Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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26 March 2015

Two recent pieces of news made me think about the issue of timing of news consumed online. Most obviously, online publication pushes journalists to publish ever-faster, but the ability to archive everything means there is also a place for “evergreen” features and explainers. Once done, as long as they are revisited from time to time to ensure they are still relevant, they can continue to draw people to your writing via search, and as a journalism educator I have long encouraged my students to produce and value such pieces.

Shirley Li points out in the Atlantic that even quite old pieces of ‘news’ can end up being recirculated as if they were new. Her concern is that people sometimes don’t realize that online news recirculated this way is outdated (because timestamps on stories can often be hard to find) but this also suggests once again that older news stories/features can also have continued value.

Alarmingly, however, it seems that online advertisers (at least in one case) place very little value on readers’ attention if it was drawn by old material. According to Jim Romenesko, journalists for Forbes magazine (who are paid per click) will be paid only a quarter as much as before for visits to pages that are more than 90 days old. According to a memo passed to Romanesko, “advertisers are increasingly buying premium ads for new content, not old”.

It is unclear why advertisers would necessarily prefer a view of a new story to a view of a similarly interesting and accurate but older story. However if this were part of a larger trend, what would be the implications? Will this encourage editors to superficially refresh even “evergreen” stories to make them “new” for advertisers? (Keeping a closer editorial eye on older stories might be no bad thing). Might this mean that rather than updating old stories, they are deleted or unlinked and new stories based on the old ones will be written (which among other things would complicate site archives and contribute greatly to the problem of “link rot” where links to old journalism vanish)?

18 March 2015

I am used as a journalism professor to suggesting to my students that for any specialist topic – a disease, a hobby, a location – they should seek out the online discussion forums chat rooms or mailing lists that relate to it. These can act as sources of expertise or places where they can seek out opinions or story ideas. Only when I have suggested they do this recently and have gone to look for them myself… I found surprisingly very little. It used to be that searching for “[topic] messageboard” or “[topic] forum” or “[topic] mailing list” would nearly always find something. I didn’t even find a discussion board by and for Canadian post-secondary students akin to the UK’s Student Room.

Back in 2011, Pew Internet found “65% of the internet users who are active in groups say they use their groups’ websites… 24% of these internet users say they contribute material to their groups’ online bulletin boards and discussions.”

Have the problems of troll management killed most of these off as it seems to be doing to media comments sections?  Has Facebook eaten up most of that discussion time? (I am not finding a lot of very active special interest Facebook groups either – at least not proportional in size to what seems to have been lost).

My students seem to see Reddit subreddits as their “go to” source of topic-centred conversation but Reddit is again not big enough to replace all of the little conversation spaces that used to be around (is it?), and ISTR it trends pretty young. Twitter is a) not usually the same as a message board in terms of length, depth and continuity of dialogue and b) my sense is that it is more a discussion tool for elites than for a broader range of participants.

Do you have the sense this is a real trend? Is anyone still tracking discussion board use? (If it isn’t still being tracked that might itself be a sign of something!)

Where else should I be sending my students online to find and solicit citizen views these days?

And with my communication studies hat on, if the internet-using public loses the “habit” of using online discussion forums, would this not undermine one of the important means the internet could function as a potential space of public “sphericules”?

13 May 2014

I saw this and was momentarily intrigued. Then I clicked on the pic to see it full size. It didn’t get any bigger and was therefore still unreadable. So I ended up having to go visit the original story at Journalism.co.uk – now the individual text was readable but you couldn’t get a sense of the meaning of the whole without going full-screen to this from Mattermap. And then? All it turns out to be is a grouped collection of tweets, which were all available and more easily readable in the text of the website below anyway. I got there in the end but three clicks, some head-scratching and a scroll later. Sometimes good old-fashioned text is all you need!

2 April 2014

A few months ago, I mentioned how academia.edu provides near-real-time tracking of visits and visitor demographics for any publications and used my own paper “Are We All Online Content Creators Now? Web 2.0 and Digital Divides” as an example to show how it works. Recently I came across a new tool that makes this tracking process much easier – Altmetric is an academic-focused social media tracking company. It makes its money selling large-scale data to publishers and academic institutions but if you are an academic and you have published anything with a DOI (or you want to find out something about the social media footprint of a competitor’s work for that matter) then Altmetric can display a “dashboard” of data like this. I’m quite pleased about this particular metric:

7 March 2014

If you are using images online as a journalist you need to ensure that you have the rights to put them on your site legally.  If you do a Google image search, click on “search tools” and select “usage rights” that’s one way to ensure what you’re finding you can use, but in addition image libraries like Getty Images contain a lot of very high quality images (> 35m at last count) including pictures relating to the latest news. This is why they can charge for them and put watermarks over the images you can see for free so you don’t pirate them. Now, however, tired of trying to fight the many online pirates of their content, Getty seems to have decided to make it easy for people to use their images online for free in controlled ways with attribution.

They are defining “non-commercial” (and therefore permissible) uses of their images quite broadly so as long as you use their image embedding tool you should be able to legitimately use their many pictures on most journalistic projects online (for print use you would still need to purchase them).  There is already speculation that the other major picture agencies may do likewise. Here’s how to take advantage of Getty Images’ new embed feature (and its limitations).

Getty’s “front page” for searching embeddable images is here.

10 November 2013

Tracking my paper's readership using academia.edu

Just as we are all finding out how much the government has been tracking our meta-data, a whole ecosystem of public-facing meta-data tracking services is arising, giving us the chance to measure our own activity and track the diffusion of our messages across the web. This is particularly noticeable when looking at Twitter but other social media also increasingly offer sophisticated analytics tools.

Thus it was that as my latest open access paper “Are We All Online Content Creators Now? Web 2.0 and Digital Divides” went live two days ago I found myself not just mentioning it to colleagues but feeling obliged to update multiple profiles and services across the web – FacebookTwitteracademia.edu, Mendeley and Linkedin. I found to my surprise that (by tracking my announcetweet using Buffer) only 1% of the thousands I have ‘reached’ so far seem to have checked my abstract. On the other hand, my academia.edu announcement has brought me twice as many readers. More proof that it’s not how many but what kind of followers you have that matters most.

Pleasingly, from Academia.edu I can also see that my paper has already been read in Canada, the US, Guyana, South Africa, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and of course the UK.

The biggest surprise? Google can find my paper already on academia.edu but has not yet indexed the original journal page!

I will share more data as I get it if my fellow scholars are interested. Anyone else have any data to share?

27 August 2012

One of the chapters of my forthcoming book, “Sharing Our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media” is devoted to the question “What is risky and who is at risk?” and in answering this question the best resource I have consulted by some distance is Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Gorzig, A., & Olafsson, K. (2011). Risks and safety on the internet: the perspective of European children: full findings. It combines the findings of a survey of 25,142 (!) children 9-16 across Europe with a measured, thoughtful review of the research of others. Parents and policy-makers who don’t want or need all the 167 pages of evidence should download EU Kids Online: Final Report and pay particular attention to pages 42-46 which debunk the top 10 myths of online safety and set out some clear recommendations. Here are a few things I have noted, based on my interests and approach:

The survey found that 59% of all European children surveyed have social network profiles, including 26% of 9-10 year olds and 49% of 11-12 year olds (though a proportion of these will be on social networks where under-13s are allowed like Club Penguin). (p. 36-37)

The survey looked at children’s use of privacy settings but (presumably because of lack of space on the very extensive survey) in a fairly blunt fashion. It asked them whether their profiles were public, “partly private” (visible to friends of friends) or private. How concerned you are about what they reveal may depend on how you perceive “partly private”.

From Risks and Safety on the Internet p. 38

Research published by scholars working with Facebook (Ugander et al, 2011) noted that “partially private” users with the average number of friends (100) would have on average 27,500 friends of friends able to view their profiles.

This research also does not evaluate how accurate the respondents’ assessments really are of how well their profiles are protected. The only study I am aware of that compared what people wanted to share on Facebook with what they were actually sharing (Majedski, 2011) found no fewer than 93.8% of participants revealed some information that they did not want disclosed. This is consistent with the earlier qualitative findings of (Livingstone, 2008) who found on interviewing teenagers, “When asked, a fair proportion of those interviewed hesitated to show how to change their privacy settings, often clicking on the wrong options before managing this task, and showing some nervousness about the unintended consequences of changing settings” (p. 406).

On the other hand, the survey does not give much guidance about just how risky letting out public information actually is for young people. They say, “Research thus far has proved contradictory about whether SNSs are more or less risky than instant messaging, chat, or other online communication formats, and it is as yet unclear whether risks are ‘migrating’ from older formats to SNSs” (p. 36) but their list of risks is rather vague – ‘flaming’, hacking and harassment – and the only paper they cite about these risks is (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008) whose scope just covers harassment and sexual solicitation and which seemed rather more unambiguous than the EU Kids Online report suggests. It concluded “broad claims of victimization risk, at least defined as unwanted sexual solicitation or harassment, associated with social networking sites do not seem justified” – though the situation may have changed in the six years since the Ybarra & Mitchell survey.

It is perhaps notable that while online bullying was found to be rare – 6% of young people experienced it in the last year (p. 63) – it is also most often encountered on social network sites (half of all bullying encounters).

It’s unfortunate that the focus of the report (on “the internet”) means it doesn’t cover mobile-phone based risks unless they came via the internet (bullying, ‘sexting’ and other problematic behaviour may be digitally circulated on mobiles but not using the internet).

My biggest problem with the report, however (and one of my motivations to do my book) is that the definition of potential risks in the survey is too narrow. In focusing on the obvious short term issues it overlooks some of the longer term risks of internet use including but not limited to:

  1. Employment harm (“why were you drunk all the time at university?”)
  2. Relationship harms (when your grandmother ‘meets’ your girlfriend online)
  3. Harms from an unanticipated future (“I can’t believe you actually boasted about having a petrol-guzzling car back in the 90s”)
  4. identity theft
  5. Locational crime (you check in at the restaurant, a thief checks out your TV)
  6. The harvesting of personal data for targeted marketing (and possibly ‘redlining’ and exclusion from access to financial products)
  7. Government surveillance using (flawed) risk assessment criteria (one of your 22,000 friends of friends turns out to be a terrorist so you go on a watch list).

I may share more about research I run across that tackles some of these areas in future blog posts. Meanwhile, I would be interested in what you think of this post and (if you’re a researcher) please suggest studies you think do a good job of measuring problems 1-7.

Oh, and perhaps my biggest problem with this report (but one the authors can hardly be blamed f0r) – in common with most internet risk literature it studies only children and teenagers. I would like to redress the balance by noting that many of the problems above will be encountered by adults as well. (So studies about these risks that cover older people would be particularly welcome).

8 March 2012
Filed under:Academia,Privacy,social media at4:38 pm

The excellent folks at the Pew Internet and American Life Project have recently released an update of their 2009 report on reputation management and privacy attitudes among US internet users. The ‘top line summary’ says, “Social network users are becoming more active in pruning and managing their accounts” but I would be cautious about suggesting that from the data. True, 63% of them have deleted people from their “friends” lists, up from 56% in 2009 and 44% have deleted comments made by others on their profile, up from 36% in 2009 but since these are measures of “have ever done” one would expect figures to have risen given more than two years have passed.

It’s worth noting that from the report that (consistent with other research) young and old have the same likelihood to set their profiles to be private.

5 March 2012

Of course it has a role for easy, quick communication of relatively unimportant information but I fear that its very availability and ease means that like some kind of online kudzu it is expanding and driving out longer-form online discourse – particularly blogs. This is particularly problematic for academics like myself. It used to be that I would string together 500 words and more about an academic subject or something in the news and post it on my academic blog (okay, I admit I was a grad student with a bit more time on my hands) but now I tend to just tweet or Facebook post about it because the blog form implicitly demands more engagement than I feel I can give. It seems to me that possibly for similar reasons gradually nearly all of the blogs I used to read by fellow academics giving me their insights into trends and papers have died away*, replaced by tweets simply directing me to relevant web addresses.

Don’t get me wrong–I love to read and pass on the kinds of references to papers and to newspaper articles I get–see my twitter feed– but by the time a tweeter tells you who sent them a web address, very briefly summarizes why you might want to click and perhaps provides a hash tag to indicate its subject all that remains to be said is that said document or image is “enjoyable”, “provocative”, scary etc. A blog posting by contrast does not have to be that much longer but allows the writer to provide at least a little more context for the resource that they are talking about or indeed to provide a small but nonetheless useful addition to scholarly knowledge without all the psychic and administrative burden of turning out an academic paper.

Moreover, I have recently realised thanks to the news about Datasift providing companies with access to archives of tweets back to 2010 that although Twitter has kept everything, if I as a user ever did want to find an insightful tweet from even a week ago unless I had favourited it or I had been using third-party programs to archive a particular user or hashtag I would be out of luck. I always supposed that the limitations of search in tools like TweetDeck or Twitter.com itself were just a coding problem not reflective of an underlying technical problem.

* Mind you, this rant which I have been saving for a while now was inspired in part by the excellence of a Nathan Jurgenson blog post which reminded me that academic blog excellence is not yet dead.

The cartoon below (sorry have lost the original source) presents a number of other good reasons I dislike Twitter…

4 February 2011

1) I started my new job as Senior Lecturer in the Division of Journalism and Communication at the University of Bedfordshire this week and have enjoyed meeting my new colleagues (and collecting my new Macbook Pro).
2) I just met my editor at Palgrave and agreed to write a book (my first full-length academic one) provisionally titled “Sharing Our Lives Online: Risks and Exposure in Social Media” – likely to be delivered in 2013. I plan to blog about it as I write using the “Sharing Our Lives Online” category, so keep an eye on that…
3) On my way back from that meeting I discovered that my wife has also just found a position for when her current one finishes, which given the turbulent situation in the NHS where she works is a big relief.

Of course I would be open to receiving further good news but these three bits of news are certainly enough to be starting with!

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