Friday, June 29, 2007

More on Facebook and collaboration

The lightbulb comes on at Guys, you should be reading my blog!

An Unlikely FREE Collaboration Management App -

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Powerset out from under wraps

We've been hearing a lot about search startup Powerset from TechCrunch and others, even though they don't have a public product yet. Powerset promises natural language searches:

Powerset is using natural language technology from Xerox Parc and focusing its efforts on the indexing. It’s building a search destination site and a platform that leverages the wisdom of the crowds for development.

Interesting article, including some speculation on how they can catch Google via committed community development.

» Powerset: The natural language search mashup platform | Between the Lines |

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Accessibility matters

London 2012 Olympics branding film causes epileptic seizures | 456 Berea Street

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Evolution in action ...

... in the lab.

Fast-Reproducing Microbes Provide a Window on Natural Selection - New York Times

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More on how the presidential campaigns are using technology

This election cycle is seeing a lot of interesting technology use. TechPresident has a good roundup of these, with a special focus on which technologies are the sizzle and which are the steak.

techPresident – Are MittTV and HillaryHub Innovative?

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How will Facebook's open architecture affect education?

I posed a question like this a few days ago, positing that Facebook could provide a substitute for Blackboard and other LCMS. Well, here's what I found this morning when cruising the Facebook "Education" apps:screenshot of Facebook apps, including two for sharing and selling homework

That's right, now you can share or buy your term papers on Facebook. Talk about an army of Davids.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Net Work, the book

I'm happy to announce that my second book, tentatively titled Net Work, is under contract at Cambridge University Press. This project began with a research study in 2000 and has undergone many phases, and I'm just thrilled that it will finally see print.

TCQ Special Issue on Technical Communication in the Age of Distributed Work

I just received my copies of the special issue of TCQ I edited. TCQ Vol.16, Number 3, Summer 2007 is a special issue on Technical Communication in the Age of Distributed Work.

It's a thrill to see this thing come out because it has some really outstanding articles and reviews -- special thanks to article authors Jason Swarts, Shaun Slattery, Marie Paretti, Lisa McNair, and Lissa Holloway-Attaway, and book reviewers Mark Longaker, Natasha Artemeva, and Locke Carter. Take a look -- you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

WCAG 2.0 status check

For those of you who are interested in accessibility, the WebAIM blog has a pair of new posts on the latest WCAG 2.0 public draft: on the rough edges and on testability.

Perhaps the most useful mobile service ever

TechCrunch reports on a service that may change your life:
MizPee is a new service focused on delivering pertinent information regarding the location of nearby restrooms.

Okay, yes, it's funny that someone would launch this service. But come on: are you going to tell me it's not useful?

Features include ratings for toilets and details (does it have a diaper changing station?). Not sure how the business model works, though.

When You’ve Got To Go, Go To

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Google Docs moves from tags to folders -- sort of

Google reports on its GDocs blog:
Almost from the day we launched people have been clamoring for folders. They're here! Even cooler, our new folders continue to work like the tags they've replaced - your old tags are automatically converted to folders and documents can live in more than one folder at a time. Organizing your documents is as easy as dragging and dropping a document to a folder. We've also included special controls for seeing only those documents created by you or shared with a particular person.

So what's the "move," exactly? Here's a quick translation of the above:

  • Tags are now called folders.
  • Instead of text, tags are represented by a large side panel ful of folder icons.
  • Folders still work as tags -- you can add a doc to more than one folder.
  • Oh, you can drag documents to "folders" (tags) or you can use the drop down menu that used to be called "Tag."

Beyond the dragging, not much new here beyond increasing the comfort level of those who are used to more icon-driven interfaces. I mean, really. Is dragging going to be the killer feature? Duncan Riley of TechCrunch thinks so:

Folders are the biggest change. Google has not abandoned tagging and yet the inclusion of folders would indicate that Google is finally listening to the millions of people who prefer folders in preference to tagging.

The question I do have is what about Gmail? Without hopefully causing a flurry of people telling me how wonderful tagging is, I’m one of those (perhaps crazy) people who download my email from Gmail into a desktop based email client, and I do so only due to the lack of folders in Gmail. Hopefully the inclusion of folders in Google Docs is a sign of future functionality in Gmail.

I'm not going to tell Riley how wonderful tagging is, but I am going to point out that this new feature is not a new feature. It is tagging. Adding little folder icons is not a feature, it is the equivalent of putting spinning rims on a car.

Fortunately, GDocs also includes some genuinely new features. You can now view documents by collaborator. Your view defaults to reverse chronological order divided into "Today," "Earlier this month," and "Earlier this year." Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to recover the original, clean interface; to order docs in a different way; or to archive docs so they are not taking up your visual field. For me, the changes are a net loss.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Replacing Microsoft apps with web alternatives

Yet another roundup.

No Download Required: 30+ Apps That Are Killing Microsoft

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Facebook, Myspace -- forget class, let's talk about "research"

"A six-month research project has revealed a sharp division along class lines among the American teenagers flocking to the social network sites," the BBC breathlessly reports. This report, which doesn't have a link, frames the research this way:

The conclusions are based on interviews with many teenage users of the social networking sites by PhD student Danah Boyd from the School of Information Sciences at UC Berkeley.

In a preliminary draft of the research, Ms Boyd said defining "class" in the US was difficult because, unlike many other nations, it did not map directly to income.

Instead, she said, class in the US was more about social life and networks - how people define themselves and who they define themselves with.

"Social networks are strongly connected to geography, race, and religion; these are also huge factors in lifestyle divisions and thus 'class'," she wrote.

Broadly, Ms Boyd found Facebook users tend to be white and come from families who are keen for children to get the most out of school and go on to college.

This research report was picked up by various other outlets as well, such as SmartMobs, which adds this commentary: "Fans of MySpace and Facebookare divided by much more than which music they like, suggests a study." BoingBoing similarly announces the study as "provocative, insightful stuff that exposes the deeper lessons lurking beneath the tens of millions of profile pages on social networking sites."

So let's look at the study. Oh, here it is. But wait: Boyd frames it in this way:

I've been trying to figure out how to articulate this division for months. I have not yet succeeded. So, instead, I decided to write a blog essay addressing what I'm seeing. I suspect that this will be received with criticism, but my hope is that the readers who encounter this essay might be able to help me think through this. In other words, I want feedback on this piece.

That doesn't sound much like a study -- and it reads more like a think piece or op-ed, especially when Boyd (appropriately) uses many caveats in generalizing from her interviews to the whole of the social networking sites. In fact, she has another blog post up today in which she says she's shocked at the response:

I think some folks misinterpreted this piece as an academic article. No doubt this is based on my observations from the field, but this is by no means an academic article. I did add some methodological footnotes in the piece so that folks would at least know where the data was coming from. But I didn't situate or theorize or contextualize this at all. It's more like publicizing field observations. There's much work to be done before this can be anything resembling an academic article. The "citation" note at the top of my pieces also confuses this. That was meant for when people picked it up and stole it whole from my page or when people got to it indirectly. I put that as a standard for my blog essays a while back because of this issue. I guess I see my blog as a space to work out half-formed ideas. I just didn't expect 90K people to read it. Blog essays to me are thoughts in progress, blog entries that are too long to be blog entries. But I can see where there's confusion.

Lesson: As always, follow the source and don't believe people -- even the BBC -- who rely on "research says."

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Google, defenders of privacy

TechCrunch reports that Google is shutting down its German version of GMail due to new, invasive laws that would require it to maintain detailed records on users:
Google’s Peter Fleischer said that the law is odds to Google’s policy to offer anonymous email accounts: “Many users around the globe make use of this anonymity to defend themselves from spam, or government repression of free speech … If the web community won’t trust us with handling their data with great care, we’ll go down in no time”.

There’s got to be something ironic about a country in the European Union, the EU being the so-called champions of privacy, imposing laws like this. Perhaps our German readers can enlighten us some more in the comments.

Yes, and there's also something ironic about Google standing tall against the German government after collaborating with the Chinese government to identify dissidents.

Google May Shut Germans Out Of GMail

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The web apps your students (should) use

Here's a good rundown that's making the rounds.

Web 2.0 Backpack: Web Apps for Students

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