Monday, 22 February 2010

Thing 11: Podcasts; Thing 12: YouTube

I did dabble in podcasts a while back: I downloaded software onto my laptop, called Juice I think, which ran in the background and pulled in whatever podcasts you'd subscribed to. I found that I rarely checked it and ended up with a huge backlog of Radio 4 stuff I was never going to get around to listening to. The advantage of adding a subscription to Google Reader is that I have it as a gadget on my iGoogle page, so perhaps I'll be more likely to listen to new podcasts if I'm alerted to their arrival regularly. I went for a couple of Radio podcasts: Radio 4's Saturday review and Film Programme. I also visited the Oxford podcast page and was very interested to see that the prestigious John Locke lectures are available as podcasts.

I already have a YouTube account and my favourites include: early tv performances by a variety of musicians; a great rendition of 'Mr Bojangles' by Sammy Davis Jr; amazing live duet between Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles performing Stevie's 'Living in the City'; Stevie doing the awesome 'Superstition' on Sesame Street; the Jacksons doing 'Dancing Machine' and 'Shake Your Body Down (to the Ground)' [Jimmy Saville used to give you extra points for getting the brackets right in song-titles...!]; Bill Hicks; funny Fry and Laurie skits; nerds talking about comics; episodes of The Actors' Studio.... and much much more!

A great discovery was finding lots of excellent philosophy content: I was really happy to see that someone had uploaded episodes of Bryan Magee's 80's television series, interviewing eminent contemporary philosophers, which was hugely inspiring to me at the time; the sort of simple 'talking-heads' tv that's unfashionable these days; there are also fascinating filmed discussions or lectures by the top philosophers in the field: Davidson, McDowell, Rorty, Searle... It's always interesting to see philosophers whose work you've read intensively talking more informally and discussing differences with each other. What I find most striking is how hard even 'the great and the good' find it to makes themselves understood to each other - a frustration I've always found characterises philosophical discussion and used to attribute to my mediocrity.

It goes without saying, you definitely need to sort the wheat from the chaff with YouTube. You can search, e.g., for philosophy topics and find lots of youthful amateurs rambling on in their dorm-room. However, occasionally you find someone with a great archive.

Reading comments on YouTube falls into the category of 'life's too short' most of the time. Contributors are almost invariably given to banality, horrendous abuse or eye-rolling panegyric. (I am myself a shameless kiss-ass on the blogs of artists I admire. You get the feeling that critique is a breach of etiquette: the familiar bidding that, 'if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing', seems to apply even more strongly in the case of blog-commenting)

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Thing 9/10: Social bookmarking and tagging

This project is getting me involved with a lot of Yahoo stuff; and me a Google man (kinda)! Actually that's not fair: there have been Google-related projects too. I logged on with my Yahoo sign-in, created a Delicious account and added a Bookmarklet and a 'MyDelicious' tool on the toolbar of my laptop. That made it very easy to go to a few sites I like and bookmark them on Delicious; I also tagged them with the 'ox23' tag and sent a bookmark to the 23Things blogger.

Next, as part of Thing 10, I found a potentially interesting Oxford Delicious user by searching the directory: The Oxford Philosophy Library (I'm a philosophy graduate: in a past life I studied at that library... though not as much as I studied in G&Ds on Little Clarendon); added that to my network. Then I added their RSS feed to Google Reader (flooding it with Philosophy Library bookmarks).

After doing a search on Delicious for the tag "folksonomies," I scanned a couple of papers on the topic (which I tagged with "ox23"). Some interesting issues were raised, especially for librarians with some stake or interest in classification. The contention over the value of the 'folk' classification afforded by tagging struck me as exemplifying a broader debate over the value of web-based content, such as blogs and Wikipedia, relative to traditional publishing - at least insofar as the former eschew in principle, or are at least in practice (too varying degrees) not governed by, bodies of expert authorities. The ad hoc, free-form nature of 'folksonomic' tags seemed, naturally enough, to have pros and cons, the cons being that the categorizations that emerge on a folksonomic model have an inherent inconsistency and arbitrariness, generated as they are by highly personal needs, or multifarious and untutored criteria.

It strikes me the advantages of Delicious are most apparent in the context of shared projects, involving participants who can benefit from a flexible and customisable shared 'space', but establish their own criteria to ensure the appropriate consistency and rigour of their bespoke tags; or as part of a single individual's projects. As far as relying on the the tagging idiosyncrasies of an indeterminate, anonymous and inscrutable user-base, I felt less confident (though perhaps trying Delicious out for longer might persuade me otherwise). However, some reason for optimism about this new model did come from one article, which postulated that feedback loops through 'metadata' facilitated, in effect, a tacit negotiation over the meaning of tags, as users are able to assess the usefulness of their own candidate tagging choices by seeing what items from other users surface with that same tag - giving them the opportunity to modify theirs. Still, whether this kind of evolution would yield overall benefits, or completely obviate the disadvantages of tagging anarchy is unclear.

In other news, I have been playing with Google Chrome - my search engine of choice just recently - looking for additions that would enhance the browser on my lap-top. There is plenty to choose from: A translate button; a dictionary add-on which makes definitions of words pop-up when you double-click them; a scroll feature which gives you the option of scrolling straight to the phrases you searched for; an RSS subscribe button; lastly a 'share' button which enables you to directly share web-pages with a variety of platforms (Facebook, Twitter) in one click (this last one - or two: 'AddToAny' and ' Shareaholic' - I have hesitated with because they are not 'official' and I wanted to find reviews and endorsements of them). The share feature appealed to me since it was a direct one-click way of sharing on with a variety of platforms.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Thing 7 and 8: Flickr and Picnik

I already have a Flickr account, though it is not something I work with and update regularly. Last year, after following a link to an artist's Flickr albums, I tried it out and uploaded photos of some of my life-drawings. But, right now, Facebook is my platform of choice, since that is what most of the people I have and want contact with use (I haven't yet acquired an urge to 'connect' with total strangers far and wide). As well as updating my status with droll banalities (and proffering 'incisive' mini movie and book reviews and web-links), I have various albums on my profile page, of drawings and trips here and there. My albums (or 'sets') on Flickr just sit there taking up cyberspace.

However, in the interests of the project, and of exploring more of what Flickr has to offer, I uploaded some more pictures - photos of last Christmas and a recent trip to the Royal Academy. I joined the '23 Things' Flickr group and, once accepted, shared a selection of pics (screenshot below). I then pulled photos from Flickr and Facebook into PicNik. There, I played around with cropping and found the 'contrast' and 'sharpness' features helpful in making the drawings I took pictures of stand out more from their background. I put one of the modified pictures below: the figure study (and I think I added it to the Flickr 23Things group too).

As usual, during term in my reading room, there's too much that needs doing or chasing up to spend a lot of time exploring these sites (or I'm too frazzled to want to). But I spent long enough on Flickr to learn that the site offers more than I had hitherto realised, by way of organising pictures: tagging them, putting them into sets and 'batch-editing'. I confess I didn't find the layout of the site enormously intuitive, or at any rate feel entirely at home with it (and, for some reason, when I tagged pictures with a word, a space, then a number - say, 'Thing 8' - it separated 'Thing' and '8' into two distinct tags; do tags have to be all one word, or do numbers within a tag have a specific role?). This would probably improve given more time, but I'm not sure I see the motivation for me to spend it right now: though I have a Yahoo email account, I have, as I mentioned, committed to Facebook as my means of sharing content (though ironically the email address attached to Facebook is my Yahoo one - so that my main inbox isn't clogged with notifications I get by other means) . With so many sites offering a suite of social networking and content sharing facilities, it makes sense to commit to the one that offers the right and most well-rounded combination of services, which suits your needs and which most of the people you care about use (assuming these sites aren't themselves intended as a source of new contacts - they are for some people but not me), so that it's a proper enhancement of your social life and not some futile narcissistic exercise in maximising your presence online. Flicker perhaps offers a wider array of organising possibilities, but the more basic, simpler facility within Facebook suffices - the amount of the organising parameters on Flickr struck me as overkill and surplus to requirements - and the photos there are more likely to be seen by the few people who might possibly care to see them.

Spending time on Flickr tagging and batch-editing and whatnot would be like going on your own to a really trendy nightclub and busting lots of spectacular moves on the dancefloor, while all your mates are together in the local pub wondering where you are...

The Picnik site seemed like a very useful tool, especially if, like me, your only camera is the one on your mobile phone, as it offers the enhancement of poorly lit or fuzzy shots and the cropping of poorly framed ones.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Thing 4: Registering my blog

I registered my blog with the 23 Things programme and soon found my unimaginative name in the blog list. Though as part of Things 5/6 I subscribed to my boss' blog, I haven't had ttime to do much reading or commenting on others' posts, though I have browsed a couple.

Hopefully I'll get time to check others' thoughts out and make a comment here and there, and update this post or post about it later.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Thing 5 and 6: RSS Feeds

Super busy at work this week so not a lot of time for this.

'Thing 4' was registering my blog which didn't seem worth a post. So here I am with Thing 5: RSS feeds. First thing I learnt was what RSS stands for (unless the 23 Things Blogger was joking). It was indeed 'really simple'. When I logged into Google-Reader for the first time, I found two blogs already there, under 'blogs I'm following'. These were for (art) blogs for which I had, some months ago, selected the GoogleFriendConnect function. 'Following' and 'Subscribing' seem to be essentially the same thing.

I subscribed to the 23 Things blog as suggested. For Thing 6, I also added some more subscriptions: My boss Jacquie Dean's '23 Things' blog, a British Library blog by the Harold Pinter archivist and another sketch blog, Urban Sketchers.

When I explored the settings I discovered, naturally enough, that you can add GoogleReader to your iGoogle page, so I did that. I was also intrigued by the 'share' function, which enables you to share interesting posts via a number of social networking platforms: Twitter, Facebook, etc. I already have 'share on facebook' tool on my personal computer's toolbar, though I just as often cut and paste url's onto my facebook 'wall'.

I can see the potential and usefulness of these technologies for filtering and sharing content, but confess none of it is woven enough into my lifestyle, nor have I a similarly motivated enough community, for them to seem like intuitive and useful enhancements - yet. My practices with online content and sharing are a little more sporadic and ad hoc at present.