Text messaging is not dangerous, get over it

cell phoneThe people who create violent video games must be breathing a sigh of relief at the moment – text messaging is the new enemy. Increasingly the media has been publishing fluff pieces about the apparent danger that text messaging poses. With news that the train engineer at the centre of the crash in California last week was text messaging at the time of the accident, things are only getting worse for the technology.

Maybe it’s just the natural progression of things – become popular enough and you’ll undoubtedly gain enemies. Text messaging is more popular than ever, with over 75 billion messages sent in the US in the month of June alone. That’s an awful lot of messages! In fact, Nielsen Mobile estimates that more Americans send text messages than make phone calls. I would guess the numbers are similar here in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

Of course, there are no facts that prove text messaging is dangerous:

Though there are no official casualty statistics, there is much anecdotal evidence that the number of fatal accidents stemming from texting while driving, crossing the street or engaging in other activities is on the rise.

“The act of texting automatically removes 10 I.Q. points,” said Paul Saffo, a technology trend forecaster in Silicon Valley.

I am sure Saffo is completely qualified to make such a statement as a “trend forecaster” so let me make a few statements of my own. I would venture to say that you lose I.Q. points while using the good old fashioned voice functionality of your phone. You probably lose 10 I.Q. points while rocking out to music on your iPod. You undoubtedly lose I.Q. points while stirring your Frappuccino as you cross the street too.

My point is that text messaging is no different than any other distraction. You’ve always got to remember to pay attention to the task at hand.

My love-hate relationship with Connect2Edmonton: Twitter & FriendFeed to the rescue?

connect2edmonton Connect2Edmonton (C2E for short) is a community website serving Edmontonians that launched on March 30th, 2006. On March 4th of this year it surpassed 3000 registrations, and announced that it receives 45,000 unique visitors per month. Those are pretty good numbers for a website all about Alberta’s capital city!

You can find all sorts of great stuff on the forums at C2E. Users post about construction projects, sports, new restaurants, you name it. Sometimes they simply post links to articles from the Journal or the Sun, other times users are breaking news at C2E. The wealth of frequently updated information on Edmonton is the main reason I love C2E.

Here’s what I hate about it: C2E looks and feels and smells like it was built in 1996. There are quite a few “Web 1.0” aspects to the site, such as the old school message boards, the lack of permalinks, and the horribly ugly URLs for the pages that do have permalinks. Instead of blogs, they have “columns”. Thank goodness the site has RSS, or I’d probably never use it.

For the moment, C2E seems to have an edge in that it has the community. I wonder how long that will last though? There are so many other up-and-coming services that could easily make C2E nothing more than a fond memory. Here’s a couple of examples that I’m involved with:

Edmonton’s Twitter Community
I still think that Twitter is changing the world, one tweet at a time. It’s transforming the way news breaks, and is making real-time conversations extremely public. Here in Edmonton we have a really strong Twitter community. We’ve had a Tweetupfollow us here – and we’ve loosely organized ourselves with things like the #yeg hashtag. Imagine if C2E users posted to Twitter with the #yeg hashtag instead of to the C2E forums! Others could reply without needing an account, they could get notifications to their mobile devices, through the API to other applications, etc.

The Edmonton Room at FriendFeed
Another thing I’ve created recently is the Edmonton room at FriendFeed. Anyone can join and start sharing messages, links, and of course comments and likes. And thanks to a recently added feature, I can add RSS feeds to the room so that entries automatically appear. So far I’ve added the Edmonton Journal and a couple of filtered blog feeds (such as the Edmonton tag on my blog). Again, this goes beyond C2E – instead of finding the Journal article and posting it to the forums, they automatically appear in the Edmonton room, ready for commenting and sharing. (I suppose I could add the C2E feed, but that’s beside the point.)

What both of these examples highlight, more than the “Web 1.0” look of C2E, is that it’s still a relatively closed system. Twitter and even FriendFeed are both much more open systems. They encourage data to be shared freely, and as a result, they are the platforms on which the news engines of the future are being built. Want an example? Check out NewsJunk.

I’m not saying that we need to abandon Connect2Edmonton. Instead, C2E should embrace Twitter, FriendFeed, and other services to make itself more open. C2E is a great service for the Edmonton community, but I know it could be so much better.

UPDATE (6/27/2008): I just tried to add the C2E RSS feed for Columns to the Edmonton FriendFeed room, only to find that the feed lacks datestamps, lacks authors, includes entries in a random order, and is otherwise useless. EPIC FAIL.

Use Twitter for Breaking News

Post Image Are you a news junkie? Do you want to be the first to know about things? Look no further than Twitter. Reliability problems aside, it really is the best place to get the latest, breaking news. When the primaries are on in the US, I find out who wins via Twitter, as soon as they are projected. Today I found out about Heath Ledger right away. Increasingly I get my news via Twitter.

The best part about Twitter is that it can follow you anywhere! You can view it on the web, on your mobile Internet device (like the iPod touch), over instant messaging using Google Talk, or on your mobile phone via SMS.

Here are a few Twitter accounts you should consider following for all news:

  • nytimes – the latest headlines from the New York Times
  • bbcworld – the latest headlines from BBC World News
  • cbcnews – the latest headlines from CBC News
  • cnn – the latest headlines from CNN
  • cnnbrk – breaking news only from CNN

In addition to the above, I’ve found the following accounts to be useful for news about the US Election:

  • politics – lots of political news, as you’d expect
  • davewiner – he’s really quick at posting when the networks declare a winner
  • johnedwards – the official Twitter of John Edwards
  • barackobama – the official Twitter of Barack Obama
  • ronpaul2008 – the official Twitter of Ron Paul

Also useful is the Politweets site, which lists the latest messages mentioning the candidates across all Twitter users.


Get ready for micro-media

I wrote another guest post for the Vidfest blog, this time on micro-media. It’s a topic I expect to be talking about a lot more in the coming weeks and months. While relatively new, the concept of micro-media is incredibly powerful, and I think micro-media services will have a massive impact on the way we live and work. I’m already addicted.

Take tonight, for example. I went to the Justin Timberlake concert here in Edmonton (it absolutely rocked btw, more on that later) and I was able to communicate my thoughts in real-time at Twitter, Tumblr, Jaiku, and others. That’s not all though – other people were able to communicate with me too!

Another example is news. I really don’t like newspapers, and I find myself reading online news sites less and less. The reason? I get all the headlines via the BBC and NYTimes streams on Twitter.

There’s some cool stuff happening, and I’ve given it a lot of thought lately. I like where micro-media is going so far.

Anyway, check out my post, and let me know what you think!

Read: Vidfest

CBC's Great Canadian Wish List – pathetic, just pathetic

Post ImageI just read on Mashable about the CBC’s Great Canadian Wish List project. I hadn’t heard about it until now, but apparently the CBC created a Facebook group asking users to vote on their top 30 wishes. Mashable explains:

More than 16,000 people responded to the questions posed on this Facebook group, says the TV network, thus confirming that Canadian college kids are largely Christian right wingers. The results, of course, have no basis in fact: the Facebook voting has been hijacked by a group of conservatives involved in mass voting.

Abolish abortion? Restore the traditional definition of marriage? Bring about a spiritual revival? Are you kidding me? Do those “wishes” sound like something you’d expect from the largely secular, technology-savvy youth of our nation? I don’t think so. And sure, I’m painting with a broad brush here, but I don’t think I’m wrong.

I am kind of insulted that CBC acknowledges these “results” as news. I hardly think it is representative of Canadians in general. Their blog post makes no attempt to suggest that the results are highly unscientific. Did anyone at CBC think this through before going ahead? I applaud the use of Facebook, but seriously, do it right.

Very pathetic, CBC. Way to completely ignore your mandate.

Read: Mashable

Edmonton's local media should embrace the web

Post ImageEarlier this evening I attended a panel event called Edmonton’s Image in the Media: A Fresh Perspective. The event was put on by Next Gen Edmonton, and took place at City Hall. I find myself becoming more and more interested in the Next Gen project, so I decided to check out the event. The panelists included: Bridget Ryan from CityTV, Mari Sasano from the Edmonton Journal, Jason Manning from Sonic FM, and Ted Kerr who is a freelance writer/photographer. Allan Bolstad from MacEwan moderated.

The subtitle was the only place a “fresh perspective” could be found at this event. I went in hoping for some great insight from these professionals, and instead I heard a bunch of mainstream media representatives who simply don’t get it. I twittered my disappointment – not that I’d expect any of the panelists to have a clue as to what Twitter is. I completely understand that Twitter is a fairly niche product at the moment, but the panelists talked about email like it was a brand new invention. It took over 45 minutes before anyone mentioned the web – Ted talked about blogs and websites in response to an audience question.

Some of the questions the panel was supposed to explore incuded: Is Edmonton portrayed fairly in the media? How could we improve Edmonton’s image to the outside world? Do Edmontonians themselves need to be educated about their city? What could the media do to help?

I took some notes during the event; here are my thoughts:

  • Jason loves Edmonton but apparently isn’t capable of answering a question without referencing “the music scene.”
  • Bridget thinks the media is doing a great job and is afraid to walk downtown alone at night.
  • Mari wants you to do her job for her – send her information about your events! She also was extremely annoying to listen to.
  • Ted claims his “online reading capacity” is no more than a single page.

Event organizer Daniel Eggert asked the last question, and it was about what kinds of media the “next generation” uses and trusts. He explained he was thinking about the web – “blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia, and others.” The panelists did an excellent job of not answering his question. Such a waste.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with Edmonton’s image in the media is that Edmontonians themselves don’t know enough about the city. How many Edmontonians, for example, know that Edmonton is the cultural capital of Canada? Probably not very many. I think the only way to solve this problem is through the web. Television and radio are great, but audiences are slowly disappearing, and the “next generation” spends far more time online. Newspapers are considered archaic by myself and many others my age (note to newspaper companies: move the content online, ditch the horrible format).

The local media and the city itself both need to embrace the web – they simply aren’t doing their jobs if they don’t. The Journal launched blogs a couple months ago and dropped the pay-wall, but there is lots of room for improvement. The City of Edmonton website contains lots of information but is a complete mess. In addition to fixing what’s already there, why not explore the unknown? Here are a few ideas:

  • Create a City of Edmonton sponsored group on Facebook and use it to create events. There are, after all, over 140,000 Edmontonians on Facebook.
  • Even better – endeavour to make one de-facto online event calendar.
  • Build a local news aggregation site – kind of like TechMeme for tech.
  • Learn how to use RSS effectively to monitor what’s going on in the city.
  • Make it easier for citizens to submit photos, videos, and other content all using the web.

To be fair, online local news and resources are a big problem everywhere (except for huge cities like New York). Embracing the web would not only educate Edmontonians and improve our image around the world, it might even make us a leader and trendsetter.

What do you think? I’ll post more on this later after I’ve given it some more thought.

Election 2008 at Yahoo! News

Post ImageAs you probably know, I have been recording a weekly podcast covering the latest Hillary Clinton related headlines. I like doing it, because it gives me a chance to keep up on the news myself. I have found that gathering the stories takes a bit of effort though, so I was excited to see this from Yahoo:

At Yahoo! News, we’ve pulled together an über-site to help you engage in the 2008 campaign. In addition to the latest news videos, headlines, and political commentary, you’ll find dedicated pages for each candidate.

Beautiful – it’s almost exactly what I have been looking for! Here’s the page dedicated to Hillary Clinton. I’ll definitely be making use of this site on the weekend. Yahoo says they are going be adding even more stuff too, so it’ll only get better.

Read: Yodel Anecdotal

Thirsty for Podcasting News in 2006

Post ImageGoogle released their annual zeitgeist for 2006 recently, and the top searches proved to be quite different than those found on Yahoo’s annual listing. Google’s top ten terms are mostly technology-related, while Yahoo’s are entertainment-related.

Also different were the news searches. Coming in at number four on the top searches for Google News is podcasting! Who knew so many people were interested in learning about what is happening in the podcasting industry!

Here are my favorite podcasting news sites:

I also subscribe to a bunch of search feeds, and news feeds from individual companies too. And every now and then you get some news from more general sites like TechCrunch or Digg. I thought this list would have been longer though. Perhaps there is room in the news space for podcasting?

Read: Google Zeitgeist

Has TechCrunch lost its edge?

Post ImageI’ve been subscribed TechCrunch for quite a long time, and I rather enjoy reading about the various companies and technologies they profile. Lately though, I’ve noticed that TechCrunch seems to be reporting on “big company” or “big media” things far more than the little stuff. A good example of this is what happened today. I opened up my aggregator for the first time today, and there were five posts in the TechCrunch feed:

  • Live.com and Yahoo! bulk up for local search brawl
  • Zune Unveiling Tomorrow
  • NBC to put new primetime shows online for free
  • Major Google/Intuit Partnership
  • Skype Video For Macs Launches Today

See what I mean? These look like headlines from CNET News.com, not TechCrunch! Now don’t get me wrong, these are all very interesting posts, and TechCrunch always has some inside information or extra analysis which is worthwhile, but they didn’t get to 113,000 subscribers by covering the big guys. They got there by finding and sharing the smaller companies and products that no one else could find.

Which begs the question – is TechCrunch becoming more like a mainstream business news site? Can we expect more of the “big company” type posts? Has TechCrunch lost its edge?