Twitter via text messaging, on the cheap

homeless guy on his phone
Image by Malingering via Flickr

UPDATE: Right after I posted this article, David Herrold told me (very nicely) that you can indeed turn device updates on for individual Twitter friends via the Twitter interface or by texting “on username” to 40404 from the phone number you’ve connected to your Twitter account. So you don’t need to convert RSS to SMS to get text updates from specific Twitter users. Still, the strategy I outline below is helpful for following Twitter search queries and hashtags via text messaging.

Technically, Twitter is designed with that frustrating 140-character limit so it can work even over the barest of bare-bones cell phones via text messaging. But even so, twittering by text messaging is cumbersome and a little financially risky.

A colleague e-mailed me with a Twitter question. She wants to use her mobile phone to send and receive tweets via SMS text messaging, but doesn’t have a data plan for her phone. (Hey, there’s a recession on, you might have heard.)

Yes, you can indeed read and post to Twitter solely via text messaging if you choose. I do think it’s a good idea to get set up to post to Twitter via text. You never know when you might need it.

The tricky part lies in receiving tweets via text messaging, while controlling costs…

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Baiing out the US auto industry for good?

As I read the headlines this morning about the proposed US auto industry bailout — the latest version of which is this, according to the Boston Herald:

“Democrats want to use part of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout for emergency loans to help prop up the Big Three carmakers. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC are seeking an infusion of $25 billion, a figure that several Senate Democrats embraced Sunday.

“Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation Monday attaching an auto bailout to a House-passed bill extending unemployment benefits. A vote was expected as early as Wednesday.

“There’s a high degree of urgency” for federal action if GM is going to stave off a financial crisis, Rick Wagoner, GM chairman and chief executive, said Sunday in a joint appearance with United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger on WDIV-TV in Detroit.

“‘It’s really time to move on this,’ Wagoner said.”

That gets me thinking: The US auto industry is dying. It’s shown it can’t compete effectively with Japan and elsewhere for the manufacture of the kinds of personal cars people will be buying as the economy tightens.

Meanwhile, the lack of strong public transportation options is a growing problem in many parts of the US — particularly, lack of high-speed passenger rail networks, robust bus networks, and innovative flexible alternatives to car ownership (like car sharing programs and Zip Car hourly rentals). Exurban dwellers are notoriously hard hit by the transportation crisis.

So what if we bailed out the auto industry only if they shifted more of their production to vehicles that would suit these uses?

Yes, this would have to go hand-in-hand with a major shift in transportation policy that would support the expansion of public transit, especially outside urban cores and between non-urban-core locations. And so far local and state governments have been responsible for paying for public transit, and they haven’t had the cash.

Those are big, thorny issues — but they could shift. And if we’re even going to consider an auto-industry bailout, why shouldn’t we use it as an opportunity to fund a more sustainable transit system?

I suspect America’s “love affair with the car” might go the way of our love affair with cigarettes. It’s hard to stay in love with something that’s killing you and cutting off your children’s future.

Spot.us and Fear of Change

As the traditional news business model continues to stumble, what people fear losing most is investigative and enterprise reporting — especially on the local level. This type of journalism is notoriously difficult, time-consuming, risky, and costly. It’s not something that amateurs or concerned citizens can readily handle. If we want it to continue, we need new ways to support it.

That’s what David Cohn is trying to do with Spot.us, which launched yesterday. This project, funded by the Knight News Challenge, is attempting to support local investigative journalism through crowdfunding. Poynter’s Ellyn Angellotti described this project her recent centerpiece feature. Here’s Cohn’s short explanation of how Spot.us will work:

Yes, crowdfunding is a very different approach to journalism. And the unfamiliar always seems potentially dangerous. That’s why most mainstream media articles so far about Spot.us, like this one from the New York Times, include some variation of this caution: “Critics say the idea of using crowdfunding to finance journalism raises some troubling questions. For example, if a neighborhood with an agenda pays for an article, how is that different from a tobacco company backing an article about smoking?”

That’s a valid concern, but I think it must be considered in context…

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Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

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This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…
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