I’m not lazy, just busy. Check my Tweets.

I’d like to send out a big “thank you” to anyone who’s been visiting this site, and a “sorry” for the lack of blog updates over the past few months.

When I first started working for RIM on a co-op term seven months ago, I found myself having less and less free time to sit down and write concise articles, just as my desire to escape computer screen entrapment grew exponentially.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I haven’t been reading.  To the contrary, I’ve been reading more and more over the past 6 months.  One of the best new finds I’ve picked up is Mediagazer.  To pull a quote from the site’s “About” section:

“Mediagazer presents the day’s must-read media news on a single page.

The media business is in tumult: from the production side to the distribution side, new technologies are upending the industry. Keeping up with these changes is time-consuming, as essential media coverage is scattered across numerous web sites at any given moment.

Mediagazer simplifies this task by organizing the key coverage in one place. We’ve combined sophisticated automated aggregation technologies with direct editorial input from knowledgeable human editors to present the one indispensible narrative of an industry in transition.”

Please check out the site and see for yourself.  It’s just over a month old, but has already become an incredibly relevant and useful source for daily media news.  This is exactly the type of site I’ve been crying for; one that provides the benefits of an RSS reader but with the necessary touch of a human editor.

So, I’ll probably continue to blog from time to time.  If a major event tweaks my interest and I can’t help but write about it (see: Iran Election), I’ll post something up on here.

In the meantime, if you want to follow my mindcasting, please check my Twitter posts.  I update on there a few times per week with tidbits of news and brief (140 character!) analysis… if you can call it that.  See the right-hand column of this page for a nice preview of @AlexJMarshall tweets.

As for me, I’ve got an extended (2-month!) vacation coming up, and a new job waiting for me when I get back.  So that may explain some “Twitter dead time” that you’ll notice over May/June.  But I’ll be back.



Why I love the Slatest

At some point over the last couple of weeks, I noticed a new feature on Slate.com – they call it “the Slatest” (beta), and it’s a regularly-updated collection of the 12 best articles from across the internet, as chosen by one of their staff.  I read Slate every day, and this new feature is just the latest bonus to what is already one of my favorite Web sites.

So let’s talk about the two reasons why I love the Slatest, and why other companies can learn some lessons from it:   First, because a professionally human-edited aggregator is quickly becoming a viable news delivery method, and second, because the Slatest’s use of Facebook for reader comments increases my likelihood of engagement.

Filtering the best of all the rest

In his book What Would Google Do?, Jeff Jarvis uses the phrase “do what you do best and link to the rest” to explain how businesses need to operate in the age of the Web.  I think we’ll be seeing more of this approach in days to come, particularly from news and media companies.

Why?  Because readers will flock to the best online sources, original content or not.  In the real-time internet, your internal team isn’t going to break every story and won’t have the best analysis on every issue.  But you can leverage readers’ trust in your editorial staff.  Think of the savvy friend or coworker who has a knack for picking out the most read-worthy stories – we all know someone like this.  Slate’s daily briefing and Slatest features position themselves as just that.

I’ve always liked the concept of Digg, but have found that in practice, the wisdom of the crowd tend to select articles that are fairly different from what I would choose to read.  With the Slatest, it’s just a single editor, and one who chooses articles close to my own taste.  Also, Digg can be overwhelming, whereas the  Slatest’s focus is only on 12 articles at a time (which is conveniently the number that I would want to read in a single work break).

As a new feature, the Slatest hasn’t been perfected yet.  So far I’d say that their content selection is good, not great.  But given it’s nascent stage, I think we can assume that it will get better if given the chance (as a goal, Slate’s Other Magazines section is very well filtered and edited).  Bloggers do this type of aggregating already, but are often limited by the fact that they’re moonlighting and don’t have the expertise and resources of a major news company.  Seeing a company like Slate (owned by the Washington Post) progressing in this direction gets a thumbs-up.

Facebook for the User-Comments section

The Slatest does something else very unique:  They use Facebook to host their user comments.  The feature is too new to fully evaluate, but I like it.  Why?  Let’s start by evaluating how other news sites manage user comments.

The New York Times:  To comment on the NY Times site, you merely pencil in your name, email (which will not be published) and you can post.  For such a major paper, I’m surprised at how basic this is.

The Globe and Mail:  The Globe goes a step beyond the NY Times.  To post a comment, you first have to actually register and provide your email, name and zip code.  On the reader-side, it means that for every submitted comment, you can click on the commentor’s name and view their profile (if they have one, which many do not).  The benefit to this, as compared to the NY Times format, is that it actually creates a bit of a community among the regular commentors.   Here’s a sample profile of a frequent comment-poster named Brian Dell.  As you can see, the Globe’s format allows you to see a profile page and, most significantly, read previous comments by the same poster (as you would on a site such as Amazon).

The Globe also allows you to set up alerts for up to 15 keywords.  Being a new RIM employee, I might set this up so that anytime a Globe article includes the words RIM, Research in Motion, Balsillie, Blackberry, etc, I would be informed and could head over to comment.

There’s more to it than this, with features like the public messages and friends options that can build a real social-networking capability into the site.  Relative to the NY Times then, the Globe’s ahead of the curve for an organization of its age and size.

The Huffington Post:  It may be a bit unfair to compare the Huffington Post in this case, as it’s an organization very different from the NY Times or the Globe and Mail, or even Slate for that matter.  Regardless, it’s worth evaluating, as the HuffPo incorporates most of the Globe and Mail’s community-building, but with a cleaner design and a more Facebook-ish feel.  Check out this Huffington Post user profile for a fairly typical regular commentor, Fidella Faulds.  The “fan” function links users in a fashion more similar to Twitter than to Facebook, in that it doesn’t have to be reciprocated.

Now, returning to the Slatest. Whereas the two above-mentioned sites build their own internal communities for commentors, Slate requires that you post your comment through Facebook, which then shows up on the Slate site.  Here’s what the comments section of a Slatest article looks like:

Slatest facebook comment

In this case, if I want to know more about Martin Bentley, I merely click on his Facebook profile.  Relative to the Globe and Mail’s system, I can actually get a much richer picture of who he really is, depending on how much he presents in his public profile, and then connect with him on Facebook.  While this is just an experiment, as other Slate articles don’t use Facebook for this purpose, I think it’s an indication of where we’ll see news going.

Why I love the Slatest

I read Slate all the time, and despite where I may have led you with this blog, it’s actually not because of their innovative features.  I read Slate on a daily basis because they have excellent writers, such as Jack Shafer and Farhad Manjoo, to name a couple.  But their incorporation of third-party articles also works for me because it’s not done for the sake of doing it, but because they actually do seem to put real effort into choosing the best from across the Web.

As for the Facebook integration for comments, I’m a big fan.  I haven’t submitted any comments myself yet (note:  been away on vacation, hence lack of recent blogs).  But I will.  Reasons?  First, I have my own blog, so if I post a comment on a news site, It’d be cool if other readers follow the string back to my personal site.  Second, if someone is interested in one of my comments,or myself in theirs, I like the opportunity to connect.  Facebook facilitates this more easily than an internal community (such as the Globe and HuffPo).

Above all, my enjoyment of the Slatest thus far is based on quality of articles.  I’ve always liked reading from a broad range of sources but never had time to pick up 8 newspapers per day.  Having an editor perform this function for me,  effectively filtering out the best of the day’s news, is a pretty sweet feature.  Not to present myself as lazy:  I still visit other sites to read through the news for myself.  But the Slatest (and Slate’s daily briefings) give me a good starting point over my morning coffee.

Clay Shirky: “How cellphones, Twitter, Facebook can make history”

A few months ago, I finally had the opportunity to read Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. In a nutshell, the books explains what makes or breaks group organization and collaboration online, and paints an excellent picture of the potential existing in new Web media. Highly recommended.

I recently came across a TED video from Shirky, taped about a month ago, wherein he explains “how cellphones, twitter and facebook can make history.” It’s about 17 minutes long, ideal mid-day study break material:

Coolest iPhone app, ever? Augmented reality for subway stations

I’m a Blackberry guy myself, and given that I was just hired at RIM (starting in the fall), that’s unlikely to change.  That said, I just came across a video demonstrating a new iPhone app that merits sharing.  Augmented reality has been, thus far, a largely untapped well of potential for mobiles.  For both the public and private sectors, this represents a whole new level of interactivity and location-based services waiting to take off.

Check out this video (originally posted on Popular Science) and see what I mean:

This week in 2.0 Web news

Welcome to Alex-filtered news, the first edition of a new feature I hope to write on a (semi-) regular basis.  This is mainly for my friends and MBA colleagues who are interested in social media news but aren’t nerdy enough to read it as much as I do.  So here’s a recap of the stories I found to be of interest this week – enjoy.


Michael Jackson’s death breaks the internet

You probably heard about the passing of the King of Pop this week.  And when you heard the news, you probably rushed straight to Twitter or Google to verify the rumours, right?  So did the rest of the world. 

You shouldn’t be surprised to hear, then, that Michael Jackson’s death sparked a sudden and unheard-of rush of traffic to social media and news sites on Thursday evening  According to Mashable, MJ-related topics accounted for over 30% of Tweets at his Thursday night peak.  Twitter’s server went down a few times, unable to handle the overwhelming volume.

But Twitter wasn’t the only site brought down by MJ’s death, as the LA Times’ breaking update over Jackson’s coma caused a rush of traffic that crashed their own server as well.  Even Google struggled to deal with the flash traffic amid all the “MJ dead?” searches, which was so sudden and heavy that their news section interpreted the rush as an automated attack. 

We’ve seen a lot of buzz over Iran’s Twitter-takeover recently, but it seems that even in this medium pop culture dominates all.


 Mobile video about to hit a tipping point

With the launch of the iPhone 3G, Mashable is predicting that mobile video is finally hitting its tipping point.  Mobile photos, they write, have already become pervasive because so many phones come with basic cameras.  Now, we’re increasingly seeing mobile devices able to capture video, and with integration to YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, it only makes sense that instantaneous video uploads will soon become the norm.

I blogged previously about YouTube bleeding cash, theorizing that an increase in videos on their servers only raises costs (bandwidth and other server expenses) without adding revenue (most videos have little value to advertisers).  Sounds odd, right?  For most businesses, a huge boost to services would mean revenue increases.  In this case, however, it just raises costs, allowing YouTube to lose even more money. 

Instead of growing revenue streams, YouTube has found a business model that turns increased usage into cost streams.  Google might want to turn that around at some point.


One month in, how is Bing doing?

In case you missed it, Microsoft launched their search engine, Bing, on May 30th.  Since then, they’ve been on a complete marketing blitz; Advertising Age reported that Microsoft is spending $80-100 million on the launch campaign (significantly more than the $25 million that Google spend on total advertising last year). 

So how have they done?  A recent TechCrunch blog reported on a focus group study(*small sample size warning) demonstrating strong preference for Bing. Mashable, on June 17th, reported some early numbers that showed healthy growth for the new search engine (about 16% of daily searcher penetration).

Realistically, it’s far too early to judge Bing’s success.  Stealing some market share from Google in their first month is impressive, sure, but it’s hard to tell whether these users will permanently switch over to Bing.  It seems to be close to on par with Google in terms of search result relevancy, at least based on my visits so far.  This is impressive, and bodes well for Microsoft, but they still face an uphill battle.  Google’s brand is a force to be reckoned with, and getting users to switch from the engine they’ve used exclusively for years will be one hell of a challenge.


Acclaimed author Chris Anderson busted for plagiarism

As a former TA who lost his mind trying to teach citation to first-year students, I found this story to be of particular interest.  Earlier this week, Chris Anderson, best-selling author of The Long Tail, editor of Wired magazine and superstar in the Web2.0-nerd community was exposed for plagiarizing sections of his forthcoming book, Free!. 

The story first broke in the Virgina Quarterly Review, with examples given on this edrants.com blog.  There’s four examples here that show, more than anything, extreme laziness on the part of Anderson.  Many authors repurpose from other sources, but the mere changing of a few words, without proper citation of original sources, is inexcusable.  Check for yourself.

For what it’s worth, Anderson provided a written defence on his own blog site, explaining that his team couldn’t agree on a citation format for Wikipedia articles and promising to correct the errors in upcoming versions.  The explanation is lacking, as Anderson doesn’t answer all of the accusations.  If you want some fun reading, visit VQR Online to view Anderson’s comments, where he provides an angry defence, even launching a personal attack against one of his accusors.

University students, rejoice:  You aren’t the only ones making innapropriate use of Wikipedia and failing to cite your sources.


Study finds CEOs largely disconnected from social media (and in effect, their customers)

I came across this article from Reuters on Thursday and was left shaking my head.  There isn’t a single Fortune 100 CEO blogging, only 2 have Twitter accounts and only 13 have a LinkedIn account.  To quote the article, “It’s shocking that the top CEOs can appear to be so disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They’re giving the impression that they’re disconnected, disengaged and disinterested,” said Sharon Barclay, editor at UberCEO.com who runs executive PR firm Blue Trumpet Group.

Something’s gotta give.  Will the companies get with it, or will we see a major changing of the guard over the next few years?


Optimism for Toronto sports fans?

Time for a Toronto-based sports tidbit.  After getting drafted by the Raptors Thursday night, DeMar DeRozan (@DeMar_DeRozan) tweeted “Toronto here I come.  Air Canadas back.”  As Raps fans know, AC was Vince Carter’s nickname back when he ruled our sports community.  Maybe passing on the nickname to a new star will help wash away the still-present bitterness felt towards VC… naw, probably not.

And how about them Jays?  They lose all 5 starting pitchers to the DL, suffer through a 9-game losing streak and they finish off June only 1.5 games out of the playoffs?  Wow.


Funniest video I found this week

From The Onion,  “Nation’s Girlfriends Unveil New Economic Plan”.  3 minutes or so in length, and I’ll go ahead and call it a “must-watch”.  No more elaboration needed, just trust me, it’s hilarious.


Must-read film review

I tend to be a bit of a film snob, and absolutely hate bad movies, regardless of genre.  Although I haven’t seen it, I’ve been told that Transformers 2 is terrible, so the only pleasure I’ll get from it is probably the humour I can pull out of scathing reviews.  Thankfully, Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian has given me just that, calling Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen  “at once loud and boring, like watching paint dry while getting hit over the head with a frying pan.”


Best read on the Web this week

In an exerpt from his upcoming book, Say Everything:  How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming and Why it Matters, Scott Rosenberg details the history of journalists versus bloggers.  Rosenberg gives us the history of blogging within the context of journalism, detailing the adversarial relationship that developed between the two, and how blogging has completely disrupted the journalism industry. 

Sit down for 20 minutes and give this your attention, it’s well worth it.


That’s all for now.



Iran: “The First Revolution Catapulted and Transformed by Social Media”

Not my words – this is coming from Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, one of the best books I’ve read over the past year.   I’ve clipped a quote from a recent Q&A he did for TED (full link below):

What do you make of what’s going on in Iran right now?
I’m always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that … this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary.

Continue reading

Iran as the First Internet Uprising


From @GregMitch on Twitter:  Brian Williams just now asks Richard Engel, back from Iran: “Is this the first Internet uprising?” Engel: “Yes.”

(Engel is NBC’s Chief Foreign Correspondent).

Continue reading