Friday, November 02, 2007

Did Google buy Jaiku for its lifestreaming capabilities?

That's one theory from an admittedly biased perspective.

Some More Insight Into Google’s Acquisition of Jaiku | Lifestream Blog

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First GDocs, then the gPhone, then OpenSocial, now this

Google is jabbing tiny needles into every sector Microsoft covers, isn't it?

Google PC At Wal-Mart for $200

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Students writing for Wikipedia?

Slashdot published this article as if this notion is revolutionary, but haven't people been doing this for years?

Slashdot | Students Assigned to Write Wikipedia Articles

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OpenSocial roundup at Fast Company

More analysis than you probably wanted to see. Yesterday's big news was that MySpace is on board and has been for months.

Technology: The Talk About Google's Open Social

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Not plaigiarism, just different cultural norms

Recently an anthropology professor claimed that the Army's counterinsurgency manual plaigiarized anthropology texts and did it badly. Today one of the manual's authors argues that this isn't the case -- the difference is in the citation norms in military writing. And he gets in a zinger against the professor:
Price describes the failure to cite all sources used in the manual as evidence of “shoddy academic practices”, but in fact he is applying the standards of one society to those of a very different one—a violation of the anthropological norm of cultural relativism as I understand it.

Counterinsurgency Author Hits Back on "Plagiarism" | Danger Room from

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Accessibility roundup

Things are busy in the world of web accessibility issues. Among the topics:
  • Section 508 to be updated. About time, given how outdated some of the language has become. Of course, it will have to undergo two years of review before it is (possibly) adopted. The WebAIM blog discusses the differences between the statutory implementation and web design standards such as WCAG.
  • UAAG 2.0 requirements under review. The WAI homepage explains that "User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) provides guidance on designing Web browsers, media players, assistive technologies, and other 'user agents' to increase accessibility of the Web to people with disabilities." They ask for comments by 12/14/07.
  • WCAG 2.0 presentation materials available. Want to give a WCAG 2.0 presentation? Ready-made slides are available in MS PowerPoint, OpenOffice Impress, and web format. A video is also available.

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Reading :: Digital Writing Research

Digital Writing Research: Technologies, Methodologies, and Ethical Issues
Edited by Heidi A. McKee and Danielle Nicole DeVoss

I have been hearing about this edited collection for a while, but was surprised to find it in my mailbox two weeks ago. Editors Heidi McKee and Danielle DeVoss were nice enough to send me a copy. It was perfect timing, I thought, because I would have something to read on the plane to El Paso.

That didn't quite happen -- I raced through the book and finished it the day before the flight. Like most collections, this one is uneven, but it has a lot of good stuff in it, some of which I haven't seen anywhere else. I'll most likely use chapters -- at least -- in my next graduate-level research course.

The collection's Introduction serves as a good overview of computers and writing research, something that I would have loved to have at the beginning of the semester (I'm teaching a grad course entitled "Computers and Writing: History, Theory, Philosophy" and was casting around for an overview like this one.) C&W research has not always been conducted -- or published -- with high standards, something that is unintentionally made clear by the editors in their discussion of the 1990 controversy in Computers and Composition over Marcia Halio's study claiming that students who used PCs wrote more effective essays than those who used Macintoshes. The editors and blind reviewers should not have greenlighted this study for publication: this gatekeeping is supposed to protect scholars who are just learning the ropes, not just to make sure good studies are published. But since the editors and reviewers decided to publish the study, twenty C&W scholars wrote withering rebuttals criticizing the study's deeply flawed methodology.

The good news is that this collection attempts to raise the bar for C&W research. It does this in a number of chapters. I'll cover just a few here, but many are worth a look.

First out of the gate is Banks and Eble's "Digital spaces, online environments, and human participant research," which gives necessary background on institutional research boards and outlines some of the difficulties in applying standard IRB guidelines to digital writing research. It's not a glamorous article, but it's very valuable and will definitely go in my next course packet for my qualitative research class.

Another interesting chapter was Beatrice Smith's "Researching hybrid literacies," in which she discusses the methodological and ethical obstacles that researchers need to hurdle as they research in hybrid virtual/physical settings such as outsourced work environments. Smith compares traditional ethnography with the sorts of methodological issues faced in such spaces.

Bill Hart-Davidson's chapter on diary studies is characteristically smart and introduces a research technique that has been shockingly underused in writing studies. His communicative event models provide a great way to visualize mediated sequential activity. Geisler and Slattery's "Capturing the activity of digital writing" similarly leverages another underused technique, video screen capture, and nicely illustrates how to systematically analyze it.

Finally, Becky Rickly publishes the results of a survey about which I've been hearing for a couple of years. In "Messy Contexts," she demonstrates wide variations in how digital writing research is conceived and taught at the graduate level, and argues that researchers and teachers need to adopt a more rhetorical, situated approach to research.

All in all, the collection has some valuable pieces, and I plan to keep it on my shelf so I can point out specific pieces to specific grad students. And, yes, I am certainly going to get a copy for the CWRL too.

Reading :: Writing for the Government

Writing for the Government
By Libby Allison and Miriam F. Williams

Writing for the Government comes out of the Allyn & Bacon Series in Technical Communication, a series familiar to the readers of this blog. This series has some good work, and this book looks like a good addition to it, although I see a lot of overlap with other books in the series.

In Writing for the Government, Allison and Williams provide an overview for those who aspire to write for or to the government. That's a pretty broad topic, but no more so than textbooks on how to "write arguments" or "write for business." Like most textbooks in this vein, Writing for the Government primarily covers common genres divided into broad purposes. So, for instance, Part II is "Writing to Make Policy" and covers rules and regulations; policy handbooks, manuals, and guides; and policy memorandums. Part III is "Writing to Communicate Policy Issues to Agencies and the Public" and covers public policy reports; government grants and proposals; and government websites. In contrast, Part I is "Government Writing: Theory, Principles and Ethics" and covers the basics of rhetorical theory, discourse conventions, and ethics. Much of this ground has been covered elsewhere in the series: Rude's textbook on report-writing, Johnson-Sheehan's Writing Proposals, and Mikelonis et al.'s Grant-Seeking in an Electronic Age cover most of the genres in Part III, while most of these books cover the same theoretical ground in Part I. But then again, the book is meant to be a stand-alone treatment of general government writing, so it seems as if it really does have to include all of these genres (if it is to represent a genre-oriented approach, anyway).

One real advantage to Writing for the Government, though, is the case studies. The book contains three thick case studies that incorporate a range of genres, and chapters refer extensively to these case studies, giving the book a level of coherence it would not have otherwise achieved. The case studies consist of actual documents from actual cases (including Hurricane Katrina).

In sum, Writing for the Government provides a good genre-oriented overview of government writing in context, and the case studies help the chapters to work together coherently and make the lessons more concrete than they would be otherwise.

Reading :: Computation and Human Experience

Computation and Human Experience
By Philip E. Agre

A while back, I reviewed a manuscript for Cambridge and they gave me a ton of books in lieu of payment. Well, this is the last of those books. It's been sitting on the shelf for a while, just waiting for me to get to it. I finally did, and I'm glad of it.

The book is in Cambridge's Learning in Doing series, which also contains classics such as Suchman's Plans and Situated Actions and Chaiklin and Lave's Understanding Practice. Like those books, this one takes a sociocultural perspective on human activity. But unlike them, it uses a philosophical framework to examine artificial intelligence research. And it's not an outside perspective: Agre did his dissertation work at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and wrote AI programs as well as analyzing the metaphors and arguments active in the AI community.

Traversing these two worlds is not easy, since they involve very different concepts and vocabularies, and I was fascinated with how Agre frames the book in Chapter 1:
As the successive chapters of this book lay out some technical exercises of my own, the attentive reader will be able to draw up an extensive intellectual indictment of them, consisting of all the bogus assumptions that were required to put forth some proposal for evaluation. But the point of those intellectual exercises does not lie in their detailed empirical adequacy, or in their practical applicability; they do not provide canned techniques to take down from a shelf and apply in other cases. Instead, each exercise should be understood in the past tense as a case study, an attempt in good faith to evolve technical practice toward new ways of exploring human life. What matters, again, is the process. I hope simply to illustrate a kind of research, a way of learning through critical reflection on computational modeling projects. (p.16)

I initially read this passage as proactive damage control, but in retrospect I don't think Agre is being defensive, just trying to head off a misinterpretation so that readers can get more out of the book. In any case, seeing the book as a series of developing case studies is really instructive. At different times, the book "speaks" to philosophers and to AI researchers, and those of us in a third position sometimes feel as if we are listening in on someone else's conversation. But what an interesting conversation it turns out to be. Agre discusses common metaphors in AI in ways that explain the field to philosophers while simultaneously helping AI researchers to reexamine their assumptions -- but he also manages to make sure philosophers understand the AI project and why its problems are so narrowly defined and scoped.

This conversation between philosophy and AI yields this quote: "Technology at present is covert philosophy; the point is to make it openly philosophical" (p.240).

Computation and Human Experience is, unfortunately, fairly narrow in scope itself. It should appeal to those who want to understand artificial intelligence and, more broadly, software development from a sociocultural or interactionist perspective. And the discussion of metaphors, although familiar to rhetoricians, is still worthwhile in a broader rhetoric of technology sense. But the book is hard to generalize more broadly. Nevertheless, it's an interesting read and an interesting introduction to both interactionism and AI.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fake Steve Jobs on the gPhone

This sounds just about right. FSJ jokes that
the gPhone is scheduled to be released in 2008, but only in beta form, with a target date of 2011 for it to come out of beta. In other words, perpetual beta, just like everything else at Google. Who wants a phone that's in beta? You know how easy it will be to message against that?
The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: We're not scared of the gPhone

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Google OpenSocial revealed, coming Thursday

TechCrunch reports on Google's new social move, which is not a social network as was previously suggested.
What they haven’t done is launch yet another social network platform. As more and more of these platforms launch, developers have difficult choices to make. There are costs associated with writing and maintaining applications for these social networks. Most developers will choose one or two platforms and ignore the rest, based on a simple cost/benefit analysis.

Google wants to create an easy way for developers to create an application that works on all social networks. And if they pull it off, they’ll be in the center, controlling the network.
Details Revealed: Google OpenSocial To Launch Thursday

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Was the Counter-Insurgency Manual Plagiarized?

Some allege that the chapter on anthropology was a third-rate cut job.

Counter-Insurgency Manual Plagiarized? | Danger Room from

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Google vs. PowerPoint deathmatch

On Slate, Paul Boutin asks: Can Google's presentation software compete with PowerPoint? He tests the proposition by convincing "the product management team at Splunk, the deep-geek software company where I used to work" to use Google's software for "their big quarterly presentation to the sales team" even though "a single preso can make or break their reputations." Not surprisingly, he concludes that
Google Preso rocks for easy, no-money-down collaboration, but its visually clumsy slides won't win you a Nobel Prize or help you close a million-dollar deal.
Talk about a false proposition. Google continues to pursue the strategy that it has pursued with the rest of the Google Docs suite: facilitating highly collaborative work across rather than within organizations, for small and medium-sized operators rather than big clients.
Can Google kill PowerPoint? - By Paul Boutin - Slate Magazine
(Thanks to John Jones for the link.)

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Monday, October 29, 2007

More on Facebook for course managment

John Jones has related thoughts.

Complex Rhetoric: Using Facebook for course management, pt. 1

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TechCrunch speculates about "Maka-Maka," Google's plan to compete with Facebook by out-opening it via two-way APIs:
The real killer app for Google is not to turn Orkut into a Facebook clone. It is to turn every Google app into a social application without you even noticing that you’ve joined yet another social network.
Google’s Response to Facebook: “Maka-Maka”

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