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The myth of the citizen journalist July 17, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in chronicnews, local search, Pontification, unbundled content, Unbundled Media, user interface.
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I’ve been in a dialogue with someone whose been involved with the whole citizen’s journalist thing and asks a good question.

How do you plan to get people in each of the communities to view the sites and more importantly contribute to the site? The whole contribute thing is a big problem for a lot of people and it is one that I have yet to see a solution that works on a constant basis for multiple communities.

My response:

Our approach is slightly different. But this tiny difference matters in terms of the sustainability. Without going into the long history of how we got here I’ll explain.

We target certain bloggers in an area based on criteria yet to be formalized (nice way of saying we just wing it). Then we send them letters and ask for permission to aggregate their blogs and its almost always given. Once the slate is set we proceed to automatically aggregate the feeds. The software displays the product in a fashion designed to emulate a human editorial team – i.e. not too many items from a single blog at once and a good mixture of content types and voices.

The aggregation creates natural urls and pings the blog directories and search bots to say its updated every hour or so. It creates a huge index and search visibility rather fast but can be a technological problem keeping things fast.

So to answer the question in a round about way the content isn’t dependant on group participation from average readers..I tried this and its not really a business model that works consistently enough. Dan Gilmour started Bayosphere at the same time and learned this as well. The citizen journalist is a myth. You are either a journalist or you are not and theoretically we are all citizens of the web.

Think of ours as tapping into a new source for content from a semi-professional sort — the constant blogger if you will.

I guess the last thing here is that we are trying to create ways to attract and keep the better bloggers but that’s another discussion.

That is our key difference and we’re working on ways to massage these content sources better. Its the current focus and will be manifest in http://chronicblogs.com relatively soon — sometime this week I hope..

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Faithful Freinds June 10, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in local search, Pontification, Search, Usability, user interface.
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This morning I woke up to find Lola, our St. Bernard, had passed away in the back yard. What was I supposed to do? I'd never actually thought about what one does with a 170 lbs animal. Add to that my wife and three small children were returning from buying birthday presents for our 2 year old. Lola, was the size of a horse and was lying pretty much where the children would be frolicking. I felt certain they would notice .

My wife had had a particularly trying day and loved that dog. I did too. What I wasn't going to do was deliver this news on the cell phone where she was sure to have a complete breakdown.

I don't know why but I called my mother who suggested that she would send my 75 year old father over with a shovel at which point we would dig. I pointed out that he needed to pickup some dynamite because in Nashville you hit solid rock between 2 and 3 feet pretty much anywhere. I live in Green Hills and the bedrock is about 14 inches down which would mean we would have to build a tomb. Anyway the web was no help. zero..So through word of mouth I find Chuck and Faithful Friends. He was prompt and thorough and sensitive.

I appreciate what he did today. I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm insane because I a nightmare vision of Marissa and the kids driving up just as we had Lola on the stretcher.

Why am I blogging this? There was no service listed anywhere online in Nashville such as Faithful Friends. If you don't believe me take a look yourself. However it only took two phone calls to narrow in on Chuck. Why is that? Moreover I seriously doubt I was the only person who has ever turned to the web for help finding something that seems like it should be coming up on Google and Yahoo. Chuck's website is brand-new and I hope this post can help someone in similar circumstances.

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Tagging = Mofoo cubed March 15, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in Category, goodness, mofoo, Pontification, tagging, tags, Usability, user interface.
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“But seriously now. If you are serious about using the web and getting the most out of it .. you are aren’t you? I mean I need to know if you are because if your aren’t a serious web user who is willing to make the sacrifices needed to … I might look bad talking to you. Worse I might lose precious mofoo I’ve spent weeks accumulating. So please tell me. We can still be friends only in the non-blogging world… you know.”

“Pontiff why are you so angry? I just said that if you want to get the most from your web experience you need to start tagging. Why did that send you around the bend again? Dude you’ve got to get a grip.”

Web 2.0 = mofoo bullshit March 15, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in mofoo, Pontification, tags, Usability, user interface.
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There’s a lot of yadda yadda about Web 2.0 and blogs being the new way to talk to your customers. Add in all the blogger’s congratulating each other for being cool and part of the “new conversation” one couldn’t be faulted for believing it. But the truth is its not really a conversation the way most people envision it nor is much of this all that usefull to anyone …. yet.

It will get there no doubt but I fear the arrival is terribly slowed by the amount of victory dancers crowding the halls effectively barring the new blood with much needed new thinking . Forging something really useful for normal folks requires an influx of people who don’t spend their time sucking up to other online denizens whom they believe posses mofoo (foo foo dust and mojo) which can be bestowed if only they can copy and and paste enough verbal groveling and genuflecting me tooisms.

The quest for Mofoo is the substance powering this web resurgence and no doubt about it will be the gum to grind things to a halt.

A conversation implies that one can interrogate the other and receive useful information in return. It also implies to me at least a shortcut to formal learning or coursework in order to gain insight into a problem. One has a conversation with ones doctor for instance. “Hey doc, I have a runny nose and feel like shit, what do I do?”

These days that conversation would end up with a prescription but very little useful information. Why? Well have you had a conversation with your doctor lately? No? You mean they don’t return phone calls and you end up trying to explain yourself to a hostile semi literate office worker whose main job is to tell you to call during office hours which are 10 AM to 1:45 PM Monday, Wednesday and every other Friday except in August when the office is closed except for an hour on Thursday.

Well that’s the modern world and thankfully we have the internet to help. I mean I have a runny nose and feel like shit so I decided to find out about this drug called Zyrtec. I could have called my doctor but it was after 2:00 PM and I wasn’t up for the battle with the “medical office worker” skilled at keeping you at bay till you get better or die of other causes.Web 2.0 to the rescue. Right?

I can tune in to the “conversation” on some cool blog with lots of mofoo. Right? Mofoo dudes and dudettes will give me great insights and real human experiences others just like me have had with Zyrtec. So how do I plan to tune into mofoo central? I’m not a search expert because being a search expert is the same thing as doing research and that is the same thing as work. Work is what you do at the office. The net is supposed to be where you get mofoo embued folds clamoring to have a ‘conversation’ regarding your everyday thoughts, feelings and experiences.

I”m not looking for information on how to combat the bite of a south American Bugubugoobo snake but just some info on how to stop a runny nose and if maybe just maybe Zytec could help. Google Blog search to the rescue.

Feast your eyes o seekers of Mofoo and blogging bohemians:.

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The same kind of garbage comes up on Technorati and the worst was on Icerocket. Icerocket not coincidentally is also the blog search enjine with the most Mofoo.

So the word ‘useless’ keeps popping to mind. It took a few hours — really no shit — but I got some info that was sort of useful. For all you mofoo seekers who think you can get some by pointing out something stupid like “hey, if you knew X, Y or Z you would have done R, P or N” then guess what? You can in fact get mofoo that way. Saying stupid and obvious things in ‘conversations’ with other like minded people (there are about 1400 dedicated mofoo seekers and bestowers on Earth which falls short of the 300 million people who use email and sometimes search the web) is a sure fired way to get more mofoo. But my point is that I shouldn’t have to know R, P or N in order to use Web 2.0. It should work without special secret knowledge. I should be able to use common search or at least one of the specialized mofoo search engines staffed with cool cats who can ‘ tag’ and other things to fill up all the free time left on Earth to get real information and be able to easily filter out all the mofoo bullshit being put out on blogs.

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Nashville’s user interface part II February 1, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in nashville, NashvillesNews.net, Pontification, Urban Planning, Usability, user interface.
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I’ve asked several level headed types — chiefly my beautiful and brilliant wife — their opinion of the signage issue which I rightly see asĀ  left-handedĀ  vs. right handed and oppression of the aforementioned left-handed minority. Also I’m looking to belabor a point when I don’t really care what they think and I need a way to start an argument.

“Where is it that my left-handed dyslectic logic fails?” (I forgot the part about dyslexia so add that to the list of minorities oppressed by the insensitive user interface design in Nashville.)

If you can spell you will already see something is wrong with me beyond left handedness and general lack of anything better to do than rail against poor working folks trying to make a living by showing us where to cross the street even if they sometimes break the monotony by leading left handed dyslectic types into traffic.

Marissa: “I know which side of the street is south.”

Me: “How?”

Marissa: “I’ve lived here all my life.”

Me: “Huh. What if someone just got to town.”

Marissa: “You can see the interstate sign from that corner.” (note this is typical right handed logic.)

Me: “So to cross the street here you have to look at an unreferenced sign and deduce your north south orientation? Also I lived here all my life before I moved away and couldn’t begin to tell you which direction is north, south or whatever.”

Marissa: “That was before they had interstates.”

Me: “Honey, assume you’re right. You’re not but assume. There’s no difference between the North or the south side in terms of safety. Someone decided that they’d save money by printing up these signs and slapping them on random telephone poles. One sign fits all. Use the South side of the street. Why not east?”

Marissa: “Whether the sides are the same is not relevant to how you can tell which is which. There is no east side of that street. Why would you make a sign that says to cross on a side of the street that doesn’t exist?”

Street crossings and user interfaces in Nashville January 31, 2006

Posted by Pontiff in city planning, nashville, NashvillesNews.net, Pontification, Urban Planning, user interface.
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Street crossings and user interfaces in Nashville
by Pontiff
The study of user interface would I suppose date back to when woman or man first picked up a stick and attempted to beat some animal into becoming dinner. (..”all in all a good stick but could have been more responsive to wrist movements…” ) UI study was elevated to consciousness by the PC, circa 1980s, and gained respectability when the web and particularly the web browser caused blood pressures to rise in the 1990s. Now we see user interface design in virtually everything. Good user interface designers have to be part psychologist, part phsyologist, part gerontologist and often urologists and ever other kind of ologist. In all that We’ve gained some understanding or should have of how the disabled interact or interface with everyday things.

This brings me to discuss my own disability or what others consider my disability — left-handedness. Its hard for you right handed people to grasp just how serious we lefties take UI design. Try putting yourself in our shoes for just one day. You’ll find you can’t use scissors, mirrors, and try wielding an assault rifle that has not been outfitted for left handed sighting and you’ll see why the lifespan of a left handed person is almost 12 years less than that of a righty.

Till tonight I’d questioned the accuracy of the lifespan thing since my left-handed grandfather lived accident free and in good health till he was 98. Tonight I had an experience that brought it all home. I’m glad for a chance to illustrate just how difficult this has been form me and my left handed brothers and sisters. Plus I get to use Google Maps for more than just a . hey look at this..

I was walking home from the Green Hills Club or The Club in Green Hills (side note: see if you can find their website which is the subject of another lesson in real life user interface) when I came to the intersection of Crestmoor and Hillsboro here This is a particularly nasty intersection with several closely spaced traffic lights in the middle of Green Hills which has to worst traffic on Earth (parts of Bangkok and Beijing come close). In my left-handed confusion I look for an indication of where to cross, anything to help me navigate the street in a safe and orderly fashion (well that’s a lie .. I was looking to see if there were any cops who might ticket me for jay walking but it leads to the same conclusion so shut up).

That’s when I saw the sign – “Crossing on South side of street ONLY”. Here is the essential difference between left and right .. handedness. The street crossing is designed no doubt by the same fellow who oversees usability at the Nashville International Airport — a Malthusian right handed chauvinist. Nashville isn’t New York where I could always tell North and South because I knew which streets ran East to West and could work out the South part by standing with my right hand pointing west and left hand east. This left my butt pointing south btw.

I looked for further guidance thinking how in the world am I supposed to know which side of the frigging street is north or south in a city where all the streets ran wherever? There was no button to push, no white lines in the street , nothing logical . So how am I supposed to know? I know that Allan Funt is dead or I’d think they had a camera on me. (I still think that’s makes more sense than anything).That’s when it hit me that the damn street was designed for right handed people. Only right handed people would be so anal as to have a compass with them at all times? How could I be so stupid I thought. Another example of how the majority oppresses. And its wrong okay. There should be some kind of crossing for left-handed people who don’t have a compass up their butts at all times. Even some right handed elderly peoople might have a hard time seeing the little hands. Add to that the pressure of being nearly blind with onrushing traffic, (the worst on Earth as I said), no sidewalks and not having any idea what to do other than pull out the laptop and go to Google Maps to find out which direction is south and whether the sign refers to the adjacent street or the tangential one. So okay, there is a Starbucks across the street which should have wireless if it hasnt been sued by Bellsouth.

I’m sure the conservative bloggers are reading this and thinking oh no! here they go again. Will the cradle to grave socialist mentality ever stop? You want us to do what? Put up street crossings? Do you know how expensive that is? No. actually I don’t. I might just opt for the old fashioned . CROSS THE FRIGGING STREET HERE, YES HERE WHERE THIS SIGN IS and leave out the need for a guide or skills at orienteering and guessing in general.

Sometimes.. good UI design means CUT THE CRAP. And if this stems for some secret agenda by the Purcell administration to weed out the old and infirmred for budgetary reasons. well okay. I understand. But .. but it might cause a lawsuit if they are from out of town.. Some day soon a right handed person will be killed at that crossing and you’ll be sorry. Then you’ll put up a sign.

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