Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Favourite Posts for 2008

In 2008 I didn't blog as much as I would have liked, but I still love blogging and will keep at it in the new year. Thankfully, my Royal Roads coursework provided some useful blog fodder. But of original blog posts, here are my favourite Glen' Farrelly Webslinger postings.

  • Academic Research Online Is a Walled Garden - my dismay at finding out the amount of useful research and information useful to the Internet community that never makes it beyond the confines of academia and expensive academic journals
  • Are Web Publishers Obsolete? - more and more of web production becomes routine and mundane I noted, so are website professionals as important?
  • Fun With Internet Memes - Weezer's video for "Pork and Beans" was an homage to famous Internet memes and helped us recall the great fun of such things as dramatic hamster and "Leave Britney alone!"
  • Canada's Cyber Celebs - in honour of Canada Day, I compiled a list of those Canadians that have made an impact to the Internet, a project that appears is direly needed but has been done by no one else
  • Pros & Cons of Managing a Website for a Small Company - as I leave my job of six years of managing a website, I wax philosophical. Good post for those considering a similar job.
  • Trumpeting Toronto Tech - blogging has opened doors for me and got me some great free tickets to events, including Toronto Tech Week. Yet despite the hype, Toronto's technology sector is lacking

  • Online TV Saves My Life - due to the inability to watch TV while at Royal Roads, I finally discovered the wealth of TV shows available online (and ashamedly, I didn't always use this new found power for good, ie. Gossip Girl)

Some of my favourite essays that I posted online are:
The next seven months will be devoted to my thesis on website accessibility. I'll definitely blog about my progress and insights along the way and hopefully anything else that crosses my virtual path in 2009...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Getting New Business from New Digital Media

With the advent of new digital forms of communication, there are new means for businesses, consultants, specialists, or freelancers, to generate new business. Some sources mention the importance of a website, but then offer tips amounting to little more than creating brochureware. Therefore, I felt it would be useful to examine how new digital media can be used to help grow a business and find clients by 1) demonstrating expertise and building credibility, 2) harnessing contacts, 3) maintaining relationships with clients.

Build credibility
For most businesses, it is important to promote their name, services, and unique value offering to existing and prospective clients. As advanced knowledge of a specific area may also be crucial, many must also strive to demonstrate expertise in their given subject. Publishing can be a leading mean to build credibility, whether it is commercial publishing or self-publishing. Commercial publishing allows the author to benefit from the reputation of the publisher, while self-publishing offers more freedom to write about one’s own topic and use this material for marketing and promotional uses. Self-publishing online content can be done through building and expanding a website, writing an eBook or online whitepaper,blogging, microblogging (e.g. Twitter posts), or podcasting. Of all these, blogging, I believe, offers the greatest technical ease of publishing and flexibility of topics, format, and timing.

Podcasting, for example, continues to grow in popularity, but while the software to capture and edit digital audio or video is becoming more affordable, the entire process does require greater technical knowledge than many be comfortable with or have time for. Microblogging has been found to offer an opportunity to showcase expertise and recruit new business but its length restrictions (with Twitter it's 140 characters) can be limiting.

Due to the ease and zero cost of blogging software (e.g. Blogger, WordPress), self-publishing through blogging is affordable and convenient. As a primarily text-based medium, blogs interfaces are similar to familiar word processing software so they are relatively easy for to use. Blogs are entirely directed by the author in that the length, topic, and style are user-chosen, thus a consultant can publish a blog as often as they like on the topic they feel are beneficial to building their reputation and business. To gain credibility and readers, bloggers can partner with other websites or blog aggregator sites (e.g. b5media, Backbone Magazine) and have their blog included in these popular sites.

Blogging can also be a highly effective way to increase your presence as they offer the ability to craft positive, relevant messages rich with keywords associated with your name or business. Blog postings with relevant targetted keywords tend to be well ranked by the major search engines. In addition, if you sprinkle your name or your business in posts you'll create applicable content that will probably rank higher than other online content with your name. As Ted Demopoulos says in his eBook, Effective Internet Presence, “Certainly people are googling you, and if they find favorable results it’s much better than if they find unfavorable results or nothing at all”.

Online publishing, such as blogs or podcasts, can also be used to extend one’s reputation beyond the geographic confines of where one lives. Depending on the degree of specialization of one's business,it is likely that those who are interested in this content will seek it out. Therefore, it is important to not focus on the audience numbers, but rather how online efforts can increase one’s sphere of influence within their niche and attract desirable clients.

Harness contacts
Online efforts can help build a consultant’s credibility, but referrals and networking tend to bring in the bulk of business. Contacts are useful not only as a direct source of new business but also for referrals, insider information about prospective business, and testimonials. Social networking sites (SNS), particularly those geared towards professional networking, such as LinkedIn and Xing, offer unique benefits. For one, there is tremendous value for consultants in maintaining a large contact base. Yet studies have shown that the number of contacts one can maintain offline is quite limited whereas online users have been found to be able to maintain a significantly larger numbers of contacts. This may be due to the ability of SNS to facilitate the ongoing sharing of information, whether blog posts, pictures, links, status updates, or threaded discussions.

SNS also allow one to showcase their past clients and prominently display testimonials. Another benefit of SNS is that a user’s contacts are by default available for other contacts to see, thus if one is looking for an in with a company, whether for a cold call or for refining a proposal, an existing relationship with the company may be easily revealed. SNS allow consultants present credentials and testimonials, share information, and harness the power of direct and indirect contacts.

Maintain relationships with clients
Personal contacts are a primary source of business, yet these relationships must be maintained. Most successful business strive to have a large percentage of repeat business, but it can be a challenge to remain top of mind with former clients when new work arises. Offline ways to stay in touch such as sending articles and telephoning are traditional, online efforts can be perceived as less intrusive and scale more effectively. Blogs, microblogs, podcasts, and email newsletters enable an active and direct relationship between businesses and clients. They are less intrusive for clients than a telephone call or a surprise in-person visit as clients decide for themselves when they will view the content. They are also more direct than conventional websites, as the subscription features engenders a more active relationship than merely posting content and hoping users will come. Through the use of RSS and free feed reader applications (such as iGoogle, myYahoo, Netvibes, etc.) and similar applications for podcasts users can opt to receive content on their customized homepage.

Providing one posts content regularly, these media offer businesses the ability to continuously keep their names and current expertise front and center with clients. In addition, both blogging and microblogging allow the client, if they chose, to engage in the content by sharing or bookmarking it, or by commenting upon a posting, thus facilitating the ability to engage clients in ongoing conversations that builds and maintains relationships.

New forms of digital media whether blogging, microblogging, podcasting, or social networking sites offer new options for businesses to consider. This is not to say that these methods are appropriate for all businesses in all circumstances or that traditional techniques should be abandoned, as there are certainly additional factors to consider in determining the suitability of these methods. However, new digital media has already been proven to allow businesses to tap into new clients and grow business.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Social Media Addiction

I'm supposed to be researching for an essay, but instead I did this dorky survey. I think this fact alone reveals my addiction level.


This quiz was provided by - Search & Social - Media Experts

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twitter During a Crisis

A friend sent me the article by Shel Holz about the role Twitter played during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I've read other postings in response to the request by the Indian government people to stop twittering information that the terrorists could use.

I read pieces about the role Twitter and other digital media played in the Mumbai events. I think Twitter's role was greatly exaggerated . The terrorists had cellphones and apparently collaborators outside feeding them news. They also had access to cable television which would have provided much better info than Twitter could.

I can remember during the first Gulf War that the info CNN covered would have been great for the other side. I kept thinking that we viewers did not need to know the info so fast, particularly if it puts soldiers' lives at risk. So reporters have clearly been stupid and careless in what they covered. Now citizen journalism, such as via Twitter, extends the range of stupidity. I think the solution is that if there is a crisis or police/military action - the authorities need to create a wide berth where no one can enter. They also probably need to have someone there continuously telling people to stop reporting events. But professional and citizen journalists also need to accept responsibility - and have some brains - to not report info that can be used against an innocent victim.

As for companies learning from this, they should - but most probably won't. All companies should pay for professional media monitoring. If they can't afford it, there are a lot of tools for free that make it easy to track all this. I'm constantly surprised at how companies can only wrap their heads around traditional media and miss the firestorms occurring online to the great detriment of their company. Foolish businessmen that claim to be motivated by profit, but are often scaredy-cats afraid to admit they don't know something and will let their company suffer as a result.

I actually found out about the terrorist attacks via Twitter at least an hour or two before conventional media covered the story. In fact, I think it is standard now that for breaking news items, digital media, particularly as covered by citizen journalists, gets the story much faster. As one who was getting ready to leave for Mumbai that day, I really appreciated the advanced notice - it let me assess the situation and adjust plans accordingly. There are clearly advantages to such speedy news coverage, but there are also considerations for businesses, police, conventional media, users, and citizen journalists to all learn, adapt and behave responsibly in this new real-time reality.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Practical Considerations for Online Accessibility Raised at IGF Hyderabad

The Internet Governance Forum session in Hyderabad India on Internet accessibility, “Including Accessibility and Human Factors in the Universalization of the Internet - How to reach persons with disabilities, the 10% of the next billion”, raised practical consideration for the issues of Internet accessibility.

To begin with there was a bit of a debacle in that the lack of an Internet connection at the conference centre that stays up for longer than five minutes meant that the captioner online in Canada could not get the webcasts of the sessions in order to caption it for those attending with hearing impairments. It also meant that I have been unable to live blog or microblog the sessions as originally planned.

This session opened up with background information on various organizations’ work in establishing accessibility standards, their importance, and their gradual global spread.

What I did find particularly interesting is that Shadi Abou-Zahra from the W3C addressed a critique I have heard a few times about how they determined their accessibility goals. The W3C has a formal process that strives to seek user participation throughout the process from working group development, public working drafts, and implementation testing. They firmly believe in including users in standardization. Not only are their recommendations available for public review and comment, but they also push out their drafts to applicable disability organizations for their input.

Shadi also outlined the three guidelines to website accessibility and how they work together. There is WCAG, website content accessibility guidelines, which includes recommendations for online text, imaged, audio, multimedia, and video. UAAG is the user agent accessibility guidelines for browsers, media player, and assistive technology. UAAG is crucial as they must provide the functionality to enable accessible content, for example captioning if they don’t support it, there’s no point for content producer to do captioning of their content. Finally, there is authoring tool accessibility for website editing software, CMS, wikis, etc. to not only facilitate online content being made accessible, but these software in themselves must be accessible so that people with disabilities are able to be active contributors to the Web not just be passive recipients

Jorge Plano, from the Argentina chapter of ISOC, pointed out some of the implementation challenges of accessibility, particularly in developing nations where the issue is “invisible”. Jorge pointed out that more support for this issue globally is needed from governments IT agencies, ISP associations, and telcos. A good starting point in many countries is for government and related organizations, such as such as public administration, private public utilities, NGOs funded by gov, companies/NGOs funded by gov, companies offering services to general public (banks, health insurance, hospitals, etc. – in Europe this is mandatory for these types of company), and government providers/suppliers.

A dimension of the accessibility issue that I had not heard before was raised by speaker, Fernando Botelho. Fernando pointed out that what is needed is an accessibility solution that will scale up sufficiently for large scale deployments, both in developed and developing nations. The need for a scalable solution is seen by looking at blind children worldwide, 90% of whom receive no access to education. Even those who receive education, Fernando added, may not necessarily receive quality education. A further problem is that some disabled individuals are trained on commercial assistive technology that is expensive. This creates a path dependency to this technology that becomes difficult when they no longer get access to this technology from the training organization. They may not be able to afford it themselves or prospective employers are often unwilling to pay for it. Thus the importance for finding open source solutions that work with commonly-accepted standards, such as the W3C accessibility standards, is crucial.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Discussing Online Accessibility on International Day of the Disabled Person

Today is the international Day of the Disabled Person, so it’s fitting that the United Nations and Internet professionals and experts worldwide have gathered at the Internet Governance Forum in Hyderabad to address the issue of improving website accessibility for the disabled.

The session, my first of the conference, was called “Information Accessibility: Equal Access & Equal Opportunity to People with Disabilities”. Overall, there was a lot of focus on the role of standards for website accessibility, but it was rather short on actual plans for its widespread adoption.

For those new to the field of website accessibility there was good background information provided on the issue’s history, scope, and its importance. While my personal research has focused on website accessibility for the visually impaired, the issue also covers various disabilities such as hearing, cognitive, and physical.
The presentations repeated the key messages that 1) the Internet is an increasingly important resource in many aspects of life, e.g. education, government services, business, recreation so disabled people should not be shut out 2) All people should have equal access and equal opportunity to resources online or otherwise 3) Internet can be particularly able to help the disabled more actively participate in society. Representatives from China and India both stated their countries commitment to this issue and it was pointed out that 26 countries have enacted policy or law on the issue of Internet accessibility.

The first speaker opened with some sobering statistics: 600 million people around the world have a disability (I suspect that number would be much higher if you count people with low to diminished vision, which is particularly relevant for online readers). 186 million children with disabilities haven’t completed primary school. There are clearly opportunities for an accessible Internet to improve people lives, as the first speaker said “these are not just figures they are real people – and we simply cannot afford to say it’s your problem go fend for yourself”. All the speakers were in agreement that while there has been progress in devising what needs to be done, significant barriers still remain and accessibility is still not widespread.

An interesting point made by Cynthia Waddell that the notion of disability is evolving. We need to acknowledge that if there were not societal and physical barriers the concept of disability might not even exist. Bringing disabled people into the mainstream is a way to help end marginalization and in some cases poverty. As more and more of life moves online, the issue of website accessibility becomes important.

Both Cynthia and an accessibility expert from the W3C, Shadi Abou-Zahra, pointed out the issue has various spheres that must be addressed. These spheres would be web authoring software, web developers, browsing software, and assistive technology. Web design historically has not included accessible design for persons with disabilities. Web developers tend to not educated sufficiently on this issue. Even web authoring software didn’t help and often hindered. Assistive technology is making strides but it isn’t enough on its own. Browsers are getting more standard compliant, but this has only recently been the case.

I must admit that while I completely agree with the speakers that assert that accessibility is a human right for all and that more policy is needed, I don’t believe this issue will resonate or convince businesses and organizations around the world to make their website accessible. So I felt a crucial point was made by Shadi when he listed the auxiliary benefits of accessibility.

Shadi pointed out that accessible sites are more compatible with mobile technologies, addresses the needs of our ageing demographics, and can open up new markets. I have found that when I state to business people not only the social benefits of accessibility but also the business benefits this helps give the issue more priority than it would otherwise have. As Shadi pointed out accessibility features can improve experience for all users: “Think of it like an elevator. I need an elevator to access a building, but an elevator benefits everyone”.

Overall, the session was a good backgrounder on the issue, but I was disappointed that the focus on standards and policy leaves behind the web developers in the field whom may have heard of this issue but then must struggle with limited (or no) resources or budget to adopt this. So I raised this point to the speakers.

My question was (yes there was a long preamble) as one who has worked as a web developer and producer for the past ten years and is now researching Internet accessibility, that while I applaud the efforts at creating accessibility standards, they are not enough. The standards are complicated to follow, there are not specifics of how to do it, and the existing educational material is not much help. For example, it’s easy to say don’t use tables for layout but it is difficult to actually make that happen even when building a website from scratch, let alone retrofitting one. It’s also easy to say beware of colour blindness when designing web navigation, but there are many different types of colour blindness and the tools to help demonstrate the issue are insufficient. Among the web developer community I believe awareness is fairly common – most developers know about the issue and some of the remedies – but using alt text is not enough. As the speakers acknowledge, the authoring tools must do more to support this, but also educational material needs to be more comprehensive and simpler. Training needs to be more widespread – and I would add most crucially it needs to be free too.

I was excited to learn that the next generation of W3C material on website accessibility is going to be addressing the implementation challenges. Their website was my primary source for information on this issue, and while it provided a good framework, there needed to be more practical information and feasible plans.

The discussion after the session was also interesting. We discussed the need for a central, prominent repository of templates to use for this. I pointed out how I could not find any, let alone “proper” code for how to make an accessible table, when one genuinely needs to use a table, that is for presenting tabular data like statistics. I struggled through the standards and came up with a code snippet that I added to my web team’s code snippets in Dreamweaver and then posted on my blog - but we sure need more widespread and prominent sharing of this type of work.

Impressions of India

It's probably due to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai that I'm getting lots of people asking me how I'm doing. Never had so much Facebook activity before. I've been getting back to people individually or via Facebook Wall posts, but even though this doesn't have anything to do with the Internet per se (other than I am here for an Internet conference) I figured it was easier to give some of my impressions of India via a blog post. I'll be blogging about conference specifics later today (if jet lag doesn't get the best of me).

The 35 hour door-to-door journey to get here was rather hellish. I couldn't sleep on the plane and I had 3 transfers (Amsterdam, Kuwait, and Muscat in Oman). This was probably the best available flight too as any other flights to Hyderabad involve hellish transfers into either Delhi or Mumbai (hellish in that they all seem to arrive in the middle of the night; involve getting on a local bus - and all that means - to transfer from international to domestic airports; and about 6-8 hour wait). At least Amsterdam's Schipol airport has comfy chairs, delicious European pastries and a miniture Riksmuseum on site - so I managed to gaze at Rembrandt paintings during my layover. Oman airport was so shabby it dispelled the notion I had that all Middle East countries are oil-rich. Hyderabad airport is modern and incredible - the second best airport I have been to anywhere in the world (Hong Kong is the best definitely).

The hotel we are staying at, Ista Hyderabad, is nice. It's down the street from Microsoft's Indian campus. My biggest complaint about the hotel is that it is trying to hard to be an international 5 star hotel and as a result it is generic (too much blond wood, chocolate-brown leather chairs, and marble floors) - it also has the price of these hotels, so much so that the prices seem more fitting of Switzerland or London rather than India (eg. $3 for a Coke).

What I love about the hotel (other than their incredible infinity style and toasty warm swimming pool) is the incredible food. Breakfast is included here and it combines traditional Western breakfast foods with much more delicious Indian food. Yesterday the waiter asked me if I wanted a traditional Indian breakfast. It was potato curry dish and a sweet stewed spiced pumpkin dish. The pumpkin dish was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. In general, the food here is AMAZING. The western food is mediocre, but the Indian food is way better than the best Indian food I've ever had in Toronto - plus there is such an incredible variety of dishes.

Unfortunately, the hotel and conference centre are about a 40 minute drive apart and the free shuttles only go once in the morning and once in the evening. Taxis are expensive here (at least the ones for westerners) about the same rate as home. Both the hotel and conference centre are in the midst of tech building sprawl and far away from the city proper, so there's nowhere to walk either. Not that walking is safe here as there are no sidewalks or traffic rules it seems. Plus one would have to pass by the cattle in the street and the poor living in tents by the roadside everywhere. So we all feel trapped either in the hotel or in the conference centre, which is a shame as I do like to explore cities when I travel.

I did get four free hours where I hired a driver to drive me around the sites of Hyderabad. The main sites were incredible; the temples, palaces, government building and fortresses are so different architectually from anything I'd ever seen before and centuries old. But I think I enjoyed seeing the slices of normal Indian life while driving about town. The open-air markets with stunningly beautiful textiles, the chaos in the streets, the vibrant street life, and the unbelievable poverty intermixed with it all. I was also struck at how there seemed to be a much greater committment to architectually beauty - even more modest buildings all have unique details or arrangements.

Jet lag is fairly bad. I was dead tired at 6pm last night. Many of the other ambassadors went shopping at a mall last night but I went for a swim and was asleep for the second night in a row by 7pm. Skipped supper even. I woke up at midnight but watched a Bollywood film. There are about 30 channels that show nothing but Bollywood so I'm enjoying discovering the many permutations of this genre.

The weather today is hot, sunny and humid. Other days it was just perfect. There is a lot of pollution here - particularly in the city proper. My photos are hazy because of the pollution. I'm not kidding - it's not poor focus it's layers of smog!

Security is tight both at the hotel and at the conference centre. So tight I couldn't go out to get my morning coffee, without having to go through the thorough security check and frisking (okay maybe I don't mind the frisking). I am impressed
with the degree of security at the conference centre and at the hotel, so that goes a long way to making me feel more at ease. Although last night there was a huge noise in the middle of the night and on another occasion the power went out at the hotel for about 3 minutes - both times my mind instantly wen to the worst.

So I'm staying safe and eating very well. Everyone at the Internet Society is super friendly and the even though I've only had a half day of conference sessions, I've already learned a lot (definitely some thesis fodder). So no regrets for coming here, but I'm definitely dreading that 30+ hour return trip.

Why I Decided to Come to India After All

I’m in the conference centre in Hyderabad, India for the 3rd Internet Governance Forum. A few days ago, I was certain I would not be here. Several people told me I was crazy to come considering recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. I did cancel my travel plans that would have had me spending a day in Mumbai only a couple days after the initial terrorist attacks (and as it turns out while some terrorists were still holding out in the hotels).

So why did I decide to come to India? Good question – I had pretty much decided not to come but then my wife was extra supportive and encouraging me to go, even though she’s probably more worried than I am. Even though I hate it when terrorists’ tactics are proven effective by people canceling plans or avoiding places, I personally do not feel that I need to wade into these volatile environments. But this was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Earlier this year, the Internet Society held a competition for people around the world to attend as honourary ambassadors. I was one of thirteen people from around the world who were chosen to attend and were sponsored. This was a significant honour for me so I really didn’t want to pass it up. It’s not every day one gets invited to attend a United Nations conference after all.

One incentive to come was a chance to visit India. As one who loves history, culture, and architecture it sure was an excellent chance to travel to a place that I probably wouldn’t be able to swing on my budget and with my young daughter in toe. The 35+ hours to get here, door to door, was so painful that this alone makes it almost not worth it. My daughter would have lasted about 5 hours of this trip. I did get a few hours to check out Hyderabad and like everyone always says it is indeed a land of contrasts – the tech headquarters here (Microsoft, Google) are huge, impressive modern buildings (as is the hotel, Ista, that I’m staying at) but the poverty is front and center as seen by the many roadside tents where families live.

The main reason I wanted to come here is that I really believe in not only the goals of the Internet Governance Forum. The main themes of the conference (and which I’ll be elaborating in ensuing blog posts) are how to help reach the next billion people to help them come online (this encompasses bridging digital divide, a multilingual Net issues, and accessibility), promoting cyber security and trust, managing critical internet resources (Net neutrality figures prominently here), and emerging issues.

Website accessibility, the topic of my upcoming master’s thesis, is a topic of many of the workshops and seminars here. I’m eagerly looking forward to hearing from experts in this field and hopefully gaining some insight for my research.

Another big reason I decided to come is that I really wanted the opportunity to meet others who feel passionately about the Internet in general and these issues in specific. This conference brings people from all around the world; 1500 – 2000 people are anticipated. Toronto has a thriving web community, but most of the events center around the Net as a marketing tool, and I find events dealing with the social value of the Net to be lacking. Upon my return to Canada, I’m hoping to help revive the Canadian chapter of the Internet Society – so if you’re interested please let me know.

Friday, November 21, 2008

NextMEDIA Conference

My intention to live blog and microblog the nextMEDIA conference were dashed by the almost total lack of Internet connection and only one power outlet in the place. The venue CiRCA, is not appropriate for a conference. I've been here before for a conference - or rather unconference, CaseCamp - and the novelty of being in a trendy nightclub (complete with S&M figurines) was cool but the novelty wears off when one is spending an entire day here, let alone two days in a space designed for clubbers to bump and grind rather than sit and learn. Symbollically, the S&M figures were covered up today so as to not offend the less-hip conference go-ers. Waiting almost an half an hour in the cold to get in to then register started the day out for me in a grumpy mode, but fortunately I was able to recover due to the caliber of speakers. Grade A line-up of speakers with reps from YouTube, eBay, Google, CBC, Nokia, Rogers, Canwest, comScore, the infamous SuicideGirls.

The conference was sold out, so much so that quite a number of people didn't even get a seat. There seemed a better mix of people - young and old, content creators and marketing types, men and women - than at most Toronto Internet or tech events.

The theme of the nextMEDIA conference is monetizing digital media . A great topic as having lived through the first dot com bubble I was wondering how these web 2.0 darlings were going to make some money. As the opening keynote speaker, Shelly Palmer, declared the Internet is good at creating value, but not so good at creating money from that value. (There did seem consensus that no one could figure out how Twitter was going to make money.)

If there were common points from today's presentations, it would be that it is possible to monetize digital media and industry-standard metrics for digital media are needed. Regarding the latter, the term engagment was used a lot. While most bandied it about as the holy grail of digital media, Palmer pointed out that this terms means different things to different people due to various ways of measuring this and until we can agree on a common definition it is hard to sell deals based on engagement. Thus we are left with metrics such as impressions or click-throughs that may not work for us.

Some of the tips for monetizing aren't that earth-shattering: affiliate marketing, storefronts, transactions, corporate sponsorship, advertising.

Interestingly, the keynote was to be "Economic Meltdown: Will 'Free" Save the Future" but Palmer changed topics as that one was "too depressing". While some of the digital media projects presented today, whether cool mobile apps or online television, are really excited both from a consumer and insider perspective, I would have like Palmer to have addressed the topic. Having lived through a collapse of online advertising dollars, I am curious who and survive and how.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Types of Internet Media

Every time I need to think of how communication is different on Internet media I keep needing to make a mental run-through of all the various distinct Internet media. So to save time next time, here is a list of Internet media. Please let me know if I missed something or included something that should be rolled up.

I'm defining media as a unique form of communication between humans, (so FTP is more of a file exchange than a communication medium). Some mediums blur the distinctions by merging or hosting other mediums.

Typology of Internet media:
  1. Website (includes publicly available websites, and private such as intranets & extranets )
  2. Mobile website (a website optimized for viewing on a handheld, mobile device)
  3. Internet telephony (i.e. Voice-over-Internet Protocol, such as Skype)
  4. Internet television (both television channels delivered by the Internet, such as the Bell Fibe service, or individual tv shows offered via the websites of channels)
  5. Email
  6. Instant messaging and chat (I might include Twitter here)
  7. Forums/message board (allows threaded text-based conversations)
  8. Streaming audio (includes podcasts & Internet radio)
  9. Streaming video (includes webcasts, podcasts, YouTube videos)
  10. Games (includes console-based and online-only)
  11. eBooks
Within mediums there are genres, so website would have some of the following genres:
  • social networking site
  • blog
  • e-commerce site
  • online gambling site
  • news
  • informational
  • wiki
I'm not sure I got this right and I found anyone else that has tried to categorize all Net things like this, so I'm curious what others have to say.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nonverbal Communications Online

I was searching for a definition of nonverbal communication for a recent school assignment and couldn't find one. As I learned, academics disagree on a definition, in part as the term is applied to a vast array of human and animal phenomenon, encompassing everything from architecture to extra sensory perception and from dance to fashion. I think a useful definition is that nonverbal communication is communication that goes along with words but does not use words.

In face-to-face (F2F) encounters one may observe various nonverbals, such as facial expressions, gestures (e.g. waving, nodding, winking), haptics (e.g. touching, kissing, holding), involuntary sounds (e.g. coughing, gasping, yawning), paralanguage (e.g. non-words such as umm and eh, inflection, intonation, accent), posture, proxemics (e.g. personal space, seating position), and silence.

Considering the oft-heard report that found that in any F2F communication the majority of the message is communicated nonverbally, so it is important to consider this in online communication. Interpreting nonverbals adeptly can reveal emotion, deception, agreement, sensitivity, etc. thus giving us greater insight and depth into those we're communicating with.

Most of the research I found focused on nonverbal communication in F2F and not online (Wikipedia being the only exception). I'm sure there is research out there but it's buried deep in the academic walled garden - plowed under perhaps. This got me thinking of the various ways we can communicate nonverbally online as individuals (opposed to how websites communicate nonverbally, e.g. through design).

Virtual worlds or MMOG, by simulating real life mimic the use of real life nonverbals, such as facial expression (of avatar), proxemics, and gestures.

A VoIP call will have the same nonverbals as a telephone call, e.g. paralanguage and silence, except that with my connections and microphone/speaker set-up some subtleties of intonation and inflection can be lost and dramatic pauses can just be the connection crapping out.

For text-based online communication, nonverbals can be seen in the use of fonts, text embellishment (e.g. bolding, italics), letter case (e.g. BLOCK CAPS), punctuation (!!!), spacing, and emoticons. I'm sure I'm missing stuff, so please let me know of any others.

That said, there still isn't the same array or degree of nonverbals online. I was thinking about some of the problems I have encountered with email. Email is such a lean medium in that it doesn't offer much ability beyond those listed above to add clarity, emphasis, or depth to one's message. Plus being asynchronous, it doesn't give as much chance to clarify on the spot. I think we have all encountered emails that people inferred things we did not intend. Humour, particularly sarcasm, is really difficult in email.

What's the solution? It seems to me that people use sarcasm much less in emails nowadays than they used to. Emoticons were helpful, but it seems like the happy face and sad face are passé and the many others never caught enough to be widely understood. On a personal level, I take more time to compose and double-check my emails than I used to, so I can compensate for otherwise lacking tone.

To further complicate things, when interpreting nonverbal communication F2F or online one should be aware that there are cultural, context, and individual differences. So there's no easy solution for adding clear nonverbal communication offline or online.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Online TV Saves My Life

I’m almost finished my on-campus time at Royal Roads University. But as the program is general communication, with a focus on professional communication, there is almost no discussion of Internet topics and I’m in serious withdrawal!

In addition to the classwork, there’s an overabundance of after-class team work and “reflection” papers. Yes it’s meaningless academic busywork. So they keep us busy. During the scant free time, the campus is stunning beautiful so it’s been a treat to just walk around here.

Still there are moments when I need a break and need the refreshing mindless entertainment that only TV can offer – mental candy. As my room does not have a television, I decided to see what fun video stuff I could get online for the first time. As I have television and nearby DVD rental place at home, I’ve never ventured to explore streaming television available in Canada.

First stop: YouTube
Over the last year or so YouTube has grown on me. Its short videos ranging from the cute to the bizarre, are great but aren’t really suitable for extended viewing.

Next stop: American TV network sites
The United States has a lot available but due to copyright restrictions they are blocked in Canada.

Canada’s main stop:
I tried and enjoyed some Fifth Estate documentaries and Rick Mercer Report (although Rick Mercer is best when viewed contemporaneously) otherwise CBC doesn't have much in the way of comedy or drama. But after a hard day of listening to research methodology or talking about my feelings in interpersonal communications class, I need the relief only trash TV offers

Next stop:
Thankfully, provided me the medicinal TV, I needed to heal my academia-addled brain. Due to my wife and my busy schedule we tend to watch DVDs of tv shows we already know we like. CTV’s Broadband Network (including MTV, Discovery, Comedy Network) has a plethora of shows available to watch on demand – some even have all episodes of prior seasons. I should be ashamed to admit that the direness of my academic experiences drove me to repeat viewings of Gossip Girl & Paris Hilton’s BFF.

Recommended stop: Global TV
I Twittered my dire straights and asked for help and was referred to GlobalTV. I saw they had The Office and Heroes. Line-up is ideal for me, but after three attempts to watch an episode of The Office and was repeatedly either shut out or had an episode switch to the start of another episode. Global does allow one – in theory, if it worked for me - to access an episode at various points inside, which is great if you don’t have time to watch an entire episode.

Best stop: is undoubtedly CTV's Broadband Network as it offers a lot of good shows and has no technical problems.

I also noted that Bravo and Showcase have a lot of good shows on their site again. I may never need to buy an over-priced TV show DVD set ever again!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Why Internet communication is better than face-to-face, in some regards anyway

I have been thinking lately of how generally I prefer to communicate with everyone online, much better than face-to-face (F2F). Here are some reasons why the Internet is better than F2F.

The main advantage of Internet communications is that spatial and temporal barriers are removed, thus opening up communication that might not otherwise be possible or feasible. This is well documented in research, and personally I have been able to e-mail or comment on friends’ blogs or personal pages whom I would not be able to meet in person, or find the time to write. The asynchronous nature of many Internet connections also opens up the possibility of communicating at a time that is convenient, opposed to the hassles of finding mutually suitable times for a face-to-face get-together. I have some friends that I have to schedule a lunch with them 2 months in advance; this restriction does not apply online.

Another benefit of Internet communication is that there are studies to show that the lack of visual cues online has been found to lessen discrimination based on race, gender, social status, and social similarity and thus improve communication or even open otherwise closed channels. Online anonymity has also been found to allow people communicate online (e.g. sufferers of certain diseases, fans of embarrassing TV shows like Xena) than they would feel comfortable doing F2F (although this has also resulted in flaming and trolling).

Another factor is that some people with social inhibition are more able to connect and communicate online. Facebook researchers found the low social cost (i.e. low risk of public rejection) of connecting online did allow users to form relationships than would otherwise remained purely casual. Personally, I know many people that feel shy in F2F situations but feel liberated online and can communicate on forums, emails, etc. more openly.

Various researchers have hypothesized that Internet-based technology allows one to maintain significantly more ties than could be achieved exclusively through offline efforts. Again, I can back this up with my personal experience of being able to keep connected and updated with lots of friends, primarily through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed than I was ever able to before.

A main reason why I love Internet communication is that even though I live in a big city, in my offline life I cannot find people who want to discuss the topics I care passionately about. Online the opposite is true; there are too many places and people online that are already talking about things I’m interested in (e.g. Twitter, blogs, forums, etc.) than I could ever possibly follow. I've read studies and know people who reported finding kindred spirits online that they could connect regularly and meaningfully with not only about the topic at hand, but also about everything in their lives from miscarriages, divorces, weddings, & births.

I also think the Internet allows us to break some societal conventions or norms. Anonymity allows people to open up online or try on new identities. But when not anonymous, we can find a space to talk about other things than just polite conversation allows, whether that is heated political debates, religion, or other topics more heated than the weather or last night's game. Societal convention also says that one should not inflict trip pix or baby photos on one's friends in real life, yet the Internet has given a place to post them & let friends view them if they want - and it turns out that lots of friends do want to see them. This aspect of the Net has made deeper and more constant connections more feasible.

Finally, a reason that I love asynchronous Internet conversation is I feel infinitely more at ease than I do during F2F conversations. Online I can take the time to think about what I am saying or control things more.

I guess the truly last thing I find about Internet communication is that one can more readily say all they want to say despite its length! Not to mention, one can say what the want to say on their blog, for example, and actually find people (hopefully at least one or two people who aren't relations) that want to listen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Social Internetworking

How the Internet Can Help Organizations Benefit From Social Networking

When Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty followed the trend of employers banning Facebook at work and banned it for Ontario civil servants, he asserted “I just don't really see how it adds value to the work you do in the workplace” (Flavelle, 2007). This was a provocative challenge to social networking sites (SNS) to justify their usefulness within the workplace. While niche SNS such as LinkedIn, Xing, and Plaxo do cater only to professional networking, overall there has not been much research on the value SNS and related technologies offer workplaces. It is my position that rather than being only a distraction to employees, Internet-enabled social networking offers considerable value to professionals and organizations.

I will first discuss the value of social networking within organizations, particularly the importance of SNS and related online technologies to establishing and maintaining useful connections with a diverse array of individuals with whom one is distantly connected (“weak ties”) and will then analyze how SNS permits employees to find, maintain, and connect to valuable weak ties on a greater scale than was previously possible.

Value of Online Social Networking
The field of social network analysis has demonstrated the value of discovering existing network structures within organizations so as to optimize networks to improve communications, resource flow, and foster innovation (Liebowitz, 2007). With the advent of affordable SNS and related online technologies, organizations are now more readily able to utilize the power of social networks, as prior spatial, temporal, and racial or social position constraints are lessened (Wellman, 1997).

In addition, these technologies enable “connections between people where none existed, and… builds new weak tie networks” (Haythornthwaite, 2005, p. 139). Weak ties, a term coined by Granovetter to denote those with whom we are not closely tied, such as friends of friends, casual acquaintances, and former co-workers or classmates, offer advantages over strong ties in that weak ties expose one to a greater breadth and more novel experience, opinion, and thoughts (Cheney, Christensen, Zorn, & Ganesh, 2004). Research has found that when employees posed questions electronically to all staff, obtaining the correct answer was not related to contacting a greater number of people but rather contacting a greater diversity of people (Constant, Sproull & Keisler, 1996). In addition, Cross and Parker claim research shows that “more diversified networks are associated with early promotion, career mobility, and managerial effectiveness” (2004, p. 11). Thus there are numerous possible advantages to organizations actively encouraging the use of online social networking in the workplace.

Find Useful Contacts
In a large or geographically-dispersed organization, employees may not know their fellow co-workers. Even smaller companies may have departmental silos or gatekeepers preventing access to needed information or resources. The ability to seek information or collaborate with coworkers is hampered when employees are not even aware of or are unable to connect with applicable coworkers (Cross & Parker, 2004). Companies such as Accenture have built electronic systems to allow employees to find relevant expertise. Liebowitz found such expertise locators, or “online yellow pages of expertise,” enables people to connect via shared interests, find necessary resources, and get answers to questions (2007, p. 17). Design firm Organism achieved similar results by tying the company directory to its corporate wiki, in which every employee maintains their own profile page listing their skills, experience, and projects (Li & Bernoff, 2008). Organism also built its own social networking features so that employees can list their friends (in social networking parlance any added contact is deemed a “friend”) for referrals and recommendations for project assignments. Many SNS by default display one’s contacts to one’s friends (although this can usually be restricted if desired), so that organizations can achieve similar results without building their own platform.

In addition, some SNS offer automatic linking based on interests or experience; alternatively, one can search the site using company names, locations, or keywords to find applicable friends (often called first degree contacts) friends of friends (second degree contacts) and friends of friends of friends (third degree contacts). Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe found in a study of Facebook users that the features of SNS did make it easier for people to convert a latent tie into a weak tie (2007).

Maintain Weak Ties
Although strong ties tend to be supported by offline efforts (Wellman, 1997), Internet technologies can support weak ties effectively. As strong ties by their nature need more effort to maintain, maintaining weak ties can consist simply of keeping in touch with one another and possessing updated contact information. This can be easily achieved via SNS as one can quickly and easily add contacts (some with or without confirmation) and then receive access to their profiles and ongoing updates. Ellison et al. found that these SNS features and the low social cost of connecting online did allow users to “crystallize relationships that might otherwise remain ephemeral” (2007, p. 1143).

In addition to enabling people to easily make a record and keep track of a large number of contacts, Ellison et al. also found that socially-inhibited people were more able to network online as it “lower[s] the barriers to participation so that students who might otherwise shy away from initiating communication with or responding to others are encouraged to do” (2007, p. 1162). Offline one is limited by time and spatial barriers such that maintaining many ties is problematic and thus one will loose contact with some weak ties. Various researchers have hypothesized that Internet-based technology allows one to maintain significantly more ties than could be achieved exclusively through offline efforts (Donath & Boyd, 2004; Ellison et al., 2007).

Connecting and Sharing Information Online
While finding and maintaining weak ties is important, when the need arises to call upon the assistance of a weak tie, how can one be assured that the person will respond? Interestingly, one factor that limits sharing of information is greatly lessened online, as for those who have not previously meet in real life, the lack of visual cues online has been found to lessen discrimination based on race, gender, social status, and social similarity (Constant et al., 1996; Sproull, Conley, & Moon, 2005; Wellman, 1997). This has been found to be a liberating experience for some who are now able to connect at a different level than they were previously able to offline.

Researchers have found that “an electronic tie combined with an organizational tie is sufficient to allow the flow of information between people who may never have met face-to-face” (Garton, Haythornthwaite, & Wellman, 1997, Ties, ¶3). Online prosocial behaviour has been observed in various studies (Constant et al., 1996, and Sproull et al., 2005) in which people were found to offer aid to help achieve organizational goals, for altruistic reasons, as well as for self-esteem and recognition. Such was the case for Best Buy when they implemented open-source software to connect all employees. In fact, for Best Buy only achieving a small portion, ten percent, of employees using the software proved to be sufficient to enable employees to help each other (Li & Bernoff, 2008).

For targeted information requests, particularly to high level executives or difficult-to-reach people, more aid may be needed. This is where referrals and recommendations offered by some SNS provide a means for one to know that the information request comes from “someone [who] is connected to people one already knows and trusts [as this] is one of the most basic ways of establishing trust with a new relationship” (Donath & Boyd, 2004, p.72). LinkedIn is an exemplar in this regard as not only does it enable contacts to write online testimonials about ties, but they also facilitate brokered second degree and third degree contact introductions. Online social networking has been shown to offer effective communication whether a request comes directly from a weak tie, indirectly from a second or third degree contact, or from a stranger.

While online social networks do offer organizations the potential for employees to be better able to find, maintain, connect, and share information with valuable contacts, there are some important caveats. In both the Best Buy and Organism cases, their success was related to having an easy to use interface and achieving a critical mass of users (Li & Bernoff, 2008).

Another caveat is that with some SNS, such as Facebook, their original focus was on personal social networking. With the increasing adoption of Facebook in workplaces, it has introduced new challenges, such as one’s boss and workplace colleagues receiving access to previously off-limits, and possibly inappropriate, personal details and photographs (Dunfield, 2008). One possible solution, other than opting for more professional-oriented SNS like LinkedIn, would be to segments one’s SNS into groups and restrict various types of information based on these groups, as Facebook allows.

A further consideration for organizations is whether to make their online service public, to be better able to tap into important external contacts, such as possible suppliers or partners, or keep it private, so as to prevent employees being poached by recruiters. Finally, the crucial factor determining the success of online social networking in workplaces as found by researchers (Haythornthwaite, 2005; Constant et al., 1996; Li & Bernoff, 2008) is in creating the organizational culture that will support and foster participation.

Cheney, G., Christensen, L. T., Zorn, T. E., & Ganesh, S. (2004). Organizational communication in an age of globalization: Issues, reflections, practices (pp. 156-163). Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press.
Constant, D., Sproull, L., & Kiesler, S. (1996). Kindness of strangers: The usefulness of electronic weak ties for technical advice [Electronic version]. Organization Science, 7(2), 119-135.
Cross, R. L., & Parker, A. (2004). Hidden power of social networks: Understanding how work really gets done in organizations. Boston, MA.: Harvard Business School Press.
Donath, J., & Boyd, D. (2004). Public displays of connection. BT Technology Journal, 22(4), 71-82.
Dunfield, A. (2008, July 9). Buddying up to the boss on Facebook [Electronic version]. Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 06, 2008, from
Ellison, N., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). Benefits of Facebook "friends:" Social capital and college students' use of online social network sites [Electronic version]. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143-1168.
Flavelle, D. (2007, May 04). Worries follow rise of Facebook [Electronic version]. Toronto Star. Retrieved September 06, 2008, from
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Liebowitz, J. (2007). Social networking: The essence of innovation. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press.
Sproull, L., Conley, C., & Moon, J. (2005). Prosocial behaviour on the net. In Y. Amichai-Hamburger, The Social Net: Understanding Human Behavior in Cyberspace. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.
Wellman, B. (1997). An electronic group is virtually a social network. In S. Kiesler (Ed.), Culture of the Internet (pp. 179-205). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Using the Internet for Change

I am currently taking a course on Communicating for Social Change. The prof asked why we were interested in the class and my reply is below. I'm specifically interested in the various facets that the Internet has played in social and political change and am excited to learn more about it.

1) My master's thesis is on why Canadian websites are not more accessible for the visually impaired. The code to make website more accessible has been available since 1999, yet many sites aren't accessible. In my experience with Canada's web professionals, many are not aware of this issue, don't prioritize it, or do not know what specifically to do. So I hope to learn more about the barriers affecting this issue and begin me thinking of means to remedy it.

2) There are a lot of social and political issues involving the Internet that I am passionate about (e.g. net neutrality, privacy, improving democracy through the Internet, citizen journalism), so I'm interested in learning how to make these issues resonate with Canadians. I'll be travelling to India this December to attend a conference on Internet governance. The main topic is how to make the Internet available to people who otherwise have not had access (e.g. the poor, illiterate, disabled, etc.). Part of my duties during and following the conference will be to
communicate, via blogs and face-to-face meetings, these issues, so I'd appreciate any tips on how to do this more effectively.

3) As one who studies the Internet and wishes to advise on it, I'd like to understand how people use Internet media & technologies to bring about social & political change. An example is how people have used social networking sites, blogs, text messaging, etc. to quickly organize support for certain causes and mobilize action.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

No Time to Blog Home

Today is the second anniversary of this blog and of me blogging. Last year, I marked the anniversary by waxing philosophical on how blogging triggered and/or coincided with my regained enthusiasm for the Internet and some profound personal and career changes as a result. While asserting my passion for the Internet, I remarked on how my other interests were equally important.

I did not intend the anniversary of blogging to be an occasion for cloying sentiment, but it does seem that blogging has formed a pivotal role in my life this last year again, so I will indulge myself.

What's changed since last year?
Coincidentally, just 3 days ago, I was offered to be paid to blog regularly, opposed to the zero amount I make from blogging here and being picked up by Backbone Magazine. As much as I would like to blog more often, lately I haven't had time to sleep fully, let alone commit to regular blogging. So I reluctantly had to postpone the offer. As it is, I love blogging here and for Backbone, but find I just don't have the time either to blog or even to keep up with interesting developments worthy of posting. Although I have been using my Netvibes page to quickly keep track of important Internet news, and I finally succumbed to Twitter and realized it was great for microblogging (see right).

As far as keeping a balance with my other interests and hobbies, that's been complete history for the past year. My master's program at Royal Roads University, while fascinating and enriching, has proven to be so much work that it leaves little time for anything other than school and family time (which I won't sacrifice).

But I still have had time to pursue Internet activities and learning. I attended Mesh again (the best conference I've been to), some Casecamps and Facebook camps, as well as recently some of Toronto Tech Week. I've read some interesting related books either for a class or on my own (recent highlights are: Convergence Culture by Henry Jenkins, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger, Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, edited by Joe Karaganis, and Groundswell -- one of these days I'll blog about the Internet canon.)

Career-wise, I've had huge changes as I quit my job managing the website for a pension plan. I won a research grant to study website accessibility so that money was enough that I can afford to focus on studies to pursue more meaningful work. When working at the pension plan, I felt the parade was passing me by. And it was for years and years. But blogging was a great way to make my own float and join the parade at least somewhat. It also let me chronicle my other cyber-adventures, such as my love affair with social bookmarking (delicious) and social networking. Before I left the pension plan, I helped with the launch of a fully transactional website for plan members, which was really the last applicable online thing left to do there.

This blog has been great for letting me publish some of my essays from class, which would have otherwise been confined to the dusty recesses of my computer. I intend to continue blogging about my research and findings in school, including an upcoming conference to India for the Internet Society and my thesis findings on website accessibility. I'm now certain I want to do a doctorate, but have not found a suitable place (other than Oxford) where one can devote oneself to studying the Internet so I'll probably continue with communications, and focus as much as possible on the Internet.

Over the last year, my blog postings have got more coverage, which is great. I love seeing other people quoting my blog (who doesn't) and Technorati and AideRSS have made that really easy. I still do the vanity googles, but Technorati and AideRSS pull up stuff Google doesn't.

So right now, my only problem with blogging is not having the time to do more of it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Google Is Ten Years Old

Checking out Bargainista's blog today and it brought to my attention two things. One Google is ten years old, as Eden states:

Can you even imagine a day without Google? I can’t. For the past 10 years, it’s helped make our lives easier by giving us all kinds of incredible online tools – and all of them are free! Bargainista, Sep 2008

I was surprised Google was ten years old, as it doesn't seem like that long ago we had to make do with Alta Vista for search and Yahoo for directory browsing. I remember responding to Google's early buzz by telling people Direct Hit is even better and Ask Jeeves was more fun. I also remember trying to convince Toronto companies of SEO back in 1999 and having zero luck so I gave up.

The second thing I discovered today from Eden's blog is this neat functionality on her blog to let one easily quote passages to their blog, called Zemanta Reblog. I've never tried it, so I figured it this was a good time to try it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Trumpeting Toronto Tech

This Monday was the first day of the Toronto Tech Week conference. The event's goal is to foster Toronto as a tech sector and help position local companies to make the most of new and emerging technology. As such, Web 2.0 was a hot topic.

Despite the much-hyped claim that Toronto is the third largest tech centre in North America, I am, however, dubious of this claim. My suspicion is that there is a lot of IT work going on here as we are a centre for corporate head-offices, but I don't know of a lot of companies doing innovative and/or wildly successful things in Toronto and the post-secondary options are limited and generally out-dated. Various speakers did point out that not enough was being done by government, education, and business to really make Toronto a viable tech centre. The Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, provided the opening keynote address, signalling the City's commitment to this issue.

Overall, the Toronto Tech Week first day had a good batch of speakers from business, academia, and government.

The day's highlight for me was a panel discussion on the Corporate Adoption of Web 2.0, which offered good tips and caveats for how companies can use web 2.0. The message from all speakers (and one I definitely support) is that companies need to decide first what they want to achieve and then decide the technology, rather than start with the technology. Web 2.0, it was agreed, is not about the technology, but rather the ability to connect companies with their customers in on-going conversations. When asked whether all companies should adopt web 2.0, one speaker, Sean Moffitt of Agent Wildfire, pointed out that for companies who aren't completely above board, it probably is best to not start that conversation, as it will undoubtedly not be good. However, Mike McDerment of Freshbooks, added that if you don't do it, your competitor will. John Meyers of Open Text noted in his experience of technology adoption, it takes ten years for new tech to be absorbed and embraced and by 2015 with web 2.0 "it'll be like why was there any discussion".

This discussion was followed by the presentation of Canada's Web 2.0 Awards handed out by Backbone Magazine and KPMG. Other discussions at the conference focused on how to help recruit technology workers, how to foster Toronto's technology sector, and how companies can best implement web 2.0.

With some exception (such as the panel) attendance seemed to be lacklustre, however, which I feel is due to this conference being targetted to C-level executives (who don't really have the time to attend these things) and then priced accordingly. Also, I was surprised that despite the tech sector's youthful and non-traditional workforce, the attendees were primarily Suits over 50. I feel this missed the opportunity to bring in larger numbers and diversity of people working in the tech sector.

This is the second year for Toronto Tech Week and judging by the first day they got some really good discussions started. My hope for next year is that it opens up to a wider cross section of the tech sector to help Toronto create the vitality and innovation needed to make this City the tech sector it wants (and claims) to be

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Press Release about me

Here's the press release that Royal Roads recently submitted for my scholarship. Can't resist posting it.


Toronto grad student from Royal Roads University earns scholarship

For immediate release – August 28, 2008

Victoria, B.C. – Glen Farrelly of Toronto is one of thirteen graduate students from Royal Roads University to be awarded a scholarship worth $17,500 for applied research required to complete his MA degree.

“We are proud of the high calibre of learners such as Glen that we draw to Royal Roads University and, considering the size of our university compared to peer institutions, our learners do very well in submitting successful grant applications,” says Mary Bernard, associate vice president of research at RRU.

Farrelly is completing an MA in professional communication and his research project is looking at how Canadian websites can be made more accessible for the visually impaired.

“The World Wide Web Consortium published accessibility standards as far back as 1999 but the visually impaired still face barriers when it comes to accessing many websites in Canada”, says Farrelly. “I will interview website managers to identify their levels of awareness of accessibility issues and then develop practical recommendations for government, industry and advocacy groups to help them enact technological and social change”.

The J. Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships, awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, seek to develop research skills and assist in the training of highly-qualified personnel by supporting students in the social sciences and humanities who demonstrate a high standard of achievement in undergraduate and early graduate studies.

Also earning J. Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarships are Royal Roads University students Adrian Bergles of Radium Hot Springs, B.C.; Rebecca Henn of Vancouver, B.C.; Alison James of Victoria, B.C.; Gordana Jelinic of Williams Lake, B.C.; Johann Jenson of Salt Spring Island, B.C.; Dorothy Kelker of Edmonton, Alberta; Michelle Mungall of Nelson, B.C.; Shane Rooney of Abbotsford, B.C.; and, from Calgary, Alberta, Conny Betuzzi, Kathleen Frit and Eloise Pulos. Adrian Leslie receives a $17,500 Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Music Industry Does Not Know the Words to Digital Music's Songs

Since shortly after the creation of the digital music format, MP3, increased Internet broadband access, and the rise of peer-to-peer networks for easy file distribution, we have seen new models of interaction amongst artists, industry, and consumers; however, it has also provoked controversy and animosity.

Initially slow to react to the trend of consumer swapping of music, the "Big Five" record companies (EMI, Universal, Sony, Time Warner and BMG) eventually banded together under their industry association, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), to stop it, primarily through litigation. RIAA initially sued the first MP3 player manufacturer Diamond in 1998, but lost, thus paving the way for the ubiquitous iPod. They then sued MP3 distribution website Napster (1999), Aimster (2002), LimeWire (2006), and several Internet radio stations. Most controversially, they have sued thousands of individuals who downloaded music, including parents of children and deceased people. These lawsuits, however, caused negative publicity for the industry and have been ineffectual in stopping piracy; as Lam and Tan note, “Lawsuits are ephemeral and serve only as a delay tactic for record labels to catch up with emerging technologies. While the issue of contention in lawsuits is often the protection of copyright materials, the real concern for record labels may be the ceding of monopoly power” (2001, p. 68).

While the desire to get free music is no doubt a motivation, some downloaders feel this is a victimless crime and that music industry has a reputation for being greedy and artificially inflating prices. This reputation is not unfounded as Easley, Michel, & Devaraj found that the industry fought digital music due to a perceived threat of lower profits, as a "key economic issue for the recording industry is that the marginal cost of e-distribution of music is negligible, creating intense competitive pressure on prices and established distribution channels" (2003, p.92). MP3 is a universal, open standard, thus preventing proprietary products and corresponding price protection afforded, as McCourt and Burkart add "MP3 developed outside of the Big Five’s control, and offered no intrinsic protections against copying. MP3s therefore threatened the music industry by holding out the possibility of a business model that links artists directly to consumers, bypassing the record companies completely" (2003, p.336).

While RIAA's main efforts to combat this change appears to be litigation, they have also funded public education campaigns. On their website, they use strong language to convince downloaders of the harm to artists that their actions cause:
It's commonly known as piracy, but it’s a too benign term that doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the toll that music theft takes on the many artists, songwriters, musicians, record label employees and others whose hard work and great talent make music possible (Piracy, n.d.).

This appeal that the RIAA is fighting digital piracy to protect artists, spurred recording artist Courtney Love to write a column for Salon, in it she shows the copyright law engineered by the industry gives ownership to the companies, and the creative accounting companies use enables them to keep a large portion of the profits (Love, 2000). She asserts, "How dare they [RIAA] behave in such a horrified manner in regards to copyright law when their entire industry is based on piracy?" (Love, 2000). Love argues that the Internet can offer a great medium for artists to connect creatively and financially with their fans:
Being the gatekeeper was the most profitable place to be, but now we're in a world half without gates. The Internet allows artists to communicate directly with their audiences; we don't have to depend solely on an inefficient system where the record company promotes our records to radio, press or retail and then sits back and hopes fans find out about our music.... The present system keeps artists from finding an audience because it has too many artificial scarcities: limited radio promotion, limited bin space in stores and a limited number of spots on the record company roster. The digital world has no scarcities. There are countless ways to reach an audience. (Love, 2000)

This article was widely circulated, but the message of the dubious copyright laws is also gaining popularity amongst Internet users due to other prominent issues such as remixing, Digital Rights Management, etc., such that RIAA's appeal under this ground may be unsuccessful.

Further complicating this issue is the huge popularity of legal music download sites, such as iTunes, Amazon, Wal-mart, Real, Yahoo Music, etc. in which flat rate downloads per song are flourishing seemingly beyond the power of the industry for price control or to package songs primarily as an album, and thus make more money. In addition, the lowering cost of at-home recording equipment combined with the phenomenal success of websites such as MySpace are enabling musical artists to build direct relationships with their fans completely without any involvement of the recording industry.

RIAA and its constituent organizations seem unable to create a new digital music model or to stop piracy. Their communication strategy appears to be reactive and largely ineffective. The world is singing a new tune, but apparently those in RIAA don't know the words.


Easley, R. F., Michel, J. G., & Devaraj, S. (2003). The Mp3 open standard and the music industry's response to internet piracy. Communications of the ACM, 46 (11), 90-96.

Lam, C. K. M., & Tan, B. C. Y. (2001). The Internet is changing the music industry. Communications of the ACM, 44(8), 62-68.

Love, C. (2000). Courtney love does the math. Salon. Retrieved August 14, 2008, from

McCourt, T. (2003). When creators, corporations and consumers collide: Napster and the development of on-line music distribution. Media Culture and Society, 25, 333-350.

Piracy: Online and on the street. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2008, from

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Six Random-ish Things

If one ever misses those chain letters of one's youth, they certainly haven't disappeared, but are now called "Internet memes".

They can be fun, so I when Eden Spodek, Toronto's fashion and shopping blogger extraordinaire tagged me, I figured I'd participate. However, I'm changing the rules to focus just on random things related to the Internet and I'm not passing the chain on.

Six Random Internet Things About Me
  1. I have a "Adult Contemporary" channel as one of my favourites on Internet radio station, Iceberg. Tom Jones' "Delilah" came on now, and while I know I should feel ashamed, I'm happily singing along.
  2. My first Internet job was temping for Macromedia for their Dreamweaver 2.0 release in Toronto (I hardly even knew what the Net was and had no idea what HTML or WYSIWYG was)
  3. I think I like WebKinz better than my daughter does. I wish I had the koala bear WebKinz.
  4. While I love the Internet, I hate it when people assume I'm some major techie geek. I can't fix everyone's computer problems and hate it when people insist I try.
  5. I do a vanity Google every couple days and can't stand it when others with my name come up in the first 20 results.
  6. When deciding upon a new career direction it was between eco-tourism or the Internet.
BTW, I do like these things but I much preferred a tea towel chain that I participated in years ago.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Home & Away: Physical vs. Electronic Communities

This blog posting is by a guest blogger. She discusses how the Internet is changing another facet of life. While her experience is with boarding schools, I believe her findings apply to residence dorms for universities & colleges.

I work for a private, senior school. The school is a traditional school that fosters and emphasizes a family atmosphere for its boarding students. In previous times, this culture of family was reinforced by the physical distance separating the students from their families and the social networks of their home places. The close, integrated network created between the students and the residential staff (and with the school in general) is an integral part of the traditional boarding experience; it helped the students branch out from comfortable niches of home and family and establish lasting, meaningful relationships with the impromptu “family” offered at their “home away from home.”

With the emergence of recent Internet-based technologies (webcams, MSN, Facebook, MySpace, etc.) the world has changed dramatically. Without going too much into the general impact of these technologies on society in general, I will offer that these technologies have redefined physical spaces and social connections. It is entirely possible to construct a meaningful, diverse social life without any attention to geographical space. As a consequence, the veritable physical isolation that characterized the traditional boarding school experience is broken down. I will offer that this results in the essential breakdown of the traditional boarding house relationship network. Physical proximity means less, therefore it is not as necessary to form lasting, or even meaningful relationships with the people you share a physical space with – you can essentially continue your social network (almost without missing a beat) even though you have transplanted your body half way around the globe. There is no pressing need to establish new relationships or overcome differences (or expand culturally) by interacting with the small global village housed within the boarding house’s walls; technologies have made it so that essentially you never left.

The consequences have been myriad. Students often do not even attempt to learn the language or cultures of the other students surrounding them, they immerse themselves entirely in their familiar cultures online and electronically. Microphone-type telephones (they operate like international walkie-talkies) boom across the hallways in an essential dog’s breakfast of languages. Students can walk around the campus while conversing with a group of students across the world doing the same thing. It is the strangest sensation to be in the middle of a technological gaggle of teenagers when there is only one body to account for. Almost every facet of one’s familiar cultural landscape can be recreated or revisited online. It is an unfortunate truth of human behaviour that we often need to be pushed into engaging with an unfamiliar culture by our veritable submersion within it. This is not to say that I am arguing for homogenization, just that part of the traditional boarding school experience is a veritable broadening of horizons by immersion in cultures and experiences unfamiliar to oneself. This is part of the experience touted by organizations as a positive by-product of the residential school experience. This is broken down by electronic and Internet technologies that have gone beyond providing essential connections to home and family to allowing boarders to essentially live at home while abroad. These changes are evolutionary; they are part of the restructuring of modern times, yet the pace that these technologies develop is rapid.

The organization has attempted to control this change by closely stipulating personal laptop specifications, monitoring bandwidth and Internet activity, and setting up well-demarcated times and physical places for computer use. The problem I see is that technology adapts more quickly and more seductively than the control agents can operate. Furthermore, even though the time and medium might be restricted, the cognitive commitment to these cultural bubbles created and reinforced by even the least amount of time online and on-phone cannot be controlled. Also it is a serious infringement on personal freedoms to limit access to home, family, and one’s culture; it is unanimous that no one wants to limit this.

My proposal is limited at this point. I would suggest that the tradition of the school needs to change – clearly the elements of physical isolation and close proximity to diversity that formerly characterized the boarding house experience are negated by these emergent technologies. The boarding school needs to reflect, incorporate, and encourage these technologies in a self-reflexive way – the school needs to create technological systems that foster connections between students through these same mediums. It seems absurd given the physical proximity of the students to each other and the campus, but I would argue that the same effect that shrinks international spaces creates distance where there is none. While monitoring and limiting the use of these technologies is a challenging and slippery slope, creating new, dare I say sexy technologies that will encourage online participation with a local network will be the proverbial carrot to the stick.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Giving Twitter a Second Try

After a year of denigrating Twitter I have finally given in and started tweeting.

The first impression of Twitter is that it's a great waste of time, and it is, for the most part, as many people use it to share the most mundane details of their lives.

One thing that I have found interesting, however, about Twitter is it really is a completely new form of communication developing. It's only two years old, but only popular for 1 year (already has 2M users). It's interesting to watch norms developing, see people trying to figure out how to use this new medium, and imagine how it might evolve.

Twitter in brief:
  • works via text messaging and/or by the Web
  • combo of micro-blogging/status updates & social network
  • posts (tweets) are limited to 140 characters
  • can be public or private (just to your network of friends)
I'm using my Twitter account now to feed "breaking" news to my blog. Great alternative for blog posts that you don't have time to write up or for subjects that don't need a full post.

Here's a good article on the communicative value of Twitter (particularly compared to blogs and Facebook): Why Twitter Hasn’t Failed: The Power Of Audience

But the main reason I'm writing, is that for me (or anyone) to realize value it relies on network effects. Check out my Twitter page and start following me if you're interested in what I had for dinner (I promise not to post this type of stuff - seriously).

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Delicious Gets Even Tastier With Age

It's been two years today since I started using and my love for the site continues to grow! Read my prior posts on the joys of the site & social bookmarking in general.

This anniversary is well timed as the web service has just been relaunched, and happily I'll never have to type that name with all the weird punctuation again as the site is now just Delicious.

The new features are mainly along the lines of increased performance, improved search, and a new design. Others have written about the changes, so rather than add to the noise on the issue, here are my Delicious bookmarks on this topic.

Delicious has always had a simplicity of design that made it a breeze to use. Things have changed a bit and like any redesign it takes old users some getting used to. But overall, it seems that things are much easier and quicker to use now. (My only beef so far, is it's now much harder to bundle unbundled tags.) It also looks classier too - less like a mess of plain text as it did before.

Considering how much I love Delicious and that it seems to be getting better, you'd think I'd be happy. But a few nights ago, I lay in bed dreading that as Delicious still doesn't seem to have a viable model for making money it could shut down. My nightmare with Delicious is Yahoo (owner of Delicious) will do what they did when they shut down Yahoo Photos and encouraged me to move my photos to Flickr. Yahoo Photos, unlike Flickr, was a great free service. Yahoo Photos let me host tons of photos and organize them into albums, etc. With Flickr, after importing all my Yahoo Photos pix there, I was horrified to learn that my old photos were now locked away from me and I can only view the most recent 200 unless I pay. I also have to pay to create more than 3 albums. Flickr basically sucks now, so I have moved onto PhotoBucket. But my old photos are dead to me on Flickr. I hope Yahoo doesn't one day do this to my Delicious bookmarks. Photos are nice to look at, but I can't live without my bookmarks!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Interview Questions for Prospective Website Managers

Before I left my previous job, I was asked to come up with some questions on what would be good job interview questions to ask of a prospective website manager. This is for a jack-of-all-trades and hands-on kind of manager that needs to know a lot of things to run a website. Here's what I came up with plus some new ones I just though of (in no particular order):
  • Can you describe a situation where you helped make a website more user-friendly? More client focused?
  • What would you say is a good measure of website performance that might not commonly be thought of?
  • Describe your experience with web analytics?
  • What are you thoughts on interactive media? Any success stories? Any caveats?
  • Which web authoring software do you use?
  • How proficient are you with HTML? With CSS? JavaScript? XML? ASP or PHP?
  • What methods of troubleshooting a problem with a webpage do you use? How do you uncover buggy code?
  • What's your favourite browser and why?
  • When testing which browser do you use?
  • How do you gauge if an online effort is effective?
  • Tell me about your experience soliciting feedback from your users? Which methods did you use and tell me which you found most effective? Any inexpensive or invaluable methods you recommend?
  • What is your graphic design experience or training?
  • What image editing software can you use?
  • What is the secret to effective web design?
  • Tell me you favourite website and why?
  • What's your least favourite website and why?
  • Which websites do you go to every day and what can we learn from them?
  • Do you have any experience with content management software?
  • Do you have experience with Adobe Acrobat? Making PDFs? Making interactive forms?
  • What's your level of familiarity with search engines? How important do you think they are?
  • What's your experience with email list software?
  • Any tips or caveats for email marketing?
  • Tell me about a successful use of social media that you worked on?
  • How familiar are you with databases and SQL?
  • What are some security issues should a website be concerned about?
  • Are the websites you previously worked on accessible? If not, why?
  • Tell me about how you used information architecture to help make a website more effective?
  • Have you written any article for print or online? Can we see samples of your work?
  • How proficient of a copy editor are you?
  • Give me an example of good or bad web writing?
  • How did you acquire your Internet skills? Self taught, on the job, school?
  • How do you keep in touch with trends in the industry? With new technical standards & software?
That seems like a daunting array of skills to have, but I know many website managers who are proficient at most, if not all, the above.

Every website will have unique needs, based not only on software used but also resources available, but I think I have got some standard items. This list is certainly not definitive, so I'd love to hear some suggestions.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Making the Most Out of LinkedIn - For You & Me

Now that I'm no longer employed by my former company, I have updated my LinkedIn settings. I also registered yesterday and thus am now qualified to join Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), so I added that to my profile as well.

LinkedIn offers a lot of features that are really promising. However, many of these features depend on network effects to make them useful. Lots of people I know have registered on LinkedIn and many have developed good networks, but otherwise I don't see many people doing more than that.

This short, informative video by CommonCraft outlines how to make the most out of LinkedIn.