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The Age of Misinformation October 18, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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Alas, here I am after months of avoiding blogging. The problem is that my head has been way too caught up with personal matters. But more recently I find myself time and time again consumed with anger during routine Google searches and so it is that I turn to the more savvy netizens (our fickle and fleeting reader base?) to uphold and support my cause–the death of Yahoo! Answers.

As a librarian and self-declared “information specialist” I have no problem admitting that I frequently turn to Wikipedia. While it is certainly no Encyclopedia Britannica, there are references that one can check. So when Wikipedia is returned by Google as the first or second hit, I can deal with it.

However, when Yahoo! Answers is returned in the first page of results (as it increasingly is) I wince inside, and then click on it. I can’t help it. It’s like driving past an accident; you can’t help but look. Not only have I found numerous highly-biased erroneous answers voted “best” by fellow commenters, but the subject matter of the questions concerns me even more. As a pregnant woman who often uses the internet to find quick answers (knowing, of course, that calling the doctor is the best and final way to go), I am shocked by how many people ask crucial, health-related questions.

What are the requirements for people submitting answers? There are none. And to add insult to injury, Yahoo! supplements answers with responses from their “Knowledge Partners”, aka corporate sponsors. As much as we librarians and savvier internet users try to stress the inaccuracy and dubiousness of such sites to our more trusting friends, we are often shrugged off as fuddy-duddy Luddites (have I mentioned I’m 27 by the way?). At the risk of sounding like a sensationalist, isn’t this just another step (or large leap) in the “dumbing down” of our country? I plead with you, as a fellow American, don’t click on Yahoo! Answers; don’t support it. And maybe someday in the not-so-distant-future it will just be a bad memory!

Should the Digital Divide Be Closed? June 23, 2010

Posted by dataduchess in education, InformationIssues.
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Interesting bit from the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website, pointing to a new study that is showing a statistically significant DECREASE in math and reading test scores among students with home computer and internet access.

Meanwhile, students with limited access to computers and internet did not experience this statistical decrease. Does this mean that we should not be working to close the digital divide? That we should not be trying to make computers and internet accessible to every child?

Another point found in the study was that students who had computers and internet at home, but were limited in usage due to “more effective parental monitoring” did not experience the same negative effect on test scores. Perhaps the children in these households put the technology and internet access to more productive uses?

This study is seems to indicate that computers, internet and technology are not only not a magic pill to increase test scores, but without the proper guidance, may be a distraction and hindrance to students’ academic performance.

Does this mean that we should not close the “digital divide”? What do you think?

Niche Blog Friday: Ads Gone Bad March 19, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Niche Blogs, Uncategorized.
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This blog is hit or miss but as it is fairly new I think it shows great promise. I was led to this blog from Information Today, in an article discussing the inefficacy of online advertisements. What I found most interesting was exactly what this blog monitors – the humorous and unexpected results of ads based solely on textual content of the web page. As the about page states, “AdsGoneBad.com is a collection of bad contextual ads, poorly placed display ads, viral videos mocking ads, and anything else that makes media buyers, planners and anyone working in the online advertising industry just scratch their head and chuckle.” Check out the whole blog here.

Is Google Making Us Dumb? 21% (and me) said Yes March 5, 2010

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A portion of the Pew Research Center’s project, “The Future of the Internet IV”, examines an article written by Nicholas Carr in the summer of 2008 entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (published in the Atlantic Monthly). The study asked respondents if they agreed with Carr, that human intelligence (measured by IQ) would not have increased and may have even decreased by 2020. Results were as follows (for totals): 76% did not agree with Carr, 21% did, and 2% did not respond. What is most interesting about this study is the lengthy comments that follow explaining their stance on human intelligence and how it will be affected by Internet information searching. Most discussion revolves around the issues we are well aware of–engaged reading has turned into skimming and jumping, what we used to have to remember we can always access, and (on the positive side) the number of resources available has exploded (although one could also start the debate on quality versus quantity).

Carr argues that our thinking is changing from a more strenuous method to a less vigorous one. He states that,”the ease of online searching and distractions of browsing through the web were possibly limiting his capacity to concentrate”. I see changes in my own thinking daily and have always believed this to be a product of information overload. Never one to have an attention problem, I too find myself unable to read an entire article, feeling the need to skim and move on. Many of Carr’s adversaries don’t see this as a negative thing. They believe that we are required to process information this way now

From hotdiggitydog's Flickr photostream

that we have so many sources available to us. While these objectors have a point, one has to ask where this will end? When will we max out? Information resources continue to proliferate and there has to come a point when we say ‘enough is enough’. If we spend all day skimming and comparing, when does the actual thinking and decision-making take place? Clearly, I agree with Carr and his small set of followers that Google (symbolically representing the Internet as a whole) will make us dumb.

Another argument that the commenters seem to miss is that knowledge and intelligence are not the same thing. While someone may have the most knowledge from browsing the Internet, this does not mean they can harness or process it in any useful way. However, you may take someone with limited knowledge and a lot of intelligence and teach them to do amazing things. True, an intelligent person with no knowledge cannot do much, but a person with a plethora of knowledge and no intelligence is just as useless. In conclusion, I would have to say that though “Google” will inevitably make us more knowledgeable,  it cannot make us think more clearly.

Treating Viral Videos Like a Virus January 21, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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When the music industry and the free internet collide there is bound to be problems. Back in October, we discussed Radiohead’s decision to release their 2007 album In Rainbows, solely online (at first) for a consumer-named price. How they got around the contract with their record label or convinced label execs that this was a good idea, we’ll never know. We also noted that this unprecedented strategy did not hurt record sales in the least. Of course, Radiohead is a chart topping, well established band. But what about Ok Go – a band formed in 1998 who credits its success on the viral nature of its offbeat music videos? Frontman Damian Kulash notes that upon presenting the “A Million Ways” video (a video that received 10 million hits), “the head of the digital department said, ‘If this gets out, you’re sunk.’” (Mashable.com). But Wikipedia notes that, “Oh No gained popularity for its first single, ‘A Million Ways’, thanks to its video, which proved to be a viral Internet phenomenon in the fall of 2005.”

By now we all know what “viral” means –that a video/meme/song/article etc. gains vast popularity by being posted to social networking sites, reposted and discussed on blogs, and forwarded via email. By what are the keys that lead to viral status? While I can’t name the je ne sais quoi that led millions of people to repost “David After Dentist”, “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” or “Charlie Bit My Finger”, I can tell you the one factor these all share is that they are free to distribute. So what happens when you can’t spread these videos anymore? What happens when studio execs decide to lose the “embed” button on YouTube? Well, this is exactly what happened to Ok Go and Damian Kulash (via an interview with Mashable) has a lot to say on the matter, most of it, calmly.

Kulash points out that, “it’s just a redistribution of numbers and that’s the kind of stuff that basically matters to the marketers, and to a certain degree it affects our careers, because…it is better for us to have 40 million hits on one site than one million hits on 40 sites.” But is that what will happen? Isn’t the nature of viral memes to spread across the internet so that, for instance, someone who does not frequent YouTube, might serendipitously stumble across the video via Digg or Buzzfeed? If the video is still free, but limited, why are the suits limiting it to one site? Are they being paid by YouTube (or the ads on YouTube)?

Kulash’s calm acceptance of changes to YouTube is a fast departure from his stance earlier in the article, particularly when he notes that, “The thrill…was that there was no middleman, and now we’re dealing with exactly the fact that there’s somebody stopping us from having the video embedded the way we want it to — the middlemen have returned.” Still, Kulash is a working man and realizes that if he wants to make money there must be some concessions.  He notes that, “the line between owning music or streaming music or hearing music has gotten so blurred, and is only going to get more so, operating on a system that basically looks at music as discrete units that people individually own is just getting silly.” His solution? “Larger rights organizations” and a “legitimate marketplace for music online”.  But how, Kulash, how? While there might not be any clear answers now, more questions are sure to arise if the rumors are true that Apple will be creating a free live music streaming service based on their acquisition of Lala.

The New York Times has made their stance public. What’s yours?

Read the full interview by Mashable here.

Which came first: lack of privacy or lack of privacy settings? January 11, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington recently interviewed Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg on where Facebook is going, what new acquisitions it hopes to acquire, and its recent changes to privacy settings. This article by the New York Times Technology section, chooses to focus on the recent privacy changes which have been making waves online and in the news world for months now. As the Infomavens have recently been exploring the issue of privacy versus security both on the internet and in the “real” world, I thought it interesting that Marshall Kirkpatrick (from ReadWriteWeb and author of the Times article) should take such a cynical look at Zuckerberg’s seemingly innovative argument on privacy. Zuckerberg argues (you can witness in this video of the interview) that Facebook has changed to reflect society’s changing view on privacy. But Kirkpatrick believes that Facebook is the one who has sculpted this change in society’s beliefs. He insinuates that Facebook’s privacy changes are not want people want, but rather a way for “the company [to] shift[s] its strategy to exert control over the future of the web” (New York Times). I agree with Kirkpatrick that Zuckerberg’s argument (that blogging and other social media platforms have decreased privacy) is a flimsy one, but wonder if Facebook’s privacy settings have far more to do with advertising and revenue that anything else. Perhaps the most shocking part of the TechCrunch interview is when Arrington asks Zuckerberg “Nexus One or iPhone?”. With a wry smile, Zuckerberg responds, “Blackberry.” If that isn’t an endorsement I don’t know what is.

How Will Piracy Affect Public Libraries? January 7, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in InformationIssues.
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The future of libraries, the future of books, even the relevance of expensive research databases are constantly in question. The world of media is changing fast and in too many ways to possibly quantify or qualify. We can no longer predict with any veracity what patrons will want or how they will want it. While I personally don’t think books (in the hardcopy) are going anywhere soon, nor libraries, I did choose to become an academic librarian over public librarian because academic libraries seem to have more lasting power. Most people I know still see the public library solely as a repository for books. The library holds an anomalous position in our society—doing, in a sense, what piracy does on a large-scale, handing out copyrighted media for free. But while libraries demand their materials back, piracy enables the user to keep the materials.

So what happens when books are available on demand for little or no cost? You may think libraries have nothing to do with e-book piracy. You may believe that this is a problem for writers and publishers. But if books can be obtained for free, with the click of a button, what will keep patrons trekking to the library to “rent” a book for a limited amount of time? Will public libraries face the same fate as music stores when iTunes became popular and music piracy became rampant? Are libraries independent video stores and the web, Netflix? We will soon know the answer as digital piracy continues to insidiously contaminate all media.

Don’t think that reading is exempt. This article, published on the first by CNN, states that within days of the release of Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol, online, 100,000 copies had been illegally downloaded. I expect that stories like this will soon become the norm. Add sites like Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and Bartleby, to the mix and the libraries’ concrete offerings seem superfluous (not to mention the futility of paper reference trying to keep up with virtual reference).

So, if the public library is to remain relevant and useful (and in existence!) it must seek to outsmart the pirates and offer services that cannot be replaced digitally. And most importantly, it must make these offerings widely known. What are your suggestions?

Disappearing in the Digital Age January 6, 2010

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I recently reviewed the fictional work Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, in which a teenager tries to evade the prying eyes of the Department of Homeland Security while still maintaining an electronic presence on the web. Then today, I stumbled across the real-life story of someone attempting to do the very same thing, albeit for fun and with a monetary reward. Writer Evan Ratliff decided, with the help of the magazine Wired, to disappear for a month, offering readers $5,000 to try to locate him. The impetus, Ratliff notes, was to answer “a series of questions, foremost among them: How hard is it to vanish in the digital age…People fret about privacy, but what are the consequences of giving it all up, I wondered. What can investigators glean from all the digital fingerprints we leave behind? You can be anybody you want online, sure, but can you reinvent yourself in real life?” (Wired.com).

from Wired.com

Ratliff then embarks on a cross-country jaunt, setting up fake email, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, as well as a fake office, an alias, and investing in numerous untraceable credit-card like gift cards for larger purchases. He routinely changes his appearance and uses the web to follow those trying to locate him, many who have set up groups on Twitter and Facebook and who manage to unearth every detail about his former life including hobbies, dietary restrictions, former habitations, purchases, and the name and phone number of his cat sitter. One of Ratliff’s most useful modes of cyber anonymity is using The Onion Router (TOR), which hides his true IP address and is also frequently mentioned in Little Brother. When Ratliff is finally caught a week from the end of the contest, it is because he attends a book reading that could have been in held in two places and was embedded in a New York Times crossword puzzle. By that time, his alias, Facebook and Twitter accounts had been compromised and it is likely he would have been caught soon, regardless of the clue.

Is is possible to disappear in our age? Of course it is. One women explains her fascination with Ratliff’s attempted disappearance:

Why would a middle-aged woman with virtually no technical knowledge be interested in following the Evan’s Vanished story on Twitter? You see, my father walked out one morning in Sumter, South Carolina, kissed the wife and two young children good-bye as if he was going to work as always, and disappeared for 12 years. He was around Evan’s age. He sent the family a telegraph a few days later asking them not to look for him. To this day, no one knows anything about his personal life during those years. I guess I’m hoping to have some clues to some of my questions (Wired.com).

People disappear all the time. But Ratliff didn’t try to disappear. He just tried to change and to change his electronic identity. Could he have lived in the woods, cultivating his own food, and never using a computer again? Sure. But that wouldn’t have been half as interesting or draw attention to the amount of information that is easily hackable, traceable and public. Ratliff doesn’t argue about the dangers of the information age like Doctorow’s Little Brother does, but he certainly draws attention to the reality of a real Big Brother.

Make sure to read the whole article here. It is fascinating to hear about Ratliff’s mental and emotional changes as well. Or check our his website: www.atavist.net.

Monday Book Review: Little Brother January 4, 2010

Posted by pupfiction in Book Reviews.
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Think you’re too sophisticated for Young Adult (YA) fiction? Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, will have you thinking again. Rife with techy jargon, textese, and Spanglish slang, the language of this book is as forward thinking as its subject matter. Though not a tome, this heart pounding, page-turning thriller is a comprehensive look at the issues plaguing our society today – namely the all-too-topical debate of privacy versus security. Although at times digressive hacking tips dilute the plotline, the action heats up as the book progresses.

Doctorow’s book begins with “the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on our nation’s soil” – the destruction of San Franciso’s Bay Bridge and its attendant tunnel under the bay. His choice of San Francisco is deliberate, emphasizing the similitude of the Civil Rights Movement with today’s struggle to uphold the first amendment in the amorphous realm of the Internet. Marcus, alias m1k3y, and his gaming pals are playing hooky from school when the attack occurs and they find themselves unpropitiously in the wrong place at the wrong time, leading to their incarceration. What results is an all out war against the totalitarian arrest-happy Department of Homeland Security thugs by an underground movement of high schoolers who find themselves in far over their heads.

My initial reaction to Doctorow’s work was to wish that it had been written for adults, as the subject matter is of extreme importance. But then I realized Doctorow’s genius in targeting the generation of tomorrow. By doing so, he subscribes to the mantra of Marcus and his friends to not trust “anyone over twenty-five” (another echo of the Civil Rights Movement). While the ideologies of adults may be set in stone, teenagers who read this work and quickly find Marcus to be a role model, will take the issues at hand into consideration and maybe even alter their attitude about security and privacy. If Doctorow can be blamed for making his protagonist slightly too altruistic, slightly too steadfast and dogmatic in his beliefs for someone his age, it can be forgiven in light of this larger goal.

Overall: A must read for anyone who has ever questioned the man.

New Facebook App Allows Book Sharing December 28, 2009

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The Random House publishing group has developed an application on Facebook titled “Random Reads” which enables users to read free chapters and excerpts, search the text, and make suggestions to fellow friends and users. It would seem from this article by TeleRead, that the application will also foster relationships between the users and authors, enabling authors to share additional excerpts and suggestions. As the application is from Random House, it obviously only offers their titles, but as of early December had over 7,000 titles available. I checked out the application myself, and with only 28 fans and 86 monthly users, I have to question whether this application is worth investing time in or if it has just been poorly marketed.

Has anyone used this application yet? What do you think of it? Is it just another marketing ploy or truly innovative?

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