Some two million people are employed by the Chinese government at all levels, as well as businesses, to monitor public opinion on Chinese social media, according to a report in Thursday’s Beijing News.
By trawling through blogs, microblog posts and social networks, these "Internet opinion analysts," most of them government employees, dissect public opinion on local issues and try to identify accusations of corruption and poor governance. They keep local leadership, from county to province, informed on a daily basis via text messages and written reports.
The Beijing-based newspaper took advantage of a seminar for these monitors, held in the capital in mid-October by the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Centre, a think tank-like unit of the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, to meet these usually anonymous local government staffers known as “online public opinion analysts”.
Even though the industry has been around for at least six years, the Ministry of Human Resources only listed their duties earlier this month as an official profession certified by the ministry’s China Employment Training Technical Instruction Centre.
Since 2008, the People’s Daily’s think tank has advised local governments to quicken the pace of issuing public statements and reacting to online debate and viral political statements. In 2011, it called on officials to react within the “four golden hours” after an incident, such a train crash or a riot, to provide information and prevent allegations of cover-ups.
One such analyst the Beijing News interviewed heads the public opinion monitoring office of a county in Henan province. Every day, the man with the pseudonym Yuan Ming would search his county’s name on Google and Baidu, the Chinese equivalent of the international search engine. Special software bought by the county at a cost of three million yuan alerts his office to trending topics on social media, according to the report.
Look at the bright side: If you're blogging or tweeting in China, you're assured of added traffic and a readership that really cares what you say.
In Singapore, up to 2,000 activists led by local bloggers staged a rally against recently introduced licensing rules for news websites, including breaches of “racial or religious harmony”, which protesters see as an attack on freedom of expression.
A crowd with posters denouncing “internet censorship” gathered on Saturday in Speakers’ Corner at Hong Lim Park to demand the withdrawal of the policy. The peaceful demonstration in the Southeast Asian city-state was organized by a group of bloggers called “Free My Internet.”
The message of the gathering - “the government must trust us, and stop treating us like babies,” said Choo Zheng Xi, the group’s spokesperson. “It is an international embarrassment when governments around the world are working to deregulate the Internet, and Singapore, one of the wealthiest nations per capita, is going in the opposite direction," the activist told AFP.
Under the rules that came into force in June, news websites must obtain annual licenses if they have over 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month and publish at least one weekly article on the island’s news over a period of two months.
To get the license, they must pay about $39,500 [US$31,623]. Also, licensed sources will be subjected to government control and will have to remove banned content – such as articles that undermine “racial or religious harmony” – within 24 hours after they get a notification from Singapore’s media regulator.
Let a West Coast media rebel teach you the dos and don’ts for online editing and presence—and show you how throwing those ideas out the window can sometimes be the best way to go. David Beers from The Tyee will go through his rules to live by in the online publishing world, and reveal case by case how his online news magazine has found success by breaking them. Learn what makes The Tyee’s practices unique among online publications, and how those differences have made a big name for this “feisty one online.”
Writing is thinking, and if you don’t think clearly about what you want to say, what story you want to tell, you will never write clearly about it. Clarity - of thought, of purpose, of expression - is the cardinal virtue of good writing, and it shines abundantly through everything Lincoln says and does in the movie. Writing is not just what happens at a desk. It happens everywhere and always, whenever your mind encounters a thought it wants to wrap words around.
I have a mantra in class: “Readers do no work.” If you’re James Joyce or Toni Morrison or any other writer lavishly blessed with the gifts of linguistic prestidigitation, you can presume that your readers signed up for the ride, expecting that some heavy lifting might be required of them.
Most of us, though - and all of us in the realms of nonfiction and journalism - cannot presume that. It is for us to do the work first, so that none is required of our readers. Clear thinking leads to clear writing, which leads, most importantly, to clear understanding.
My own classroom mantra through 40 years of teaching was: "The writer's job is to make the reader's job effortless." Coyne's is briefer.
I just watched the West Coast wake up. On Twitter.
I did it by watching the lights come on on Tweetping, which visualizes Twitter activity in real time, on a global scale. When I looked at the site earlier this morning, the left half of North America was largely dark. I returned a little later, though, and watched -- in real time -- the lights slowly turn on, burst after burst after burst, as West Coasters started their Mondays. And, more specifically, as they started tweeting about them.
Reaching the site may require some patience; I suspect it's getting a lot more traffic since Garber posted her story. But it's very much worth the trouble.
Journalists should treat information we gather on social media the same way we treat information gathered any other way, or an assurance from Mom that she loves you: Check it out.
My #twutorial series hasn’t been updated since late October, but I always planned to do a post on verifying information gathered in social media. Given the errors some journalists made in reporting on the Sandy Hook massacre and in the original reporting on Manti Te’o's fake girlfriend, this feels like a good time to stress accuracy and verification.
The most simple and important advice I can give is that Twitter is like any other information source — documents, anonymous tips, news releases, press conferences, interviews, databases — it can provide valuable information or deliberate lies or innocent errors. Your job is to verify the information that looks useful. As with all the other information you gather, you can verify lots of different ways, and no single technique works for everything.
I have started with that clarification, because as you read this you will find yourself asking “Is this some kind of a joke?” I thought I would be helpful and put the answer right up at the start, so you can refer back to it as often as you require.
This year the Irish newspaper industry asserted, first tentatively and then without any equivocation, that links -just bare links like this one- belonged to them.
They said that they had the right to be paid to be linked to. They said they had the right to set the rates for those links, as they had set rates in the past for other forms of licensing of their intellectual property. And then they started a campaign to lobby for unauthorised linking to be outlawed.
These assertions were not merely academic positions. The Newspaper Industry (all these newspapers) had its agent write out demanding money. They wrote to Women’s Aid, (amongst others) who became our clients when they received letters, emails and phone calls asserting that they needed to buy a licence because they had linked to articles in newspapers carrying positive stories about their fundraising efforts.
These are the prices for linking they were supplied with:
1 – 5 €300.00
6 – 10 €500.00
11 – 15 €700.00
16 – 25 €950.00
26 – 50 €1,350.00
50 + Negotiable
They were quite clear in their demands. They told Women’s Aid “a licence is required to link directly to an online article even without uploading any of the content directly onto your own website.”
A few years ago, the resolution on our monitors wasn’t good enough to make big text look great, unflickery, and unpixellated on screen. And so, many news and magazines merely transposed their way of thinking from their offline worlds into the online environment: they built websites that published their words in small font, expecting readers to interact with their copy the way they had always done with their newspapers and magazines.
If the text was too small, they could move closer to their screens. The smart ones could increase the font size in their browsers, even if that would mess up the formatting of the rest of the site. It was as if news organizations were still stuck in the age of the typewriter.
That way of thinking is out of date. We are now living in an age of Retina displays and high-resolution desktop monitors. These days, the flicker of our monitors is barely detectable, there’s less reflection and glare, and it’s a strain to see any pixellation in the text even when we’re so close to the screen we could kiss it.
Despite these developments, however, there is a surprising number of newspaper, magazine, and blog hold-outs, who just don’t want to let go of the small-font days.
Maybe it’s just a sign that I’m getting old and need spectacles, but I have grown impatient with the websites that refuse to adapt to this new age of big-fonted beauty.
Click through to see his list of sinners, plus a few saints. I generally agree with his assessments. In fairness, I should mention that I re-paragraphed this excerpt: though Hamish uses a nice big font, his paragraphs still run a little long. But that in turn is making me consider my own 10-point Trebuchet.
The future of journalism is about speed, volume, rough and tumble and– like the tech world– “good enough” iteration. Even blogs like ours that produce comparatively less, with editing and illustration and reporting still move at a rapid pace compared to the old media world.
Every story we do could have been made better with a huge old media machine behind it. But typically that improvement would be marginal, and most readers wouldn’t notice or care. That’s why blogs work. Readers would rather have the information clearly and quickly, than read the fruits of seven editors arguing over a nut graph.
But that is in no way what this is. More than 11 staffers worked on this piece and it took more than six months. When we talk about the New York Times and the Washington Post having newsrooms of hundreds and hundreds of people, it’s usually in the context of it being an albatross.
But this is what you can produce when you do. And yeah, maybe we’re all paying attention because it was the New York Times that did it. But that brand, reach and distribution is part of the power of an expensive legacy newsroom as well.
This isn’t the future of journalism. It’s a legacy– and still troubled– brand like the New York Times taking off the gloves, no longer pretending it can compete with nimble blogs and throwing one hell of a punch at all of those lean newsrooms around the country. This is what a several hundred person staff and a massive brand name can do, bitches!
If this was the future of journalism, there would be no future of journalism. Because almost no one can afford it anymore, and many of the ones who can are too scared for their survival to try. It’s like Google fiber or the self-driving car, but in journalism. It’s showing off as much as it is good work.
I have just read, watched, and listened to John Branch's Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek published by The New York Times. Anyone who writes long text for the web needs to become familiar with it, and to study how it was put together.
The text is core, and brilliantly suited to the medium: short sentences, short paragraphs, displayed in short lines.
Inset in the margin are photos and videos of the people involved. The narrative is broken into six segments, each set off with a dramatic graphic. Animated maps trace the paths of the skiers and snowboarders down the mountain, and the path taken by the avalanche.
The result is a powerful multimedia narrative. More importantly, it's a benchmark: This is how such narratives can be created with our present technology, and with enough resources to exploit that technology. Not all stories can be told this way, or need to be. But some stories will be enormously enhanced by the techniques used in "Snow Fall."
Thanks to Maryn McKenna for tweeting the link to this. Via Tumblr, Scott Hensley of NPR's Shots blog offers a 24-page presentation on writing for the web, delivered at Medicine in the Media 2012. While he focuses on medical reporting, much of what he says applies to webwriting in general.
Slate’s editorial guidelines call for articles to be split into multiple pages once they hit the 1,000-word mark, so I have to keep this brief: Splitting articles and photo galleries into multiple pages is evil. It should stop.
Pagination is one of the worst design and usability sins on the Web, the kind of obvious no-no that should have gone out with blinky text, dancing cat animations, and autoplaying music. It shows constant, quiet contempt for people who should be any news site’s highest priority—folks who want to read articles all the way to the end.
Pagination persists because splitting a single-page article into two pages can, in theory, yield twice as many opportunities to display ads—though in practice it doesn’t because lots of readers never bother to click past the first page. The practice has become so ubiquitous that it’s numbed many publications and readers into thinking that multipage design is how the Web has always been, and how it should be.
Neither is true: The Web’s earliest news sites didn’t paginate, and the practice grew up only over the past decade, in response to pressure from the ad industry. It doesn’t have to be this way—some of the Web’s most forward-thinking and successful publications, including BuzzFeed and the Verge, have eschewed pagination, and they’re better off for it.
So would we all be: Pageview juicing is a myopic strategy. In the long run, unfriendly design isn’t going to help websites win new adherents, and winning new readers is the whole point of being a website.
I bet that if all news sites switched to single-page articles—and BuzzFeed-style scrolling galleries instead of multipage slideshows—they’d experience short-term pain followed by long-term gain. Their articles would get shared more widely and, thus, win more loyal, regular visitors for the publication.
In fact, pagination is so horrible that I suspect eradicating it from the Web might also lead to bigger breakthroughs—it would almost certainly solve the Iran nuclear crisis and eliminate the fiscal cliff—but I don’t want to make any promises.
Not only are computer screens getting bigger, they're also finally getting better — which might be more important. In June 2012, Apple introduced the first mainstream computer with a high-definition screen: the MacBook Pro with a resolution of 2880×1800 on a 15-inch display. This screen delivers a pixel density of 220 PPI (pixels per inch, corresponding to the DPI — dots per inch — that measure laser printer quality.)
Apple uses the propaganda term "Retina display" for screen qualities above approximately 200 PPI, under the theory that this is as much as the human eye can resolve. Of course, this is not true: we need around 900 PPI for a screen so good that adding pixels wouldn't make it look any better.
Although Apple's screen quality isn't perfect, it's dramatically better than anything on offer from other computer vendors. It's a disgrace that the PC industry hasn't recognizably improved screen quality over the last decade — despite the fact that we have known for decades that 300 PPI screens offer dramatically faster reading speed than low-density monitors.
By all means read his whole post. I'm bringing up the subject now because last week I bought myself a MacBook Pro 15"—and it's been a revelation. No doubt 300 PPI would be even better, but until it comes along I'm more than content.
Composing text on screen has become a pleasure, and reading is too—whether or not I'm reading any faster. Most strikingly, this machine has made me realize how god-awful tiring it's been, for years, to read and write on a low-res screen.
So we finally have something like the resolution that Nielsen has been demanding for decades. As HD screens become the norm, they're going to oblige web designers and writers to reconsider content and display issues: Can we write longer sentences in longer paragraphs? I suspect we can and will. Should we prefer serif to sans serif? Nielsen thinks it's now a personal call, based on branding or the "mood" of a given type style. I agree.
Twitter’s research into how journalists can best grow their followings uses data to confirm what you’ve probably been told at a dozen social media seminars: Be a firehose of information about your beat, use hashtags and @ mentions as much as you can, and share what you’re reading.
Twitter will announce the findings, which follow a six-month study of 150 journalists and news organizations, at the Online News Association’s conference in San Francisco Thursday. The company’s Mark Luckie and Erica Anderson briefed us via phone beforehand.
One surprising finding, Anderson said, was that accounts using old-style retweets grew followers more slowly than those who retweet using Twitter’s built-in button. She cited BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray as a particularly adept user of this feature.
Here’s a little more detail on the study’s recommendations.
“Tweet Your Beat”
Be a source of info for people who follow what you cover — sounds obvious, right? But posting a “concentrated number of tweets in a short time span,” what Luckie calls “tweet burstiness” — live tweeting an event, for instance — can increase your engagement 50 percent more than your expected baseline. Sara Ganim’s Twitter feed during the Jerry Sandusky trial is a great example of this, Anderson said.
Those can double engagement for individuals, the study found, pumping their tweets into a conversation that might be taking place outside your immediate circles. Fox News and The Washington Post do this well, they said.
Mentioning people you’re citing by Twitter handle can help in the same way. “Brands that tweet 20% fewer URLs and 100% more @mentions grow followers 17% more than expected,” Luckie says in his presentation.
Non-updated text is distracting and hard to read on the new iPad. It’s a bit like watching standard definition content on a high-definition TV. Just as standard definition TV looks worse on a high-definition TV than it does on a standard definition one, the same effect happens on the iPad. It’s not that apps need to be updated to look even better on the new iPad; it’s that if they aren’t updated, they’re very hard to look at.
I’ve found that apps that haven’t been updated are not worth using. The text is so hard to read and distracting that it ruins the reading and news consumption experience. It’s hard to imagine someone who enjoys the typography of print getting into such a pixelated reading experience.
Some magazines are more known for their visual flair than The Economist. Vanity Fair is now taking advantage of the higher resolution display to feature higher resolution photos that show off more detail. Many users and app developers had concerns, however, that the new iPad would lead to magazine issues that were too big.
Vanity Fair, Wired and others had large file sizes, sometimes 500 MB or more. The smallest iPad has about 13.5 GB of usable storage space. At 500 MBs an issue, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for many issues or other apps or movies. And that was 500 MB per issue on a device that needs to push four times less pixels than the new iPad.
Vanity Fair recently switched to a bundled PDF format from a PNG format, which has allowed the magazine to use higher resolution art assets while also reducing the file size of their issues. Its May issue weighed in at 135 MB.
Art Director Chris Mueller said in an email that Vanity Fair also rethought some of the apps’ usability. Issues now feature less scrolling content. The Table of Contents page is several individual pages instead of one big, long scroll.
“We’re adapting and working through other quirks as they come up, but overall the huge improvement to the appearance of type and images on the tablet is worth the effort,” Mueller said of the changes made to the Vanity Fair app for the new iPad.
The Washington Post is another iPad app in transition. The text looks great, but photos are low resolution. Joey Marburger, designer for mobile and new digital products at the Post, said in an email that higher resolution photos are on the way. He cautioned that a balance needs to be struck between high resolution photos and download speed.
He said that offline storage is another issue that iPad news app makers need to take into account. (iPads hold a small fraction of what desktops and laptops can hold.)
The other day I ran across a piece I'd written back in 2001. In some ways it seems dated, as in capitalizing "web" words. But in others it's still pretty current. Here it is:
How the Web is Changing English
by Crawford Kilian (2001)
As a novelist, I know that you show the truth about your characters by putting them under stress that threatens their identity. As a writer and editor, I know that nothing stresses writers and editors more than confronting issues around “bad English,” “improper usage,” and sloppy punctuation.
Such confrontations usually happen in private when the editor and writer lock in deadly embrace over a stray semicolon or whether it’s all right to write “alright.” But the Internet has brought these quarrels out into public scrutiny. America and Britain, Oscar Wilde once observed, are two great nations divided by the same language. Now the division affects the whole English world, and countless foreign countries as well.
According to Global Reach, a Website that monitors Internet use around the world, some 391 million people are currently online. Almost 48 percent of them – 215 million -- are English speakers. Americans make up 167 million (actually down a bit from 2000). Britain has 22 million, Canada 11 million, Australia 9 million and New Zealand 1.5 million. Most of the rest are people for whom English is an additional language. English is the de facto language of the Internet, but just whose English? And for how long?
[Compare those usage figures with the ones most currently offered by Global Reach.]
Watch an editors’ or content developers’ mail list light up about “ize” versus “ise,” “color” versus “colour,” and you see that people in different countries feel their identities are somehow at stake. And so they are, but not perhaps as we might fear. Our dialect is our cultural DNA. Whatever we may choose to say in it, we have a subtext: This is who I am. If your dialect is different, you are different and maybe we don’t even have anything to say to one another. As Professor Higgins observed long ago in My Fair Lady, “An Englishman has only to open his mouth to make some other Englishman despise him.”
Hatred or respect may spring from the dialect of the aristocratic or the plebeian, from the urbane or the rustic. Usually it is those on the economic or geographic margin whose language is most despised—not because it lacks eloquence, but because it does not speak in the accents of power.
Chaucer’s English, 600 years ago, became the ancestor of our English only because London was the political and economic hub of medieval England. Vigorous literatures in regional dialects are now lost to all but scholars, because they left no descendants. Those who might have become Northumbrian Shakespeares moved to London and adopted the dialect of the rich and powerful.
The British Diaspora sent Chaucer’s descendants all over the planet, in colonies that preserved or mutated the home dialects. The Appalachians are home to expressions long forgotten at home—and most Americans still use “gotten,”which Brits find as archaic as “God wot.” But London itself is marginal now, and power speaks English with an Appalachian-descended Texas twang.
Or so it seems. But the metaphor of the margin—the silence, the blankness that gives context to the central words—is fading. In a medium without a margin, the marginal are not only finding a voice, they are renewing the language itself.
The Diaspora is reconverging through the Web, like an enormous family reunion. Distant cousins are taking a fancy to one another and slipping outside together for a breath of air. Who cares who speaks “superior” or “standard” or “proper” English? One sexy idiom, and all our defenses (defences?) collapse in surrender.
Some of the relatives at this reunion are in-laws, people from Scandinavia or India or Spain who’ve married into the language. They’re pretty cute too. (Who cares if “cute” to Chaucer was short for “acute,” meaning “as pointed as a needle”?) Let’s have lunch after the reunion and really get to know one another. We seem to have a lot in common, and we can gossip about everyone else.
A whole new dialect—maybe a new language—is emerging from Web English. Its subtext is still “This is who I am,” but it’s an identity far less parochial than the language has ever expressed before. Several factors are at work in the creation of this new Global English.
One factor is what I call “crystallization.” Someone comes up with a standard operating system, and everyone else adopts and adapts to it. The same thing happened a century ago with the QWERTY keyboard. Good or bad, such crystallizations are unstoppable. Web jargon itself has crystallized not only English but numerous other languages. Visit a Website in Spain; even its Spanish-language pages use terms like “web,” “content benchmarking and audit,” “fulfillment,” and “site.” A Brazilian site offers “setup” and “hosting” for local “websites,” as well as “e-mail”—and you can put your purchases in a “shopping cart.”
Do Spaniards or Brazilians, confronting these exotic anglicisms, feel threatened? Or do they feel that these words make them members of an important new community?
Probably both, just as native English speakers may wince or grin at a new slang term that welcomes some while excluding others. If you’re a Brazilian who doesn’t understand “setup” and “shopping cart,” you feel excluded—and in your own country, on a site ostensibly in your own language. At best, you associate them with modernity and glamour, though they’re otherwise meaningless. But if you do know these terms, you feel like part of the in crowd.
That feeling of exclusion, in turn, is thanks to another factor that's changing English: “exformation.” Coined by Tor Norretranders, a Danish writer, the term means the information that you drop from a message because you know your reader already knows it. The classic example is Victor Hugo’s concise dialogue with his publisher. Wanting to know how Les Miserables was selling, Hugo sent his publisher a one-symbol telegram: ? The publisher replied: !
If we don’t have the context, the exformation of a word or phrase, it’s meaningless and we feel excluded. For millions of Web users, “setup” and “shopping cart” are literally exclusive, pushing them back into a society on the defensive. With that exformation, however, millions more step into a new society.
What’s true of non-English speakers is still more true of those of us in the Diaspora. Canadian newspapers a few years ago reverted to “colour” and “labour” because their readers preferred the British usage to the American. American magazines and the New York Times are available almost anywhere. The sheer weight of the American presence forces many Canadians to resist; in a case like this, adopting the neighbo(u)r’s usage gains you nothing. The Americans don’t even notice. Sticking to your own usage lets you hang on to a scrap of your identity.
Global English therefore seems to be evolving in step with self-consciously regional dialects. Most of us, if we write and edit for the Web, will become polyglots in a single language: writing Global for formal occasions, writing local for friends and family, writing in others’ dialects when we want to get along with (or sell to) some of our cousins and in-laws.
Within each dialect, of course we have questions of register. I may impress my Latin American students with my 1950s-vintage Mexico City Spanish, but should I address a young female student intimately as “tu” or more distantly as “usted”? In the new dialects of Global English, is “ma’am” a courtesy or an insult? If I use American Plain Language, will an Australian lawyer find me pleasantly clear or babbling baby talk?
These are questions of exformation, of grasping background and context that our readers take for granted. We can learn that background only by trial and error, and even our readers might find it hard to explain it to us. Nor would they all agree on, for example, when to use “tu” with an unrelated young woman, or the value of Plain Language in Australian legal writing.
If Chaucer’s dialect became Standard English thanks to power, then standardization is also a way of preserving that power, keeping it in the family of those who master its rituals. Many English teachers still regard their job as preparing students for a rite of passage into the ranks of power. Like Professor Higgins, we want the power elite to take our mudlarks for princesses.
Yet the Web and the Net disperse power, enabling the once-silent to speak in any voice they choose, to scribble in the margins and between the lines of the central text. We may sneer at their spelling and punctuation, but what can we do about it? Send them grumpy e-mail, and hope we haven’t made any typos or accidental errors in grammar?
As writers and editors, we will have to accept that our dialect, for all its virtues, is just another dialect. Others’ dialects may be less eloquent or flexible, but they deserve just as much respect. And, as we are learning in the ongoing family reunion, exchanging cultural DNA will give both Global English and its dialects a welcome new strength and reach. Imperial English took words from every language it encountered; Global English should welcome words from its own dialects. If it’s going to be the world’s speech, it might as well be worthy of the hono(u)r.
I've been wondering what Jakob Nielsen would say about the new iPad, and now I know. Via Nielsen Norman Group: iPad 3 Changing Use Patterns. Click through for the complete post and links. Excerpt:
The new iPad 3's crisper screen will lead to increased tablet use, particularly when reading content.
•iPad 3 is the first broad-market computer with a good display, meaning that it's currently the only computer that makes it reasonably pleasant to read text. In other words, people with both a desktop computer and an iPad 3 will tend to prefer reading from the tablet, even though the desktop is otherwise more powerful. (Users will stick with their desktop computer for tasks that involve more intense interaction.)
•Also, as we know from all previous research, when the usability of something goes up, users do it more. More pleasant reading = more reading. I stand by the analysis in my previous newsletter that the user interface design guidelines remain the same as those discovered when testing the iPad 1 and 2.
However, the expectation to see more use of tablets, now that they are more pleasant to use, does have implications for design strategy: a broader set of companies should now invest in designing tablet versions of their websites or mobile apps.
The Tyee has published my article Bad Apple. Excerpt:
Teaching in Capilano College's Mac-based Infotech program even before the web, I could see that we write and read differently on the computer screen. The medium really is the message online, and the message is jolts.
Jolts are the little sensory rewards the computer gives us. They come when we turn on the machine and it bongs at us. Jolts come with every alert, every new window, every avian squawk and porcine grunt in Angry Birds. Jolts come with every email and text message. Isaacson [in his biography of Steve Jobs] doesn't use the word, but his description of Apple packaging shows that jolts of pleasure are designed right into the boxes that your Mac and iPhone come in.
Jolts also come in the form of verbal abuse, which inspired the email and forum flame wars of the 1990s, the ongoing hysteria of today's political blogs, and the punchlines of Twitter.
Like lab rats with electrodes wired into their brains' pleasure centers, we learn what gives us the strongest online jolts, and we keep doing it. We forget that the lab rats preferred to push their jolt button until they starved to death, but in our few lucid moments we realize that we're well and truly addicted to the jolts that Apple gives us.
Hence our rapt anticipation of the next jolt machine: the iPhone 5, the iPad 3, or something completely novel that Steve knew we'd want before we ourselves did. (In one of my 1980s SF novels, I imagined something like the iPad, but assumed it wouldn't arrive until circa 2080.)
For the third consecutive State of the Union Address, Barack Obama spoke in clear, plain terms.
And for the third straight Address, the President's speech was written at an eighth-grade level.
In Obama's own words: "My message is simple."
But was it too simplistic?
A Smart Politics study of the 70 orally delivered State of the Union Addresses since 1934 finds the text of Obama's 2012 speech to have tallied the third lowest score on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, at an 8.4 grade level.
Obama also delivered the second lowest scoring address in 2011 (at an 8.1 grade level) and the sixth lowest in 2010 (at an 8.8 grade level).
The Flesch-Kincaid test is designed to assess the readability level of written text, with a formula that translates the score to a U.S. grade level. Longer sentences and sentences utilizing words with more syllables produce higher scores.
Shorter sentences and sentences incorporating more monosyllabic words yield lower scores.
Smart Politics ran the Flesch-Kincaid test on each of the last 70 State of the Union Addresses that were delivered orally by presidents before a Joint Session of Congress since Franklin Roosevelt.
Excluded from analysis were five written addresses (by Truman in 1946 and 1953, Eisenhower in 1961, Nixon in 1973, and Carter in 1981) and two addresses that were delivered orally, but not by the President himself (Roosevelt in 1945 and Eisenhower in 1956).
The vast majority of State of the Union speeches were delivered in writing prior to FDR.
Each of Obama's three addresses are among only seven of 70 in the modern era that were written shy of a 9th grade level, and among the six that have averaged less than 17 words per sentence.
Obama's 2012 and 2010 addresses averaged 16.6 words per sentence with his 2011 address coming in at 16.8.
Other low-scoring addresses on the Flesch-Kincaid scale over the decades are George H.W. Bush's 1992 address, Harry Truman's 1951 and 1952 addresses, and Lyndon Johnson's 1965 address.
Obama's speeches are a continuation of a general pattern that finds as State of the Union Addresses have perhaps become more and more political, they have been written more and more simplistically.
This seems to me to be misplaced anxiety. As I've often commented, the King James version of the Book of Ecclesiastes is at the third-grade level of readability. But no one complains that it's "simplistic."
Writing at a lower grade level is actually a major challenge for all writers, and especially for web writers. If your content is good and you're writing at a lower grade level, you can reach the poor readers and everyone with good reading skills as well. And if your content is bad or weak, writing at a "higher" grade level takes you only to a higher grade of bullshit.
I should have re-posted these materials after the last reorganization of this site (and the site needs another update soon!). In any case, here they are. They include a PowerPoint slide show, some PDFs, and several Word files.
Thousands of internet sites are taking part in a "blackout" protest against anti-piracy laws being discussed by US lawmakers.
The Wikipedia encyclopedia and blogging service WordPress are among the highest profile pages to remove material.
Google is showing solidarity by placing a black box over its logo when US-based users visit its site.
The Motion Picture Association of America has branded the action as "irresponsible" and a "stunt".
Visitors to Wikipedia's English-language site are greeted by a dark page with white text that says: "Imagine a world without free knowledge... The US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia."
It provides a link to more details about the House of Representatives' Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa).
If users try to access its other pages via search sites, the text briefly flashes up before being replaced by the protest page. However, people have been sharing workarounds to disable the redirect.
WordPress's homepage displays a video which claims that Sopa "breaks the internet" and asks users to add their name to a petition asking Congress to stop the bill.
"The authors of the legislation don't seem to really understand how the internet works," the site's co-founder, Matt Mullenweg told the BBC.
Across the globe, several Pirate Party sites have been taken offline. The political parties - which advocate reform of copyright laws - took the action in the UK, Spain, Sweden, Argentina, Canada and elsewhere.
Mojang, the developer of Minecraft, has replaced the game's website with a protest message The news recommendation site Reddit, the online magazine Boing Boing, the software download service Tucows and the German hackers' group the Chaos Computer Congress also removed access to their content.
The tech news site Wired covered its headlines and pictures with black boxes which were only removed when covered with the cursor.
The US news website Politico estimated that 7,000 sites were involved by early Wednesday morning.
I often don’t read my own articles in The Christian Science Monitor. The volume of hyperlinks the publication drops in their copy is just too distracting. Consider this Op-Ed on volunteerism among Millennials.
Not only does it contain no fewer than 28 links, but among them are a number of highly disruptive, full-line links to Monitor content, screaming things like, “RELATED: Top 4 obstacles for young people – and how to cope.” The all-caps grabber and full-line disruption is more befitting an ad for a used-car dealer than the innards of a respected news provider.
This one article contains five full line-break links to Monitor articles, and a sixth pasted after the writer’s bio. Every one of the 28 hyperlinks connects readers to Monitor content; readers aren’t afforded a single axon to outside information. The reason the article is littered with so many hyperlinks, a Monitor editor told me, is that the publication uses a computer program which scours copy and inserts links beneath words like “Tulsa,” “Harvard,” and “Twitter,” which direct readers to past Monitor stories.
These links are not placed to provide readers with the richest evidence and information accrued during newsgathering for the story at hand. The Monitor tries hard to keep its readers contained in its site. On many occasions I’ve submitted Op-Eds to The Monitor containing links to information and evidence I think readers will find helpful; the links also support the integrity of my reporting. These links, though, don’t make it past the publication’s self-containing software, in part due to technical limitations. But that’s not all.
“We also don’t have the manpower to vet and shepherd through links that our contributors might ask us to include,” Monitor editor John Yemma told me in an email.
“We do favor links to our own journalism, since we invest heavily in it, are confident about its quality, and want to invite readers to engage more deeply with the Monitor,” he said. “We weigh all opinions — as we will yours — in our ongoing effort to improve our presentation of news.”
I can understand the Monitor's interest in drawing readers to related Monitor stories; it helps to boost on-site traffic. But it can be overdone. The function of links in a news story should be to document sources and strengthen arguments—not to lure readers in front of "related" stuff with new ads.
On some issues, however, you may have a real case for linking to related reports. On The Tyee, we regularly link to earlier articles because we keep exploring the same political issues, such as inequality, in the light of new events and evidence. But we usually limit such links to three or four, in a sidebar.
Ideally, links in a web article should enhance the value of the article without sending the reader off to get lost in a labyrinth of hypertext.
The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, from Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with “Life on the Mississippi” to Truman Capote famously dismissing Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” pounded out on a 120-foot scroll, with the quip “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
The literary history of word processing is far murkier, but that isn’t stopping Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, from trying to recover it, one casual deletion and trashed document at a time.
Pay no attention to the neatly formatted and deceptively typo-free surfaces of the average Microsoft Word file, Mr. Kirschenbaum declared at a recent lunchtime lecture at the New York Public Library titled “Stephen King’s Wang,” a cheeky reference to that best-selling novelist’s first computer, bought in the early 1980s.
“The story of writing in the digital age is every bit as messy as the ink-stained rags that would have littered Gutenberg’s print shop or the hot molten lead of the Linotype machine,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said, before asking a question he hopes he can answer: “Who were the early adopters, the first mainstream authors to trade in their typewriters for WordStar and WordPerfect?”
It's an exquisite irony that documents created on such machines, with such programs, had lifetimes far shorter than that of, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls.