May 22, 2008

Podcasts are basically audio files that can be subscribed to. That’s the big thing about them. Any old person could post an audio or video file to a blog, but podcasts (and vodcasts) are specifically those types of files that can be subscribed to directly. Social Media World has a good video about what podcasts are.

I also found an article called Seven Ways that Print Media is Like Podcasting. Not only does it point out why it is similar to print media, but it also points out the faults of television and radio that make a podcast so popular, such as the inability to listen to a radio show whenever you want. In that way, it would make sense for a radio broadcaster to put their show in podcast format so it would be accessible to a broader range of people.

One interesting thing is that many people in traditional media are embracing podcast technology. Because of the ability to subscribe to a podcast, many radio broadcasters use podcasts to supplement their shows and give their listeners the ability to easily keep track of new episodes.

Podcasts are useful partially because they are entertaining. I used to subscribe to a few that were connected to this one site. They not only used it as a blogging tool, using it to give updates on the site, but they also had interviews with people involved in that field. One of those involved fan fiction, so they often had people who maintained blogs on either the fandom or grammar, people who were popular writers, or they had people who were actually involved in the subject, such as editors or artists. One of them had people send in emails and their own audio files, which they either read or played back in the podcast. Basically, it was really good advertising.

(What I didn’t understand was why one of those sites set up a separate RSS feed for their podcast. I’m not talking about the subscription to the actual podcast; these guys had a separate page with all their past podcasts on the site, and that page had an RSS feed. If you clicked on the link in the feed, it would link you to another link, which would send you to the podcast. Could someone explain why they would do this? It just seems so redundant. I would think the feed for the podcast would be plenty and they wouldn’t have to include a separate feed.)

They are also useful because it releases some of the limits that limit solely text-based information. This is felt even moreso with vodcasts. Take, for example, a music blog. Instead of them linking the mp3 files directly into a text-based post, they could have a podcast with either clips or the whole songs that they wanted to show people. That way, all the music is in one place, and the consumer would be able to just download the one file to listen to.

I can think of a specific example of where a vodcast would be very, very useful. If they didn’t actually set this up (and if they had, then I really need to work on my observational skills), then they need their heads examined. I know it’s on YouTube and I could have just subscribed to the author, but that’s a bit different. Anyway, it’s this one show on Youtube called “The Guild”. It’s basically about the trials and tribulations of this one guild in World of Warcraft. If it were in vodcast form, I could have monitored their updates that much more closely. This obviously works with many other webisodes, including Ashen’s work (he reviews old, terrible consoles as well as cheap Chinese knockoffs) on YouTube (he has his own site, but I tend to just pay attention to what he puts on YouTube instead of his site, so he could have a vodcast that I don’t know about).

Screencasting, capturing a video of what is happening on screen, is good for those whose blog keeps track of new software. It helps show the features in real time, and can be subscribed to just like a vodcast.


I’m still not feeling my best this week, so I’m not too happy with how this week’s entry has turned out.

Mashups are web applications that are combinations of other different web applications.

The potential for this is endless. An already good application is used to create bigger, better applications with much more features. The people who make these applications, and whose applications are being used, allow this because it allows for better development of the technology and more resources to use.

One online program that gets implemented into many different mashups is Google Maps. There is a blog that actually tracks what mashups are being made using this application called Google Maps Mania. The latest site featured on that blog is Everyscape, where they incorporate Google Maps into an application that lets you see a street view of a location. The creators of Google Maps allow this because of the uses that can be gained from such sharing. If they were to restrict use of the application, then we wouldn’t have so many other resources out there.

This relates back to the open source movement because people are allowing the code to be improved upon. Just like Firefox lets people view their open source so that they can get greater and more useful user feedback about the equipment, API makers allow their applications to be used so more uses can come from the application.

I personally view mashups as a wonderful thing. There are so many different combinations of applications, you could almost make a mashup that will track your neighbors movements. Almost.

A website I found useful is Programmable Web. It tracks several different mashups that are out there. It’s a very useful tool if you want to find a mashup, or if you want to find an application to be included in your own mashup.

Research Processes

May 11, 2008

If one wants to find something online, they sometimes have to be creative.

Combing through tags at different sites, such as del.icio.us or a blogging site such as WordPress or Blogger, helps find links that other people would consider to be relevant. Even Technorati uses tags, which is very useful when you aren’t sure of what keyword to use.

There are also many other alternative search engines out there, including visual search engines (like searchme, which was reviewed at Techsnack) and searches that search several different search engines (like dogpile). ReadWriteWeb had an article awhile back called Top 100 Alternative Search Engines. There, you can find a search engine for any kind of media, or a certain type of search engine. You want to search blogs? You don’t need to use Google’s Blogsearch, you can just use Blogdigger.com. While those searches vary in quality, it is interesting to see so many of them listed in one place.

WebWorkerDaily also has a list of 8 Alternative Search Engines. They include reviews of the different search engines as well, so you know those are good quality. They even mentioned zabasearch.com, which I personally like because it helps find people that aren’t in the phone books.

You can even use an alternative web browser to help your search. Tech Radar has a list of 8 alternative web browsers that have their own special features. I mention this because it mentions browsers such as Flock and SpaceTime that could be used to streamline searches. Flock connects directly to social networking sites, such as Facebook and even YouTube, so you don’t actually have to go to them to check up on them. SpaceTime is unique in that it lets to flip through sites in 3D. That may not seem like much use, but it could be useful if you’re like me and have a million tabs open while searching. It also has a built in search tool that lets you search a whole list of sites, including Flickr and YouTube.

RSS feeds are another way to search. syndic8.com is a search engine that searches RSS feeds only. If you want to constantly keep up to date. News is Free is a browser-based alert system that keeps you up to date with your blogs and news. They also have a news search tool.

If the site doesn’t have an RSS feed, then page monitors are the way to go. There are many email, online, and downloadable monitors out there, including Google Alerts. There is also googlealert.com. What’s odd about this alert system is that it came before Google Alerts. Its website seems to also have a different target audience, seeing as how the site mentions it as a business tool.

If you want to narrow down your search options, Google has a page where they describe syntaxes to optimize a search online. The link is here: Search Operators. These typically work at any site, not just Google’s search engine. Of course, if you’re feeling Google loyalty, they do have quite a few other programs, some of which would be very good for searches. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the whole range of Google products.

Last but not least, you could search iTunes’s Store. They do have an assortment of Podcasts that may be on the subject you’re trying to search. I’ve even seen blogs with Podcasts.

Communities of practice are social learning. Every person in the network helps one another to get to their common goal. Etienne Wenger first proposed this form of learning in 1991. In the article Communities of Practice on his website, he says it is not merely a network of people, it is a group of people with a common identity working towards a common goal. While this is not a new learning concept, Wenger was the first person to describe the phenomenon.

Those of us who want to go into web design need to be involved in a community of practice. The web provides a good source for us to go to for any information we need to know. Blogs would be the most accessible source, though anywhere where people with similar goals go to talk about their interest would also work.

Communities of Practice: Learning as a Social System is another article by Etienne Wenger that was widely referenced by other students learning about communities of practice. It would seem that several professors think that it is relevant to the topic at hand, so I believe it also needs a mention. In it, he cites examples of communities of practice and how they are effective. He emphasizes how it is a group of people with similar goals, not interests. Our class is a community of practice in that we are bouncing ideas off of each other so we can more effectively learn. A group of programmers in a blogsphere is a community of practice. A group online devoted to, say, LOLcats is not a community of practice since, while they have a similar interest, they do not have a goal in mind. A community of practice is more of a team that works together than anything else.

In It’s not how famous you are, it’s how relevant, the author reasons that communities of practice thrive on relevancy and communication from the author. This article emphasizes the colloquialism of communities of practice. It is not how well broadcasted a person is, it is how relevant and accessible the information is to people in the same community of practice.

In Communities of Practice: A Means of Encouraging Knowledge Management, Amy Smith emphasizes that communities of practice are not only networking among a group, but also helping the novices in the community. The level of mastery in a community of practice is not the deciding factor in its success; instead, it is the level of participation amongst all members of the group.

Basically, what I get from communities of practice is that it is informal learning among a group of people. They each want to succeed in their field so they talk to the different members of their community. For us to have a more effective community of practice at school, we need to be able to not only network with those who have been through more of the program, but also effectively participate in not only our but their learning as well. It is a group effort for all of us and, if one of us does not succeed, then the group does not succeed as a whole. It goes back to that saying, we are only as strong as the weakest in the group.