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Ads Clashing With Content

April 6, 2011

Just one day after speaking to our class, William A. Jacobson’s popular conservative blog Legal Insurrection was displaying an ad for Obama’s 2012 campaign. Our teacher asked Jacobson about the ads on his site, and whether any had shown up that he found problematic. He said no, he hadn’t.

Jacobson, unlike many big bloggers, isn’t a tech wizard nor does he employ one. He utilizes Google’s free blogging software and ad tools instead of the more advanced platforms like WordPress. It keeps his life simple, allowing him to focus on the content and the technical aspects second. However, this example shows one of the flaws in his system.

Jacobson mentioned in our class that he has no control over the ads, and has noticed that they actually will change depending on the content he writes. He’s right, they do. Google’s algorithms compute which ads are the most relevant to what appears on your page. Their business model is built on connecting advertisers with people interested in their products. However, these formulas don’t always work as intended, as Jacobson shows.

On Jacobson’s front page, the word “Obama” appears 23 times. With money being spent (probably big money) on Obama’s campaign, Google is probably filling many ad spaces with pro-Obama content without necessarily filtering out those sites that are being critical and not supportive. As such, these ads are probably falling onto deaf ears.

Jacobson’s business model works for him, and as long as he points out these ads, they may actually be a good opportunity for him to be transparent about how he handles advertising. By not hand selecting ads, like he does with comments, he will sometimes end up with ads that are conflicting with his ideas. If he let’s people know that he’s not in control, no one should be pointing fingers at him calling him a hypocrite. Instead, as his post points out, it may lead people to question Obama’s advertising techniques instead.

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Modern Campaigns Must Use Social Media

April 4, 2011

Obama changed the election game with his 2008 run for the White House. His web presence was everywhere compared to that of John McCain, who looked like someone still running Netscape and not much more advanced than searching things in Google. Obama’s marketing team swarmed the internet, with him hosting a Facebook, twitter, and more. He accepted questions via YouTube. Obama modernized how presidential candidates will have to interact and engage the public.

With 2012 looming, Obama looks to be returning to his old social media ways as he gears up for the oncoming election. Many tech blogs, including TechCrunch, reported this morning on Obama’s new Facebook button. It’s a campaign that uses the loyalty of supporters to join the Obama club and then invite friends. It hits on the fundamental principle of social media to share things with friends.

The site’s word choice is, however, strange. With Facebook posts asking, “I’m in – are you?” the message is vague but promising. It’s an invitation to a club. It’s a term that is already setting up sides. For Obama, you’re in, or you’re out. What is this high school? The phrasing calls up the image of a cafeteria with the cool kids, led by Obama, sitting at one table while all the others are divided around him.

It shows power that people would want to be with him. But really, when we look back, who wanted to be at the cool table? Especially with Obama receiving many mixed reviews as of late, it seems like his cool table is becoming less and less popular. What happens when someone gives you flack for being “in?” Division worked for Obama last time when people rallied behind his promises of hope, but will people fall behind him like they did before, or will people be looking to the other tables for the kids who will really get something done?

As long as Obama’s the cool kid, he may yet again be the king of political social media. But if someone rises up against him who’s just as capable and can capture some of the swagger that made Obama such an attractive candidate in 2008, this reelection may not be the cakewalk it has sometimes appeared to be.

NYT Points at Internship Issue

April 3, 2011

The NYT recently ran a report on unpaid internships, pointing out that many colleges and companies may not be helping students out when setting them up to work for free. It’s a well written and investigative look into internships that points out that what we’ve come to expect may well be exploitation.

The report looks at the rules by which organizations may offer unpaid internships and points to examples that seem to be exploiting the system. For employers, it’s free labor. For colleges, it’s cheap credits. For students, it can be expensive and unfair. They point out that an unpaid internship that isn’t being compensated for credit may be a violation of labor law, and yet many colleges do not require a student to receive school credits for internships.

The article ends with how they think colleges should address the issue, but the report ignores the students who may desire to work outside fo the system. At Ithaca College it is easy to find and apply for an internship without ever contacting career services and alerting them to it, paid or unpaid. If the government does investigate labor standards for college internships, what will happen to these students? And will work experience dry up if companies must find a way to compensate their student workers?

On a different note, I appreciate the article addressing their own policies, with both paid and unpaid internships offered at the Times. It’s good to see the Times trying to maintain a level of transparency about their own practices, and I applaud them for it.

Kickstarter: One Journalist’s Vision

March 31, 2011

After my post about Kickstarter last week, I was excited to see Mashable report on one journalist already making use of Kickstarter’s funding.

Rachel Anderson hopes to raise $30,000 through Kickstarter to continue funding her stay in Libya. She’s been producing weekly multimedia reports on Libyans and needs the funds to be able to stay there and hopefully venture into the more dangerous parts of the country. By donating, people are given updates and direct access to her reports. Those who donate more will be rewarded with things such as a personal skype call with her or another Libyan activist.

This is exactly the type of thing that impresses me about Kickstarter and social media in general. An individual with ambition can be supported through donations by others looking for a specific type of content. Anderson is brave enough to put herself in danger to get the story out, and people are providing her with the money she needs to continue. It’s astounding the lengths she’s gone to get the story, and it’s something large organizations would not fund. She has found a hole in reporting and is catering to those looking for real reports. She doesn’t have someone telling her where to go or where it’s too dangerous. She’s living with the rebels and experiencing their story. It’s a story to watch, one that may become a must for the future studying the rebellion. It isn’t funded by CNN or the New York Times, but ordinary people and one person who wants to show the world the truth.

Why Data Caps Will Discourage Progress

March 29, 2011

I find it strange that as technology gets better and internet connections get faster, companies are starting to cap the amount of usage at disturbingly low levels. This is the case in Canada, where 2 big ISPs have capped monthly data at 2GB (Shaw has also capped data, but at 15GB monthly).

This turn of events has caused ramifications for end users, with many people who play games online and stream content having to cut back or stop entirely.

Now, though, companies that provide these services are cutting back in an attempt to keep users from dropping their services entirely. Ars Technica reports today that Netflix has dropped their standard streaming settings in Canada from “Best” and “Better” to “Good” in hopes that users are not deterred from watching videos. When at “Best,” Netflix consumes about 1GB per hour of standard content and 2.3GB per hour of HD content, ruling it out entirely for many Canadians.

If similar data capping expands to the US, will it even be feasible for Netflix to keep “Best” as an option? The technology will be there, but the limits on consumers will limit the growth of Netflix and similar services. What would the implications be for Silicon Valley? Instead of utilizing technology to push things forward, we’ll be stuck with low usage services that can’t utilize the latest technologies, hindering their growth in the US.

As future content providers we should recognize the damage this could do. If a user can only stream 20 videos in a month, what’s to say they would watch ours? The already competitive nature of the internet will become even more so. Creative uses of multimedia may be deemed too taxing for the average user to view in a data capped society. All of the power of the internet may be traded in for text to encourage users to read what we have to say.

It’s not a pretty picture. We need unlimited access to data to continue making progress. A data cap would be a step backwards for users and content creators.

Paid First: A Growing Trend in Creative Ventures

March 28, 2011

I’ve written about the work of Spot.us, and we recently read about Robert Greenwald’s call for funding to create a new documentary. With the help of the internet, it’s become easy for creatives to pitch ideas directly to consumers. Without media heads acting as gatekeepers to the audience, there’s been a lot of content created that may not have been possible before. The stories I linked at the beginning of this post are two examples, but there’s another, Kickstarter.

Kickstarter makes it easy for creatives of all mediums to pitch ideas to the masses and raise funds. The ideas range from films to photo projects. Even software pitches have proven incredibly successful. For journalists looking to create something new and different, it’s a great platform to try to raise funds.

What Kickstarter provides is a community looking to fund projects. For many people, it’s hard to find those with money. Kickstarter gathers those people and shows them what you are trying to do.

As college students with little to no disposable income, I believe it’s important to be aware of the options available for funding projects. As we find our own pet projects, Kickstarter may be the place to start looking for funds. With a community of small donors as funders, it leaves us working for the audience instead of individuals able to tighten the purse strings.

Made In America Making Sense

March 24, 2011

In class we discussed ABC’s recent series “Made in America” and the lack of info regarding Disney, their parent company and contributor to the problem ABC news identifies. The series ran through what it takes to find American made products, and it happens to be quite difficult, no thanks to large corporations.

At the same time, and to much smaller fanfare, Wired Magazine ran their own story about the lack of American made products. They identify the shifting trends that are making US based products much more feasible, especially for small to medium sized companies. They’re trends that have resulted in growth in manufacturing jobs for the first time since 1997.

Wired approaches the subject as though it’s a new product, and it’s an analogy that works well. Everyone adopted cheap Chinese labor in fear of being left behind. With wages at only a fraction what they are in the US, it sounded simple. The Chinese helped the process by marketing themselves to the US. After everyone moved off shore, however, the weaknesses have surfaced, and not everyone agrees that off shore is the only way anymore.

As China’s economy booms, it’s turning off US manufacturers. The average wage of a Chinese factory worker has doubled and, although still small compared to the US, the cost is catching up. When paired with other expenses like shipping, it’s no longer a no-brainer.

ABC’s approach to the story made it personal by selecting a family and illustrating just how many products are made outside of the US. Wired took a more scholarly and researched approach. What I wish for would be a combination. ABC’s story made for good television, but I think a glimpse into the deeper issues, as FAIR pointed out, would have helped to truly enlighten the public.