Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

June 26 2015


A southern daughter looks at her past. Warts and all.

Sunset south georgia

Two months ago, I phoned my husband while driving through classic southern red clay fields and tree-lined hills.

“Remind me why I don’t want to live here,” I choked, eyes watered. “I mean, I know I don’t want to live here, but the pull of the land…” I couldn’t continue.

“Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.”
~ Gerald O’Hara, Gone With The Wind, 1936

My mother instilled this message long before I read GWTW. And I read the book long before I saw the movie. That was, after all, long before VCRs and DVDs.

“The land” of my mother represented a rootedness that did not jibe with my desire to get away. I left for college with the (unarticulated) goal of never seeing a farm or farmer again … yet I would get a master’s degree in agricultural economics and then work for a northeastern dairy cooperative.

Nevertheless, I had flown the coop.

After moving to the Pacific Northwest, I swore I’d not return to the south during the period from Memorial Day to Labor Day. (Those days of white shoes, burning sun and sweltering humidity.)

BBQ Joint - Photo by Kathy GillVisits to southwest Georgia revolve around end-of-year holidays, family reunions, and the occasional wedding/anniversary. They are marked by cultural touchstones: a Waffle House breakfast, boiled peanuts, fried catfish, sweet tea, camellias in bloom (if I’m lucky). Coca-Cola, with its high sugar load, is a treat of the past.

As I have aged, each visit has become a little more painful due to the troubling words that wash over me from the mouths of relatives and neighbors and friends.

The changes on display in the South do not seem to be those of progression but rather of regression. For example, when I was in the eighth grade, we had a girl’s-only sex ed class. I cannot image such a thing in today’s political climate.

Today’s South seems more evangelical, more enamored with a glorified past, less open to opposing views. People do not seem to hear the bigotry sprinkled throughout their speech. Perhaps that’s not a surprise, since oral history was the only post-Civil War regional history that we were taught. Just as a fish is not aware of the water that surrounds it, we unconsciously absorb and integrate cultural messages. One of those messages was that the symbols of the Confederacy were to be venerated.

Not too long after I had become part of a community of motorcyclists who like good food and spirited debate, I got into an argument about the reasons for the Civil War. It was not slavery, I insisted, but northern industrialization that was subsidized by tax dollars.

I was wrong.

I didn’t know that Alexander Stevens, Confederate States of America vice president and 50th Georgia governor said this, to applause:

“Our new government is founded upon … the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

Nor had I learned in school that the Confederate flag bandied about today is a 20th century fabrication, as well as the chosen symbol of the KKK [1]. Come to think, that ugly symbol of hate seems far more routinely displayed today than when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.

trees in sunlight

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
~ The Life of Reason, Santayana, 1905

Perhaps this lack of contextual history can explain South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s flip-flops on the Confederate flag flying at the capitol.

The first generation American daughter of Indian immigrants was born and reared in South Carolina. Somehow – I’m not sure how – she thinks that her election “fixed” the historical racism that South Carolinians have exhibited towards black Americans.

Moreover, in an election debate last fall, she quipped:

“What I can tell you is over the last 3½ years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”

It seems impossible that she could speak those words if she knew of the political hay that has been made with the Confederate flag. Dixiecrats nominated South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond as a candidate for the presidency after the 1948 national Democratic convention, where the Confederate Battle Flag waved boldly. Afterwards, “[s]ales of Confederate flags, long moribund, exploded.”

It was not until 1961, on the 100th anniversary of South Carolina triggering the Civil War when it attacked Fort Sumter, that the Confederate flag would begin flying above the S.C. state Capitol.

In-between those two events: Brown v The Board of Education.

Confederate Battle Flag, NPSThis very flag, the Battle Flag, flew over “an army raised to kill in defense of slavery.” It was “revived by a movement that killed in defense of segregation.” And last week, a modern version was “flaunted by a man who killed nine innocents in defense of white supremacy,” Yoni Appelbaum wrote in The Atlantic.

On Monday, bowing to national outrage, Governor Haley told the S.C. legislature that she wants the flag to come down. That will require a two-thirds vote. Note that demands like this one do not have a great track record when it comes to future political livelihood.

But come down it must.

And all vestiges of the Confederacy must be excised from my home state flag as well.

The Confederate Battle Flag became a central part of Georgia’s state flag in 1956. And what was happening then? Outrage at the Brown decision and desegregation.

I suddenly have a better understanding of why this historical information is as foreign to me as Mars: my education was hobbled by current events.

In 2003, Georgia’s citizens approved a new flag design that substituted the original and lesser known flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars, for the Battle Flag. Although it does not carry the emotional punch of the Battle Flag, it remains a conscious tentacle to a past marred by slavery.

Can you imagine a German municipality deciding to create a new flag that incorporated a swastika as its centerpiece? Me, either. So why do we whitewash our own tributes to hate? And willfully fail to acknowledge them?


I’m left wondering about my heartstrings.

Yes, April was an emotional period: my dad was in the hospital after having a mild stroke and carotid artery surgery. But that alone cannot explain my sudden and irrational exploration of ways I might find gainful employment in a rural corner of Georgia.

The heat and humidity cripple me. The farm has AT&T mobile data as its “broadband” Internet. It’s miles from town and even further from the closest city. None of these things create an inviting environment.

But it will always be home, warts and all. And warts? They’re caused by a virus. The virus is more likely to cause a wart when it contacts skin that has been cut or otherwise damaged.

“Every wart is a mother wart that can have babies. You need to get rid of all visible warts whenever they appear so you don’t have more spread,” dermatologist Robert Brodell, MD, told WebMD.

The Confederate flag is like a virus. Bigotry is the wart that it creates when minds are susceptible to its connotation. Removing that symbol — with very public dialog about why it needs to be removed — is one step towards excising the larger, persistent social ill that is racism.

“It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense, that gives us our identity.”
~ J.B. Jackson

Photos by Kathy E. Gill. Battle Flag, NPS.

[1] The St. Andrews Cross became a Confederate Army Battle Flag; the it was always square. A horizontal version of this flag appeared mid-20th century. In addition, the dark blue of today’s pop culture Confederate flag is borrowed from the Stars and Bars.

Huffington Post || kegill/cultural-touchstones-and-social-warts-a-southern-daughter-looks-at-her-past-427c47505d87">Medium || The Moderate Voice

The post A southern daughter looks at her past. Warts and all. appeared first on WiredPen.

May 31 2015


Tip: delete blank rows in Excel, Mac Office 2008

If you haven’t upgraded Mac Office because 2008 does what you need to do … this tip may be for you: how to delete Excel blank rows.

I’m working with data from AT&T, and the CSV has a blank row between each row of data. (Think “double-space” in writing.) I want to rid the data of the blank rows without having to manually click-and-delete each row.

1. Select the blank rows that you want to delete.

All the how-to’s online suggest including the row “above” and “below” the affected area.

Data file with blank rows

This CSV from AT&T comes complete with a lot of blank rows.

2. Press “Control+G” to bring up a special “find” window

I have not been able to find this window in Excel menus.

Excel' go to menu

Keyboard command: Control + G

3. Select “Special…”

Excel Go To dialog

Select “Special” on the “Go To” dialog

4. Select “Blanks” in the “Go To Special” dialog

Excel Go To Special dialog

Select “Blanks” in the Go To Special dialog

5. Click “OK” on the “Go To Special” dialog

Your “blank rows” are now highlighted.

Excel - highlighted blank rows

Press OK to highlight the blank rows

6. Press “Control+minus” to delete the highlighted rows

That’s the “minus” key (to the left of the plus key on top row).

7. Select “Shift cells up”

Excel - shift cells up

Select “Shift cells up” and click “OK”

8. Success!

Your blank rows are gone!

Excel - blank rows deleted



Thanks to comments on HowToGeek and Windows instructions on Chandoo.org.


The post Tip: delete blank rows in Excel, Mac Office 2008 appeared first on WiredPen.

May 19 2015


User task analysis: does this starting page work for you?

The Washington Secretary of State has an application called MyVote which is a portal for registered voters to update address, find elected officials, and so forth.

Scenario: You’ve just moved to Washington and want to register to vote. You’ve been given the MyVote link as your starting place to register to vote. You’ve not decided if you want to register online or in person.

Task: Figure out your voter registration options.

See one task analysis in this YouTube screencast.


What do you think? Am I too harsh? What’s your experience?

Here’s the link to MyVote.

Cross-posted from UX Notes.

The post User task analysis: does this starting page work for you? appeared first on WiredPen.

May 14 2015


Crafting effective error messages (cute is not enough!)

seattle times 404 error

I encountered this 404 page after following a link in a blog post (only a day old). Either the referring URL was wrong or the backend (not WordPress, apparently) didn’t have the information on the new URL in its database. It’s not clear when looking at the two URLs which might have been the culprit:

My initial reaction was a big smile. I appreciated the local humor.

But upon reflection, I realized that the page wasn’t helpful.

I couldn’t find the story I was looking for by shortening the URL “back” to the word “politics” as a way to get to stories about politics.

And there is no “politics” bucket in the main navigation.

I didn’t see a search box. Only now, while reflecting on the screen capture, do I see the magnifying glass (metaphor for search). But it’s to the right of the login/subscribe links … my brain does not put “search” in the same functional bucket as login.

Plus, when looking for a way to search, I look for a search box (something to type in).

So I went back to the Seattle Times home page, where I finally saw the magnifying glass icon.

How might the 404 page be more helpful?

  • Provide a more detailed content outline on the 404 error page
  • Provide redirects from “for the backend” URLs to “how people see the site” pages. Any URL that suggests it is a content bucket (“politics”) should “work”
  • Provide 404 error pages customized to the directory where the error occurred


Related to Jakob’s 10 heurestics. Cross-posted from UX Notes.

The post Crafting effective error messages (cute is not enough!) appeared first on WiredPen.

May 13 2015


A word about chart junk

Charts that cheat by showing only part of the vertical axis will exaggerate any change in data compared to a chart with a complete vertical axis.

This example comes from two data points in a recent Pew study.

Chart junk in line charts

By truncating the vertical axis in a line chart, you exaggerate any changes reflected in the data.

The chart on the left shows the change from 2007 to 2014 using a complete (0-60) vertical axis.

The chart on the right does more than zoom in when it shows only data points 49-55; it changes the slope, making the change look more dramatic.

Technically, this is legitimate because of the clear “break” in the vertical axis. But the emotional/connotative impact of the two charts is very different, and that’s what gives me heartburn. And leads me to label charts like the one on the right as chart junk.

Here are some direct examples from the the study summary:

two pew charts

Two Pew charts illustrate this problem.


There’s not a lot of slope (change) evident in these charts. Try to imagine how little slope there would be if you saw the complete vertical axis.

I understand why charts are presented this way in print: for effect or because of space constraints. The effect is exaggerated change, so that’s an editorial choice. But on the web, where is the space constraint?

Line charts are traditionally used to show change over time. But in this case, there are only two points. A bar chart would be more visually neutral. And intellectually honest.

Bar chart comparison

In this example, two bar charts are more visually neutral.


The post A word about chart junk appeared first on WiredPen.

April 17 2015


April 15 2015


Digital Sparks // The National Library Week edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. This week is National Library Week.
First sponsored in 1958, this year NLW is April 12-18, 2015 and the theme is “Unlimited possibilities @ your library.” 

2. Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming.
Author Neil Gaiman argues that reading is fundamental “for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.”

3. Librarians do Gaga.
Students and faculty from the University of Washington’s Information School get their groove on..

4. Reading is fundamental.
And it’s also the largest children’s literacy nonprofit in the United States.



:: Credits: 1. American Library Association  2. The Guardian   3. YouTube   4. RIF   Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


The post Digital Sparks // The National Library Week edition appeared first on WiredPen.

April 14 2015


Digital Sparks // The new books edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. The Real Cyber War: The Political Economy of Internet Freedom
Shawn Powers and Michael Jablonski explore how the Internet is used as a tool of a national economic and military agenda.

2. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
I was introduced to the power of habit with the Dale Carnegie Course. Gretchen Rubin answers the question: how do we change our habits?

3. The Hormone Reset Diet: Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Up to 15 Pounds in 21 Days
Hormones like estrogen play an important part in weight gain and loss. Dr. Sara Gottfried again brings readers insights from research and her practice.

4. Adult Coloring Book: Stress Relieving Patterns
For the person who has everything, or perhaps a gift-to-self.



:: Credits: Amazon links Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen



The post Digital Sparks // The new books edition appeared first on WiredPen.

April 10 2015


Digital Sparks // The Walter Scott edition

1. Man who filmed S.C. police shooting: Maybe God ‘put me there for some reason’.
Santana laid low, frightened for days, both before and again after he handed the video over to the Scott family.”

2. Blacks Are Killed By Police At A Higher Rate In South Carolina And The U.S.
Over the past five years, 43% of the people killed by SC cops have been black; only 29% of population (2013).

3. South Carolina Police Shooting Seen as Crime Strategy Gone Awry.
They serve and protect when they feel like serving and protecting. But when they feel like harassing, they do that.

4. Walter Scott and South Carolina History.
It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass.”

walter scott

:: Credits: 1. Washington Post   2. Five-Thirty-Eight   3. NY Times   4. New Yorker   Photo: Screen capture from video of shooting

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen
A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

The post Digital Sparks // The Walter Scott edition appeared first on WiredPen.

April 09 2015


Digital Sparks // The Civil War edition

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, VA, 9 April 1865 (150 years ago).
But the war is not over, writes Yale professor of American History David W. Blight in this historical essay. To help frame the magnitude of the conflict, he writes: “if the Civil War were fought in the United States today with its ten-fold greater population, 7.5 million soldiers would die.”

2. Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party.
Lots of people have compared the Tea Party with the Confederacy based on geography. In this essay, Doug Muder explores questions raised by the Lincoln movie, with an intriguing exploration of “Who really won the Civil War?” #longRead #worthIt

3. The first use of absentee ballots in the U.S. was during the Civil War.
York College (Pennsylvania) highlights the war’s legacy.

4. How Libertarians ought to think about the U.S. Civil War.
I didn’t realize that many libertarians believe the Civil War “represented a betrayal of the U.S. Constitution and of the fundamental principles of American political philosophy.” Long, thought-provoking paper (pdf) from Timothy Sandefur, a libertarian author and adjunct Cato Institute scholar.

:: Credits: 1. The Atlantic   2. The Weekly Sift   3. York College   4. Reason Papers   Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen

The post Digital Sparks // The Civil War edition appeared first on WiredPen.

April 08 2015


Digital Sparks // Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Digital Sparks  // Wednesday, 8 April 2015
The food safety edition

1. How one woman has mobilized a Facebook army against food additives.
Atlantic Profile of Vani Hari (aka Food Babe), who, in three years, has amassed incredible influence by trafficking in food hysteria.

2. The video that catapulted her to stardom.
In 2013, Vani Hari set her sights on an ingredient in Subway bread. The company eventually reformulated the bread; the ingredient can still be found in other fast food restaurant offerings.

3. Understanding Food Babe.
Good science communication resists the sparkly lure of a click-bait headline or a sensational take on basic science.”

4. The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain.
Most of us are lousy at assessing risk. This book by journalist Daniel Gardner , can help us prioritize life’s dangers. And act like a vaccine, to protect you from political and corporate manipulation.

Paracelsus on poison

:: Credits: 1. The Atlantic   2. YouTube   3. Well Fed, Flat Broke   4. Amazon   Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


The post Digital Sparks // Wednesday, 8 April 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

April 07 2015


Digital Sparks  // Tuesday, 7 April 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

Digital Sparks  // Tuesday, 7 April 2015
The surveillance edition

1. John Oliver goes to Russia.
And interviews Edward Snowden. Everyone should watch this video. Everyone.

2. Section 215 of the Patriot Act Expires on June 1.
[We] have little to no evidence that bulk collection of telephone call records under Section 215 has ever stopped a terrorist attack.”

3. American privacy strategies, post-Snowden.
[T]he public generally believes it is acceptable for the government to monitor many others, including foreign citizens, foreign leaders, and American leaders.”

4. Living in Surveillance Societies: the normalisation of surveillance in Europe and the threat of a bad example.
[W]hat does it mean to live in surveillance societies and what economic, political and socialrelations are produced?”

Franklin on liberty

:: Credits: 1. YouTube   2. EFF   3. Pew Research   4. Academia.edu   Photo: moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


The post Digital Sparks  // Tuesday, 7 April 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

April 04 2015


Digital Sparks // Friday, 3 April 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

2. How My Employer Put the “FML” in FMLA
Right then and there, on my kitchen floor, I understood with absolute clarity why women quit their jobs after having kids. I will never, ever question it again.

3. Black girls’ sexual burden: Why Mo’ne Davis was really called a “slut”
[J]ust think about what you’re doing before you actually do it.”

4. Joni Mitchell is not a “60s folksinger”
It took a second for me to register what my Facebook/actual friend had noticed — news outlets using shorthand to encapsulate someone who spent a life defying exactly that.

maggie thatcher

:: Credits: 1. HuffingtonPost  2. The-Toast  3. Salon  4. Medium  Photo: Moi

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives

:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


The post Digital Sparks // Friday, 3 April 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

April 03 2015


Digital Sparks // Thursday, 2 April 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

The accidental health edition
1. Brain scan (fMRI) suggests dead fish is alive
Unarticulated assumptions pepper mainstream news stories, mask controversial practice.

2. One-third of all cancer research can’t be trusted
Because the cultured cells used to test cancer drugs are imposters.

3. When optimism serves as a stumbling block
Why is the US the most unequal of all Western nations?

4. Your diet may rest on false claims
5 food myths you probably think are true

you are what you eat

:: Credits: 1. BrainDecoder   2. Discover  3. Scientific American  4. Moi  Photo: YourFitSpo

:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks // Check out the archives
:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Read WiredPen


The post Digital Sparks // Thursday, 2 April 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

April 02 2015


Digital Sparks // Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. Cont’d from Monday. This is a must read; and there’s a book.
Because we all know someone (or are that someone) who has to go to a hospital.
Part 3: Stop blindly trusting computers.
Part 2: Beware of the robot pharmacist.
Part 1: Technology isn’t necessarily a fix for human-prone-error.

2. Friends don’t let friends use Facebook without their understanding this.
Most people with Facebook accounts don’t know that an algorithm controls what they see.

3. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
Experience 60 years of music in 3.5 minutes. And slip down under in the process.

4. The lost iPhone story to end all lost phone stories.
Matt followed his stolen iPhone to China. This is what happened.

:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks

The post Digital Sparks // Wednesday, 1 April 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

March 31 2015


Digital Sparks from @kegill // Monday, 30 March 2015

A newsletter delivered by TinyLetter.

1. If you read only one story today … read this.
And you’ll want to tune in Tuesday for part two. Because we all know someone (or are that someone) who has to go to a hospital.
Part 1: How technology isn’t necessarily a fix for human-prone-error

2. What prison officials are doing in our name.
Sunday’s NY Times magazine exposes the ADX in Florence, CO.

3. Comedy Central continues to thumb its nose at the mainstream.
Two black “news” hosts “not by design”

4. Silicon Valley weighs in on Indiana religious debate.
Apple’s Tim Cook on discrimination


:: Follow me on Twitter @kegill
:: Follow me on Facebook as kathygill or kathyegill
:: Subscribe to Digital Sparks

The post Digital Sparks from @kegill // Monday, 30 March 2015 appeared first on WiredPen.

March 24 2015


Facebook’s walled garden should not be too seductive for news companies to ignore

Facebook wants to be the Interent, ie, the only place you need to go online. To that end, The New York Times — and a few other news organizations — is getting ready to test Facebook as a delivery platform for its content.

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea in the long run, even if there might be some short-term profit to be made. Other digital skeletons suggest just how short-term that profit might be: AOL, the first walled garden designed to be an Internet gatekeeper; first Yahoo and then Google provided powerful on-ramps to Internet content.

  • Who decides what photos (or stories) violate Facebook’s “community standards”? How gruesome is too gruesome? How objectionable is too objectionable?
  • What happens to liability once a platform becomes a publisher?
  • Who “owns” the reader?
  • How will Facebook manage the download-and-re-upload-as-though-I’m-the-content-creator behavior that is pervasive on the platform — by media sites (often radio stations), verified accounts, and just plain normal folks?
  • Do your lawyers understand the risks? Because they didn’t with a recent experiment with Facebook called social reader.

The Facebook platform

Facebook has a reported 1.4 billion users. However, it seems to be losing numbers in the key 13-18 year old audience (the age where habits can create deep digital ruts). (See what high school graduates do online daily).

And let’s not forget that most people use Facebook as a way to connect with friends, not where they seek out news. That said, it is important that all publishers make it easy to share their content. And Facebook needs to man up and treat non-native content fairly (ie, stop privileging your own video over YouTube, which encourages digital theft).

Here are a few good questions/observations from others:

Don’t Take a Flying Leap

The most difficult part of the transition from old media to new is over. It was plenty bloody and their are still many open wounds to suture. But this is not the time to give up and it’s not the time to give in to one of the most prevalent myths of the era: that people who can build technology know how to run your business better than you do. (emphasis added)

Dave Pell @ Medium

Memo To Publishers: Watch Where You Put That Taproot…

John Battelle has several questions for publishers that focus on a key bit of information: reader data. But I really like this one:

Do you have any proof that publishers using another company’s proprietary platform have ever created a lasting and sustainable business?

6 questions raised by Facebook’s reported deal with publishers

Over at Poynter, Al Tompkins asks about impact on subscription models (right now, the WSJ, for example, provides access to N free articles from Facebook each-and-every day) as well as copyright. Among other things.

Facebook as a press baron

Or consider the following scenario: Facebook selects a couple news organizations and asks them to invest heavily in a native tool that gives news stories—news stories!—an unprecedentedly high-ranking in users’ feed. They do, and for a few months, they see increased traffic in the millions. And then, one day, Facebook’s engineering team realizes that this new tool is cutting engagement and winds it down.

That already happened! It was less than three years ago. In September 2011, Facebook announced at its big annual developer conference that some news organizations had made “social reader” apps, which highlighted their content in the News Feed. The Washington Post made the pilot version of these, and the paper reaped the rewards. Millions more users began seeing Post content.

And then this happened:

Daily Active Users of Washington Post’s Social Reader

AppData.com, via Poynter

On April 9, 2012, more than four million people were using the Post’s social reader app. Three days later, almost none were.

The Atlantic

What happens when platforms turn into publishers

“The biggest problem for news sites is that so much of the traffic that comes from Facebook—they read one piece and go away,” says Tero Kuittinen, managing director of Frank N. Magid Associates, a consulting firm that regularly surveys social media. Kuittinen has been studying the mobile sector since 2008 and sees the disassociation from a host site as a bad omen for publishers. “It accelerates the existing trend where people only graze at the news. News organizations want people to stay on their site and click around.” (emphasis added)


But for publishers, where the content is the product, there’s more to lose by shifting from a home site to a social platform. In the case of Facebook, a shift in algorithm can already lead to a huge dip in traffic for a news outlet, and once Facebook starts hosting content it stands to exert even more control. What happens when the company renegotiates the breakdown of ad revenue, or promotes only content of a specific publication? (And how does all this affect outlets’ ability to report rigorously on Facebook without fearing retribution?)

Columbia Journalism Review

NewsIndustry Shrugs, Prepares to Hand Entire Business Over to Facebook

It’s one thing to live in a country that has an obesity crisis but it’s another to assume the users of your product are so lazy that they can’t be made to “tap a link to go to an external site.” Welcome to… AOL!
But a richer, smarter, more powerful and more terrifying AOL. Setting aside the fundamental issue of allowing a separate, extremely powerful, and extremely rich company to publish, host, present, and package your theoretically independent journalism—and we’ll set it aside because all these poor desperate publishing companies will too, Gawker included, I’m sure—the problem with Facebook seemingly swallowing up news organizations like Ursula in the Little Mermaid is, duh, money.


News Sites Consider Moving Their Content Inside Facebook (Because That Worked So Well In The AOL Era)

[I]n 1994-1995, we got the World Wide Web and a remarkable piece of general-purpose software with which to access it: the browser…
We now face a digital landscape more like 1995 than like 2005, in many ways. Consumers are increasingly using mobile devices for their access, and that means coming to sites and services through a variety of limited-use, narrow-scope apps. One app for your local news channel. Another for the NYT. A third for Facebook. A fourth for sports information. And so on, to infinity. The appification of the internet has taken users — and content companies — back away from the browser and into a series of controlled and curated environments.
The digital strategies change, but the net effects and concerns for consumers are remarkably familiar. What happens if one company — in this instance, Facebook — becomes not just the de facto gatekeeper to the world’s news, but the literal one?

The Consumerist

My Kingdom for a Platform:
The Opportunities and Threats of Publishing Direct to Facebook

For stereotypical local news, here’s an argument for Facebook as a platform:

[Justin] Auciello has been the editor and publisher of Jersey Shore Hurricane News since its launch in the fall of 2011. And for most of its life, JSHN has existed solely on Facebook… With more than 220,000 likes, JSHN boasts more likes than WNYC and ProPublica combined… On Facebook Auciello has pioneered what he calls a “two-way community driven news” where participants are all called contributors and he sees his role as much as an editor as a facilitator. One reporter described the site as combining “the crowdsourcing powers of social media with the journalistic screening of an editor.”

The post Facebook’s walled garden should not be too seductive for news companies to ignore appeared first on WiredPen.

March 22 2015


Twitter turns nine today

In celebration of Twitter’s ninth birthday today, Jack Dorsey thanked journalists for being the second group to adopt the platform. And he opined about the importance of journalism to a functioning democracy.

In this vein, earlier this month, the Pew Research Center analyzed how Twitter and Facebook as part of the local news ecosystem.

Thanks to Robert Scoble (@scobleizer), I’ve been on Twitter since April 2007. It has shaped how I interact with the digital world and it remains one of my favorite digital hangouts.

Why Twitter?

In January, Pew Research Center reported demographics of digital network spaces.

Some 23% of online adults currently use Twitter, a statistically significant increase compared with the 18% who did so in August 2013. Twitter is particularly popular among those under 50 and the college-educated.

On its fifth birthday, Jack tweeted a history of the platform

The post Twitter turns nine today appeared first on WiredPen.

March 09 2015


How to report Facebook photos that promote hate

We’ve all encountered it: the Facebook post that spews hate.

Next time, report it. And tell your friends you have reported it. Some of them will do so, too, and some of their friends, and — despite its initial refusal to act — Facebook just might take action. Some friends and I just succeeded in helping get a photo pulled that was hate speech directed at Muslims.

The photo must violate Facebook community standards. These are the two most applicable to hate speech:

Hate Speech
[W]e do not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

Violence and Threats
You may not credibly threaten others, or organize acts of real-world violence…We also prohibit promoting, planning or celebrating any of your actions if they have, or could, result in financial harm to others, including theft and vandalism.

Here’s a step-by-step on how to report a Facebook photo for violating the community standard on hate speech:

1. Find the Report Photo link.

Facebook - report link

The link to Report Photo is at the lower right when you are looking at a standalone image.

Facebook - report link

Otherwise, tap Options and select Report Photo

2. Select the third option when asked to Why don’t you want to see this photo?

Report Facebook photo

To answer Why don’t you want to see this photo, select the third option.

3. Again select the third option for What’s wrong with this photo?

Report Facebook photo

Select This insults or humiliates me or someone else.

4. Submit for review.

Report Facebook photo

Submit to Facebook for review.

5. Your confirmation.

Report Facebook photo

Confirmation screen.

Facebook keeps track of your flagged posts in your Support Dashboard: facebook.com/support/

Facebook support dashboard

Log in to settings; the Support Dashboard link is near the bottom, on the left.

Facebook support dashboard

You’ll find the auto-response in your Support Dashboard.

Don’t be surprised if they take no action:

Facebook report photo

Facebook often declines to act on complaints.

But sometimes they do:

Facebook report photo

But sometimes Facebook will remove a photo.

Silence versus action

Granted, reporting a photo or post for hate speech is not as easy as clicking the Like button.

Nevertheless, it is pretty straightforward (if someone has already told you the path to getting Facebook’s attention).

Why should we act, rather that remain silent?

For an answer, I’ll turn to the words of philosophers long dead:

When a person has the ability to protest and remains silent, his silence is similar to verbal consent. When you do not say something to disagree, it is as if you agree with what was said or done.
~ The medieval commentator Sforno


Qui tacet consentire videtur.
Qui ne dit mot consent.
(He who is silent is understood to consent.)

Finally, in this clash between Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) and Henry VIII (Robert Shaw), More says (A Man For All Seasons, 1966, Academy Award for best picture):

The maxim is ‘Qui tacet consentire'; the maxim of the law is ‘Silence gives consent’. If, therefore, you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

The post How to report Facebook photos that promote hate appeared first on WiredPen.

February 28 2015


Why things “go viral”

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from the phenomenon of #theDress, it’s that “going viral” doesn’t require “influencers” nor is it particularly “predictable” (i.e., plannable – yes, I made up a word!). If you represent a business or organization, run away if the agency you’re interviewing for a job promises to create “viral content”.

There are, however, some commonalities to content that goes viral, that is, digital content characterized by speed and scope (it spreads quickly and spreads widely). Social scientists call this “contagion”. We’ll leave the discussion of how the language of illness is being used to describe communication for another day. Another shorthand: Internet meme.

1. Viral content elicits powerful emotions

Research conducted at Wharton in 2011 shows that content which generates emotions characterized by high arousal, such as anxiety, anger or amusement, “can plausibly explain” why that content is shared more often than content “characterized by low arousal, such as sadness or contentment.”

Emotional arousal leads to a state of heightened awareness and activity in both mind and body.

You can be aroused without being motivated, yet you cannot be motivated without being aroused.

Thus emotional arousal motivates us to action (sharing the content). We act based on pathos, not logos. The Greeks knew that there were different facets to persuasion, but today’s neuroscience leans towards emotion as the key to decision making, not logic.

And in the case of a retweet, Facebook share, or Tumblr reblog, or even a forwarded email, the space between decision and action is frictionless because the technology is designed that way.

What emotions did #theDress trigger? Probably, amusement, confusion or disbelief along the lines of #WTH?

2. Viral content is shared across networks

Popular digital networks today include Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube. These are overlapping communities of people, although most of us have a preferred network. Digital content may originate in one of these networks or elsewhere, such as in the wide world of news/blogs, but it is usually shared, at least initially, within a network.

In order to achieve vitality, content must cross networks.

Take #theDress, for example. The original post was on Tumblr. Tumblr as a network is designed for easy sharing (defined as reblogging, not just marking a favorite).

Just hit reblog button on a post on your Dashboard or reblog on a post on a user’s blog, then select the blog you’d like to post to from the top left corner of the post form. You can even reblog any of your own posts to your other blogs.

But the meme quickly jumped out of Tumblr, going viral because of its shares on Twitter and Facebook.

And how did it spread so quickly outside of Tumblr? Via hashtags. Hashtags are gold (no pun intended!) and essential to ease-of-sharing because they create a like-minded community, ephemeral as it may be.

Topsy analytics for #thedress

Data from Topsy on #theDress

  Tool tip: Tagboard allows you to collate hashtags from both Facebook and Twitter:

Tagboard - #theDress

Tagboard aggregates public posts from Facebook and Twitter.


Even two days later, #theDress is still trending on Twitter. (Mostly due to brands trying to capitalize on the hashtag, but that’s also another story.)

Twitter trends

Twitter trends, Saturday 28 February, 11:30 am Pacific


3. Viral content may originate with a “normal” person

One of the longest-standing memes, #UnitedBreaksGuitars, was kickstarted by a Canadian tweet from an everyday person, not an “influencer.” Ditto the “Haiti needs doctors” meme. This one seems to be the same. The Tumblr account of 21-year-old Scottish folk singer Caitlin McNeill, at the time of the post, was a normal Tumblr with lots of popular reblogs and some personal content. These are the earliest tweets that Twitter shows me (timestamps): neither are “influencers”. The third tweet shows just how quickly the hashtag went viral, as defined by “trending”.

4. We share viral political content when it is ideologically consistent

Research conducted at California State University in 2011 suggests that political bloggers “avoid posting videos that challenge their ideological predispositions and, instead, link only to those videos that confirm what they already believe to be true.” And research from Pew demonstrates how partisanship influences our choice of media sources: lots of us want to see or hear news that only reflects our worldview.


A plea to think before sharing

For those of us (raising my hand) who try to engage brain before knee-jerk reactions, emotionally-laden messages are suspect. We try to be credulous. We live and die by Snopes.

I routinely share this warning:

If something seems too good or too bad to be true, it probably is! Check before sharing!

But I’ve been caught out. I tweeted a quote from a speaker at Gnomedex one year. It was outrageous! (Cue “knee-jerk reaction”.)

Someone on Twitter almost immediately pointed me to a link that showed our speaker was, umm, talking through his hat. I tweeted a correction, sent notes to everyone who had retweeted me … and the response I got in return was the equivalent of a digital shrug. Most replied that the “general concept was right” … thus it was “okay” to share a claim that was, literally, a lie.


I know, I know. It’s hard to resist the temptation to hit the retweet button or share post button. We resist the cognitive load. But when the content is more serious than Thursday’s fun, please try.


When you share content …

If you are the content creator, make it clear in your post. If you are appropriating someone else’s content, make it clear in your post and link back to the original content!

Understand that the terms of service on who “owns” any images you upload differs by network.

If you are a media organization (newspaper, radio, TV), then you have an obligation to credit the source. You may also need to pay them.

A final word about #theDress

I initially thought the Tumblr post was trolling. In other words, I thought the controversy was fake. But by late on Thursday night I was convinced it was real, and I shared it on Facebook. Of course, I shared it in an attempt to explain how it could be possible.

Perhaps this fun story will help us understand that, literally, everyone does not see the world the same way.

I know the dress that is for sale is really blue and black.

But that photo? #goldAndWhite!

The best explanation why this dichotomy is possible, and how our brains run the color show, comes from ASAP Science.


Featured image source.

The post Why things “go viral” appeared first on WiredPen.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!