Hashtags: Your Social Media Radar Screen and Magnet

Twitter Trending Hashtags
Image by mobatalk via Flickr

Later today I’m giving a talk at an entrepreneur’s group about how you can get more benefit out of social media by using hashtags. I’ve found that these can be exceptionally valuable tools to connect with topics and people. They also can help you make yourself (or a topic, organization, or event that matters to you) much easier to find and connect with.

I’ll be fleshing out these ideas in a later blog post. But for now, here are my main points I intend to make — Plus some resources I will to demonstrate…

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Instapaper: Because the Device Shouldn’t Matter

Kindle next to iPhone
Image by alexhung via Flickr

Now that I own (and use daily) a laptop, iPhone, and Kindle, I’m developing a new relationship to text content. I realize that I shouldn’t have to care about the device. The news and other content I choose to read should just be there — available on whichever of my devices I prefer at the moment, in a format friendly to that device.

This is especially true for anything longer than about 750 words. I’ve found that’s my personal limit for reading through a Web browser, either on my laptop or iPhone. Yes, I can and do occasionally slog through longer Web-based content on those devices. But honestly, after about 750 words I tend to stop truly reading and instead scan quickly through the rest to gauge whether it’s worth further reading.

So I was pleased to recently discover an online service called Instapaper, which makes it easier to read electronic long-format content and to share that content across multiple devices.

Here’s how it works…

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MediaCloud: Tracking How Stories Spread

Last week, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society launched Media Cloud, an intriguing tool that could help researches and others understand how stories spread through mainstream media and blogs.

According to Nieman Lab, “Media Cloud is a massive data set of news — compiled from newspapers, other established news organizations, and blogs — and a set of tools for analyzing those data.

Here’s what Berkman’s Ethan Zuckerman had to say about Media Cloud:


Ethan Zuckerman on Media Cloud from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

Some of the kinds of questions Media Cloud could eventually help answer:

  • How do specific stories evolve over time? What path do they take when they travel among blogs, newspapers, cable TV, or other sources?
  • What specific story topics won’t you hear about in [News Source X], at least compared to its competitors?
  • When [News Source Y] writes about Sarah Palin [or Pakistan, or school vouchers], what’s the context of their discussion? What are the words and phrases they surround that topic with?”

The obvious use of this project is to compare coverage by different types of media. But I think a deeper purpose may be served here: By tracking patterns of words used in news stories and blog posts, Media Cloud may illuminate how context and influence shape public understanding — in other words, how media and news affect people and communities.

This is important, because news and media do not exist for their own sake. It seems to me that the more we learn about how people are affected by — and affect — media, the better we’ll be able to craft effective media for the future.

(NOTE: I originally published this article in Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)

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Safari iPhone bookmarklets: Clunky setup, but very useful

The new Apple iPhone
iPhone apps are cool, but sometimes bookmarklets are helpful, too. (Image by Victor Svensson via Flickr)

As an avid iPhone user, I love my apps! I use several of them daily, including Omnifocus, GroceryZen, Twittelator Pro, Google Mobile, iBART, and Google Maps.

Apps are not enough, however. First of all, some online services I use (like Gruvr or My511, nudge nudge) don’t yet offer iPhone apps. (This is especially annoying if they also don’t default to mobile-friendly site layout upon mobile access, grumble…)

But also, several very cool and useful online services are meant to play nice with the rest of the web.

For instance, I get value from my preferred social bookmarking service Delicious because I can use it to bookmark, tag, and comment on any page I happen to be browsing. And on Twitter I often tweet links to pages I find online. For these services, I want their functionality integrated with my iPhone’s Safari browser (since you can’t run two apps at once on the iPhone, and since the iPhone also doesn’t yet allow cut and past, grumble…)

That’s when Javascript-based iPhone Safari bookmarklets can come in handy…

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Hashtags on Twitter: How do you follow them?

TweetDeck
Column-based Twitter applications like Tweetdeck can make following hashtags easy. (Image by Tojosan)

As I’ve mentioned before, hashtags are a powerful tool that allows Twitter users to track what many people (especially people whom you aren’t already following) are reporting or thinking about a particular topic or event.

Here’s the catch: Hashtags aren’t an officially supported Twitter service. They’re merely a convention that Twitter users have adopted on their own, within the 140-character text-only constraints of tweeting. So you can’t really “follow” hashtags through the main Twitter site.

Many third-party Twitter tools and services “play nice” with hashtags — but you must first know what these tools are and how to use them in order to get maximum value from hashtags.

This can lead to a bit of basic confusion, especially among people who are new to Twitter. Specifically, how exactly do you follow a hashtag?…
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Pew on Social Media: It’s Bigger than You Think

An example of a social network diagram.
Image via Wikipedia

On Jan 14., the Pew Internet and American Life project released a report on Adults and Social Networking Services. It said, “The share of adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has
more than quadrupled in the past four years — from eight percent in 2005 to 35 percent now.”

Over at the Knight Digital Media Center News Leadership 3.0 blog, Michele McLellan observed: “It appears that American adults are moving into social networks more quickly than top 100 news organizations…”

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How the federal government could “go social”

I just has one of those meta-media moments. Today, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media was the guest on NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday radio show. The topic was 2008 In Social Media.

One listener who called in was Jeffrey Levy, web manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He asked O’Reilly how the federal government might be able to use social media to enhance governance and civic engagement.

…To be honest, I didn’t actually catch O’Reilly’s answer because my own mental gears immediately went into overdrive. I’ve been involved with covering environmental issues for nearly 20 years — and thus I’m a frequent user of the EPA Web site. And it’ll come as no surprise to anyone that the EPA site currently is one hellacious frustrating sprawling mess, offputting to professionals as well as citizens. (I assume Levy is working to improve that situation…)

But there is another side to how federal agencies interact with the public that goes beyond their own sites: the regulatory process. Every proposed federal regulation must be published in the Federal Register. (Trust me, it’s really ugly. You definitely don’t want to read this stuff unless you have to — yet another strategy to keep citizens at arms length from government.)

Every proposed regulation must allow for a public comment period. That’s where social media might fit in…

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Windy Citizen Uses Cool Tools to Cover Blagojevich

As the ripples spread from Chicago’s latest corruption drama, the community news site Windy Citizen is trying some innovative, fun approaches to online coverage and commentary. They did this using free online tools that anyone can use.

Here’s what one of these tools can create:

More about what Windy Citizen is doing on this front…
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What could news look like? Cool visual tools

A picture is worth 10,000 words… especially if you can play with it! This week I’m in Los Angeles, where I’ll be leading a group presentation on online interactive and visual tools that can make news, stories, and context more vivid and compelling than ever. Also presenting are:

  • Mark S. Luckie, the multimedia journalist behind the killer blog 10000words.net. He’s also associate producer for EW.com/Entertainment Weekly and former online producer for the Los Angeles Times and Contra Costa Times.
  • Don Wittekind, assistant professor in the visual communication sequence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Our session is part of American Tapestry: Covering a Changing America” — an event at the Knight Digital Media Center for the leaders of the News21 project. The participants are mostly journalism educators who use this project to give new journalists multimedia experience. Our goal in this session is to show them cutting-edge and unusual tools to spark their — and their students’ — imaginations.

Here’s what we’ll cover…
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Many Eyes: Turning data into pictures

Data is a key part of many stories. IBM’s Many Eyes is a free online library of tools that give you options for visually exploring all kinds of data — even for analyzing text documents. It also lets you share and embed your visualizations.

You can upload your dataset to Many Eyes and apply various visualization types to that data — kind of like using filters on images in Photoshop. You can customize your display.

Many Eyes is a useful tool not just for publishing information, but also for analyzing information to see what the story might be, or where the anomalies are.

Here’s an interactive visualization I just created:

Earlier on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits I wrote about how you can use some Many Eyes tools like word tree for document analysis.

Many Eyes meet the New York Times: On Oct. 27 NYTimes.com launched its Visualization Lab, where anyone can create and share visual representations of selected datasets and information used by Times reporters.

Many Eyes is just one of the projects from IBM’s Visual Communication Lab.