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Archive for June 2011

Security for Social Media Users on the Run

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Social media is a powerful tool for reporters because it allows them to update from anywhere they can get signal for their smart phone or public wi-fi for their laptop.  Unfortunately, public wi-fi is about as safe to use as handing people your ATM card and telling them your PIN number.  Thankfully, we can combat some of these dangers and make it safer to login and update on our social media accounts. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/28 at 15:53

Quora and its Potential Uses

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There are times when reporters have questions that need answers quickly.  It’s during these moments that many turn to the internet for a quick fact check before finishing up their article and submitting it.  Google and Wikipedia are good resources, but each has potential drawbacks.  Google might omit relevant answers as mentioned in an earlier post and Wikipedia’s open editing stance can lead to misinformation by anonymous or biased editors.  While each of these problems are generally minor in the grand scheme, there are alternatives.  Quora is one such alternative, and it provides a unique interface for users. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/26 at 20:07

Posted in Social Media Reporting 2011

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Speed Bumps in the Learning Process

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I was slowly plugging away at the Python tutorial I found online until I hit a small snag.  The book said that you need to install GASP for further tutorials.  Unfortunately for me, GASP is not supported in OSX, so I can’t really use anymore of this book.  This is a pretty big disappointment for me. My ability to quickly build a madlibs program wetted my appetite because I spent more time coming up with the madlib than I did figuring out the implementation.  I’ve stalled until I can find another tutorial book, but I’m currently vetting alternatives through the Python website.  Hopefully I’ll find something written for a non-programmer/hacker that I can complete.

I’ll probably start posting up design ideas in the meantime to get feedback from people on navigation, layout, and colors.

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/24 at 21:49

Posted in SFC Website rebuild

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Why Social Media Experts Keep Finding Jobs

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The internet can be an overwhelming place.  I’ve been using Twitter sporadically for the past year and still haven’t garnered much of a following beyond friends and associates.  I keep a personal and professional account for Twitter and Gmail accounts and have trouble keeping track of both equally.  Now I’m learning about Google profiles, LinkedIn and a multitude of other social media pages that I’ll want to join in the near future if I want to be competitive in the age of online reporting.  It’s no wonder that “Social Media Experts” exist and can make money from the many people overwhelmed with the variety of social media and the different ways each website operates. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/22 at 00:10

Social Media and the Filter Bubble

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I first saw this video a few years ago and thought it was the stuff of Faked Moon Landings and other conspiracy theories.  It’s true that Google was, and still is, the most powerful search engine whose results are at the mercy of the code written by the faceless programmers at the Googleplex. I always assumed that their goal was to give me relevant results for what I wanted, whether it be the latest news out of a foreign country or the name of that one extra that looked familiar in the latest blockbuster hit. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/19 at 09:59

The potential of Trendsmap.com

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There’s a lot I don’t know about Twitter and the various ways outside websites aggregate its data.  I was most impressed by Trendsmap.com and the way it sorts out trending topics by location and plots them out on a map.  The website uses location data listed on user accounts with the trending data to position the trends at certain locations.

I could use Trendsmap to see what’s going on in locations I’m interested in like Hollywood, Chicago, or New York.  It can also give me an idea of what people in the US or a particular state are talking about.  Trends on the website grow as they become more popular which would allow news companies to write related stories or use the trending topics to promote stories on a similar topic that they’ve already written.  Weiner was trending in the DC metro area and in California at the time this post was written.  Newspapers with stories about Weiner and Democratic reactions to his decisions in the face of the current scandal could be promoted on Twitter and could probably grab an audience in areas where the topic is already trending.

Unfortunately there are some drawbacks to Trendsmap. The website uses the location listed in the user profile and doesn’t use geotagging for approximate location.  This means that it’s not possible to use Trendsmap to see what a large group of visitors think of a particular location or event.  It would be impossible to hover over Cannes, France during the Cannes Film Festival and see what attendees are tweeting about because many are visiting France for the festival and their tweets are centered on whatever home location they entered on their profile.  This drawback does not affect events that take place on a national or global scale like the Olympics, the World Cup, a nationally broadcasted awards ceremony or important political events.

Trendsmap needs positional data from users for it to accurately follow trends, but not everyone is comfortable with the internet knowing their location, even if they keep their personal life separate from their internet personality.  While complete disclosure would allow Trendsmap to accurately follow trending topics, it might make people feel as if big brother is watching.  Knowledge of what’s important to a particular area is useful for reporting, but it could also be useful for less savory purposes.

Trendsmap is definitely a powerful tool for newsrooms to turn to when they want to gather popular topics relevant to a particular geographical area, but it is not a magic bullet that will solve all the problems.  I will definitely keep the website bookmarked in my hotbar and I think that any reporter that wants to use Twitter as a potential source for stories should do the same thing.

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/14 at 20:54

Falling down the steep learning curve: Python and Vim, week 1

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I don’t know how most people imagine learning curves, but they’ve always been downhill for me.  One slight mistake and you’ll fall tumbling to the bottom with no idea how you got there.  When I hear that there’s a steep learning curve, I know to grab my mental crampons and rope gear to begin my slow descent to the bottom of whatever subject I’ve decided to dive into.

Computers and every subject relating to them can be intimidating to learn because you have to know how everything interacts.  In this particular case I want to use the Django framework to rebuild the SFC website which is currently defunct with its last update in April.  I stopped updating because I couldn’t get WordPress to do what I wanted, so my computer savvy older brother suggested that I learn Django and make it myself.  It was a wonderful idea and I want to get a working website up and running as soon as possible.  The one hitch is that before I learn how to work with Django and the many internet related issues contained within (servers, networking, browser interaction, etc.) I needed to learn Python so that I can make Django do what I want.  The trick is that before I can even do that I need to learn how my text editor, Vim works.  It’s true that I could program in text edit or whatever generic text file program, but they’re slow and don’t have powerful editing tools like those available to EMACS and Vim users.  I’ve used Vim before, but it’s been a long time and I need to brush up on all the commands.

I’m also re-learning how to program.  I’ve programmed before in LC-3 machine and assembly code and done a few fun projects in C, but the last time I sat down and wrote code was almost seven years ago under the watchful gaze of a programming genius that took me under his wing.  Now I’m on my own and I don’t remember much of what he taught me.  I asked my brother how he became such an expert and he said that I should hack, a lot.  I should try to make this computer do all sorts of crazy stuff and keep frequent backups on the off-chance that I break something.  It’s a scary prospect, but I think I’ll have to give it a go if I want to understand computers better.

Thankfully there are open book projects on Python for people with no programming experience. I’m on chapter 3 of this book and it’s going well so far.  Learning Python is definitely easier than C.  There’s a seven-year gap in the process, but I think that the basics of Python are a lot easier since you don’t have to do as much setup with the main body of the program versus functions and other smaller pieces.  It’s like the difference between an Erector Set and K’nex; the latter builds similar structures, but you just snap it together instead of getting out a wrench and screwdriver to bolt everything together.

I’m excited and hopeful that I can get through this book relatively quickly and start working with Django and the next set of intimidating computer subjects.

Written by Christopher Siler

2011/06/14 at 01:55

Posted in SFC Website rebuild

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