Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Almaty, DDoS Attacks, future of media, monetizing web, Newspapers, television, TV, video on the web
I’m done with my training sessions for journalists in Kazakhstan, and this trip really stretched the boundaries of my knowledge. These are the issues that I was asked to address:
1. DDoS attacks that rival anything else in the world, taking down any journalist who dares to challenge the government
2. How to use the web to help in investigative reporting
3. How to monetize web content
4. How to grow web audiences in a country where the internet penetration rate is below 20%, and the ad marketing is in its infancy
5. How to use social media to help publicize your web page – or to get the news out when your page is taken down (see #1 above)
6. How to start migrating video content from broadcast to the web
7. What kinds of changes will the future hold for traditional media
8. What skills do journalism students need to build to make themselves employable down the road
…and many more.
Hour after hour, what adventure authors writing for the 30s-era pulps I loved to read as a kind, described this kind of landscape as being the lair of lurid mustachio'd villains...
I was impressed by the enthusiasm and hope of the students that I met in my last stop – the ancient city of Almaty, nestled in a valley, surrounded by the foothills of the Himalayas. And I was also humbled by the courage being shown by the few remaining opposition journalists.
This was only a juvenile golden eagle, but he still weighed about 20something pounds. He seemed well-cared for; the guy who had him was petting him and feeding him, so I figured his life couldn't be too bad. Of course, I did want to just toss him in the air and see if he would fly away....
These people have been hounded from their jobs at newspapers and TV stations. The papers are being shut down – in fact, this morning, a famous journalist is being kept in jail – allegedly for murdering a man in a car accident. But everyone in the country pretty much knows the score.
It’s just that the government no longer really cares what anyone thinks about what they’re doing. They aren’t even making the effort to disguise the fact that they’re eliminating anyone who stands in the way of the runaway kleptocracy.
And that’s a really bad sign.
I will be writing much more about this issue in the weeks to come. I shot some amazing, shocking, heartbreaking videos of journalists begging for help. Our help. Any help.
Coming from the feeling of brotherhood that permeated the Online News Association conference a couple weeks ago, it was hard not to feel personally affronted by what is happening to our digital kin in Kazakhstan.
Posted: under Uncategorized.
It seems that more and more blogging services are turning on to the fact that most blogging input templates are pretty damn annoying. I say this as an advocate for the medium. I also speak as one who has seen hours of work evaporate as the interface crashed, or timed out, or whatever.
I'd like to hope that someday it will be as seamless as creating a page in Issuu is – that one day we'll just be able to create pages with custom designs, including Flash, video, audio, Silverlight, what have you, and be able to upload them into a CMS that will adjust on the fly to these new designs. Somehow I doubt that – at least as long as Microsoft is making code for their browsers that deliberately breaks all the previous rules of CSS, just to ensure that their latest Office suite sells (and yeah, I'm looking at you, IE 6).
Anyway, I'm gonna see if attaching a photo to this post in any way results in a photo appearing in the blog post.
This is me on the main plaza in Astana, aka "What the capitol city of Mars would look like if designed by Albert Speer & Walt Disney's offspring."
Posted: under Multimedia, new media.
Tags: adsense clickfraud, blog monetization, Blogging, New Marketing, New Media Migration, paywalls, Politics & New Media
This is the last class I taught in Astana – they were very engaged with the idea of moving from traditional media to “New Media,” particularly with blogging. The main question on everyone’s mind was “How do I drive more traffic to my site?”
I didn't know the Russian phrase for "Group hug, people!" So I just stood in the back and spread out my arms.
I showed them some of the very basic tools to promote your content – the simplest being the blast e-mail alert to people you’ve signed up on a subscription list. A couple of people in the class were already up on Twitter, and I sang that particular gospel, as well as the advantages of setting up Facebook groups or using the same functionality in the Russian equivalent, which is a Classmates.com-alike.
As always, the skill level in the audience was very uneven. Some people were way out in front of the pack, others seemed to be lost. I tried to deliver a wide variety of tools to hit everyone. I got just a couple of hours to do some very basic tourism after this session. The scale of the construction going on here is truly awe-inspiring.
It's pretty chilly here; not snowing yet, but it's thinking about it - thus the heavy clothes. Also, behind me is the new Presidential Palace.
Posted: under Vastness.
Tags: aerial photography, impact crater, Kazakhstan, nomads, steppes, Vastness, wastelands
I got a real lesson in why the Huns, Tatars & Golden Horde were both nomads & ferocious warriors today. The plane flight from Astana the Gleaming to Almaty the Ancient took me over an incredible stretch of flat, brown steppe.
I am reminded of Chekhov's short story about Pahom, and "How much land does a man need?"
I looked down on this from the height of 33,000 feet, a view that my great-grandfather would have killed for, and that my fellow travelers were too jaded to look away from their pocket videogames to appreciate. The pictures I took with the little camera on my iPhone (I didn’t want to step on people to get my Canon out of my carryon) really don’t do this justice; shooting through the window, through the haze in the air, takes all the contrast, depth and scale out of the shots.
Still, I’m including them here because I can now start to appreciate what it was about the old Soviet Union that put the willies into the Pentagon Planners back in the day. Just the absolute scale of this place is intimidating. If this is what they were looking at through their satellite photos, I can begin to understand why they felt so dwarfed by all of this.
I think this might be the remnants of an explosion or some kind of impact crater. Off to the west is where the old Soviet Union had its space program. And also tested their nuclear weapons. Which people around here are understandably still a little bent out of shape about.
Even the Great Plains of America didn’t feel as empty and vast as this stretch of territory. I guess that’s one of the things that’s kind putting the zap on my head; in the U.S., when you leave a big city, for at least 20 miles around it, there are all kinds of smaller villages dozing away at the crossroads. Not so here.
Posted: under Amusing Nonsense.
(In Forrest Gump voice: “We are not related.”)
A LaFontaine makes the magazine covers in Frankfurt. He's even gesturing wildly, as I do. Damn charlatan stole my act....
I guess I shouldn’t squeak too much about this: it has the words “Lust” and “LaFontaine” in it, so it’s gotta be good, right?
Posted: under Uncategorized.
These are the journalism professors from the university here in Astana, Kazakhstan, that were in my training session. I ran a little long – they didn’t want to let me go — the students & faculty are intensely interested in how the rest of the world is using the internet to report & gather the news.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really pull out all of the tools in my bag of tricks, because we didn’t have an internet connection. And yes, I realize the irony inherent in that.
The market here is right at the cusp of where things start to get interesting for the media – internet penetration is at about 18% (although some skeptics scoff at that, and say that it more like 2%). But it’s at 20% that we start to see the development of all kinds of new businesses, and that’s what is on the minds of the editors. They have seen the crisis that has eveloped the media in the U.S. and they most definitely do NOT want to go there…
Posted: under Mobile commerce.
Tags: Blogging, CMS, mobile training, MoJo, New Media Migration, newsgathering, ONA 2009, san francisco, scavenger hunt, social media
Ask not for whom the Mooseinator tweets…
Last Friday, I conducted a training session for the reporters attending the Online News Association’s national conference to demonstrate how to build the basic skills needed to cover a breaking news event using mobile phones.
That sounded rather cold & stilted. Let me re-phrase:
I created a scavenger hunt (which, if you want to be picky, is technically an Alternative-Reality Game (ARG)) to be the spoonful of sugar to entice the journalists into using their phones to cover a “breaking news” event that I had designed beforehand. I have put a full description of what the basic steps are to create a mobile training session like this up on our main Artesian Media site.
The lucky winner of the "Alaska Canned Moose." Like I said at the time, this is the kind of persistence and ingenuity that won Brazil the Olympic Games that very morning...
The conceit was that a visiting national candidate has had her pet moose (gee, I wonder who that could be based on?) escape into the hotel. I then doled out clues that led the reporters on a scavenger hunt where they had to use their phones to interact with both the real and virtual worlds. I drew on my short experience designing D&D computer games (my agent in the 90s got me a couple of commissions writing game modules, but none of them were ever used – trust me, it’s a Hollywood thing). I tried to make the training experience challenging enough that the reporters would stick with it to the end to unravel the puzzle of what happened to the poor beast, and to collect a (somewhat) valuable prize.
My aim was to get the journalists going through this training to use ten basic skills:
- Use Twitter and Twitpic
- Take a picture with their cellphone cameras, and then use a wireless connection to email that picture into a CMS (I used Posterous, because it’s the simplest open-source blogging tool I’ve found recently – posting there is as simple as sending an e-mail.)
- Receive an e-mail message on their phone, and act on it
- Watch a video on Flickr, and follow up on a story lead contained in the video
- Browse Facebook, and find information on a social-media profile
- 6. (The next five skills were deleted because of limited time and uneven bandwidth at the hotel.) Write a two-sentence news summary of events and post it to a WordPress blog
- 7. Use GPS to navigate to a location
- 8. Create a photo gallery, and geo-tag the photos
- 9. Stream audio/video live to the internet, and then upload the same local recording to a podcast/vodcast directory
- 10. Transmit/share files with another reporter’s mobile device
All these were taken from examples of real-world news events, and the various skills the journalists had to have to cover the news live & in-person, using only the tiny (yet increasingly powerful) mobile phone. Unfortunately, once I got to the Hilton in San Francisco, I quickly learned that I was going to have to scale back my training a bit. Quite a bit, in fact.
Twitters from that ungulate-obsessed madman, The Mooseinator.
The effects of having more than 700 of the most internet-savvy journalists in the world in one place – and then adding the mobile-phone crazed USC college students who had made the road trip to watch their team play Cal – overloaded the hotel’s internet connection. I could barely send/respond to email through the hotel’s wi-fi system, and I quickly found out that despite San Francisco’s rep as the epicenter for all things cool & new in digital technology, the 3G cellphone coverage in and around the hotel was abysmal.
ASIDE: I have never had so many dropped phone calls in my life. Maybe this was due to the overloaded cell zone & the usage of all the journos & college kids. But even at night, I found myself wandering my hotel room with my new iPhone held apart from my body like some kind of cell signal dowser, hoping to strike a pose that would allow me to complete a call without having the person on the other end start screaming “What? WHAT? YOU’RE BREAKING UP!!!” Either all the people whining about AT&T have a point – which is probable, considering the amount of chatter on the web about them – or the new iPhone 3Gs is a great handheld computer and a lousy phone. Which also seems (sigh) likely. All I know is that I had the iPhone 1.0 on this same AT&T network all over the world (Colombia, Moscow, Kiev, Amsterdam, Costa Rica, Mexico), and I didn’t have problems like this.
Back to the subject. With the fragile connectivity at the hotel, I had to scale back the plans I had made, so that I didn’t have frustrated crowds of journalists howling at the ceilings and shaking their phones at hotel staff (although that might have made a cool scene for an ad for some new mobile company). While I knew that everyone likely to attend my session would have a smartphone and would probably at least have some skills in how to use it, I whittled away some of the more advanced features that are not common to all phones. Given more time and resources, I could certainly make these things work, which would really take the experience to the next level.
Nerd alert: The basic skill set needed to set up a training session like this is pretty much the same one it takes to be a great dungeon master (DM) in the dice-based Dungeons & Dragons game. You have to set up a framework where you allow your players to use their ingenuity and improvise enough so that they feel like they’re the ones telling their own story – but also controlled enough so that you can lead them from step to step towards the set-piece goals you have established beforehand.
The first thing that I did was to post a handwritten clue in an unused conference room next to the ONA registration desk. This was a stand-in for a confederate – I was hoping to have someone there to play a recorded statement that I had on a little digital voice recorder, basically telling the reporters “I’m sorry, but we don’t comment on an ongoing investigation.” Hey, I was going for the verisimilitude.
The next step was to have a couple of people over in the corner giggling over a picture on their phones of the moose on the loose. Again, the hotel was uncooperative. Seeing as how they’re located in “The Tenderloin,” maybe they had other problems on their mind. See Dave Mitchell’s excellent blog post “Country Mouse in the Big City” to read about some of our adventures as we tried to leave the hotel on Saturday night (they involved drunked brawling, drug ODs in the bathrooms and SFPD cops circling a handcuffed pursesnatcher).
I had to make do with a foamcore sign on which I posted the link to the Twitter account of someone in the hotel who was an eyewitness to the moose wandering the grounds.
The contestants then had to navigate to the Moose_inator Twitter feed and click on the Twitpic link to see the picture of the place where the next clue was located. Their next task was to go there and upload their own photo of the pool to the Posterous CMS (standing in for the CMS of their paper/TV station/website).
The beast seems to be taunting us, carefree and grinning...
After they uploaded their own photos, they then got an email with a link to the Facebook page of the Moose Inator, who claimed to have shot a video of the moose in the hotel. I was going to put it up on YouTube and Vimeo, but found that the hotel’s wifi system was clamping down a bandwidth throttle on the video sites.
Flickr was streaming without a hitch, so I put the video up there, with a message at the end of it to come and meet me in the CityScape bar atop the hotel.
By the way, I really put a lot of work into fleshing out the character of the Moose Inator on Facebook. so take a few seconds to click around and look at all the photos that I uploaded, such as this one.
The photos were shot in our backyard here in Los Angeles, but the videos of the moose in the hotel were shot the day of my presentation, using the video camera functionality on my new iPhone 3Gs. It’s not the greatest video in the world, but it’s low-bandwidth and it was fairly easy to edit using Premiere Pro CS3.
I’d also like to extend a special shout-out to Sony-Ericsson for sending me their cutting-edge smartphone, the C905a. This little beauty comes with an 8.1 megapixel camera, which I used to good effect in setting up this training exercise. If the bandwidth had been a little less iffy, I think I would have tried to do a live video feed using Qik or Kyte from the site.
Channeling the spirit of Lord John Whorfin, grinning and taunting, "Laugh-a-whila you can, monkey boy!"Actually, The Moose Inator tends to issue odd permutations of classic Melville lines, such as "From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last chaw of Copenhagen at thee!"
The most gratifying part of this whole exercise was the way that some of my contestants came up to me afterwards, gushing that they had had a blast, that they had learned how to upload pictures directly from their phone to the internet, and that they loved the feeling of being immersed in a carefully thought-out experience. This was one of the few sessions at ONA that actually got the attendees out of their seats and out doing something new, trying to accomplish something on their own, rather than just sitting and listening and watching yet another PowerPoint session.
Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: Amusing Nonsense
I guess we now know where the A-Team got the work done on their custom van. With the red spoiler on the roof.
Considering the amount of automatic weapons fire that van was subjected to each week, I’m guessing these guys have Bondo delivered by the pallet-load…
I wonder what Spanish translation they used for "I pity the fool."
It’s strange when you see what cultural icons we’ve long since moved past in the U.S. still have cultural resonance in countries that are still being force-fed our TV re-runs. When I lived in Venezuela, I remember that every night, on some channel, the old WWII show “The Rat Patrol” was on. I used to see kids playing games with their little toy trucks, pretending to be the intrepid desert warriors who somehow managed to knock out heavily armored Panzers with small-arms fire.