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DEAN'S DIGITAL WORLD

By Dean Tudor

Buzzwords and Blogs

Dean Tudor

 

A reader (well, actually my wife, who is also a reader of this column) felt that I should cut through the jargon of convergence. I thought convergence was dead, but apparently it is still kicking around. And of course the jargon begins with the definition: delivering high quality content that a media company can repurpose across platforms.

Unfortunately for many companies, convergence seems to be "resolving" and "dissolving". The CanWest properties, with their fiscal backs to the wall, have nothing to lose by consolidating their media outlets or subject areas via employee cutbacks. The BCE properties are being refocused, that is, some are being sold off. So the word "convergence" will be with us for quite some time as the mess gets sorted out. At least, it will be a nice buzzword for the business pages of a converger. The media love talking about each other, mostly as a schadenfreude....Schadenfreude? Didn't he go to my high school, a couple years ahead of me? Play football? That's jargon for you (or is it simply a "foreign phrase"?)...

Buzzwords come and go: these are words that are all the buzz, and mean absolutely nothing. They stand up well at cocktail parties, unlike many of the attendees...In 1967, at my first job, I concocted a buzzword generator for information transfer. I guess I had time on my hands. And over the years I added to it. I taught this to my library science students and, later, to my journalism students. The basic principle is to develop a three word phrase, using an adverb to modify an adjective which modifies a noun. Of course, today, any noun can be used as an adverb and adjective, an adverb can be an adjective, and vice versa. Indeed, there are perl programs which can generate buzzwords. There's one for wine tasters at <www.gmon.com/tech/output.shtml> ; I highly recommend visiting it...

Here's how the generator works: select one word from each column for a three word buzz phrase which can now be interjected into any conversation about the "information transfer chain" (itself a buzzword?) --


Column One Column Two Column Three

1 Automated Adaptive Documentation
2 Multiple-access Reciprocal Chain
3 Integrated Monitored Catalogue
4 Tele-linked Special Clearinghouse
5 Variable Heavy-route Index
6 Geo-stationary Interfaced Transponders
7 Synchronized Real-time Satellites
8 Computerized Logistical Retrieval
9 Parallel Access Subsystems
10 Interactive Spectrum-analyzed Communication
11 Remote-learned Symbiotic Abstract
12 Systematized Frequency-allocated Teleconference
13 Client-oriented Transitional Reference
14 Functional Slowscan Sideband
15 User-reponsive Incremental Trunkcircuit
16 Analogue Datacom Projection
17 Responsive Transfer Videodisplay
18 Video-enhanced Mediated Program
19 Compatible Binary-synchronous Display
20 Up-linked Modular Telecommunication
21 Digitized Microcomputerized Network
22 Online Cordless Bandwidth
23 Balanced Facsimile Interface
24 Information Modulated Service
25 Geo-orbited Converging Device
26 Offline Global Reproduction
27 Geo-positioned Processed Packetswitch
28 Macrosized Web-styled Blog

There's "multiple-accessed interfaced sidebands", "functional monitored chain", or "offline symbiotic trunkcircuit" or "synchronized adaptive projection"... Of course, you can add your own favourite expressions, and even move on to another subject category, such as baseball or potatoes...This one just deals with information transfer.

One of the continuing stream of convergence ideas has been the "blog", a contraction of "web log", a sortof log or diary put up on a website. Look at <www.blogger.com> It takes more effort to do than a "webcam". And it is more popular, which goes to show that people still prefer reading over viewing. The webcam is, admittedly, more boring -- life goes on at a snail's pace, and there is no interaction. Originally blogs were merely written accounts of the blogger's life, a sort of stream of consciousness detailing boring issues of the day (how much toilet paper to use? do I have enough salt in the soup?).

But then the subject specialists started writing. I developed a "Wine Trade Winds Diary", an account of the many wine events in Toronto <www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor/trade.txt> written in ASCII text, since the end of 1999. Other specialists wrote about what happened to them on a daily basis, passing on comments from readers who responded via email, with corrections, news and opinions. Soon, message boards sprouted, and now there are even software packages that will allow blog creation and maintainence as easy as HTML creation. A search on Google showed 4,120,000 references to "blog", which of course included anybody named Blog. Open Directory, now used by Google to subject-arrange the hierarchy through drilling, shows 64 separate webrings listed webloggers and blogs. All of this in mid-April 2003. The largest category was "Personal" weblogs: 2777. There were 117 sites dealing with tools. to create your own weblog, etc. Some blogs are ad supported (boo!), while some others only have summaries of articles from the mainstream media (yea!) -- some with, and some without, URL links. All are truly a "web" of interconnections among people, not corporations...

The standard blog has the website set up for the blogger's current comments, space for rebuttal (message boards), a room for tips and rumours, archives for everything, and everchanging links to other blogs and hotspots. Indeed, many personal websites are turning into blogs of one kind or another, sort of converging (heh, heh: will CanWest buy them all?)...

The recent conflict in Iraq brought all this into sharper focus. Many reporters "embedded" or just in the field had set up their own blogs, some on the media company's website (e.g., Wolf Blitzer's cnn.com/wolf). Here they file stories and anecdotes, all sanitized of course, but good background nevertheless for those who eat up war news. Also, bloggers put up emailed accounts of what happened inside Iraq, from Iraqis themselves. Take it all with a grain of salt, from both sides (again, do I have enough salt?). But the blogs involved in the conflict had wide-ranging commentary, diaries, and ever- changing links to other sites...

Blogs are "outgoing" in that you have to actively pursue them by clicking or typing an URL. They are web-based interfaces. The other side of the coin is the passive reception of "incoming" alerts via email. These news alerts are from traditional mainstream media and institutions, and some of them verge on press releases. But the important thing is that they arrive in your email box as you want them. News alerts, for example, can be sent to you every hour, twice a day (morning and evening), daily (usually overnight) -- even weekly. Of course, you have to register and give them your email address. Embedded in the email news alert are the relevant URLs needed to access documents and commentaries, audio and video...Just click on them, and most of your research is done....Here's a few, with the URLs for signing up:

  • You can get Bourque news alerts from Pierre Bourque, usually some breaking Canadian news. Send a note to <pierre@achilles.net>...
  • At Yahoo Alerts <alerts.yahoo.com>, you can configure news alerts to be set up to give you notification of news, weather, stocks, sports, on an hourly basis, or twice a day, once a day or weekly. Just tell them the words or phrases that you are looking for. Sources here include AP and Reuters.
  • EditorsWeb <www.editorsweb.org> is a gateway to news releases posted each day on the web sites of about 800 US federal agencies and Congress You can register for notification of releases by email.
  • The US General Accounting Office <www.gao.gov> has a "GAO Daybook" which is a daily update to reports, documents and testimony. The alert comes in two forms: an announcement by title and number of pages; and, a few days later, with a URL.
  • National Earthquake Information Center <gldss7.cr.usgs.gov/neis/data_services/data_services.html> has a Bigquake service which sends out a message whenever a large earthquake occurs, anywhere in the world.
  • US Consumer Product Safety Commission <www.cpsc.gov/about/subscribe.html> has product recall notices. Useful for seeing what's about to be recalled in Canada.
  • US Department of Agriculture alerts <usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/ess_emailinfo.html> has 70 or so email information services, including information on imports, exports, prices, chemicals, milk. Useful for tracking NAFTA stuff.
  • US Food and Drug Administration <www.fda.gov/> sends out safety alerts, public health advisories, and other safety notices.
  • EconData <econdata.net> has alerts and links to more than 300 sources of US local and regional socioeconomic data, used for finding regional economic and marketing data on income, employment, housing starts and other economic statistics.
  • EDGAR Online <www.edgar-online.com> has filings by public companies to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. This includes Canadian companies doing business in the US. They will send email alerts when new forms are filed by companies you specify.
  • Biztravel <www.biztravel.com>, OneTravel <www.onetravel.com>, and Travelocity <www.travelocity.com> all have alerts to airfare deals. Biztravel also has bizMiles, a one-stop tracker for frequent traveler programs. All three will send updates on flights and weather to your pager phone.
  • Business Information Service <www.bisnis.doc.gov> with a focus on developing countries, has biweekly email reports with trade leads, investment leads, conference announcements, and general information. Also industry and country reports. Although American, the focus is clearly international.
  • EUbusiness News Alert <www.eubusiness.com/subscrib.htm> is a daily digest of European business news in various industry sectors.
  • Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) <www.cert.org/nav/alerts.html> is an authoritative source of information on Internet security incidents and vulnerabilities.
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center <www.epic.org/alert> deals with issues of privacy and civil liberties with biweekly alerts.
  • Amazon <www.amazon.com> book alerts are useful to newsrooms as notification of when books are published on subjects they're interested in, or by their favorite authors, or even with certain words in the title. Alerts come well before the books are published.
  • Publishers Weekly <www.publishersweekly.com> has a daily service for booksellers and writers, with up-to-date information on books that are receiving media and review attention, news stories about independent and chain booksellers, and changes in publisher policies that will impact booksellers. Some Canadian content as well.
  • Environmental TipSheet from SEJ <www.sej.org/pub/index.html> is a biweekly environmental list of story ideas from the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, and the Environmental Health Center.
  • EnviroLink News Service <www.envirolink.org/environews> sends e-mail alerts of environmental stories from various web news sites.
  • Environmental News Network <www.enn.com> has a Newswire which is a daily digest of environmental news.
  • The Sierra Club <www.sierraclub.org/takeaction/lists> has SC-Action with daily political and environmental alerts.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency <www.epa.gov/epahome/listserv.htm> has more than 50 alerts, covering topics from endangered species to international issues
  • National Library of Medicine <www.nlm.nih.gov/news/nlmfiles-email.html> has a new files alert, for new files added to the NLM web site.
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control <www.cdc.gov/subscribe.html> has 14 mailing lists, on infectious diseases (such as SARS), HIV/AIDS, morbidity and mortality, minority health, and national health surveys.
  • Internet Scout Report and Net-happenings <scout.wisc.edu/weblog> keeps you updated on new web sites.
  • ResearchBuzz <www.researchbuzz.com/news/"> is a weekly newsletter on web research: new sites and dissection of new features of search tools.
  • Yahoo What's New <dir.yahoo.com/new> is a daily list of new additions to the Yahoo directory.
  • CNN <www.cnn.com/EMAIL> and MSNBC <www.msnbc.com/tools/newstools/default.asp> have email alerts: breaking news, headline news, space news, computer news, busines news, strange events, politics, sports, storms. Email or pager or both.
  • The New York Times Direct <www.nytimes.com/info/contents/services.html> will send a daily email with headlines from the sections you prefer: page one, national, international, arts/living, food, business, opinion, sports, technology.
  • Check PowerReporting <powerreporting.com> for more subject-based alerts.

Dean Tudor, Wine Writer and Professor Emeritus of Journalism, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada <www.ryerson.ca/~dtudor>


 



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