The End!

Okay, well, you’re not quite there yet. But almost. Last week will mark our final class and I want to make sure that you’re fully caught up on your all of your blog posts and the final project. By 7:45 p.m. Wednesday night, we expect all of your blog posts to be fully completed and for you to hand in a hard copy of your final project in class. Late projects and late blog entries will not be accepted.

I want you to use your final blog entry of the semester to respond to a two-part question. Take the opportunity to reflect over the course of the semester and all the various topics we’ve covered. Here’s the question: Was exploring social media this semester worth it? In light of “Hamlet’s Blackberry,” do you think this whole world does more harm than good or more good than harm? Beyond those two questions, what do you think of this social media you’ll still be using in six months? In a year? Have the tools that we’ve looked at this fall made your life better or worse?

It’s a big topic, I know, but one I’m really interested in. Truthfully, I’m no longer as convinced as I was when I began teaching this class in 2007 that social media is a net positive for society. It’s certainly not all bad—as I might have left some with the impression after last night’s lecture—but social media is not nearly as dreamy and delightful and sugar and spice and all things nice as it’s often made out to be in the media.

We’ll talk about that subject next week in class. Until then, go forth and conquer!

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Online Overseas and War 2.0

We’re going to cover a lot of ground Wednesday, our penultimate meeting of the semester (already!? hard to believe!). Our main subject this week is going to be the war in Iraq and the unique stories that have come out of it—the first war fought since Web 2.0. Remember how we’ve been saying how these tools are open to everyone? Here’s a story from the Washington Post about the Taliban’s website—that was hosted on a server in Houston!

The depth and breadth of this war’s coverage is unlike anything we’ve ever seen—particularly because of who is covering it. Feeling the traditional media wasn’t covering Iraq went and using VOIP technology, Swarthmore college students started putting together a regular news show interviewing Iraqis. Here’s an NPR story on it and then go listen to some of the podcasts.

The newest aspects of Web 2.0 in the war is how it allows us on the home front to hear from soldiers and civilians in the war zone in real time. Salem Pax was one of the first Iraqi bloggers in Baghdad, and the Baghdad Burningblog actually ended up being turned into a book. Its author, Riverbend, is still unknown.

One of you, Cathy, actually wrote her community snapshot on milblogging, so I’m going allow her to be your guide to this world:

  • Site: Blackfive :: :: Blackfive is widely considered to be the leading milblog.  It started in 2004 when the original blogger realized the mainstream media wasn’t going to cover the valorous death of his friend in Iraq.  The site is now a group-authored blog, with 12 active authors representing primarily Army backgrounds, with a sprinkling of Navy and Air Force vets.  The site is usually updated several times a day and most posts result in anywhere from 5 to 30 comments.  The original Blackfive author, Matthew Burden, is a respected figure in the Milblogging community and is often a featured speaker at blogging events.  He is also active in several military and veteran’s organizations/charities.
  • Site: You Served :: (blog) :: (podcast) :: You Served is a group blog sponsored by the VA Mortgage Center.  The primary authors (CJ Grisham and Troy Steward) also have other blogs and are respected leaders in the milblogging community.  The site also feature guest bloggers and now allows any US veteran to submit something to the blog for publication.   The blog is usually updated daily or every other day and doesn’t garner a lot of comments.  You Served is also the leading milblog podcast and often hosts live video streams of blogging conferences on its website.
  • Site: Mudville Gazette (also home of the Milblog Ring) :: :: Mudville Gazette is written by Greyhawk and his wife, Mrs. Greyhawk.  Both are active in the milblogging community and are often cited in other milblogs.  The site also serves as the original organizing ring for Milblogs.  The site is updated every few days, sometime multiple times a day.  The site doesn’t garner as many comments per post as Blackfive does.
  • Milblogging: World’s largest Index of Military Blogs :: :: Milblogging is hosted by  It was started by Jean-Paul Borda during a 2005 deployment to Afghanistan as a blog and index of other milblogs. bought the site in 2006 and retained the founder as editor and webmaster.  There are currently 2,849 milblogs from 45 countries with 12,875 registered members active on Milblogging according to the site.  Milblogging allows searching by multiple attributes and claims to link you with a milblog that meets your interests in less than 5 clicks.  In addition to the searchable database of blogs, they also post multiple interesting items on a daily basis in a blog format.  Milblogging hosts the annual Milbloggies award.
  • Site: Bouhammer’s Afghanistan and Military Blog :: :: Bouhammer is primarily focused on Afghanistan and other military information.  It is written by Troy Steward, a retired First Sergeant, who is also a blogger and podcaster for You Served.  His co-blogger is The Dude, a National Guard captain.
  • Site: From my Position…On the Way! (FMPOTW) :: :: FMPOTW is one of the few top milblogs written by an active-duty soldier (Chuck Ziegenfuss).  Ziegenfuss is an Iraq vet who was wounded during a 2005 deployment to Iraq (where he was an active blogger).  He was featured in a recent issue of People Magazine for his work with Soldier’s Angels and Project Valor-IT, a charity that donates adapted laptops to wounded/recovering vets.
  • Michael Yon Online Magazine :: :: Michael Yon is a citizen journalist/blogger who has spent a large part of the past 6 years accompanying US troops on embeds in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He has published a few books about his experiences there.  He is currently only updating his blog a few times a month (his Facebook gets updated much more frequently but is not about the military right now).  Yon has a reputation for being hard to work with and likes to refer to US military public affairs officials and senior ranking officers in disparaging tones. He was asked to dis-embed from Afghanistan in April 2010 and set off a flurry of negative comments about the milblogging community on his Facebook page  ( and  Several milbloggers have “Banned by Mike Yon” banners on their websites, while others have spoken up in his defense.
  • Site: This Ain’t Hell But You Can See it from Here :: :: Thisainthell is a group blog written by Jonn Lilyea, COB6 and TSO, who also blog on other websites.  The site, like most of the milblogs right now, is focused on the upcoming election, the Wikileaks data dump of secret reports from Iraq and NPR’s firing of Juan Williams.  There isn’t a lot about current soldiers on it.
  • Site: A Soldier’s Perspective (ASP) :: :: CJ Grisham, an active-duty Soldier, started ASP in 2004.  Grisham also blogs at You Served.  He gave up ownership of the site in December 2009 due to controversy over his blog posts about the local school board that were brought to the Army’s attention.  His case was used as an example of how the military doesn’t support its member’s blogging.  He but continues to blog on ASP, along with three other bloggers.  The site is updated daily (M-F).
  • Site: Castle Argghhh! :: :: Military, Gun, Politics blog.  Group blog, 4 contributors (John Donovan is the main contributor).  Updated daily, sometimes multiple times per day.  Usually garners several comments per post.  Blog has been online since September 2003.

Colby Buzzell‘s blog ended up launching a successful book (it won the Lulu Blooker Prize, for best blog to become a book) and he’s continuing to write for GQ. I recommend picking up the book if you want a good soldier’s memoir.

One of the biggest controversies to break out online is over Kevin Sites, who was an independent journalist in Iraq and videotaped what appeared to be a soldier shooting an unarmed wounded Iraqi. He now has a book/documentary out about his career. You can also see his Flickr feed. Here’s an interview that discusses his offbeat path.

Of course Sites isn’t the only one in Iraq with a video camera—the troops have them too and seem to spend a lot of time mixing patriotic videos (WARNING: some of this is graphic war footage). Dig around on YouTube and see what good videos you find. Controversial videos have also surfaced of private contractors shooting at civilian cars. This week, post to Twitter at least one YouTube video of the war.

And, of course, remember games and the internet are how the military is signing up its new recruits.

This week, dig around, read a few blogs, and see what surprises you. I want your blog post for the week, though, to focus on the second topic we’re going to be covering in class: How the internet is developing differently in other countries around the world. For your blog post, I want you all to go to Global Voices Online, which rounds out the bloggers around the world, and pick a country that begins with the same letter as your name (to get the country listing click on countries in the upper right-hand corner). Explore that country’s blogosphere and write your blog post of the week about your findings.

Remember to be plugging away on your final project and finishing up your extra blog posts. Oh, by the way, remember that quiz? If I were you, I’d brush up on my core course concepts before Wednesday’s class.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

So, um, yea, sorry for getting this up late. Stay tuned later this week for the blog post about next week’s class. For now, though, your blog post for this week.

In the theme of Thanksgiving, what website are you most thankful for? What website, whether Web 2.0 or Web 1.0, has most made your life better? And, most importantly, why? What about it sparks your passion, what makes it “sticky” for you?

Since we got this up late, don’t worry too much about missing the deadline. Just have it ready for next week’s class meeting.

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Achievement Unlocked: Gaming & The Social Web

For Wednesday’s class, we’re going to be looking at gaming. Online gaming (and related consoles like the Wii and Xbox 360) is quickly graduating from a teenage past-time to a massive industry, partly because the generation raised on Nintendo and Super Mario Brothers is aging and still playing games. Adult gaming is huge today. Movies today can gross more from the associated games than from the movies themselves. XBox’s Halo 3, which released last September and allows people to play joint missions from multiple locations connected online, had the biggest release in entertainment history—grossing some $170 million in its first 24 hours. That record has been crushed a couple times since then.

Massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are a huge business today—they’re even being used by the U.S. Army to recruit (as well as train new soldiers). They are also complicated stories, almost mini-novels.

Second Life is probably the best known of the various games and it has spawned a massive economic industry within it (although the benefits are questionable). It’s a strange world — I’ll spending a chunk of time on World of Warcraft in class, though I’d encourage you also to sign up for a Second Life account (basic membership is fine), download the application, and spend some time playing in Second Life, so you can at least master the basics of walking, talking, and flying. Read theWikipedia page carefully so you understand the game (tech subjects like this are where you can trust Wikipedia better than just about any other source). BusinessWeek also had a good cover story on this phenomenon a while back (make sure to note and listen to the podcast). If you love this and are interested in journalism, then go ahead and join the reporting staff of the Second Life Herald, the game’s virtual newspaper, or become one of the game’s embedded reporters. Also check out the Second Life Showcase to see some cool things going on in the game and listen to a podcast or two. Confused? Don’t be. Very few people understand how this world works and what its impact could be; that’s especially true of groups with an agenda.

Beyond Second Life, World of Warcraft is probably the second-best known, with a huge passionate following. How huge and how passionate, you ask skeptically? Try roughly 2 million North American players, 1.5 million European players, and 3.5 million Chinese. That’s some seven million (as of 2009) 12 million PAYING users.

Companies are beginning to realize how big gaming is and how influential games can be in helping people make decisions, as well influencing decisions and policies. The North Carolina firm Persuasive Games is probably the leader in online game development.

Go ahead and play a couple of them. Blog about your experiences. Are the games effective in getting their point/message across? What surprised you about this week’s readings? What surprises you about gaming? Have you ever played MMOGs before? Where did you start your gaming experience? Mario Brothers?

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From Linux to Threadless

Sorry I missed you all on Wednesday but I’m looking forward to more fun discussions next week as we continue to explore the topic of crowds vs. communities. It’s a key concept and one that we’ll spend a lot more time exploring in next week’s class. Our focus next week will largely be on the output of these crowds and communities.

The title of next week’s lecture is the same as this blog post: from Linux to Threadless. We’ll explore everything from the community-based development of complex software operating systems like Linux, to the community-driven design of some of the best t-shirts you can buy. (At least I think so, as the owner of several Threadless tees including this one andthis one. )

Last week you were tasked with comparing the credibility of Wikipedia with a traditional published encyclopedia. Your blog topic for this week is an extension of that same theme, with a slight difference: did anything we showed you or discussed in class change your mind from your initial position? What about traditional news outlets—how would you compare the credibility of Wikipedia, particularly around breaking news?

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Wikipedia Reports

So I hope you enjoyed Wednesday’s class; I know we covered a tremendous amount of ground quickly so feel free to ask Mike some questions next week. I know many of you were SHOCKED at how the web (especially images) isn’t all public domain, free to be used on your own blogs. Here’s a funny example of that creeping up this week. Also, this week, one of my college classmates, a novelist, discovered that she’s labeled on Wikipedia as a World War II veteran. You can’t be too careful online!

Thanks for sticking with me through a broad, fast-moving lecture that covered a lot of ground last night. Here’s a piece on Wikipedia written for Slate by my buddy Chris Wilson. There’s more information in there on Ed Chi’s research as well as the chart I showed in class Wednesday night.

As for your own Wikipedia project, here’s what we’re looking for:

Write a new page or substantially edit an existing page within Wikipedia. By substantial, I will be looking for more than 200 words of original material or the equivalent in terms of reorganization or “wikification.” You’re going to be graded not just on your contribution but how well you do within the bounds of Wikipedia—whether your contributions are welcomed, fit within the context of the Talk page within your particular entry, your adherance to NPOVand “notability” guidelines, and the like.

You’ll need to spend some time learning the ethos of Wikipedia via its tutorial and reading through the tutorials and talk/discussion pages where you want to make your contribution. It’s valuable too to read “What Wikipedia Is Not.” Make sure that your chosen topic doesn’t include a conflict of interest, as Wikipedia defines it. As the page explains, “COI editing also risks causing public embarrassment outside of Wikipedia for the individuals and groups being promoted.”

You won’t be penalized if your changes are undone, as long as you avoid COI and have a good case for your notability/NPOV, etc., and engage in the discussion if necessary.

Here’s the Welcome page and the tutorial page to get started. Make sure to play around this week so Mike and I can answer any questions you have in class next week or by email. You can also try the Help page. If you think you’ll be engaged in editing Wikipedia in the future, I’d encourage you to get a copy of Wikipedia: The Missing Manual. For this assignment, a digital version is available.

Your edits are due by classtime, 7:45 p.m., on Wednesday, November 17, 2010. By that time, you have to email me and Mike with your username and a link to the entry you either (a) created or (b) edited. We will be able to determine based on the page history what you edited, even if your edits are undone by another editor. It’s okay for your edits to be undone if you (a) adhere to the notability and NPOV guidelines and (b) can make a case, both to us and in the entry’s Talk page for why your edits deserve inclusion.

To be clear, as is the policy announced in class on the first week, we do not accept late projects without penalty. You have plenty of time to complete this project if you begin it now. Do not leave it to the last minute because it’s more complicated than you think it will be.

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I hope you enjoyed last night’s class; we didn’t end up really talking about next week’s election, so for one of your Twitter links this week, try to find something election-related that’s worth sharing.

With next Wednesday’s Wikipedia class, we’re going to delve into the world of what Stephen Colbert calls “Truthiness.”

As your first journey into Truthiness and the challenges of the web, take a look at the documentary “Loose Change,” which was put together online to highlight the U.S. government’s role in the 9/11 attacks. On YouTube, hundreds of thousands of people have been able to view “Loose Change”—and, if you take the time to watch it, it makes a pretty convincing case that we don’t know the full truth about the 9/11 attacks. All told, across its various postings and versions, more than ten million people have watched the video. The challenge, of course, is that at best the documentary aspires to “truthiness,” that is it’s hard for a lay viewer to judge its actual level of factual interaction. Places like Popular Mechanics have tried to debunk the theories. One student in a previous semester pointed out to me in class a parody of “Loose Change” called “Unfastened Coins.” This is a great example of what we spoke about in last week’s class—the dangers to society of people using the internet badly. How do we ensure that people have the internet search skills necessary to avoid bad, misleading, untrue, or downright dangerously inaccurate information online?

It’s easy to dismiss endeavors like “Loose Change” (or is it?), but the journey into Wikipedia is much more complicated. Here’s some background reading and viewing on Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia. Its founderJimmy “Jimbo” Wales, has turned into one of the web’s big celebs (although there’s even some controversy over his Wikipedia entry). His project, though, despite becoming the default research tool for most college students and lazy journalists/researchers is very controversial for its “truthiness.” It’s very hard to know what exactly you can and can’t trust on Wikipedia.

Newsman John Seigenthaler got very burned by a libelous write-up, and not surprisingly Encyclopedia Britannica thinks the project is the devil incarnate. On the other hand, a Nature study found that the two are about equal in accuracy. But it still attracts lots of criticism. It’s killing a lot of other products, though, regardless. Of course, the beauty/challenge of Wikipedia is that anyone can edit it, as Colbert likes to demonstrate by raising the subject of “Wikiality” on subjects like elephants. But what about things that shouldn’t be in there at all?

This is the week that I want you to be most wary of what we’re learning. Ask hard questions about wikis and Wikipedia—we’re going to talk in class about your mini-project—contributing to a Wikipedia entry. Think about whether we should trust Wikipedia or an expert-led encyclopedia more? How could Wikipedia be better set-up to better provide accuracy? Should it be open to everyone or just verified “experts”?

On the subject of wikis, have you all been following the Wikileaks controversy of this week? Its founder is a character and one worth reading about. (And here’s what Jimmy Wales thinks of it).

In class, we’ll walk you through some Wikipedia pages, help you set up accounts, and explain WikiScanner.

UPDATE: Your blog topic for the week: Which should be considered more trustworthy: A published encyclopedia or Wikipedia?

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