Friday, March 29, 2013

Social Media Culture

The three most common speech balloons (top to ...
The three most common speech balloons
(top to bottom: speech, thought, scream).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are we getting stupid?

I had a couple discussions over the past few days about our western culture, global culture and the ultimate fate of civilization in light of our social media habits. One of my friends lamented that we, as a species, have little to no hope of survival if the current trends hold true.

Granted, these fears are extreme and, I argue, slightly exaggerated. However, there are several indicators that are worrisome with regard to the human race and the way our culture is processing the issues set before them.

Nobody builds an argument

Gone are the days of methodically crafting an argument. It started in Florida with the FCAT and comprehensive testing. Grade students are taught that an essay is a five-paragraph paper with an introduction, three paragraphs of support and a conclusion. That is presented, not as a starting point, but as a finished product.

I feel there are merits to building slowly. The ABC's come to mind as a great place to start. However, your kindergarten teacher should never present the ABC's as a grand finally, those are just the beginning! The five-paragraph paper (though there are some solid reasons for teaching this model) is not a destination, though it justly serves as a vehicle to deliver the student to that place.

The real travesty here is that students are not building arguments, they are busy making statements instead. A statement is useless unless there is a solid argument backing it up. I have heard, to my dismay, many older high-school/younger undergraduate students present what they think is an argument which is, in fact, a string of unsupported statements with no logical backing. While this is troubling, even worse are those students who think they are presenting an informative paper which is actually lacking information or an argumentative paper that never actually takes a position.

Do you see the problem?

The Social Media Culture

Let me begin by asserting that I am a product of the social media culture. I have all the accounts and am active in most of them. I love social media and see immense value in it's potential. But when placed in the hands of the inexperienced and logically challenged, conversations easily turn into shouting matches and things like cyber-bullying are born.

But what do we blame for the dimming of internet wit? Here are the four main culprits:

Culprit # 1: Web Publishing

This goes back to Web 1.0. Do you realize that people (like me) who take classes (Master's Level) on web publishing are told to condense arguments, write short paragraphs (3 sentences max) and use bullet points as often as possible to facilitate scanning? Do you realize how hard it is to build a serious argument using only bullet points?

Does this advice make sense? Absolutely! Reading from a screen is completely different than reading ink on paper. It is also more difficult to curl up on the couch with a good computer screen than it is with a good book or term paper (what?). These principles, though completely reasonable given the medium, have decreased our culture's ability to read and comprehend a solidly structured argument.

Culprit # 2: Blogging

What? I admit it, I am a part of the problem. An extension of writing for the internet, the blogging phenomenon has allowed anyone to publish their thoughts for he world to see. My argument here has nothing to do with the education of the masses. There are some very uneducated people who are incredibly intelligent and make fantastic arguments and certainly should host a blog. By contrast, there are individuals who have earned multiple degrees and can barely put together a coherent sentence. No, I do not care who publishes a blog, the problem is with weblog culture.

Like web publishing, blog creation is formulaic; it can't be too long or dense because you will lose the audience. This is not the second coming of the newspaper article, it is a distant cousin who is in dire need of Ritalin. Why do I have four clearly marked culprits? So you, dear reader, can scan my post and decide which parts interest you enough to read. As a result, nothing I say here in this section is supposed to be dependent on a previous section in case you didn't read the other section.

So how are we bloggers supposed to create an argument if only a couple lucky paragraphs are going to be read?

Culprit # 3: Social Media

Chances are, everyone who is reading this post is likely plugged into some form of social media. CNN recently reported that Americans 1) grab their smartphone within 15 minutes of waking up and 2) check Facebook 14 times a day. That's a lot of social media consumption.

Social Media only compounds the problem. We begin condensing our arguments with static web pages, then blogs produce articles that are even more compact, now we have even more limitations on our social media statuses. With Facebook and Twitter we officially arrive at statements rather than arguments. We no longer have the time or room to add nuance or context to our assertion, we just say what we feel with no respect to others.

Again, there is nothing wrong with social media per se, but note that it has affected our ability to appreciate a well-crafted argument.

Know Your Meme
Know Your Meme
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Culprit # 4: Memes

If you thought status updates was the lowest rung of the argument ladder, think again. Meme culture has wrought even more devastation in the form of ridicule. Where there was little room for nuance, memes have removed it completely in favor of blunt statements or sarcasm.

Again, I love a good meme. I can even appreciate several memes of lesser quality. Cartoons have a long-standing tradition of using humor to point out truth. However, if the meme is used as a substitute for actual discussion, we have a problem.

Android Photo app speech bubble simple tastes ...
Android Photo app speech bubble
simple tastes Oscar Wilde
(Photo credit: Fueneco)

What's the point?

My point is simple: awareness. Know the limitations of social media and never let the 140 characters define your topic. It is a great practice to condense your main point to a concise statement, but you should always be prepared to expand you point and add both nuance and context to the discussion.

Is there anything intrinsically wrong with these four culprits? No. The we rules are set up as they are for good, practical reasons. Arguments must spring up from within mankind. Search yourself and make sure you've done your homework.

Then go away and read some books!

What do you think? Is our culture getting dumber? Why?

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why I Dumped Dynamic Views

If it's so dynamic, why leave it?

Here's the deal. I really liked the dynamic views when I converted. I liked the slick styling and the awesome reconfiguration options that could go from Mosaic to Timeslide to whatever my readers wanted to see.

I liked the way I had configured color to make it clean and readable, with a noted exception for the fact that it was easy to click out of an article by mistake. Otherwise, I thought it was cool.

Why leave Dynamic Views behind? My decision, like most of my techno-decisions, was all about the gadgets.

Look and feel

I was happy with the look and feel of Dynamic Views for a while. But I missed having absolute control over my design. And if my web page is a reflection of my sensibilities, then I had better have absolute control over it.

Twitter gadgets

I want to connect with people on Twitter and other social mediums. How lame is it that I couldn't put a simple link to my Twitter page on the side of my own blog? I was used to displaying #litnerd and #btsermon tweets, but I couldn't do it with the Dynamic Views layout. The only option available to my through that template was Google Plus.

Very lame.

Comments with Disqus

Allow me to be honest, people don't really care to connect with me on Twitter. I have never had an individual talk to me about my blog, or other blog, or other blog through Social Media. However, Disqus was a revelation when I used it to replace the Blogger comment system before switching to Dynamic Views. (For those interested, other comment replacement options include Live Fyre and Intense Debate.)

While I could live without a Twitter badge on my blog, I have come to the conclusion that I need more control over my blog in order to implement Disqus again. I did not want to wait around any longer for Dynamic Views to finally improve their comment system. I hope that by doing so, I can rekindle the comment magic that my blogs had enjoyed about a year ago.

Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But it doesn't hurt to try!

Have you tried Blogger's Dynamic Views? Do you like it? Why or why not?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

RSS is Dead

English: Don't Panic towel
English: Don't Panic towel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome to the 21st Century

Given all this hoopla about Google amputating Reader from their line of products, it is probably time to ask the question: Is Real Simple Syndication (RSS) dead? An article from Business Insider seems to suggest that it is.

My library coursework has promoted RSS as a futuristic technology that delivers information right to the end-user. I have built CMS pages and blogs and burned the feeds so that people can receive my articles as soon as I publish them. But are we wrong? 

Business Insider seems to suggest that Social Media services (Twitter) is killing off RSS as a viable end-user product. RSS may still find a home in the back end, but it is no longer a product that users, ahem, use. Note that most of the products purporting to be alternatives to Google Reader integrate your social media timelines into the application!

I have always felt that the RSS technology was antiquated in light of Social Media and other on-demand services. I think librarians should be aware of potential change on the horizon and flexible enough to jump on the wave of innovation.

Opinion wanted: do you think RSS is dead? Maybe it's just a little dead? Maybe it's just dead to the end-user? Well, go on and tell me in a comment. I wanna know!

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Moving Along, Nothing to See Here

English: This icon, known as the "feed ic...
English: This icon, known as the "feed icon" or the "RSS icon", (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google Reader is going away

Where did I leave that panic button? I know it's around here somewhere...

I love to read. I love to read about current events and niche topics that hardly anyone really cares about. I use RSS feeds to deliver my content right to me. It is a librarian's dream to have information delivered to both my computer and my mobile device which makes information consumption and retrieval a smooth a ride as ever.

But alas, it was not meant to be. Google has announced that Reader (proper noun) is just not hacking it, so they've placed all the readers (common noun) on notice to find a new news (see what I did there?) delivery service by July 1.

Cue the Common Top 5 Post

This announcement has been a boon for techno-bloggers who suddenly have visions of writing THE post that helps people find their new RSS reader (while boosting their own subscription statistics). Guess what, look no further, because I have written that post a day late and a dollar short.

I searched high and low and decided that these RSS reader services are the best ones for you, fair reader, to investigate. Be sure to take these out for a test drive to see how they fit in to your personal preferences.

The Magazine Style

Most of those other (read: lesser) "Top Reader Replacement" posts promote these guys as THE GO-TO options when transitioning out of Google Reader. They all have mobile platforms that make the reading experience as mobile as it is beautiful. Without further ado, The Magazine Style Readers:

Image representing feedly as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase
1) Feedly: This bad boy is number one on my list and number one overall. This is the only RSS reader alternative whose placement in this link is also a ranking. I have been somewhat transitioning to Feedly anyway. I like the social features that are baked right into it. Your standard Twitter, Facebook, G+ and email are all there, but it also includes Buffer, Evernote, Delicious and others. This spares me the need to use IFTTT to jury-rig a "seamless" share to other services based on a trigger. (What other blog dares to use jury-rig and seamless in the same sentence?)

In addition, there are browser plugins and a handy transition guide that promises to make the July 1 transition a painless process.

Pulse (Photo credit: Johan Larsson)
2) Pulse: I began using Pulse Reader when I owned a Motorola Cliq (author shudders with sudden sensations of sinister semesters with that cursed phone and inability to update to Android 2.0). So maybe my opinions are tainted from the lack of a quality device. If that's the case, then go out and use Pulse now!

I actually do not mind Pulse all that much as an RSS reader replacement. It certainly has a beautiful interface which can be customized to a certain extent. I mainly miss a list format (Pulse seems to only allow the magazine look) and the social options provided by others. Clearly, you can't really go wrong this this application.

Flipboard (Photo credit: netzkobold)
3) Flipboard: Another favorite in the visually stimulating category is Flipboard. This is a gorgeous reader for the mobile platform that presents news in an aesthetically pleasing manner. It can pull information from feeds and social networks (so can Pulse) and organize them in a sensible way.

The only downside is the lack of a web application for desktop use. Perhaps things will change with a ported view given the trajectory of the modern OS, but that is a major downside of this option if you consider yourself a power user. (I fancy myself a power in everything, even if it turns out to be only a fantasy.)

The Ugly Style

Please tell me you haven't forgotten The Ugly One...

Some people don't care about those fancy-schmaltzy user interfaces that come with these new-fangled interweb RSS readers, let me just have a basic view where I can jump from item to item with no problem. After all, Google Reader worked just fine under that principle. The few people who used it seem to like it. So there!

4) The Old Reader: This application claims to be just that, an old version of Google Reader! What better place to transition to than a downgraded version of what you love? All kidding aside, this little RSS Reader is a nice application for those who just want to read articles--images or video not so much. It is clean and straightforward.

As mentioned earlier, images were rendered strangely (everything was shoved to the right side, no wrapping  whatsoever) and videos didn't even appear (which may be a clue for bloggers to remember to always include a link to videos in addition to embedding them). The Old Reader also seems to be gaining in popularity, because they were unable to process my Google Reader feeds due to overload. I tested the application on my personal blogs: GARB & WTHT. Overall, if you want a nice reader that doesn't bother with images and stuff, this is probably the one you'll be happiest with.

5) NewsBlur: Newsblur is laid out very much like Outlook, complete with a folder structure and reading panes. This RSS reader also owns a mobile app, so you can take it on the road. Personally, I feel like I am staring at my work inbox when I look at this UI, so I'm not too hot for it. But I understand how some people would love the simplicity and versatility of this layout (so much for my power user status).

The worst critique of NewsBlur--from what I've read-- is that they limit the number of subscriptions available to users. If this is true, then shame on them. Can't you see we're used to getting whatever we want in whatever portions we want?

6) Twitter Lists: I am not going to link to Twitter. You should know this one by now. And yes, people are actually suggesting that Twitter can be used to aggregate content because anyone who publishes stuff on the web should have a twitter feed by now and should be posting links to their articles straight to their feeds.

This option is decidedly more cumbersome, but still a great idea with some great benefits. For one thing, you can receive a text notification that your favorite writer has published a new post. Once you have opened the link in your browser, you can also share it with whatever application you'd like. It is mobile, a web application and can be customized using client software.

No, Twitter was not developed specifically as a feed reader. But it can serve admirably as a patch for the RSS service.
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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Blimey! Are we going metric?

Think Metric! By Franklin M. Branley [c1972]


USF mug, FIU sweater.
USF mug, FIU sweater. (Photo credit: CMJimenez)
Every librarian should have some experience with the term. As a library student, I just turned in an assignment where I was to de-select 10% of a library's collection and then spend $3,000 on new materials for the collection (I had to drive from Miami to Tampa for a class in order to turn it in. See image to the right for proof of caffeine). I must say, it was fun to do traditional librarian duties in a real-world setting.

The Metric System is Coming!

We have all heard about some crazy books. This blog is no Awful Library Books, but this one has got to be the worst that I found in the collection. It warns that the metric system is about to invade the United States (kinda like the way the British Invasion influenced our music) and we should get used to measuring everything by the metric system.

Is the Metric System Superior?

Now, I'm not writing this to answer any question about the superiority of the metric system, this is a library blog after all. A better question for my purposes is: This book predicted that the metric system is taking over, has it?

Clearly, we still measure distance in miles and size in inches and feet. We are forty years removed from the publication of this title (making it older than I have been on this planet--yes, I will enjoy saying it every time I get the chance to) and we still have not seen the metric invasion.

Will we see it sometime in the future? Perhaps. However, I do not feel that the United States is on the verge of conversion. Therefore, we do not need to hold this outdated title in the collection.

Do you agree with my decision, or do you think the piece should have stayed? Let me know in the comments section!
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