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Blog Post 4: Wikis

I’m not here to tell you what Wikipedia is. I’m here to tell you about something that you don’t already extensively know – like, for instance, things about Muppets.

Did you know that in 1998, Miss Piggy had her own perfume released titled “Moi”? Neither did I, but there’s a whole page dedicated to it on the Muppet Wiki. It’s such a specialized website that anyone who wants really detailed information about this one topic – Muppets – can find exactly what they’re looking for. Do you want to know about Fraggle Rock? They’ve got that. Sesame Street? Done.

But why do these specialized wikis exist? Because what makes Wikipedia strong is its scope – the original Wiki has over 1 million pages in English alone. And while they range in topics from Tuktoyaktuk to Hindu deities, there isn’t a lot of room for, or interest in, topics that are right at home in UMW’s own Wiki.

And as you can imagine, there are a lot more specialized Wikis than just for Muppets and universities. Supernatural has its own wikispace to cover the canon content of the television show, and there’s also one for World of Warcraft (or WoW) so you can figure out just how much those Blues and Purples are worth. And, if that isn’t nerdy enough for you…

… there’s one for the entire Marvel comicverse.

So go on. Geek out. Wikipedia is a great starting point for any quest for knowledge and tidbits, and their thoughtfulness in leaving their code out for anyone to borrow or copy has led to a whole new world of available information. Just, you know. Be ready to lose a few hours in it.

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Blog Post 3: Social Networking

(XKCD‘s most recent comic is relevant to our interests)

As of today, if you do a Google search for ‘facebook scandal’, you will get 14,000,000 results. While I’m sure that some of those stories refer to individual instances (which we’ll talk more about later), a great number of those have to do with huge TOS changes and infringements that have been going on as far back as early 2008. The biggest scandals aren’t between individual parties on Facebook so much as between Facebook and its users as a whole. People are upset about everything, but perhaps most reasonably about assumed privacy. The idea that manually opting out of having our information sold to private parties — and that taking care to make certain information, posts, pictures, and other media private or restricted only to a select few is actually meaningless if the interested party is willing to pay cash up front — seems dishonest if not actually illegal. It doesn’t help that Zuckerman has been quoted saying some less than advisable things about the intelligence of people willing to trust him with their personal info. This is driving several users to make statements by removing their content completely.

Quit Facebook Day is happening on May 31, 2010. The specially dedicated website offers reasons why people are quitting, options for interested party, and a counter in the right column that (as of this post) numbers at 12526. That’s almost 13,000 people.

Therein lies the problem with this whole debacle. To Facebook, its advertisers, and its investors? 13k users is a drop in the bucket. Hell, if that number reaches 30k by the end of the month it still wouldn’t have anybody changing policies that are clearly so profitable. According to OpenScandal (linked above), here’s their financial breakdown of 2009:

# $125 million from brand ads
# $150 million from Facebook’s ad deal with Microsoft
# $75 million from virtual goods
# $200 million from self-service ads

Facebook is rolling in money. Rolling. In it. The online journaling site Livejournal was recently outed for allowing pop-up ads with embedded adware that they almost definitely knew about, and did not remove once they were explicitly informed. And why would they? As a business model, most members of the site, whether they pay for extra features or simply ‘pay’ by seeing the ads at the tops of their screens, don’t understand what they’re giving up… or don’t care enough to switch to a less popular service that has more honest policies. Until or unless the customers unite more effectively and use their buying/ad-looking power to strong-arm these companies to look at something other than profit, we’re going to see these headlines over and over again.

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Blog Post 2: Microblogging

So, this Twitter thing.

I’m coming up on 1k tweets on my personal Twitter account – something I made back in the beginning of college, used for a few weeks, and recently returned to (first for one of Professor Whalen‘s classes, then for personal use. And you can tell that it’s an important daily tool because in one of my recent tweets I wondered aloud why I was drinking so much orange juice lately.

I’ll give you a moment to allow that philosophical depth to sink in.)

Mind you, there are people that are employing Twitter much more impressively than I am. What is important to remember about the site is that it’s a medium – no more, no less. You can have incredibly banal people reporting what traffic is like, or you can have stuff that’s really funny, or really important, or maybe both.

For funny, we turn to Drunk Hulk.

Drunk Hulk is an example of a fictional (and in this case inebriated) character who has a regularly-updated blog. Drunk Hulk reacts to the news of the day and often comments on pop culture and fashion…
…and sometimes on more pressing matters:

That’s not to say that all of Twitter is just for fun. The social networking capabilities of this site are huge, and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by major interest groups. Quick searches of hashtags and commonly used words reveals lots of useful Twitter groups as well. GLBTadvocates is exactly what it says on the tin – they update regularly with news about discrimination in legislation, Focus on the Family, and reliable charities to donate to promote marriage equality. OnTopMag is another good example. It focuses not just on US issues but also links to international articles as well including linking to stories taking place Portugal, Argentina and Brazil.

Twitter is everything. It’s social networking, it’s keeping in touch with family, it’s common interests, it’s advocacy… but perhaps most importantly, it is drunken superheroes.

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Blog Post 1/Presentation Topic: Fan-Generated Content on the Net

Fan-generated content had its big break with one very big show that started very small: Star Trek.

Upon airing in 1966, the show gained lots of fans who became interested in creating and sharing their own content that was related to the show. The biggest two types were fanfiction (stories involving the characters and plot of the show) and fanart.

(By DennisBudd on DeviantArt)

The most efficient way at the time to share the work with other interested fans was by submitting them to fanzines – amateur publications usually dedicated to one popular interest. People would submit their stories and artwork, or simply submit to see what others had made.

The internet was an enormous gift to the fan communities. There was suddenly a much more instant and direct way to share their work with each other. The X-Files ‘fandom’ was especially grateful, for personal computers and dial-up internet access were becoming more and more commonplace just as people were getting into this latest sci-fi show; it was incredibly easy to search out websites dedicated to ‘X-Files Fiction’ or ‘X-Files Art’ and either read or submit whatever you wanted.

While it was ongoing shows or new movies that had the strongest and most immediate following, older media gained internet presence as well. Doctor Who, which had been canceled in 1989 and wasn’t picked up again until 2005, still had ardent fans online who were generating their own fan content as soon as it became an option.

(By Lithrael on DeviantArt)

What changed everything again was video editing software. Until the past few years, such software was incredibly expensive and was only really owned by professional editors – now of course every laptop comes with at least a barebones program like Windows Movie Maker, which allows users to isolate clips, rearrange them, and even set them to music. They became very popular in the anime community (where they’re called AMVs, for Anime Music Videos), but everywhere else they’re just called fanvids. As the available software became more and more advanced and readily available, so did the content.

Fanvids were originally very basic due to convention and ability – they were brief, successive clips from the movie or show set to music. As fanvids became more commonplace, however, the medium was explored further: narratives were explored, and even character sketches. (“Zebra“, a due South vid by Shalott, is a good example of a character getting fleshed out by the editorial choices and by the music.) Other variations involved combining two fandoms in one video or integrating stock footage to help tell the narrative where the footage from the show or movie couldn’t provide.

As the technology progressed, however, it was suddenly possible to do even more with just a personal computer and a budget. Pirating software, for better or worse, also meant that people who previously had no access to good video editing software or any editing software could get it for free. Experimentation continued, and the medium began to see changes in the form of user-generated content within the videos. One of the more abstract ones is Lim’s “People are People” fanvid, which is more computer-generated than from the show (Stargate: Atlantis). I can’t tell you exactly what her video means, but I can tell you that it’s impressive and that the lyrics and tone definitely tie in with many of the themes of the show.

It’s not just the tools that wouldn’t be here without the internet, however – the video editing software, Photoshop software, tutorials, and help sites would all be nothing without the fan communities that bring fans together, encourage them to create, and keep egging each other on to get better all the time. The interactive quality to these groups means that as long as there is still media to be sought out and enjoyed, there will always be something new to make and shape in response to it. And thanks to the web, there will always be someone out there to stumble upon it… and hopefully think it’s really cool.

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It’s not like a truck

This stands as a placeholder – this will soon be the home to many blog entries for the UMW computer science class titled ‘The Internet’. Stay tuned.

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