The joke’s on them

30 04 2009

My parents have been loyal subscribers to the Sac Bee for as long as I can remember. Now, after all these years, they are stopping delivery in the area. For many, this would result to a mad dash to the Web as a primary news source, but that probably won’t be the case for my parents — I still get calls for tech support on the DVD player.

Still, it made me wonder about others in the same situation: where will they turn for news?

Online news sites have become a fix-all for many who find themselves in a time crunch. You can skim headlines, watch a video or two, read about 15 seconds of a story — what more could you ask for?

However, things get very amusing when parody comes into play. Even the New York Times has had to deal with this.

Looking at the two pages, they seem almost identical, from the layout and page titles, to the fonts that are used — even the ads look the same.

Personally, I thought it was bordering on creepy.

In the article “How to recognize spoofed Web sites,” “The spoofed site is usually designed to look like the legitimate site, sometimes using components from the legitimate site. The best way to verify whether you are at a spoofed site is to verify the certificate.”
Users should not rely solely on the address bar as an indication that you are at the site you think you are. “There are several ways to get the address bar in a browser to display something other than the site you are on,” according to Microsoft.

The expression “The devil is in the details” can be applied to many areas in life, and URLs are no exception. You have to pay attention. Another perfect example is the difference between whitehouse.gov and whitehouse.org. Just a quick glance is enough to send almost anyone reeling.

For those “in the know,” these sites can be entertaining — just as they were intended to be. But for others, they can create confusion and a mistrust of other reliable Web sites.

In cases such as the New York Times parody site, it blurs the lines between fact and fiction so convincingly that it harms general credibility. The public is already jumpy enough when it comes to the Web and its reliableness. I think this comes down to yet another straw being added to an already breaking camel’s back.





Defining reality through the Web

24 04 2009

We get our news online, watch movie trailers — and entire movies for that matter, shop, download music, send and receive e-mails, do research, find that recipe for chicken castellina — virtually every aspect of or lives can be found on the Web. This brings up and interesting question: what about the things that aren’t online?

According to Tim Berners-Lee in his book, “Weaving the Web,” he states that “If it isn’t on the Web, it doesn’t exist.”

Is that really true? Well first of all, I had to try to think of something that can’t be found online — even my dad was appalled to find that he had a virtual footprint. And then it hit me: I can’t.

Now I’m not being completely naive by making that statement. I know that if I sat here long enough, I could probably think of a bunch of things that aren’t online — but who has time for that? However, having said that, almost everything in my sphere of being, everything that I need and usually want to access, is online. And yes, it would be nice if I could find those pesky family history records dating earlier that 1803, but I can’t really blame the Web for the fire that cleaned out all the records, can I?

The Internet is a wonderful tool for making even the most obscure information accessible, whether you’re stumbling upon random Web sites or looking for an inspirational essay from the Spanish American War. Sometimes it is not covered in great depth, but it is usually there none the less.

But when it is not available, for small town, insanely busy college students like myself, if it can’t be found on Google, it isn’t that important.

So I guess that makes Tim Berners-Lee right; If it’s not online it doesn’t exist — for me anyway.





From enigma to enabler

17 04 2009

Lately I have been exploring the wonders of HTML and Web design. I can still remember when I was first introduced to HTML “code writing.” I had signed up for a one unit weekend crash course in Web design. While the class itself barely skimmed over the basics, it whetted my appetite and unlocked the door to a new world of divs, hypertext and image tags.

For me, it is a new and exciting challenge. However, many other people suffer from an almost irrational — and completely unnecessary — fear of computers and especially the Web — even its most basic concepts.

There are different theories floating around about what computer literacy really means.

Some users are content with being able to turn it on and play a quick hand of solitaire or two. Others master Microsoft Word and can send and receive e-mails with the very best of them. And then there is the other group: the nerds. The ones who delve into the deepest recesses of HTML and pretend to (or even worse, actually do) understand everything that Tim Berners-Lee and the W3C are talking about. But what does it really mean to be computer literate and when is enough really enough?

In the BBC article, “Net-illiterate ‘failing children,’” a parent’s lack of Internet skills can have a very negative impact on their children in the future.

“Not knowing how to best use the Internet may have a negative impact on their education and employment opportunities,” said Sonia Livingstone, social psychology professor at the London School of Economics.

I don’t think the there is one level of computer and Web literacy that should be the goal across the board. I know that my dad, an independent contractor, will never need to write or understand hypertext and cascading style sheets, but he uses Quick Books to keep track of customer invoices and other transactions on an almost daily basis. He can do what he needs to without having to worry about going outside of his comfort level.

However, I think that we will soon be reaching the end of the era where those who are straddling the line between proficient and illiterate can sneak by under the radar. There is no telling what the next wave in technology will be, but sooner or later, they will have to get on board. Trust me, it’s really not all that scary.





Filling the gaps

10 04 2009

In the get it now and get it faster age in which we live, daily perusals — and I use the term loosely — of the news all too often is beginning to follow the same formula.

You see a list of headlines:

The … ship captain … held hostage by pirates … lifeboat bobbing in the Indian Ocean … unharmed… “The captain remains with the pirates on the lifeboat within full view of”— Oooh, glittery graphics!

And that’s the end of it.

It’s an increasingly disturbing trend but something that needs to be addressed; people have stopped reading.

Studies have shown that readers are skimming and skipping along to such a degree that more of the story is not read than is actually read.

Where once Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway were conquered without blinking an eye, today it is considered a great feat of willpower and endurance to make it through a single article.

In the article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” Nicholas Carr makes the argument that the Internet has trained us and how we read. We are trained to look for headlines and skim for specific content.

“A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets’reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link.”

Apparently many people are experiencing this same problem. “The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing,” Carr said.

I think a lot of the issue comes down to information overload. In a lot of ways, Internet access is a lot like setting a kid loose in a candy store; no sooner do they grab the Sour Patches and Skittles but they see the candy bars. With so much to choose from, it’s hard to make up your mind about what your really want to spend your oh so valuable time on.

Back in the days when dial-up reigned supreme, you didn’t spent 5 minutes waiting for a page to load if you didn’t intend to read it. High speed allows readers to be click-happy lunatics who receive information more quickly than they can absorb it.

I consider my time to be just as valuable as the next persons, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to slow it down and smell the roses — and try to cultivate an attention span that goes beyond four seconds.





Apathy and the printed word

2 04 2009

With the ever increasing struggle that is being faced by the print media industry, it has become necessary to examine the journalistic model that traditional media was founded upon.

Part of the solution for the struggling industry may be found within the ranks of the print journalist’s online counterpart: the blogger.

Blogs are often written in an informal, conversational tone that some readers find more engaging than other traditional news sources. Blogging has turned news into a conversation; it doesn’t end when the newspaper hits newsstands. “The story doesn’t end when it’s published, but rather just gets started as the public begins to do its part — discussing the story, adding to it, and correcting it,” said Steve Outing in his online article, “What journalists can learn from bloggers.”

The Internet has sped up the publishing cycle, making news immediate. This is something that bloggers have taken full advantage of. If you want the very latest in what is going on around the globe, don’t wait for tomorrow’s newspaper to be dropped on your doorstep — look online. The Web can be updated within seconds — something that isn’t possible with print media. A Web site can have a new story up faster than the newspaper delivery van can make it to the end of your street. According to David Meerman Scott, this shift to online has changed the way in which the news is dealt with.

“With Web-based access to information, consumers have real choices for how they learn about the world around them — alternatives to the filter of mainstream media,” he said.

Author David Weinberger takes the view that anyone and everyone should be able to participate and contribute to the general knowledge base; the more information that is out there, the better. Let readers decide for themselves what information is important and what isn’t.

Outing supports this argument by stating that, “publishing unpolished thoughts (written by smart people) can be valuable — that in the lightning-fast Internet era, unrefined commentary and analysis has a place.” You don’t have to be a paid professional to have a valuable opinion.

I don’t think I can point to any one thing that traditional media can do that would be a sure fix for its current dilemma. By and large, audiences have become apathetic — through no faulty of traditional media.

The problem is not newspapers. The problem is the public.

People want to be entertained and that is something that audiences get by going online. However, that being said, if newspapers were to “dumb down” the news, they will not be doing the public any favors.

According to William Fisher, in “The Downside of 24/7 Journalism,” “This dumbing down of news presents us with, at best, incomplete information. And incomplete information leads us to bad decisions.”

I think — or at least hope — that when people once again start caring enough to pay attention, readership and circulation will once again improve.