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Archive for April 2009

The rise of the Female Web

As featured on Shane Richmond’s blog for Telegraph technology.

I once heard a joke that men are like computers…in order to get their attention you have to turn them on.

While this is crass and fairly nonsensical, it touches on the commonly held position since the dawn of the technological era that women, if anything, are not like computers.

The cultural stereotypes surrounding technology generally stem from the early stages of the internet in which going online was a fairly drawn-out, isolated business. Which is why it attracted the teenage boys and young adult men.

But since the second phase of the internet meant easy access and online sharing, a rising new tech-savvy breed of women are putting their claim on the web. The Female Web is a new concept which proposes that behaviour and current activities on the internet suggest it is becoming more womanised and female centric. Miriam Rayman, in her article for Viewpoint magazine’s Eve-olution issue, says one day the internet will be female-dominated and female-friendly – and it is women pioneering this shift.

Before hoards of you start screaming the ‘f’ word, and brandishing your anti-feminist teeth, let me explain the idea a little further.

Female bloggers are growing in number, and according to Jupiter reaserch new web users are predominantly female, so it is worth looking into whether Web 2.0 really does appeal more to the complex inner workings of the female brain as opposed to its male counterparts, or whether this is just a load of hormone-filled hysteria.

Futurist Marian Salzman says:

“The web – at least the one we have now come to understand and depend on – works best when it is collaborative, connected, instant, open-ended, and social in its activities and functionality – attributes we normally associate with women.”

It is clear social networking taps into something of the female psyche – with sites such as Netmums, CafeMom, iVillage and wowOwow seeing a significant boom. Rayman says women enjoy the positive and empowering vibes they get from such sites, as social places where they can come to share and encourage – which is part of their gender make-up.

“Building a community within a group is a basic instinct of female survival that continues to influence the way females behave,” says Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts say in their book Inside Her Pretty Little Head.

“The Internet is just another way to be social, informed, and connected,” says Cullingham. “It’s conversational, newsy, and allows you to form instant intimacy with people. These are things that women are incredibly good at.”

This is truly Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus stuff. Based on the idea that women are natural talkers, bonders and enjoy convening in large clucking flocks to share stories and advice, and the web being one big community, Rayman suggests technology is developing towards being more female in nature, and women are drawn to the web in one great inter-menstrual cycle culminating in a World Wide Women’s Web.

The web is about communities, women thrive in communities, so – the argument goes – women love the web.

But aren’t we forgetting someone? What about the men who enjoy conversations online, meeting like-minded people and expressing opinions? Aren’t tons of bloggers male? Rayman retorts that women’s blogs don’t climb high up Technorati’s charts because their blogging style means they don’t reach the radar:

“It’s about relationship-building and story-telling, and helping one’s community. Men, on the other hand, have typically gone for link-heavy, signpost-rich posts.”

Influential women blogs such as Gawker Media’s Jezebel and Shiny Media’s DollyMix, along with Adriana Huffington, and Elizabeth Spiers prove the blogsphere has some key women leading the way. But should we conclude that the web has gone completely girly and agree with Rayman that the future lies in companies gearing their online marketing techniques towards a the minds of women?

Though Rayman’s study draws out some interesting observations of the way web 2.0 bares similarities to stock, almost stereotypical, characteristics of women, there is no need just yet to start dismissing the equal number of male surfers online. Indeed, some may argue the web is infact male-centric and geared ideally for arguing and pornography. Clearly there will be areas and activities on the web women are drawn to, but this is also true for attributes of men. And though stereotypes surrounding technology should be challenged, women shouldn’t stamp their claim on the web just yet.

Written by hrwaldram

April 24, 2009 at 4:41 pm

TimesPeople: the social network for the New York Times.

[Warning: This post was written in 2009 and information may not be kept up to date.]

TimesPeople says it is not a social network for Times readers, but that is exactly what it is. It is built on the merits of Twitter – allowing you to ‘follow’ and be ‘followed’ by other TimesPeople – while incorporating some parts of Facebook. Sounds neat, but just how good is TimesPeople and what does it offer?

You sign up, and TimesPeople updates your feed whenever you do something on NYTimes.com – so it logs comments on articles, articles you’ve rated (or recommended) and comments on blogposts. But you have the option of turning your ‘sharing’ off – so you just follow people but they cannot see what you are doing.

Once you have added lots of users – their activities come up in a news feed (like Facebook). You can also see when people you are following are being followed by and following others, like Twitter.

This pops up at the top of nytimes.com when you do something new…

Latest Activity

The Latest – a feed of what TimesPeople (including ones you are not following) are doing and looks a bit like this:

The Latest. Happening right now on TimesPeople

Carol Bateman recommended an article: How to Raise Our I.Q. 5:26 am
Globaltechbroker commented on an article: Afghan Women Protest New Law on Hom… 5:25 am
gattopardo recommended an article: Yankees Win Game, but Lose Nady 5:22 am
eddie recommended a comment: Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers 5:21 am
Manon Sheiman recommended a comment: Dinosaur at the Gate 5:15 am
Ember recommended an article: Big Profits, Big Questions 5:15 am

TimesPeople looks like a great advancement on creating smaller social networks which have the newspaper as their base and articles as their common point of interest.

You can also add TimesPeople to your Facebook account –  one of the best functions of the service as it into the sphere of the big social networking sites which can all be collaborated with Facebook – and means article you like can be shared with all your non-Timesey friends.

When viewing TimesPeople comments, there is a drop-down box allowing you to see the ‘editor’s selections,’ ‘readers recommendations’ and oldest and newest comments. This is a great feature for sieving out comments you don’t want to read.

If you comment on an article it awaits moderation before being published – but it looks as if it has been published already – which gives you some level of satisfaction.

You can see other people’s news feeds which is quite cool – as everyone, with different followers, has a completely unique news feed. Although you’ll soon realise due to the small nature of the network, everyone is following the smae people so there is little variation.

Fall-backs

When you post a comment you cannot post it as your TimesPeople ID – you have to enter a name which is attached to the end of the comment. This means when other users read your comment they cannot click on your name and add you as a person to follow – this would make perfect sense because if you could see someone writing comments you enjoy you should be able to follow them, as they are probably also a Timesperson.

There is no ‘bio’ so you cannot find out anything about a person you may want to follow apart from their name, pic and location. You would have to Google them – which is annoying.

Your news feed of friends activities is pretty much just ‘— recommended an article…’ followed by an extract from the article. The extract makes it look like they have commented on an article. The recommend button is on every article. So after a while you begin to feel like the whole service is just people recommending articles – so it feels pretty limited. Although on the spec nytimes.com says they are thinking of adding a “notes” feature to go with recommendations. So you could recommend an article, and add a note (which would not go under the article liek a comment but stick to your activity page). If they gave you more things to do on the website, there would be more ‘activity’ – which probably would make it worthwhile joining up.

The community is quite small – I followed someone doing the most activity and added all his followers and soon realised that I am following just about everyone using TimesPeople.

In general, the network works pretty well and adds the element most users want when reading articles on news websites – to be able to share articles they like.

Written by hrwaldram

April 17, 2009 at 11:05 am

Why we still need trained journalists

As featured on Shane Richmond’s, communities editor for telegraph.co.uk, blog:

As a trainee journalist about to finish the postgraduate diploma at Cardiff School of Journalism, the last thing I want to hear are the smug tones of a professional journalist telling me my tears, sweat and hard work are a waste of time.

Last week Sarah Lacy, a technology journalist and Valley Girl columnist for BusinessWeek, wrote a piece for TechCrunch entitled “Who The Hell Is Enrolling in Journalism School Right Now?”.

The answer: hundreds upon hundreds of generation-Y students who want to be journalists and cannot afford to rely on the ‘get lucky’ approach which boosted the careers of old-school journalists. Of course the post was bound to raise eyebrows. The link has been batted across the Twittersphere like a blow-up replica of Lacy herself, getting more and more battered with each micro-blog.

Lacy has since been called a moron, an idiot, and told she is the one who should go to journalism school after such an awful argument. Someone called Jeff writes:

Now, writing in that arrogant tone that J school isn’t the place to learn the latest forms of application of the art of Journalism is a not only ignorant but an excellent example of bad journalism within itself.

The argument is based on the idea that in the digital age, journalists no longer need traditional skills taught in journalism schools. Lacy writes:

Journalism schools are like foot-binding. They force you into a style that a bunch of dinosaurs all agreed was acceptable a zillion years ago. So in an age of blogging, you have no voice.

If Lacy had been to journalism school she would have learned to research a little before making such wide accusations. Top journalism schools in the UK and US are training the next generation for a rapidly changing industry where multimedia skills and online collaboration are essential.

Cardiff, London’s City and New York are training a breed of tech-savvy, web 2.0 skilled journalists of the future. Just ask Jeff Jarvis who lectures at New York. What’s more, new media skills are built on a foundation of traditional news reporting fundamentals – shorthand, knowledge of media law and public administration – which give you a head start for tight employers relieved not to have to fund this training.

But Lacy thinks lack of training will help you go far:

I think it was precisely that total lack of journalism training that gave me an edge. I never worked the cops-and-courts beat. I don’t know how to write an inverted pyramid story or even really what that is. I do know how to write for different platforms, be scrappy and break news.

She uses the example of some poor old friend, who went gaily off to journalism school while she miraculously gained a job on her local paper.

Fast-forward and my friend no longer works in journalism. Meanwhile, I’m not only gainfully employed, but have managed to make more money every year the industry has declined all around me.

Well good for you, Lacy. Aren’t we all pleased about your mind-blowing ascent to success. Excuse me if I sound a little bitter – why wouldn’t I be happy for your comparative stardom while I open another can of cold basics baked beans? But patronising inflection aside, Lacy’s argument is based on the flawed premise of ‘what worked for me should work for everyone else’ – a kind of survivorship bias. The point to raise in the to-train-or-not-to-train debate is that whether you decide to go to journalism school is based on a number of contributing factors – there is no right or wrong answer.

Firstly, you need money. It’ll cost you about £20,000 to spend a year at City University’s Journalism school, including course fees and living expenses. Not many freshly-graduated students have that kind of money to spare.

Then there’s the option of ‘winging it’ – or ‘the non-conventional route’. This basically means spending weeks upon weeks of being a work experience slave, unpaid and always keen, in the hope you will prove yourself too useful to let go, and be snapped up immediately. This will also require a bottomless piggybank and somewhere to stay in London. Many aspiring journos tread this unpredictable path because they know enough people in the business already to be pretty confident they will ‘get lucky’.

‘Get lucky’, is usually synonymous with sheer nepotism. I will never forget Jon Snow, asked at the Guardian Student Media Conference 2007 how young hopefuls will get into journalism, giving the pithy, one-word answer: “Nepotism”. Of course, some young bright things do actually get spotted for the talent they are – Times columnist Caitlin Moran, won the Observer Young Reporter of the Year award when she was 15, and yesterday’s G2 column by Tom Meltzer suggests that he might have just landed a job too. But this route into journalism is less secure and with job cuts all over the industry, there are less traineeships for newspapers to give away to the talents they see on work experience.

So, Miss Lacy, the answer to your question is graduates who want to get into journalism. Work experience and being in the right place at the right time is no longer a feasible way to bank on getting your foot in the door. Enrolling on a journalism course right now is one of the most sensible ways to avoid the recession while equipping yourself with the right skills to make you more employable when jobs do start opening up again.

There will always be the lucky ones who find an unconventional route in. But your average graduate, no matter how passionate or talented they are, cannot rely on luck like Sarah Lacy’s. Now back to Media Law revision.

Written by hrwaldram

April 14, 2009 at 11:59 am