA Site Questionnaire. The overall format of the site is the step-by-step plan, analyze, design, test and refine that I mentioned in my opening. Since it's a .gov site, that means the materials are there for you to use, as I do in my course.

Literacy? Which One?


I sat down with some of the PCCC library folks yesterday to talk about them supporting the fall 08 faculty teaching writing-intensive courses for the first time. One of the aspects of our redesign model is incorporating information literacy. In our discussion, other literacies kept coming up, and I started to think about how we might blur the lines between the literacies.

According to the American Library Association, "Information Literacy is being able to recognize when information is needed and to have the ability to locate, evaluate, and to use effectively the needed information."

I went to Google and did a search using the operator "define" (i.e. define:literacy) and found many definitions.

Media Literacy is defined by Partnership for 21st Century Skills as "the process of analyzing, accessing, managing, integrating, evaluation, and creating information in a variety of forms and media."

Digital Literacy can be defined as "using digital technology, communication tools, and networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information in order to function in a knowledge economy.

There's even Network Literacy defined for online writers as "linking to what other people have written and inviting comments from others" or "understanding writing as a social, collaborative process."

On Monday, I spent the day at Montclair State University with K-20 educators discussing finding educational uses for Second Life and virtual worlds. Is that a new literacy, or is it a combination of several literacies like visual literacy, media literacy and computer literacy?

One thing we generally agreed upon in both of these discussions was that our students are very comfortable using computers and the Net, but really are not any more naturally adept (tech literacy?) at things like search strategies than students were 20 years ago. Several instructors using Second Life said that none of the students entering their classroom had ever used SL and most had never heard of it. Teachers more tech-conscious than NetGen students? Shocking!

I'm hoping our writing instructors aren't really as interested in defining assignments as exercises in information literacy as they are in just employing info lit in their assignments. Yes, they need to be conscious that they are using it, and need to make students aware (probably well into the exercise or as a conclusion) that they are using that skill. The student who is going out to buy a new laptop will do "research" whether it be online, newspaper ads, asking other users, eyeballing models in the store, asking "experts" for opinions, testing out models (constructivism?) or a combination of strategies. I doubt they will call that process "research" and I'm afraid most of them will see no connection to that five-page paper they were assigned in Intro to Computer Applications class either. That's a shame. Gotta change both that perception and the way they do research in class.

So, which one do you pick? If I was firced to choose, I'd have to go with Information Literacy as long as I could define in a way like this: A set of learning skills which allows you to effectively cope with large amounts of information, from a variety of media formats and construct new information.




More exploration of information literacy and schools at this Information Literacy blog, JakesOnline.org, Landmarks for Schools, and the Media Awareness Network.

Throw Away That Presentation Software


Well, don't throw it away if you already bought it, but you might want to reconsider purchasing the next version of presentation software like PowerPoint or Keynote as yet another web application (call it cloud computing, thick client...) makes its debut.

This one is at 280slides.com. You can create very nice presentations, access them from anywhere, and share them with anyone. No software to download and nothing to buy. You can even store your presentations on their server if you create a free account. You can also download them as a PowerPoint 2007 file without an account. I heard about this service when the developers were interviewed on the podcast Net@Nite, episode 57.

The app has a built-In media search and you can add photos and movies to your presentation directly from popular web services like Flickr and YouTube. You can put your presentation on SlideShare, e-mail it to someone, or embed it directly on your own website very easily. 

The service just launched, so there are only a few slide themes, but you can also upload your own presentations and work on them too. 280 Slides runs right in the browser, and it feels more like a desktop application than a web service because of the way it was built.

The developers are ex-Apple employees (their company is 280North, a reference to the highway out of Cupertino, CA) and wrote this in Apple's environment Cocoa and then built a cocoa-compatible/Objective-C like platform that runs in pure Javascript. (As the podcast mentioned, it's interesting that Apple has also recently announced a more conventional javascript library called SproutCore.That's as tech as I get. All further questions can go to Tim.) And they plan to go open source with this when it's running smoothly. Their blog blog.280north.com should keep you updated on things.

This is a good tool for students who don't have access to software like PowerPoint or Keynote or for working on the road when you don't have access to your usual computer and software. It may be underpowered for folks creating fancier presentations at this early point. As with apps like Google Documents, you may find you don't need the bigger commercial products. The PowerPoint 2007 viewer is a free download so that you can view and present what you create online.