Posts tagged ‘social media’

Blogging made oh-so-simple

Blogging these days is not rocket science:  you sign up to a blogging platform, log in, write, and publish. But a new blogging platform launched in June this year makes the likes of Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr look complicated and time consuming.

It’s called Posterous , it works through your email and it’s dead easy.  No registration is necessary: all you have to do to start a blog is send an e-mail to [post at posterous dot com] and within a few minutes you’ll receive a validation e-mail with the URL of your new blog. Here’s mine.  

Multimedia
To start blogging, simply e-mail your post to [post @ posterous dot com].  You can send attachments –pictures, audio or documents –  which will be published on your blog.  It accepts pdf, mp3, jpg, gif, doc and png files.  Unfortunately, Posterous hasn’t made allowance for video attachments yet but if you include a YouTube url, it will immediately imbed the video into your post.   Each user gets 1GB of free space, and there are plans to develop premium features soon.

Furthermore, Posterous lets you publish your podcasts via e-mail onto your blog.  It plays using the site’s flash player or iTunes.

Just remember that you do have the option of registering your Posterous blog and posting directly from the Posterous site.  This way, you can edit your posts with the site’s rich text editor.  

Looks
Posterous is aesthetically pleasing.  It has a uniform theme,  but the clean, neat interface looks better than the usual Blogger and WordPress themes.  Posterous automatically rescales your images and if you attach multiple pictures, it automatically creates a photo gallery, giving your blog an organised and de-cluttered look.

Another plus is that it allows viewers to download a single photo or an entire gallery (in .zip file) in their original sizes.  If your content is copyrighted, you can alter your settings to turn off the download option.

Social Media
Posterous has also dipped a toe into social media by allowing users to autopost updates to Twitter and pictures to Flickr from their site. E-mail your .jpg files and posterous will automatically add them to your Flickr stream.

It also has a social networking capability: users can search for and follow other posterous bloggers, or track posts on particular topics.  The automatically created RSS Feed is also a definite plus.

Cross posting
A revolutionary feature of Posterous is that it allows you to post to existing blogs.  Currently, the service supports WordPress, Blogger, Xanga, Live Journal, Tumblr, TypePad and Movable Type.  Now there’s no need to log onto multiple blogs to post – simply set up your autopost, send one e-mail to Posterous, and your post will be published on your multiple blogs.

Mobile blogging
The biggest advantage of this minimalist blogging platform is that it makes mobile blogging much easier it currently is.  Posterous allows you to blog on the go by simply sending an sms to them.  This service is currently available in the US only, but if they manage to extend it globally, it’s sure to be a hit.

 

Killer App? 
There are numerous blogging platforms that have a larger, established presence on the web but the simplicity of Posterous is what sets it apart from the rest.  It’s just a few months old but it has awesome functionality and potential. Ofcourse, that its developers roll out new features all the time is a definite plus.

My verdict?  Posterous has the makings of the next killer app. When the e-lluminati start raving about it, just remember that you read it here first 🙂

8 August, 2008 at 12:24 pm 9 comments

Twittering your breakfast – and the earthquake in China

Since setting up my Twitter account a month ago, I haven’t been bothered to update my status or follow other friends because I could do just that – and much more – on Facebook. I’ve struggled to think of how Twitter, a micro blogging service which provides bite-sized messages, could be useful to me or anyone else, beyond letting each other know what we had for breakfast.

Until now.

The blogosphere is currently abuzz with debate over whether micro blogging is an effective tool for providing and reporting the latest news. This follows proof that users on Twitter beat the news wires and journalists in reporting the earthquake that hit China on May 12 .

According to a timeline of tweets, the first message on the earthquake was posted by Twitter user scribeoflight at 2:35:33pm Beijing local time, and said simply: “earthquake. not sure how big. maybe four”.

The earthquake occurred at 2:28pm.

Minutes later, news agencies like Bloomberg News, Reuters and Dow Jones broke the story of the earthquake hitting Beijing, and later, Sichuan province.

In this blog post, Robert Scoble, famous for having 24000+ followers on Twitter and receiving a tweet every second of the day, says several Twitter users in China reported the quake to him while it was actually happening. He then used Twitter to provide news and updates about the quake to other users. Scoble also claims that Twitter had news of the earthquake even before the United States Geological Survey, which monitors seismic events.

Since then, users like inwalkedbud have been providing regular tweets on the earthquake and its effects, making Twitter one of the main sources of news on the quake. Users on Fanfou, Taotao and Jiwai.de, Chinese social messaging services, are doing the same. Photos and videos of the quake and its devastation have also been posted on Flickr, YouTube, and Chinese video-sharing sites like Tudou and Youku, providing eye-witness accounts that mainstream media have struggled to get. Global Voices Online and the BBC provide a roundup of social media coverage of the quake.

Social media in emergencies

A recent study at the University of California claims that social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia are more effective than traditional media in providing information and warnings in an emergency/disaster situation.

During the Virginia Tech shootings in the US last April, the study found that emergency services and the media were slow in providing updates on the situation at the college and of the students who had been killed.

However, within 90 minutes of the shootings, a Wikipedia entry accurately describing the events had been posted and updated several times. Twenty minutes later, Facebook users had set up a group called “I’m OK at VT” for students and staff to reassure their friends and family that they were safe.

Researchers found that during the California fires last year, web users used Twitter to inform their friends of their condition, while traditional media struggled to provide updates on the fire. They also used Google Maps to track the fire’s route and indicate the areas where businesses and schools had been closed.

The study says the mass media were “unreliable” as they struggled to gain entry to remote areas from which users with Internet access could easily report.

It found that while traditional media focused on sensationalist news like the burning of celebrities’ homes, ordinary web users could provide important and accurate information as it unfolded.

Mainstream media

While the recent earthquake in China is enough proof for me that Twitter has greater utility beyond letting the world know what I had for breakfast, we should be careful about glorifying it as a rival news source.

Twitter and other social media tools may provide immediacy, global reach and first-hand information, but how accurate is it as a news source? Ofcourse, it’s hard to be wrong about an earthquake, but I wouldn’t write an article based solely on a tweet that says “Yay! Mugabe is dead” without verifying it first.

Nevertheless, it’s evident that the power and utility of social media has a huge impact on mainstream journalism. Unless journalists are arrogant and stupid enough to think that they’re the sole gatekeepers and producers of news, they need to join the online conversation.

In my next post, I’ll discuss how some South African news websites are doing just that, and how web 2.0 has changed conventional media-audience relationships.

19 May, 2008 at 10:06 am 4 comments

Learning the Web 2.0 way (1/2)

When I was in primary school, the most intolerable subject I had to endure was something called Needlework. Only girls had to take this class while the boys did woodwork. The hour-long weekly lessons involved learning how to stitch buttons, knit with those two chop-stick-type objects, and sew little cushions – skills that were apparently necessary to our education. Apart from the fact that my school perpetuated the sexual division of labour and tried to socialise girls into being “good housewives” one day, my point is that this type of education was archaic and boring. The teacher sat at her desk in the front and tried to demonstrate a backstitch, while the rest of us tried to stay awake and not prick ourselves to death.

Thanks to the new OBE system, Needlework no longer features on the list of skills that students need.

And thanks to Bill Gates and the rest of the techno geeks for new educational tools like Showslides and Moodle that have moved into the mainstream. E-learning is becoming increasingly acceptable and popular among students and teachers, and so too is the use of social media in education. In this post, I review a few (almost brand new) e-learning resources, and in the next, I’ll discuss the use of wikis in education.

LearnHub, which launched last month, is a social network for students and teachers/lecturers. It’s made up of a range of user-created communities around a specific topic, like Mathematics or Photography. Students can interact with other students and with educators. They can join a community created by a “lecturer” who teaches a course by posting lessons (including powerpoint presentations) and tutorials, and initiating debates. The “lecturer” can also set tests and track students’ progress. What’s most impressive is the site offers real-time tutoring through live video, voice and document sharing. All of this is free, but teachers can charge a fee for their courses and for tutoring in the LearnHub marketplace.

The more I use LearnHub, the more I’m impressed by it. While the line between student and teacher is blurred through this mode of learning since anyone can teach a course or offer a solution to an equation, what makes LearnHub an effective educational resource is that many professional teachers and experts have joined the network and are offering courses. The information on the site then is, for the most part, trustworthy. LearnHub also has a reputation system for users to rank other users’ answers/courses. The higher your ranking, the higher your authority on the network. It’s a great way for students to find credible sources, and for teachers to market their expertise or offer it freely.

In the words of its developers, Socrato is a “web-based test preparation and assessment platform”. Professional teachers can use the application to post multiple-choice tests, which their students then take online. Socrato boasts analytical tools that tracks students’ progress and helps them identify their strengths and weaknesses. Students can also create study groups and share content with their peers. The application is currently in its beta phase and freely available to the public, but will become a pay-to-use service soon.

Unlike LearnHub and Socrato, this social network is aimed exclusively at students. While professionals can sign up, skoogO automatically links all students to each other. Based on the profile information you provide, it connects you to other students at your university/school, or those from around the world who are doing a similar course, or even using the same textbook as you are. Students can then ask and answer questions relating to their course, and engage in online peer-to-peer learning this way. Although skoogO aims to be an educational resource for students, they seem to be using it more as an alternative to Yahoo!Answers or the local Answerit, rather than for purely educational purposes. (Questions range from “Is it better to be feared or loved?” to “What shampoo and conditioner is best for naturally curly hair?”).

I’ve e-mailed my younger siblings the links to these sites because I think they really can be valuable and useful to them (and me). While e-learning resources are not a substitute for face-to-face education, they can augment students’ learning and provide them with a variety of knowledge that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to. I’m not saying do away with classroom-based education, I’m saying that if a teacher wants to engage with his/her students, he/she should use the technological medium that most appeals to them. This way, they’re less likely to doze off in the middle of a lesson – or prick each other with needles, they way my friends and I did in Needlework class.

24 April, 2008 at 2:37 pm 4 comments

Blog Debut

Having just completed an academic essay on social media, I could regurgitate the wonder of Web 2.0 and how it has turned users into producers; how social media use blurs the boundaries between media/audience and reception/production; how the new web allows for a reconstitution of… I’ve started to lose you already, right?

The purpose of this blog is to unpack social media for the average web user (that’s me included).  I’m an avid Facebook user and blog reader, but I haven’t given much thought to the medium, and if and how the incalculable hours I’ve spent online have changed anything about me.   

There’s so much that’s already been said about social media, but also quite a bit that hasn’t.  Through a blog series that begins next week, I’ll be looking at a range of social media forms – blogs, social networks, wikis and the rest – and reviewing some of them.  I’ll also consider social media’s general impact, its influence on users’ identity, its utility for businesses and traditional media, and its democratic potential.  All this, I promise, without causing you to keel over your keyboard from boredom.

As I’m proudly South African (except when the electricity cuts off), I’ll also be covering our flourishing social media scene and finding out what the “experts” have to say.

Now excuse me while I go change my Facebook status to, “Qudsiya is now a blogger!”

6 April, 2008 at 2:38 pm 4 comments


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