Handmade Correspondence in the Twenty-First Century

screenshotRose is the daughter of a couple friends of mine. She was in my photo “Rose Runs” that was in the DCist Exposed show and has appeared in the local paper a couple times.

And now a picture I took of her was used to illustrate an article on handmade correspondence. When you’re six, all your correspondence is handmade.

What's the Government Doing in Second Life?

SL seminar pic
Virtual and real worlds collide in this screenshot from the conference.

The Federal Consortium for Second Life is a newly formed group of federal government employees and contractors interested in exploring the use of virtual worlds in government, sharing best practices and policies, creating shared repositories, and networking.

They met recently and their event presentations and slides are available online. The government is interested in Second Life (SL) as an outreach and education tool. For example, my colleague Eric Hackathorn is developing a virtual island for NOAA, that contains a red tide simulation, a really cool weather map and an auditorium for presentations. NASA has a robust Second Life home where you can experience a dust storm on Mars. The Centers for Disease Control is looking at the platform as a way to educate the public on health. A survey revealed that SL users are interested in catching virtual diseases, just for fun.

A friend of mine described Second Life as being all about “sex and shopping.” There’s certainly that, just like there was in the early days of the internet.

Like the internet, however, SL is destined to develop well beyond hedonic activities. It’s great to see that government is thinking ahead to what the public will want from virtual worlds.

Migrating Flickr Pics to SmugMug

I do love Flickr.  But I don’t like their prints, finding them to be really washed out and disappointing.  However, I like SmugMug’s prints but didn’t want to go to the trouble of downloading all my Flickr pics and then uploading them to SmugMug.

Enter SmuggLr, a  Firefox extension that promises:

Photo migration from flickr, ImageStation or PhotoSite to Smugmug with an easy to use wizard.

I was skeptical.  The term “wizard” conjured up memories of Microsoft applications that papered over their complexity and poor usability with “wizards” that inevitably left one frustrated.

However, this is one “wizard” that really is a Merlin.  I let SmuggLr do its magic and, over the course of a couple hours, it migrated 1,510 of my photos in 48 galleries from Flickr to SmugMug.  And it kept all my galleries together, along with my captions and exif data.  Brilliant!

Reverend Billy Pic Illustrates Column

One of my pictures of Reverend Billy was used in an Amy Goodman column on how Americans buy too much stuff.

The Reverend has an excellent documentary coming out this month called What Would Jesus Buy. Produced by Morgan Spurlock, I saw it earlier this year at SilverDocs and it’s excellent. I think people should be allowed to buy whatever they want, without being made to feel guilty for their choices. What’s great about What Would Jesus Buy is that it makes its points through humor and the Reverend’s gentle humanity, and that’s a much more effective technique than hectoring. It certainly got me thinking – and buying less.

You can see the rest of the set from the Reverend Billy at SXSW here.

Hollywood 2.0

A fascinating post by Marc Andreeson on rebuilding Hollywood in Silicon Valley’s image.  Here’s his inspiring conclusion:

However, in the event of a long-term strike, out of the ashes of the traditional model would — I believe — come the birth of certainly dozens, maybe hundreds, and possibly even thousands of new media companies, rising phoenix-like into the global entertainment market, financed by venture capital, creating amazing new properties, employing large numbers of people, and rewarding their creators as owners.

As someone who’s made a career out of working on web sites, and has dabbled with filmmaking,  I’m ready for this new world.  When you build a web site, it’s all point and click, online collaboration, drag and drop, copy, paste, submit.  When you make a movie, it’s about printing out scripts, stuffing them in envelopes and pitching your ideas in person to people far removed from the actual decision-makers.

This is a world that’s calling out for disintermediation.  The moviemaking business is filled with gatekeepers (like studios and agents) that add costs and keep consumers from getting the content they want.  Andreeson rightly points out the music industry as an obvious parallel.

I have a friend who gets all his media from YouTube.  He doesn’t watch TV.  I suspect that, the longer the strike drags on, the more people will be like my friend.

The Internet has utterly changed countless industries.  Now, with advent of the writers’ strike, it’s Hollywood’s turn.

Creative Conversations in DC

Philippa Hughes @ Luster art show

A shout-out to Hoogrrl, a.k.a. Philippa Hughes, a writer’s group friend of mine who has since gone on to fame as a local promoter of the arts.  While she calls herself a flaneur, she’s very dedicated in her coverage of the local arts scene and in bringing creative folks together.

I was at her event, Salon Contra at Gazuza, last night.  Billed as a “creative conversation”, it definitely was as artists, musicians, photographers, writers and others mingled in a hip environment, fueled by happy hour mojitos and appletinis.

Go Philippa!

How Accessible is Web 2.0?

powerbook on porch

Last week, I attended a seminar on the accessibility of web 2.0 technologies at the IDEAS conference.  IDEAS 2007 is the Federal government’s annual conference on Section 508, presented by the GSA.  Here are my meeting notes:

How Accessible is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 technologies and hosted services such as wikis, podcasts, social networking, and blogs, are shaping how government does business, including how their employees communicate and collaborate and how they interact with the public. During this session, experts discussed accessibility aspects of these technologies.

Mary Mitchell (moderator from GSA)
Jared Smith (Web Accessibility in Media)
Phill Jenkins (IBM)
Lisa Pappas (AccessAbility SIG of the Society for Technical Communication)

Phil spoke on “The 3D Internet” and the challenges that this presents usability practitioners.  How do you make 3D environments, like Second Life (SL), accessible for everyone?  There are no Sec. 508 standards for the 3D Internet.  The standards were written for the 2D, left to right, top to bottom, linear world of text web pages.  Automated screen readers can cope with these pages.  However, how would a screen reader deal with a 3D world like Second Life?  There’s too much data.  How much of this world would a screen reader describe?  SL is very mouse-driven and visual, which makes it difficult also for seniors.  Deaf people would need captions for videos and sounds.  Another solution might be to have avatar guides for the blind, to help them navigate SL.

Jared spoke on “Rich Internet Applications”.  He began by describing the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.  Web 1.0 is static content, links for more information, forms you fill out, things you click on.  Web 2.0 is dynamic content with real-time updates, things you drag, user-centric and user-generated.  Google Maps is a great example of a Web 2.0 app.  Flickr is another good example – it pushes updates from your friends onto your Flickr page.  Digg, a collaborative news service, is another good example.  In the Web 2.0 world, content is often divorced from design.  For example, if you’re reading an RSS feed from a web site in Google Reader, you don’t get that site’s look and feel.  Content is on the HTML level, then design is applied with CSS, then interactivity though Ajax.  This separation of content from design makes accessibility easier.

Lisa discussed the development of accessibility standards for “Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA)”.  ARIA standards are in the works.  These standards will provide semantic information for readers and other features, like keyboard shortcuts.  Firefox 3 will support these standards.  They’re also developing a best practices guide for developers.  In terms of accessibility, Web 2.0 applications should be evaluated as software, not web pages.

During question time, the subject of blogs and wikis came up.  The panelists were of the opinion that blogs and wikis presented no major accessibility problems, since they could be easily read by screen readers.

For more information, see the draft of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0:

Fall Foliage, Flickr and the Search for New Business Models

Flickr’s potential as a resource for photo editors everywhere has yet to be fully tapped. Though some more old school photogs may complain that Flickr has undercut the stock market, the world has changed. Cheap, easy to use DSLRs (like the Canon Digital Rebel XT that I own) have democraticized the expert culture of photography and made a universe of free photos available.  Changes like this make the stock photography business model no longer viable.

I’m certainly no expert, and I’m not sure I would even claim the title of “photographer.” I’m just someone who enjoys taking and sharing pictures. For this reason, I’m pleased whenever my Flickr photos get picked up by web sites, like the Go Blue Ridge Card Blog, which included one of my pics in their blog. I took the photo almost exactly a year ago, on the way back from a family vacation in Blowing Rock, NC. I was amazed by the colors, especially the reds, and did my best to capture what I saw from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Go Blue Ridge Card Blog is produced by Go Card USA.  What do they do?

Go Card USA produces all-inclusive attraction passes for 12 US Cities. Make the most of your vacation with a pass that gets you unlimited admission to top attractions for one low price.

In addition to the Blue Ridge Blog, they’re rolling out blogs for all of the cities they serve.  They also have a group on Flickr.  It’s a smart marketing strategy to use free or low-cost tools to get the word out about their product.

And, as someone who works in the web field, I’m really intrigued by these creative strategies and the possibilities of social media. I, personally, love Flickr and believe that its model of community photo-sharing is just getting started.

Comments on Government Blogs

Government agencies have been slow to embrace blogs.  The reason, IMHO, as a gov’t web site manager, is that government’s approach to content is different.  Government sites are held to a higher standard and subject to more reviews and requirements than commercial sites are.  Agencies are nervous about unmediated communication from official government sites.

For example, the site I work on, NOAA Ocean Explorer, has a YouTube channel.  On the channel we post cool videos of underwater exploration.  One early issue that came up was – what should we do about comments?  We didn’t want our videos to be swamped with comments filled with curses, links to porn sites and other inappropriate material.  However, we didn’t want to be accused of censorship (which has been an issue when it comes to science at NOAA).  Also, unfortunately, we don’t have the staff time to respond to comments.

So, we decided to turn off the comments.  This against my personal ethos of web 2.0 inclusion but in government, the rules are different.

There was an interesting article about DipNote, the State Department’s blog.  They allow comments and there’s been an interesting discussion about the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

Another leader in the field is the Library of Congress’s blog.  They have a very common-sense policy when it comes to comments from readers:

 “This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user’s privilege to post content on the Library site.”

So, government web sites are slowly coming around to the brave new world of blogging, which is really encouraging.