Category Archives: Education

“Understanding Digital Marketing,” by Damian Ryan, 3rd edition: Why NOT to write an Introduction

This 3rd edition of Understanding Digital Marketing (Kogan Page Ltd.) offers an update to the original and remains a good general introduction to the topic, probably suitable as one among many texts for an introductory advertising/PR course. It also functions as a fairly good reference text, given the comprehensive index. Newcomers to the topic will find it educational. I’m not a newcomer and found it tedious and repetitive.

On a more personal level: after reading this book, I put a sign on my desk that reads “NEVER read Introductions to Non-fiction!” Like the introduction to this book, they invariably read like an extended Executive Summary which should have been cut even to fulfill its purpose of making it unnecessary for the busy executive to actually read an entire report.

For a general audience or college audience, a good introduction should NOT discuss the book’s general structure or the contents of each section or chapter – a good Table of Contents will take care of that without insulting the reader – and it should NOT describe the book’s conclusion(s). The Introduction should, instead, (1) briefly state the book’s subject, purpose, and why it is important, (2) briefly state how it came to be – who/what inspired it, and (3) briefly thank important contributors; and these things all together should make the reader want to read the book to discover what it holds.

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Becoming a Mozillarian – Popcorn and Thimbles and Goggles, oh my, with mashups long into the night

After spending most of this HOT Sunday, one way or another, with Mozilla’s Webmaker, I’m feeling a little (lot) loopy. Which is appropriate, since most of the time was with Popcorn, which loops and stretches and jiggles various media sources every which way you want, once you figure out how it works.

It’s fairly easy once you figure it out, but the first couple of hours (AFTER watching the how-to videos AND reading all the how-tos about it) were extremely frustrating. Nomatter what I did, I never could get Popcorn to import anything from Flickr. This was a bit disappointing since my first idea involved photos from our just-ended Summer Reading program. I kept getting the message “unacceptable media” and so assumed either Popcorn didn’t like jpgs or wants only very small files (it could be a size issue; jpgs did import later).

I also could not get Popcorn to import anything from Wikipedia – all the urls I copied into the search box produced an error message. (After I FINISHED my first mashup, I noticed the Wikipedia link on the EVENTS list.)

So, two hours into the project, it still had no contents. I took a break by watching a lot of the sample Popcorn mashups. My favorites were the one about the cat foster home (which did not seem to be made from web images but from specially made video) and the one about climate change.

I decided to start with music instead of a video, and quickly discovered that Popcorn does not allow (I think – maybe it does but I never did find a preview link or tool) any meaningful previewing before importing. So I went to the Soundcloud site and did some exploring till I found a cheerful instrumental (bluegrass); then I typed the name of that piece in the search box and imported it. Somehow an image associated with a different musician came in with the music as the first image of the mashup, and I can’t figure out how to replace it, as it doesn’t show up separate from the music.

I was delighted to discover that images do NOT have to be on the web in order to use them in a project. “Image” under “Events” lets you import them from your computer. I made sure the files were small enough and then dropped jpg files from my computer into the “drag and drop here” box so I could start with pictures of the library exterior and the bookshelves. I added the gifs of book covers in the same way. It took a little more time than it should have, because it’s easy to erase an image you want to keep unless you make sure you’re selecting space on the line ABOVE where you want the new image to go, which means you have to move the new image down to the correct spot after importing it.

Adding pop-ups and text was easy. So was finding and adding animated gifs – except I did have some trouble when placing them. The double click required placed two copies of the gif most of the time; the easiest fix was to delete the zero layer, then do any resizing needed. I could not figure out how to delete individual images or text boxes or pop-ups.

You can see my first mashup at https://mariacfromval.makes.org/popcorn/2588

Popcorn is fairly new, so I’m hoping Mozilla improves it. I’d like to see much more complete how-to and help info, written as well as in video: documentation of the meanings/causes of the error messages; clear statements about the format and sizes required for importable files; clear statements about how to make searches for Flickr photo tags work or if the Flickr import is only for video; and clear statements about the requirements for url imports. I suspect that the overall process works best if one first imports either an audio file or a video file and then adds layers of still photos or gifs or text or whatever. If so, that fact also should be in the documentation.

Popcorn mashups do provide libraries yet another way to handle publicity and/or education, and they do seem useful as a tool to educate young and old about the internet. I’d like to feel confident about hosting a Webmaker party for our teens and then for older adults, to provide general internet education, but I’m not there yet. I’d have to be a lot more proficient user of all the tools.

Also I’m not there yet because I can’t answer some basic questions about the Webmaker tools that I know our teens AND adults are going to ask:

So you use Goggles remix a web page to create a custom homepage or some humor, or you make a web page using Thimble. Does the page continue to exist in your Mozilla “Maker space” where you can find and use it? Can you use it someplace else, like on your own website? How? Why not use WordPress, instead?

I’m glad Mozilla has undertaken this project. I’m going to keep plugging away with the Webmaker tools and the entire “Explore” section and try to become far more internet literate than I now am.

Five Stars for Daniel H. Pink’s “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”

Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition) is well worth reading and thinking about. I hope readers — including librarians and teachers — will apply, with gusto, in all school and work environments, the fact “that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive” (Kindle Location [hereafter KL] 324-325) motivator of good work performance. The more we all do that, the better work – and life – will be for all of us.

The concepts Pink discusses weren’t a surprise to me, and I’ve long supported his conclusions. I’ve been reading and thinking about human motivation for more years than I want to count – since high school, back in the dark ages when the Skinner Box was all the rage and theoretical battles were still waging hot and heavy between the Freudians and Jungians and between the psychoanalytic theorists and behaviorists. Acceptance of combinations of what Pink calls Motivation 1.0 (the drives to survive – food, shelter, procreation) and Motivation 2.0 (to seek reward and avoid punishment more broadly) was common; Maslow’s ideas about humanistic psychology were not universally accepted.

I remember debating Frederick Herzberg’s ideas about job motivation in both high school and college classes. In college, the Humanities and English profs, especially, came down on Herzberg’s side, citing their own careers as proof that motivation included both Herzberg’s extrinsic rewards (pay, working conditions, job security) and innumerable and to them more important intrinsic rewards. A good number of the psychology and sociology profs agreed, but about as many played semantic games to define all motives as still extrinsic. My own zig-zag through life proves to me how dominantly important intrinsic motivation is.

What did surprise me was Pink’s including Best Buy and Gap, as well as some government agencies, in its list of employers paying attention to the value of intrinsic motivation enough to become ROWE (results only work environment) organizations. It’s a move I did not expect anytime soon from any but tech companies, like WordPress (see my review of The Year Without Pants) and Netflix. As Pink says:

Too many organizations— not just companies, but governments and nonprofits as well —still operate from assumptions about human potential and individual performance that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science. They continue to pursue practices such as short-term incentive plans and pay-for-performance schemes in the face of mounting evidence that such measures usually don’t work and often do harm. Worse, these practices have infiltrated our schools, where we ply our future workforce with iPods, cash, and pizza coupons to “incentivize” them to learn. – (KL 187-191).

I also was happy to learn more about the new types of corporations being developed. These include Vermont’s “low-profit limited liability company” or L3C, which does generate at least modest profits has the primary aim of offering significant social benefits.” (KL 339-342); Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus’ “social businesses” which replace the profit-maximization principle with the social-benefit principle;” and The Fourth Sector Network’s is promotion in the United States and Denmark of the for-benefit organization— both economically self-sustaining and animated by a public purpose, such as Mozilla (KL345-349); and the “B Corporation” designation requiring companies’ bylaws so that incentives favor long-term value and social impact instead of short-term economic gain (KL 350-352).

The trick, of course, is translating the general concepts into specific behaviors in our schools and organizations and businesses. We also need to be applying them at home, in the ways we raise children. Meanwhile, I’m feeling a bit smug about knowing I’ve been ahead of my time in at least a few ways that matter.

It’s Complicated/the social lives of networked teens by Danah Boyd

Boyd’s research into how teens use social media points out a number of useful facts which run counter to current popular assertions – generally negative ones – about what teens do on the internet, why, and with what consequences.

My only wish is that she had managed to present the information more succinctly, with far less repetition, so that worried parents might actually read the book and then quit driving their kids crazy with their hovering. I think it’s going to be a hard sell to the parents of teens that I know from the library. But I’m glad to have read the book, and, as a result, hope I will do a better job helping teens be more savvy about how they use internet resources such as search engines and Wikipedia and other reference sources. Perhaps that’s the best thing librarians can do — provide teens and their parents with information and programming that helps them make better use of the internet.

Here are some major points the books makes.

Teens are NOT retreating from the world when they send text messages or spend time on Facebook or Twitter or use any other social media. They’re interacting with their friends. They’d use social media less if they had more opportunities to actually be with their friends. But they would still spend part of their time together interacting about content on social media or internet sites like Youtube.

Teens aren’t “addicted” to the internet. They want to spend time with their friends or playing or creating, and the internet makes that possible; for some previous generations, the “addiction” was the telephone or hanging out at the drive-in or mall. Today’s teens don’t have much access to physical spaces where they can interact.

Teens do want privacy, but they don’t define privacy in the same way their parents do. They don’t strive for privacy because they have something to hide; privacy is necessary for personal development. They want to avoid surveillance (p. 56). They want privacy from the adults that are always trying to control every aspect of their lives, including what they think and say, so that they can say what they want to say to their friends.

To teens, adult “snooping” is rude, like barging in on a conversation between strangers on a bus. Teens don’t go out of their way to make minutia private (p. 62). They choose what to keep private and they often go to great lengths to encode messages they don’t want understood by unintended audience members. “Teens assume they are being watched, and so they try to find privacy within public settings rather than in opposition to public-ness” (p. 74).

Social media makes social problems more visible; it doesn’t cause them and it won’t cure them. Parents’ fears about sexual predation via the internet are seriously overblown, largely because of mass media exaggeration. Bullying also was not born online. “There’s no reason to think that digital celibacy will help them (teens) be healthier, happier, and more capable adults” (p. 93) and there’s also no reason to think that online interaction will solve our social problems.

Teens’ knowing how to use various forms of social media doesn’t make them media literate, and a lot of what teachers and other adults are telling them about what they should and shouldn’t trust is not true. For example, they need to know how to evaluate the various entries in Wikipedia (including its history pages and debates and edits) and other reference sources and not simply be told not to use Wikipedia. They need to know how different search engines algorithms work and how they limit the information they find.

I hated being a teenager back in the dark ages of the 1950s and 60s – I often wonder how I survived those years. I know I would NOT have survived the current style of over-protective, hovering, intrusive parenting that gives kids neither the time nor the space to just be kids. There is NOT a stranger who is a kidnapper or sexual predator lurking near every schoolyard or playground, though there may be an abuser or potential abuser living in or often invited into your home – statistically, those are the odds. Hovering, however, is not the answer. Teaching kids about how to protect themselves, is.

Parents who want their kids to spend less time with social media need to lighten up and let them spend more in-person time as free time with their friends.

“Cognitive Surplus” by Clay Shirky: possibilities?

I am of two minds (at least) about Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus. On the one hand, I’m inclined to dismiss Shirky’s optimism as naïve and to agree with John Lannier (You Are Not a Gadget), Eli Pariser (The Filter Bubble), and Robert W. McChesney (Digital Disconnect): the internet is not a knowledge factory (“garbage in = garbage out”) and corporate interests may yet exert so much negative influence on the internet as to overpower its potential for good. On the other hand, I’m inclined to hope that ordinary citizens of good will may be able to use digital media as healthy social connective tissue.

Early on in his discussion, Shirky defines media as “the connective tissue of society” (p. 54). Immediately I’m thinking, heaven help us if THE “connective tissue of society” is ANY media rather than face-to-face personal contact in the physical world. And I’m thinking how media (digital and otherwise) as easily insulate and divide us, encourage false beliefs, and focus us on satisfying the most trivial of our desires. And I’m also thinking how many new voices (and ideas) are available to all of us only because media now include digital media. I remember teachers and librarians in the 50s fearing, like Swados (p. 50), that paperbacks would end “real” literature while more “trash” would be printed. But, as Shirky says (p. 51), increased availability always results in both more trash and more “real” literature.

Setting aside overly positive hopes and overly negative fears, Shirky’s discussion is extremely relevant to libraries and librarians because digital communication is becoming (if not already become) the norm, and digital media are replacing print and beginning to replace traditional television and radio, whether we like it or not. Libraries can and SHOULD have a major role to play in helping citizens access and use the new media – for entertainment, education, artistic and other personal creation, and communication. Libraries that take on this role and do it well also will aim to help citizens create healthy social connections which use our “cognitive surplus” in the socially positive ways Shirky describes.

Shirky’s primary message is, I think, that we can and should use digital media to make a positive impact on the world, and we should do that both individually and as groups working together. Other groups have done and are doing so. Digital media make it easy for us to connect with and collaborate with people all over the world — andthus give us the opportunity. We need to provide the means – our “cognitive surplus” – and motive – what we aim to achieve.

Yes, libraries are using social media to communicate with current patrons and to try to reach new patrons. But if librarians take Shirky’s message to heart, we will have to think bigger. What do our communities really need? How can we use digital media to answer that question – and keep re-answering it? How can we serve more and more of our citizens, people who have never used library services? How can we help our citizens connect with each other so that they can work together? How can we encourage and facilitate community improvements? We may have to become far less passive and not simply answer patrons’ questions when they ask them, but find ways to encourage questions citizens should be asking but are not.

Small rural libraries like my own face a huge challenge, especially in poor communities. Will the budget cover enough up-to-date computers and fast enough internet connections, year to year? Digital media that will work on the myriad devices patrons may use? Devices for those patrons who cannot afford their own? Classes in using the devices, the software, the internet in general, internet searches, data bases, news feeds, and an ever increasing variety of social media? How can we provide all this when we can be open only 20 hours a week and have only one staff person on duty at a time? If we do even some of this, will we neglect the needs of those many community members who cannot afford digital gadgets or time online?

These are hard questions which small libraries are not likely to answer well on our own. We don’t have the resources – in money, staff, knowledge, or time – to provide the opportunity digital media offers, even if we long to do so. We will do what we can. But other libraries, consortia, state library associations, and so on will have to help us far more than now seems possible if our communities are to participate as Shirky envisions.

p.s. I’m glad NE Learns 2.0 included this book AFTER the others I mentioned. We’re more likely to succeed as Shirky hopes if we also are on the lookout for the pitfalls the other authors documented.

p.p.s. Following another major line of thought: Librarians (and others) over 30 SHOULD read this book for Shirky’s positive take on the basic fact of hours online being much more useful than the hours on television those over 30 have spent/are spending (we’ve dumped our cognitive surplus into TV). Online time involves actually doing something, not just passively observing, even if the “something” we do is trivial. Much of the older generations’ negativity may be a reaction to kids’ absorption in game gadgets which function only as offline solitary entertainment. Shirky describes how online activity is far more interactive than we older folks have believed, both online and offline (in groups reacting together to online content). He also gives lots of positive examples of uses of social media through the book and, in the last chapter, excellent general advice about using it.

The Year Without Pants: What work can be when the motive is meaning, not just profit

Scott Berkun’s The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work (Wiley. Kindle Edition, 2013), is the most readable book about organizational culture that I’ve ever read. Usually these are deadly dreary things, either pedantic and pompous or full of some self-appointed business guru’s shallow ideas – or both. Berkun takes an entirely different tack, chronicling the year he spent working for Automattic, the company which maintains WordPress.com, and describing how and why it succeeds. AND it’s a good read, with lots more in it worth absorbing than I mention here.

Berkun says that the “gift of unusual organizations like Automattic is a reminder to open our minds. The problem with modern work, and one that sheds light on the future, is how loaded workplaces are with cultural baggage. We faithfully follow practices we can’t explain rationally” (pp. 74-75).

The internet makes it possible for Automattic to work the way it does, but only having the right people running things makes it happen. Matt Mullinweg is owner and founder, and Toni Schneider is CEO. Because of them, “the big cultural bet wasn’t on process but on people” (p. 61). Management is seen as a support role, and the organizational structure stays as flat as possible. Schneider’s philosophy is “1. Hire great people. 2. Set good priorities. 3. Remove distractions. 4. Stay out of the way” (p. 77).

Schneider sees product creators as “the true talent of any corporation, especially one claiming to bet on innovation. The other roles don’t create products and should be there to serve those who do.” These support roles include areas like management, legal, human resources, and information technology. “If one group has to be inefficient, it should be the support group, not the creatives. If the supporting roles, including management, dominate, the quality of products can only suffer” (p. 38). So the creators get the equipment and other things they need, even if supporters have to make do with less.

Employees can work or meet at Automattic’s offices when they need/want to, but the office space sees little use. The point is the quality of the work, not where or when it happens. Everyone works remotely, from wherever in the world they happen to be, which might be at home or in a workspace they share with others (who don’t work for Automattic) or anywhere else. If they lease co-working space they get a stipend, “another act of support for employees discovering how best to get work done” (p. 76).

Employees work in teams, and communication is mostly via IRC (internet relay chat), or posts on P2s (a P2 is a special blog theme made for internal Automattic communication), or via Skype – almost never by email. When teams really need to meet, they fly to places like Rome or Hawaii or Paris. Mullinweg encourages meeting in such places; the teams accomplish good work, bond, and emotionally recharge.

Critics of such innovations often dismiss them on the grounds that they would not “scale well.”  Bergun says,

What good is something that scales well if it sucks? Why is size the ultimate goal or even a goal at all? If you’re the kind of person who loves …  the place where you work, you don’t need it to be any bigger than it is. The inability to scale is one of the stupidest arguments against a possibly great idea: greatness rarely scales, and that’s part of what made it great in the first place. (p. 54).

I’m hoping Automattic doesn’t opt to “go big” because its purpose (and the WordPress copyleft license) is so delightfully radical: “The single-sentence vision for WordPress had always been to democratize publishing, which meant they wanted anyone, anywhere, who had something to say, to always be able to publish it for free” (p. 38). “In January 2011, when the threat of a federal bill referred to as the Stop Online Piracy Act threatened free speech, WordPress.com blanked out its entire front page, participating in protest with dozens of other websites” ( p. 39).

The WordPress philosophy boils down to three elements:

  • Transparency. all discussions, decisions, and internal debates in the WordPress community are public,
  • Meritocracy. Those who put in more time and made better contributions receive respect.
  • Longevity. An OpenSource license means that WordPress, which was “born from a failed project” (Cafelog),  can “live on and be useful in ways the original creator never imagined”  (p. 35)

WordPress’ copyleft license is a GPL, or general public license. Automatic constantly improves WordPress and distributes the improvements at no charge to the entire WordPress community. Users need a server to host their free WordPress blog; they can use any server they want, but WordPress.com  provides free basic server service and derives its income from space upgrades and other extras, such as custom site design, adding a domain, template upgrades, and so on.

Long live WordPress and small companies like Automattic that find ways to make work meaningful while they contribute to the public good.