Thursday, 30 July 2009
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
As it's still a work in progress, according to the developer's blog, with further features yet to be added, I'll sit tight and just wait until they come into play. Among the planned developments, which I'm eagerly awaiting, are options to create your own custom news map. Although registered users can customise things like saving category tab preferences, e.g. technology, my biggest issue with Newsmap is that you can't prioritise categories in order to give whatever news you're most interested in more screen space. If you look at the screengrab above, world news (in red) dominates two thirds of the screen, whereas health (purple) in the bottom right-hand corner is scrunched up so small that you can't even read most of the headlines.
Update (30 July 2009):
Oh, and another feature that Newsmap could do with: enabling users to decide what news sources they want their stories fed from. At the moment, the content is fed from Google News, the bane of newspapers the world over for nicking their content for free. If you could choose to get news from, say, The Times or the BBC, then ideally this would contribute to their hits, and if current talk of paid content is realised, then this would contribute to their revenue too. As a side point, Google, rather ironically, blocked Newsmap from using Google News as its news source for a while. So, they don't mind ripping off media organisations, but get uppity when someone wants to reuse their (stolen) content for free? Pot, kettle, black.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Some basic grasp of singing in tune would be helpful, but you can still muggle through despite hitting bum notes thanks to Midomi’s community of users. Registered users can record snippets of songs or the whole tune, and then Midomi can match your query to other less vocally gifted users' attempts if the desired song doesn't pick up on its radar.
To test it out myself, I tried out a variety of tunes, mostly with positive results: it successfully managed to identify Just Can’t Get Enough (and brownie points for giving me Depeche Mode's original version rather than The Saturdays' cover - an instant deal-breaker), Rio by Duran Duran was spot on, but it mistook my hummed My Old Man’s a Dustman for Mariah Carey’s We Belong Together. Well, close enough.
There’s also the potential for karaoke enthusiasts, Whitney Houston wannabes and anyone else with even a seed of exhibitionism in their body to show off by recording your own vocal stylings of a song. The community appears to be very positive and supportive about their fellow users, from what I've seen, but I'm sure it won't be long before the Simon Cowells emerge from the woodwork - trolling paradise. Either way, pretty impressive tech - handy for music fans everywhere.
Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Fax rage - the bane of the office worker
The fax machine is dying? Bring it on. As Stephen Moss commented in the Guardian today, he was surprised fax machines even existed anymore. Sadly, my summer last year spent working as a receptionist proves the technological dinosaur is still alive and, maybe not well, but resolutely wheezing on.
From my experience, every fax machine seems to have its own different system, different buttons, different operations - it was never as simple as put the paper in, press the green button and away it goes, oh no. The order in which you fed the paper, selected the buttons and dialled the number was often imperative. I essentially had to relearn how to use each fax machine from scratch. And that doesn't even take into account the number of paper jams you have with those things. From the number of times I've had to delve into the bowels of a fax machine to figure out what was causing the malfunction this time, I should have a city and guilds in IT or something.
But what linked fax machines together was never knowing for sure whether the fax had arrived at its destination, in tact, and that the right person had picked it up. The only way to check was to call the intended recipient every time you faxed things over, so all in all, not the most efficient use of time.
But what puzzles me is that we already have a ready alternative – the scanner. I don’t understand why we can’t just scan in documents and email them across – it produces a far better quality copy, in colour, and you know the right person will have got it because it's sent directly to their email address. If you’ve got the address wrong or there’s a problem with the file, it will just bounce straight back. Easy.
There must be something I’m missing here about why faxes haven’t been replaced a good few years ago by the scan-and-email method… still thinking… nope, I'm coming up blank. But either way, it surely won't be around for much longer. Office workers of the world, rejoice!
Monday, 13 July 2009
William Perrin talking about hyper local - a media law-free zone?
So citizen journalists don’t need to know libel law? You might as well throw the hapless citizen into the bear pit with the defamation lawyers right now, in that case – I give it five minutes.
The pronouncement that citizen journalists can do without learning media law was made at the recent News Innovation conference in London on Friday by William Perrin, of hyperlocal news project Talk About Local.
According to Perrin, “It’s no longer necessary to have a degree or understanding of how printing presses work or of libel or defamation, the finer points of deadlines to publish news to the world, and we should equip and empower as many people as possible to do that for themselves.”
“Equip and empower” – well, yes, in the same way that you would give a toddler the keys to a Ferrari. It seems to me that by saying that media law is an optional extra, it damages citizen journos more than liberates them. It essentially encourages them to report on local news without knowing how to avoid landing themselves up to their ears in law suits. By not knowing your qualified privilege from your criminal libel, citizen journos lay themselves open to reporting accusations, even if they’re true, without knowing how to defend them.
Now of course this hasn’t stopped bloggers and anyone else with access to a computer and a will to criticise. Anyone can make accusatory statements if they want to, freedom of expression and all that. But saying citizen journos don’t need to know the laws that could result in them being in court for defamation appears to legitimise reckless journalism . It appears to give them free rein to defame, libel, slag off at will, as though they are somehow endowed with special powers that make libel actions simply bounce off them.
Knowing the basic principles of good journalism is always crucial, citizen journo or not. You don’t need to do a degree, but you do need to know enough before wading into the potentially litigious world of reporting.
Jeff Jarvis mentioned on his blog how in the Phillipines, the ABS-CBN TV network has been training citizens in the basic elements of journalism, including ethics. I wonder whether Talk About Local will also offer some kind of training by including documents on its website on law and ethics? Maybe something to think about, if only to cover their own backs.
As a cautionary tale, look at the fate of blogger Shellee Hale, who was sued after she posted comments on a message board alleging fraud and misuse of technology against a software company. She was denied the right to protect her sources, as the judge deemed she was not a journalist, as she failed to back up her claims that she had ever worked for a newspaper, magazine or media entity. Citizen journos are even more vulnerable to lawsuits than professional reporters, as they not only lack basic journalism skills but also the protections and privileges that come from being a journalist.
The judge also commented on her failure to get the other side of the story, saying this "certainly does not suggest the kind of journalistic objectivity and credibility that courts have found to qualify for the protections of the Shield Law.” Being a journalist entails, or at least should entail, striving for balanced and unbiased reporting, which clearly Hale failed to do. This case throws up several questions, including what is a journalist - a slightly different tangent, admittedly – but fundamentally it highlights the perils of citizens going around thinking they're a journalist, without the first idea about how to act like one.