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Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

A new study shows that homeless young people use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks as often as college students. The author of the study (available here; subscription needed) hypothesizes that this means that the “digital divide” is overblown, and primarily a generational, rather than income-based, one.

But this assumes that simply using technology is where the divide exists. When I taught high school, my students struggled with the very basics of word processing: touch-typing, setting the margins, spellcheck. When it came to online research, copying and pasting from Wikipedia was par for the course. They could play plenty of Flash games, but they had trouble accessing information useful in their lives — banking, local resources, scholarships.

We need to think about the use case for technology and how to make it useful for low-income families and young people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back for having access across demographic and income groups. How could we better connect them to job training and placement, political groups, continuing education (that isn’t a scam), etc.?

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Mitt Romney has released his financial disclosure forms at 5 pm on a Friday. Maybe he’s hoping we won’t notice how rich he is? This is part of a time-honored tradition of releasing news on “Take Out The Trash Day.” But in the 24-hour weekend blogosphere age, does this actually work? I mean, does the media/blogosphere still take weekends off or something?

The answer may be a qualified yes. Blog/web traffic goes down on weekends, Nightly news watching also declines on the weekend. Why hasn’t media evolved to handle the weekend, particularly when campaigns and spin doctors employ “Take Out The Trash Day” and everyone knows it? Many of my favorite blogs take weekends off, despite the fact that they are even less limited by the constraints of the typical work week.

I don’t have a good answer here, but I would say that media organizations should at the very least try to deal with the problem rather than ignoring it.

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I was thinking about buying a probe thermometer because I would like to better assess the doneness of my meat, so I went to Amazon to take a look. I typed in “probe thermometer” and Amazon returned a set of thermometers. They vary in price and functionality, but they all have one thing in common: 3.5 stars.

The other day, I decided I wanted to try a new Indian restaurant in my area other than the few I always frequent. Lo and behold, they all have 3.5 stars on Yelp.

It seems obvious that, given enough reviewers, customer reviews should tend to mellow out around, well, 3.5 stars. But there are notable exceptions (consider, for example, IMDB).

What is it about product/service reviews in particular that seems to promote the averaging out around 3.5 stars? Let’s take one heavily reviewed Amazon product — an excellent book that I recently read called The Art of Fielding (in my opinion, the best book ever written about baseball):

5 star: (100)
4 star: (34)
3 star: (35)
2 star: (29)
1 star: (50)

It’s an odd distribution to say the least, but it highlights perhaps the problem of people who write online reviews. They are overwhelmingly very high — I enjoyed this book so much that it warranted a review — or overwhelmingly low — this book was so bad that I decided to review it. Compare this with the reviews for the digital probe thermometers and the effect is similar:

5 star: (41)
4 star: (23)
3 star: (10)
2 star: (12)
1 star: (28)

Again, lots of 5 star reviews and lots of 1 star reviews. Again, though, this points to the kind of person willing to write a review for the product. In buying the product you already analyzed it and expected it to be worth your money. If you were extremely impressed or disappointed, you reviewed it. If you were meh, why bother reviewing?

Thus, all popular products inevitably end up in the meh bin.

Weirdly, this does not apply to non-book pop culture. For example, Adele’s 21 sports a shocking 4.5-star rating, but again, this has to do with the ability to sample the wares before you buy the product (same with movies). Before listening to an album, you have heard the songs enough to know whether you like it enough to buy it.

What’s unnerving about this tyranny of the 3.5-star review is that it then makes the customer reviews essentially worthless. The whole promise of crowd-sourced reviews was that they would remove the monopoly of product-reviewers and open everything up to the masses. Instead, the incentives for responses make it such that the reviews provide little to no value to the consumer.

Whether it’s recipes or Zadie Smith novels, the “pretty good” averaging out of reviews has hurt their ability to tell us much about the product we’re buying. In the end, we either end up trusting the qualitative reviews over the quantitative (a bad proposition, if you ask me) or we buy the product and hope for a generous return policy.

Just as with a lot of the new information-heavy world does not make our decisions any easier, these reviews are just more information without any understanding of what they really mean.

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The key changes when the guys start singing are really striking. This genre of video fascinates me, as it really highlights the combination of group participation and response to music, mass democracy, voyeurism, and exhibitionism that the Internet inhabits. That is to say, this is a piece of art that is entirely new and could not have ever existed previous to this moment in history.

People can complain about whether or not mashup is worthwhile, but it is at least novel.

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Santorum. Another link can’t hurt.

Best quote of the night from CNN: “Santorum is just covering the whole state right now.”

As a side note, those who say that the Santorum prank is vile/mean/etc., it’s nowhere near as mean as trying to take away families’ power to make decisions about having children, or preventing consenting adults who love each other from enjoying the full rights of citizenship.

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“It’s called empathy.”

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I will officially begin my second year of law school tomorrow.

So, here’s the dog with the longest ears in the world:

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