Final – iMedia Issues Symposium – What Should We Be Most Concerned About?

13 05 2010

Throughout this year, we have investigated current issues that come with new media landscape. How does the Internet work, how does it effect us, what should know, and how do we do it? We have discussed the works and ideas of four key authors that have asked those very questions. Below is the main ideas of each of these authors, and my personal response to those ideas.

McChesney:

It is no secret that Robert McChesney prefers the old-school methods of journalism, and frowns upon the direction that it is taking in this new digital age. Unbiased, professional journalism is giving way to untrained citizen journalism, political agendas, and mega-corporations and conglomerates, almost completely swallowing the old ways of how we share information. McChesney points out three fundamental flaws in current journalism: 1) Journalism cannot actually be neutral or objective, and unless one acknowledges that, it is impossible to detect the values at play that determines what becomes news and what doesn’t. 2) Journalism tends to avoid contextualization, but rather is a barrage of facts and official statements. 3) It is not politically neutral, but rather it smuggles in values conducive to the commercial aims of the owners and advertisers, as well as the political aims of the owning class. McChesney fears that journalism today lacks the professional stance it once fought so hard to uphold, and has come down to merely a business run by those with power and an opinion.

Auletta:

Ken Auletta concerns himself with the rise and extreme power of the Internet mogul Google. The company started as a mere search engine, but has since stretched its arms into almost every corner of new media and the Internet. While the services that Google provides are useful, boast unparalleled efficiency, and is predominately free (with the exception of advertisements), Auletta looks deeper to find the real price we pay for Google. We have begun to trust Google implicitly, and embraced its “Don’t be evil” motto, but Auletta has his doubts. He examines the behind-the-scenes at Google, and finds that while Google’s admission price is trust, it can be costly to our privacy. For example, Google likes to save all of our search queries, claiming it helps make their search more relevant and efficient. While this may be true, it could also be considered an invasion of privacy, to the point that, if need be, they could retrieve any former search, link it to an IP address, and follow that directly back to our personal computer. This may not be an issue if you are searching for a new baked ziti recipe, but we often assume our Internet searches are made confidentially. It’s a tricky situation that what makes Google so powerful and efficient, also violates our trust and privacy, and Auletta wants to make sure we are aware of this, and not hold Google up on a pedestal without all the facts.

Solove:

In a world where anything and everything can be captured on mobile phones and pocket-sized video cameras, and instantly sent online and into millions of homes, Daniel Solove proclaims that none of us are safe, and we must all be cautious. He cites viral mishaps like “Dog Poop Girl,” and the “Star Wars Kid,” and the severe negative impact that their actions, combined with the Internet, had on their reputation and personal lives. But the blame is two-fold. As members of a digital society, we have to be careful of our actions, knowing that anything we say or do could be captured. On the other side of the camera, we also have a responsibility of whether or not to share with the rest of the world. On the Internet, reputation can make or break you. It is what separates a casual blogger from a dedicated citizen journalist. It can help create a name for yourself, or destroy any chance of being taken seriously. Solove says that the Internet is a powerful too, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Zittrain:

The Internet and new technology is a constantly evolving “organism.” Users find new ways of sharing information, and entertaining themselves and others. This technology is fairly generative, that is, open for use beyond its original intention. While YouTube was originally built to host user videos, and has since evolved into a video mecca, housing user-generated content, music videos, sports highlights, clips from movies and TV shows, video blogs, etc. An idea is introduced, and immediately we find ways to alter and enhance it for our own purposes. Jonathan Zittrain, however, feels that the Internet, and “Generation Google” are slowly moving towards a less generative world. He suggests that new ideas are becoming so specialized and niche targeted that there is simply less room for generativity, and that it could eventually be extinguished altogether. The main features of a generative system include leverage, adaptability, ease of mastery, accessibility, and transferability. He maintains that as technology become more specialized, these features are lost, and we continue down a path that neglects generative ideas.

Critiques:

Solove:

If the examples of “Dog Poop Girl” and “Star Wars Kid” weren’t enough, it needs to be made clear that the Internet is a powerful tool and can effect the reputation and literally everyone that uses it. In face-to-face interaction, people seem to be more reserved about their actions, because they are directly related to them. But the Internet provides a mask between actions and the person behind those actions. What we sometimes don’t realize is that even though our face is not shown, we are hardly anonymous. Usernames can be linked to e-mail accounts, and “anonymous” comments can be traced to IP addresses. There are more ways of identifying a person than a picture of their face. Therefore, we must be cautious about our online actions. There are always consequences, as invisible as they may seem. While the Internet is a great way to practice freedom of speech and press, it is extremely important to understand what our actions may yield. As Solove and Spider-Man suggested, with great power comes great responsibility. That isn’t just a catchy phrase, but should be a personal motto when we are online. We can be held accountable for our actions. There is no such thing as anonymity online. As I have said before, if only the Internet ran on Karma.

Zittrain:

I must respectfully disagree with Zittrain’s idea that the Internet is weaning out generativity. As a matter of fact, I think it is becoming even more generative. Blog have evolved from simple online journals to (sometimes) respected sources of information (and final exam forums). Email is not just for sending electronic letters, but sharing photos, videos, and links, and is used as a marketing tool (even though we all hate spam). Facebook is no longer a digital yearbook for college students, but the largest social network for people and business alike, sharing info (videos, pictures, etc.), creating events, and meeting new people. One of the best examples I can think of is the world of video games. Let’s take World of Warcraft for example. The game is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG), that immerses users into, literally, a whole new virtual world, and connects them via the Internet. What was originally planned to be a way to battle and quest together has turned into a virtual society, creating guilds and groups that no longer just live in the game. Friendships are made, bonds are formed, and there has even been a wedding held within the game. Another great example is machinima, or using the game and characters to create narrative videos. Users can record their characters actions and movements, and later apply a voice over and/or music to create entertaining videos, making the avatars not just surrogates of our actions, but real characters with back stories and personalities. I think that generativity is inevitable, regardless of how specialized the tool becomes. With every new idea proposed, users will find a way to alter it enough to be used for their personal agenda, and that is whole idea behind the evolving world of generative technology.





The End of Free

10 05 2010

We all knew this day would come. Hulu has announced they will go down the inevitable route of paid services. And soon…

In late April, Hulu announced that they will begin implementing a paid subscription service as early as late May 2010. The website, which offers video streams of many popular television shows and movies, is owned by a conglomerate of giant media moguls NBC, News Corp., and Walt Disney Co. It usually hosts the five most recent episodes of select shows, and has limited commercials throughout the stream.

But all is not lost for those “free Internet” advocates. Hulu’s paid subscription, “Hulu Plus” will run about $10 per month, and offer additional episodes and services compared to their free service, which will still be available.

The main reason, as with any business, revolves around revenue. The limited commercials currently on Hulu pull in some advertising money, but the numbers are not as high as the owners’ would prefer (is it ever?). There is speculation that the free service will soon begin to show even more commercials, rivaling the amount currently shown on broadcast television.

But Hulu isn’t the only website to offer video streams of television shows. Nor will it be the first the offer a subscription services. Fancast, owned by Comcast, runs on a fairly similar model, offering free content. And Netflix has been charging for service from the beginning, but is doing very well.

I like to link the switch to the recent attempt of Spirit Airlines to charge for carry-on baggage. Others will wait and gauge the reaction, and then decide to either follow suit, or abandon the idea to keep their fan base.

The Internet has always been the home to “free” and many users want to keep it that way. While Hulu currently ranks #2 in online video streams (second only to YouTube), it is possible this subscription service could make that number drop dramatically.





Monitoring Online Comments

23 04 2010

Today I saw an interesting presentation on pros and cons of online commenting. It revolved around issues of governing (or not) online comments, how they are useful, and how they can be harmful. As a good amount of our communication moves online, so do the responses. Whether it is comments on blogs, or established news sites, online comments are growing and need the policy needs to be examined.

Online comments are a new form of communication. Users can comment on stories, as well as respond to other comments, keeping the story fresh, updated and active. It also helps build a community of fans and readers, and encourages audience interaction.

However, quite often you will find people who enjoy hiding behind the mask of anonymity, and may say something derogatory or offensive that they might not say in a face-to-face conversation. Cyber bullying, usually accompanied with extremely poor spelling and grammar, is a frequent occurrence, but there are ways to limit it.

Require users to have an account:

If users have to register their email address and/or create a user name, they are not as anonymous, and their comments are tied directly to their account. It will create some sort of accountability for their comments, and could reduce offensive material.

Create a commenting policy: Clearly state some rules to commenting on your site. By creating a policy, users must adhere to the rules or their comments may be removed.

Third-Party: Hiring a third-party group to monitor your site is another option. It allows you to not spend the time worrying about the comments, as the third-party group will monitor user submissions, and clean up comments that are inappropriate.

Self-Policing: You can make all submitted comments be reviewed before being posted online, or read through comments and delete offensive material.

These are all steps towards creating a successful, non-offensive user commenting section. It is also important to consider user’s First Amendment rights and censoring, but that is a topic for another day.





Flash is not Dead!

19 04 2010

There has been lots of talk recently about how the interactive program Flash is starting to decline. Apple’s iPhone, and more recent iPad, are notorious for their rejection of Flash, not allowing Flash applications to run on their mobile platforms.

Is this a personal stab at the Adobe program? Or just a technological issue? Or maybe a mix of the two?  Maybe Steve Jobs has a personal vendetta against Flash (not unlike many of my classmates). There are rumors that Flash is glitchy, and can crash programs and browsers. Maybe, but as a Flash advocate, I don’t believe it.

But, as the commercial says, everything that [the iPhone] doesn’t, Droid does… the Google-run smart-phone, as well as other smart-phones, will run Flash applications. And Flash is also popping up on less conventionally interactive medium, television.

Syabas Technology recently created the new Popbox, a set-top box that brings Internet content and applications to your television. This includes some entertainment sites that utilize Flash, as well as Flash-based apps and games that can be developed by third-party vendors.

Another point worth mentioning is the general migration of video content from the television to the Internet. Hulu.com has grown rapidly over the past year or so, providing full length TV shows and movies with only minor commercial interruptions, and, most importantly, all free. But good luck checking out Hulu on your iPhone…because Hulu runs its videos on Flash.

Adobe is also working to bridge that gap between Flash and mobile smart-phones. The soon-to-be-released Adobe CS5 offers ways to export and publish games and apps that are ready to go for smart-phones. Welcome to the mobile world, Flash!

Flash seems to have many enemies… Everyone at Apple, HTML 5 developers, frustrated students, etc… But Flash keeps fighting back, finding some way to show up on each of our various screens. Viva la Flash!





Inevitability of Generativity

19 03 2010

One of the main issues in Jonathan Zittrain’s book The Future of the Internet is the generativity of the Internet and new technologies. Zittrain defines “generativity” as a system’s capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varies audiences. Essentially, using technologies in ways other than their intended original purpose.

Zittrain likes to focus on Wikipedia, but let’s take a look at some other generative technologies in interactive media.

Machinima is an excellent example. Machinima consists of recording video game characters within the game, then dubbing over alternate audio to make a new video. Red vs. Blue is a machinima that gained immense popularity, spawning 100 short episodes and three mini-series. World of Warcraft has also proved to be a popular platform for machinima videos.

YouTube is another great example. The site may have originally been founded just for the purpose of hosting videos, but has grown into a video mogul. The selection of types of videos hosted continues to grow. On YouTube you can find scenes from television and movies, trailers, music videos, sports highlights, video blogs, user-created content, video comments, webisodes, and more! It has also been a contributing factor in helping viral videos spread and become popular.

Zittrain suggests that the Internet is changing, and we are moving towards a non-generative digital world. But I would have to disagree. One of the greatest features of generativity is its spontaneity. It is never planned or expected. It just happens.





Anonymity and the Internet

5 03 2010

As more and more of our everyday activities move online, we need to be increasingly aware of our online actions. With instantaneous, worldwide communication at our fingertips, there is great power in the Internet. Our actions, videos, blogs, etc, all say something about who we are, and it is possible for someone to copy and paste a post, spread a video, or retweet a message. Depending on the content of the message, this has potential to help or hurt your online reputation.

We have recently talked about example after example of online reputation destruction. From “Dog Poop Girl” to “Star Wars Kid,” reputation can make or break you in the Internet age. But if everyone were too scared of the consequences to participate online, the Internet would fail to be as successful as it is, and social media would practically not exist.

The Internet provides a blanket of anonymity for users. They feel comfortable and protected behind the “Anonymous” tag above their comment. I have a personal theory that when people assume they are anonymous, they are inherently assholes. The idea of not being held responsible for your actions, suffering no consequences, creates a kind of power trip for users, which might result in people doing or saying things they normally wouldn’t in a face-to-face encounter.

But being mean isn’t illegal. There is no law that says we have to be nice to others. And in fact, there is a law that protects what we say… the First Amendment and the Freedom of Speech. This law protects gossip, rumors, or other negative comments from being taken down.

So where is the balance between freedom and speech, anonymity, and reputation?

Solove dropped the infamous Spider-man quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We, as participants of the Internet need to recognize that while we can say anything, it doesn’t mean that have to say it. We hope that everyone operates with the same strong moral compass.

But not everyone does run off the same moral compass. And since there is no real regulation, the responsibility falls once again in the user’s hands. Be cautious about what you make available online, who can see it, and how you handle similar situations.

If only the Internet ran on Karma.





Google, Dodgeball, and Evil

1 03 2010

“Don’t Be Evil” – The mantra of Google has come into play in many of their business decisions. They have tried to sew this message into their fabric of which the company operates upon, and keep it in mind when expanding their business with new projects in different directions. However, one question in Ken Auletta’s book Googled got me thinking. The question asks what is evil and what happens if Google doesn’t see something as evil, but someone else does, or vice versa? Essentially, how and why does Google determine what is evil?

Auletta’s book offers a fairly detailed history of the Google company, as well as semi-biographies on the owners and founders. This helped the audience get to know the brains, and take a look into why certain decisions were made, and perhaps a better understanding of what they think of as “evil.” But in doing some research for a case study on a new technology for another class, I found an example of something involving Google, and that I would generally consider “evil,” or at least “not entirely ethical.”

Google has been dappling in the social networking arena, recently launching Buzz. But this is not their first attempt either. In 2005, Google experimented with mobile GPS-based social networks. Dodgeball was a company founded in 2000 by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert that combined real-time status updates like Twitter, social friends and lists like Facebook, user generated tips and reviews for establishments like Yelp, and a GPS tracker to share all this information.

Google “acquired” Dodgeball in 2005 and brought the founders along with the project. However, just two years later, the Crowley and Rainert left Google, dissatisfied with the direction Dodgeball was headed, and the lack of time dedicated to the project. Dodgeball failed to catch on and grow, and in January 2009, Google announced that it would be dropping the project and discontinuing the Dodgeball service. The very next month, Google released Google Latitude, a mobile GPS social network very similar to Dodgeball that runs as an add-on to Google Maps. Undeterred, Crowley revealed Foursquare in March 2009. Foursquare began to grow, and now almost a year later, the social network boasts over almost 275,000 members internationally, and continues to grow.

So where does Google and their Evil mantra come in? Personally, I find it a little suspicious that Google would drop a project because it was not successful, but then release a similar project less than a month later. Perhaps Google drove the Dodgeball founders away as a strategy, chose to drive Dodgeball into the ground, and then start their own project. Perhaps the low success rate was not because it didn’t catch on with the public, but rather purposefully not marketed right. Perhaps.

But conspiracy theory or not, the actions of Google leave me asking “Are you sure that wasn’t evil?” There was no revealed history about disputes or discrepancies between Dodgeball and Google, so it is unclear why Dodgeball never took off, or why Google chose to invest more effort in a similar side project.

Could a company like Google become so large that it has the possibility to absorb other smaller companies, and then choose to expand on them, terminate them, or make it their own idea? If so, Google (or said company) could regulate its competition, provide less options, and further expand their own business. Sounds kinda evil to me.