A wonder-filled game

September 27, 2012

The ballpark anthem is true. We are young. And there is no place like the ballpark, and no people like its young people, to remind us that.

To paraphrase Peter Pan, we are young as long as we wonder. At the ballpark, wonder is contagious.

It’s on the face of a “Hardy’s Heroes” kid the second he steps through the gate. “Just wait until you go in,” an attendant tells him.

It’s in 30,000 pairs of ears as a 10-year-old sings spellbinding renditions of two national anthems, Baltimore fans’ multiple “O!” chants and the whirring of a Shock Trauma helicopter seemingly welcome accompaniments.

It’s in the prodigy’s giddy embrace of the Oriole Bird immediately after concluding her performance.

It’s on the 20-something’s tongue as he takes his first sips of Natty Boh.

It’s in the rookie third baseman’s swagger as he struts around the bases, again, his second two-homer game of the year helping ignite a record team slugfest.

It’s in the leaps of another rookie’s family member as she scurries down the seating bowl for a better glimpse of his first major league at bat, a half inning after the scoreboard announced him as the organization’s minor league player of the year.

It’s in that rookie’s texting thumbs as he tweets a greeting to fans, who extended a rousing ovation after that first plate appearance, a groundout to short.

It’s in me.

It’s in you.

It’s in baseball. A wonderful game. A wonder-filled game.


Spoiler alert: Users will win Knight’s mobile News Challenge

August 15, 2012

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Think of it as the Race to the Top for news. This year, the Knight News Challenge is putting its money where its mouth is, leveraging its annual grants behind what it believes are journalism’s biggest opportunities.

By limiting entries to three areas — networks and data, now closed, and, opening Aug. 29, mobile — Knight is not only concentrating the $5 million in funding, as well as support, it directly awards, it is also focusing the attention of the hundreds drawn by the chance for a share of such a large prize, just like Race for the Top.

With apologies to Red Sanders, here, winning is not the only thing. Wikileaks, for all its impact, was a News Challenge runner-up in 2009.

And, with apologies to those still recovering from Olympic spoilers, spoiler alert, the real winner of 2012’s final Challenge round will be users.

Users win because mobile gets content creators, developers and designers to focus on them.

When screen space and bandwidth are at a premium, publishers cut out the editorial fat and silence the interactive bells and whistles.

When the platform travels with the user, publishers steer content to them rather than luring them to the content.

When, almost whoever you are, your friends, family and neighbors are likely fellow users, the generative benefits of community increase.

When traditional technological followers, who, due to their lack of infrastructure, leapfrog traditional technological leaders in the mobile revolution, a larger, more diverse population of users tests ideas sooner.

When publishers create for devices that are increasingly young users’ first, and sometimes only, exposure to the greater outside world, they gain insight into the expectations and behaviors these users will manifest when they become participatory consumers.

So, congratulations users. As a user of at least six CMSes who assists end-users when their gears start to grind, trust me, you’ve earned it.

Now that you know who wins, this time, aren’t you even more excited to watch the race? I know I am. I might even run in it.

Creative Commons photo by Ken Banks, kiwanja.net


Late-inning anthems

June 21, 2012

Stretch

Few stadiums have organists these days. But ballpark musical traditions endure. Here are songs Major League Baseball teams regularly play (or at least used to) during the 7th inning stretch or in the middle of the 8th or 6th innings. Feel free to stretch, air guitar, polka, “Shout,” sing and dance along.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Build Me Up Buttercup
Washington Nationals – Shout
Kansas City Royals – Kansas City
Seattle Mariners – Louie, Louie
Cincinnati Reds – Twist and Shout
Baltimore Orioles – Thank God I’m a Country Boy
Houston Astros – Deep in the Heart of Texas
Texas Rangers – Cotton Eyed Joe
St. Louis Cardinals – Here Comes The King
Boston Red Sox – Sweet Caroline
New York Mets – Lazy Mary
Colorado Rockies – Hey! Baby
Tampa Bay Rays – Fins
Milwaukee Brewers – The Beer Barrel Polka
Toronto Blue Jays – OK Blue Jays
Los Angeles Dodgers – Don’t Stop Believin’
New York Yankees – God Bless America
Chicago Cubs – Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Modified Creative Commons photo by Flickr user arcaneraven


West Baltimore Squares Photo Walk

May 28, 2012

If you couldn’t take the heat, you mised a lot of cool history.

Baltimore Heritage‘s Eli Pousson led a walking tour of Southwest Baltimore’s Hollins Market area yesterday, the day of the annual Sowebo Arts and Music Festival, for the West Baltimore Squares Photo Walk, hosted by Baltimore Heritage and The Baltimore Sun.

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View captions and photos from other participants on The Sun’s site.

For background about the area and to do a similar tour yourself go the Explore Baltimore Heritage project.


New consumers’ tastes and habits will be shaped by the mobile experience

May 2, 2012

Cell-phone

Mobile first is already a buzzword. Before it loses all meaning, what does it mean? Anthony D. Paul of Columbia’s ADG Creative blogged some smart thoughts on the subject from an agency’s perspective.

The “mobile first” approach is merely asking us to stop assuming we need “a website”, “an app”, or “a hammer” and to return to first determining what matters most to our customers, our users, our administrators, and our businesses. Using mobile devices as a flag-carrier, their seemingly limiting screen size helps you to assess the most important pieces of our digital products as they relate to each device.

Good stuff. Now, what does mobile first mean from a user’s perspective?

I wrote the following in a Google Plus comment to another ADG employee:

Increasingly, mobile will have been the first introduction to computers for young consumers, the ones you have an opportunity to shape a lifetime of buying habits for. Even if they pick up non-mobile/tablet devices later, which is far from a certainty, their habits and expectations will be shaped by the mobile experience.

What does mobile first mean to you?

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user St0rmz


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.

Church

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

No-press

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)


Beauty in the blight: The accidental art of Baltimore 311 images

March 24, 2012

Beauty is everywhere, even among the blight. The following images were curated from Baltimore’s 311 app.

Dirty alley, Darley Park

Normal

Graffiti, Medfield

Buenavista

Damaged sidewalk, Highlandtown

Tree

Graffiti, Hampden

Chestnut

Dirty alley, Penn North

Clendenin

Parking complaint, Penn Station

Penn

Graffiti, Mount Vernon

Brick

Park cleaning request, Patterson Park

Courts

Open fire hydrant, Canton

Elliott

Parking complaint, Midtown

Preston