Monday, March 16, 2009
  Brief Review of The Kindle 2
As part of my research (the part that delves into usability and design of formats that will likely replace print journalism forms), I recently acquired a Kindle 2.

I fear this is going to sound like a laundry list of complaints. It’s not. There are some great executions represented in the Kindle 2. If you check out the official Amazon page (linked above), I think most of this content is more than just promotional hype.

But I think most potential consumers need to think through their media uses and expectations to determine if this device is suited for them.

Early thoughts:

Again, I know most of these points will seem like I find more at fault than good with the Kindle. Not so. I know I’m not really the target of this device. I read a lot, but most of what I read isn’t available for this device. And I am multimedia-centric (it’s quite obvious that this device was designed to constrain the noise normally associated with digital content to maintain reading integrity).

My primary interest is how to design new content for the intended audience of this device. This may offer insights into the future of print interfaces, at least those removed from the multimedia convergence model preferred on the Web.

I’ll likely expand the various points raised above in future posts, as I grapple with nuanced understandings of the issues and hopefully begin to come up with suggestions to either overcome short-comings or improve user expectations about why such shortcomings actually improve the text experience.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
  Facebook clarifications
Wow. I keep forgetting what a diverse audience I have for my Facebook status (this is why I cut so far back on my Twittering, I think all of this should be two-way communication, and I usually don't have the time to responsibly hold up my end of the bargain).

Yesterday I mentioned on my status that I was "'Kindling' interest in electronic journalism." This was, of course, a reference to my playing around with the Kindle 2 I received on Friday. I'm getting ready to do another round of design usability analyses on different communication platforms and thought that it would be good to start thinking about the design issues related to getting content onto the Kindle.

I immediately received two responses from Facebook (and real-life) friends of mine. One asserted that the Kindle could not save journalism which was too far dead to revive. The other dissed the Kindle itself.

So, in communicating with those friends, I was reminded that I should clarify my terminology with regularity.

I rarely mean "industry" when I talk about the future of journalism. Journalism predated the current corporations that provide America's news commodity by a couple of millennia. If and when those companies and corporations fall, journalism will simply look different.

Most journalism I consume is a mixture of the corporate commodity and the emerging models that have nothing to do with the corporate sphere. So, since my Kindle now allows me to subscribe (and pay for) blogs as well as newspapers, magazines and books, one of my interests in is how these sources outside the dominant corporate sphere can generate subscription revenue.

For example,

I'm not interested in saving the industry we have. My research has always been about what comes next. The industry can either join in or not, as far as I'm concerned (I'm pretty jaded on this point since I've been arguing adaptation for more than 10 years now at conferences and meetings with little serious engagement).

On the platform side, I can offer about a dozen critiques of the Kindle after only 12 hours, most centering on the network architecture. BUT, I don't investigate tech for the "ultimate gizmo." That's why I have an 2nd generation iPhone, an iPod Touch, an iPod video nano, a traditional iPod nano, I recently gave up my Treo, I recently cannibalized my last "dumb phone" to make a 1st Generation iPhone work, etc.

My view of diffusion is that high-end users like me are actually a small percentage of our culture. And we are trying to think about how to communicate with the WHOLE culture, not just the techno-elites.

The Kindle has sold a LOT of units. There are people who love books and hate video, and this is a device designed to capitalize on them. So, how should content be designed to reach them? Once someone buys a Kindle, how do we reach them? What will their expectations and tolerances of multimedia be?

Because my suspicion (and I have done not a shred of research on this yet) is that Kindle owners will not crossover as much with iPhone and iPod users as is conventionally thought. I can already see how could hack the "Text-To-Speech" function to include an audio file. Like an interview supplement to a newspaper story. But would anyone want that? Isn't the point of the Kindle to disengage the dynamic universe of multimedia content and approach content from a more static and simplified way? That some people will want static content that does not encourage interactivity but simple consumption?

(In my first few hours, I suddenly realized this was a device for the cultural elite and older generation. It seems to built around some older expectations of interface design. I think by comparison, Apple and the Blackberry are going after a completely different crowd).

So, I'll trying to make sure I understand the design and usability constraints (as well as the target market of users) for different distribution methods. Because though I am a VERY concerned about the digital divide, I am even more concerned about the platform divides that will come after more of our content is digitally distributed.

I don't think in 10 years much content will be consumed on a desktop computer. Which means we've got to think about how to design content in redundant language forms to ensure that someone doesn't miss a key part of the story because the Kindle has different capabilities that the iPhone.

Maybe it's important to also point out that all of these devices are transient. We barely have the infrastructure available to support mobile phones, much less the capability of distributing most of the multimedia forms we're capable of producing to most people.

My head is always in a particular place, and I forget how poorly my words convey what I'm thinking about, particularly when I'm so clumsy with the language.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
  Yikes, Re: CUI
Ok, those who write for student media are prone to make mistakes.

Student media are meant to be learning opportunities and as such, those who work don't have the greatest amount of experience.

I'm on the CUI publications board, so I've been reading their posts more frequently (I've also been interviewed a couple of times by them, which always draws my attention).

I saw this (unfortunate) gem yesterday:
"Lowest unemployment rate in a quarter century requires creative job-seeking startegies"

Ugh. The spelling error in the headline not withstanding (my spell check registers the mistake, so I wonder how this happened?), I think the reporter and editors must have been confused about how the unemployment rate works.

"Lowest in a quarter century"? I thought it was a joke or an ironic, Onion-esque reference. But no, as our unemployment rate creeps towards the HIGHEST point in quite some time, students are becoming nervous about getting a job, the point of the story.

And the error only appears in the headline.

What a tragedy. Some student's hard work derailed by a poor headline.

I wonder what their re-post/corrections policy is for errors?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
  Facebook Asks For User Input interview
One of the many interviews I gave to students last week resulted in an article:

The reported seems to have recorded and presented my words accurately, but there are some contextual errors in this story.

Key passages (with my commentary, following):

Rick Stevens, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism, said he thinks Facebook’s attempted terms of use were “pretty awful.”

“The new terms of agreement kind of reflect what Facebook often tries to do, which is control [its users],” Stevens said. “What Facebook was trying to do, yes, was reprehensible but many corporations have done the same thing.”

I didn't say Facebook tries to control its users. I said Facebook tries to maintain control of the content posted on its site. Important distinction, but not a critical error.

Stevens said the Facebook community is the best place to stop offensive changes to Facebook.

“The community could be powerful when it gets focused and when it understands the issue at hand,” Stevens said.

Ok, the direct quote is correct, but I did not say the "best place" to stop said changes would be within Facebook. I personally think if someone is concerned enough with the changes, they should file a lawsuit for improper notification of changes to a binding agreement (which is the real problem, still not addressed).

Stevens said at the end of the day, Facebook’s main job is to cater to its users, making them the most powerful influence on changes to the social networking site.

“The content that is being produced on their site is the attractor, the item that brings people to that site to begin with,” Stevens said. “If people were to lose interest in Facebook and move to another platform, Facebook would lose its goldmine and it knows that, so [Facebook officials] are trying to find ways to hang onto that content.”

Oy! The direct quote is, one again, correct. But the summary lead-in is just flat wrong. I didn't say that, I don't think that.

I think I understand what happened here. The quotes, dispersed in small blocks, required the reporter/editor to add a transition. And when she/he did, the result was a summary of what he/she THOUGHT I meant, supported by the direct quote. But I didn't say that, and if he/she thought I meant to say that, he/she misunderstood more about my views than I originally thought. The lead-in adds context that misrepresents my words.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
  Rush's Constitution
LOVE Rush Limbaugh.

Seriously, as the conservative movement has run aground, Limbaugh has become the unofficial (or official, if ideologues like Ann Coulter are to be believed) voice of "conservative America."

And apparently the voice of conservative America is riddled with truthiness instead of truth.

Current example. Yesterday, Limbaugh spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Among the statements he made is the following:

"We believe that the preamble of the Constitution contains an inarguable truth, that we are all endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, freedom -- and the pursuit of happiness."

Like I said, LOVE Limbaugh.

First of all, the Constitution doesn't HAVE any such language, preamble or otherwise. Second, this language appears exclusively in the Declaration of Independence (the document justifying the right to breach one social contract to form another). Third, he mangled even the quote. Jefferson's three inalienable rights (and they were certainly arguable, then and now, which is not the same as inalienable) were the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (derived from John Locke's inviolable three rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of property). Freedom does not appear among the assumed rights of either Jefferson nor Locke, and it certainly doesn't appear in the Declaration of Independence (much less the Constitution).

Because "freedom" would be a sub-set of the "liberty" Jefferson argued for, though I doubt Jefferson would recognize the use of the word "freedom" Limbaugh seems to be implying.

I wonder if his audience even noticed? Somehow, I doubt it.
Considering our place in a hyper-mediated world.

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