Archive for April, 2012

DSLR photos on Instagram? An app’s purpose is whatever users say it is

April 30, 2012

While I believe that sharing DSLR or edited photos on Instagram is acceptable, even desirable, whether users should is a worthy debate.

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A worthy debate for the user community, which holier-than-thou arguments like this one at best ignore, and at worst insult.

In opposing the publishing of DSLR or edited photos on Instagram, freelance photographer, video and content producer Nate Benson writes that uploading non-mobile, non-real time photos is not what Instagram was intended for.

I’m not sure whether he has inside knowledge of the creators’ intentions, but even if he does, that’s not for him or the creators to decide. The purpose of a social platform is whatever users say it is. Right now, some users are saying that Instagram is in part for sharing DSLR and edited photos. And other users, like Benson, are saying that it’s not.

Great. Let the debate play out. If enough users agree with Benson, their feedback, through negative reactions to DSLR or edited photos, including ignoring them, and positive reactions to unadulterated smartphone photos, will correct the behavior of users who agree with me.

Until then, or until the opposite result, who is Benson to say that users are using the platform improperly, and who am I to say that they’re using it correctly?

To accept otherwise is to stymie the generatvitiy that made the Internet what it is — or, for that matter, made the Internet. I’m perfectly open to arguments against evolutionary uses of Instagram, or any other service, but they need to be made on narrower grounds.

 

Not interested in news, you say? I have a follow-up question

April 28, 2012

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How news orgs can repackage and rebrand their products and services to reach secondary audiences

Pop survey: How much do you enjoy maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D in your body?

Not at all? Come on, it’s good for you!

OK, try this one: How much do you enjoy spending time outside on a sunny day?

A lot? Me, too.

One more: How much do you enjoy a glass of ice cold milk?

A lot as well? Hey, we should hang out sometime.

When we do, we can drink milk on my stoop and laugh about how you actually do enjoy maintaining your vitamin D intake after all. And, if you’re not too busy, I’ll tell you how you probably enjoy news a lot more than you think, too.

A newly published study by a University of Texas at Austin professor and doctoral student (pdf), which made headlines last week for pegging young males interested in news as the demographic most likely to pay for news, asked respondents directly about their affinity for news, just like I asked you about vitamin D.

Here is authors Iris Chyi and Angela M. Lee‘s exact question:

In general, how much do you enjoy keeping up with the news?

They received the response you might guess: Not so much. Only 37 percent said they enjoyed it a lot.

Would the proportion have been higher had they said “following” or “consuming?” “Keeping up with” makes it sound like a chore. In any case, the proportion definitely would have been higher had they asked about the editorial equivalents of nice weather and thirst-quenching drinks.

Are you interested in news? Maybe not. Are you interested in whether the schools are any good? Are you interested in what’s open or closed during a disaster? Are you interested in what you’re friends are reading? Are you interested in where to find lunch? Are you interested in protecting your children? Probably so.

News organizations do a good job of providing such utility. Just good luck finding it. The examples linked to above are the exception. Focused, interactive and action-oriented, they package content for the audience and situation rather than packaging it for some arbitrary atomic unit of news. (Trying to find a new one is missing the point.)

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Indirect reasons people consume news, such as easing boredom, satisfying the need to read and feeling socially connected, which Chyi and Lee mention, offer opportunities as well.

So, yes, if they want people to be interested in news, and perhaps pay for it, news organizations should make their content and services more accessible.

But, in marketing and in editorial presentation, they also must communicate that it is. This is what gets the subconsciously interested in news consciously interested in news, a crucial first step.

It sounds obvious, but, once people say they’re interested in news, Chyi and Lee found, they are considerably more likely to pay for it. Only age was a stronger predictor.

That brings us back to news organizations’ perfect paying customer: the young male interested in news. According to the authors’ survey, which weighted a 767-person online sample to represent the U.S. Internet population, he’s a minority of a minority of a minority: Most users are over 34 (66%), female (52%) and not interested in news (60%).

Given the demographics, news organizations should cater to him but shouldn’t bend over backward for him. Converting a small percentage of the age, gender and affinity majorities, through the repackaging and rebranding this post outlines, could be just as lucrative.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Daniel Dionne

What educators can learn from yoga

April 9, 2012

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Rather than food, animals or Dr. Seuss characters, perhaps the alphabet strips over grammar school whiteboards should illustrate the letters with yoga poses.

Certainly, apples, bears and cats in hats would better engage students, but contorted bodies would prod teachers to follow Baltimore city schools’ Jess Gartner‘s sage advice: That school should be less like school and more like Bikram yoga.

At once rigid — every yogi does the same series of 26 postures (just enough for our alphabet strip!) every class — and loose — there are no levels or grades and the instructor does not lead the routine — Bikram yoga, Gartner explains, empowers students and teachers to pursue personal mastery, rather than arbitrary standards, and to pursue that mastery together, rather than in isolation — or worse, in opposition.

The middle school social studies teacher applies the yoga metaphor to fundamental challenges and opportunities facing educators in the accountability and digital age, from the limits of one-off, all-or-nothing tests to the seemingly limitless applications of new technological tools.

In the information age, many teachers are rightly moving away from direct instruction models that position teachers as the sole arbiters of information. With increased instantaneous access to information, the purpose of school is shifting away from memorizing finite amounts of knowledge and beginning to focus more on the skills of finding, analyzing, manipulating, and creating content. With the new function of education, so to should develop a new function of teachers as guides and facilitators on the educational journey, rather than solitary gatekeepers of knowledge.

If you’re at all vested in K-12 education (and from its effects on property values to crime rates to economic growth, who isn’t?) Gartner’s blog post a must-read, both for all it says about the current state of schools and for the clever way it says it. Even if you don’t have an interest in schools (again, hard to believe) you’re sure to find parallels in your own work and life and how you define and encourage success from yourself and from those around you.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user lululemon athletica

Md. primary turnout fail reflects voter registration win

April 5, 2012

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Maryland voters fell as short as they did this week in part because the bar was set high.

Yes, there’s a hidden win in Tuesday’s turnout fail, when, according to early tallies, about 21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Maryland’s presidential primary — the lowest proportion in 32 years, my colleague Steve Kilar reports.

The upside to the low turnout quotient is the pace by which the denominator has grown. Buoyed by the historic 2008 presidential election cycle, when registered voters rose more than 10 percent over the previous cycle, over the last decade, voter rolls grew more than twice as fast as the population.

From February 2000 to February 2010, Maryland added more than 825,000 voters to its active rolls, to surpass 3.4 million, a growth rate of 32 percent, according to state Board of Elections data. Over the same period, the state added 480,274 adult residents, to surpass 4.4 million, a growth rate of 12.2 percent, according to U.S. Census data.

Since 2010, active registered voters have climbed further to more than 3.5 million.

While not a perfect comparison — not everyone 18 or older is eligible to vote — the striking difference suggests that, despite motor voter woes, voter registration efforts have been relatively successful.

Had they been less successful, Tuesday’s turnout likely wouldn’t have been quite as dismal. (I qualify because it depends on who stayed home more, recent registrants or established ones. Generally, voting patterns favor the former.)

So, even amid historically abysmal numbers, the glass is half full. Hmm, maybe I should run for office.

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user kristin_a (Meringue Bake Shop)