WolframAlpha's Future

I was made first aware of the WolframAlpha project by a couple of colleagues who were looking into artifical intellgence and were really impressed with this new search engine that could understand questions and respond back with natural responses. As of right now, all search engines have a tough time with translating nature language questions into data from analysis. A typical search can be tripped up with the choice of words used by an individual and may get the individual user incorrect results to their search query. This can make search for the correct information on search engine especially difficult to those who do not have the background in library and/or information sciences.

A real language (as opposed to a search language) method of finding information on a search engine would be extremely handy and would advance how the Internet could be used. This would make WolframAlpha a “computational knowledge engine” for the Web. Because of its ability to go beyond the simple regurgitation of documents that contains parts of the answer. If Wolfram Alpha can actually compute the answer to a posed question in the time it takes a user to scan through the other open frames on their web browser, WolframAlpha could redefine how we interact with the Internet.

If we are to believe that the web is a conversation from one-to-few or one-to-some, then the design and organization prevents an interactive conversation between the two parties. Web artifacts are framed in a context in a similar nature to the traditional publishing of a book or a magazine. The difference is merely the addition of other forms of media (audio, video, animation). To create a conversation, one must have (surprising enough) two parties communicating with each other. Since WolframAlpha should have the ability to answer certain kinds of questions in a form that is close to natural communication, it could be the starting point to the "Web as Conversation."

It is important to note that this is not the first attempt at such a service. Cuil was designed based on the same principle early and really was considered broken as it could not handle the strain of a large group of individuals using the site at the same time. If WolframAlpha can support being Dugg or SlashDotted or even an onslaught by the Twit Army and can maintain the same level of service, it will be huge.


Cyber C&C

According to Ellen Nakashima, the Pentagon is looking at the creation of a "Cyber Command Center" designed to be the central resource on the war on cyber-terror. The U.S. Military is discussing how they could best protect the national military cyber-assets, national security online resources and the civilian government in the chance that there would be a cyber attack on civilian computer networks.

The centralization of any type of online protection leads to questions regarding individual privacy and civil rights. The NSA used the "War of Terror" as a justification to warrantless wire-tapping, which has not be revoked by the current administration. Another problem this raises is that a centralize focus is not effective with this type of attack. Richard Bejtlich makes several excellent points regarding this subject. The major point is a specific goal or objective designed by the military maybe virtually impossible to pull off. Only an informal structure that is the basis of the hacker community would be able to work out a solution that would provide the same effect. But, that type of structure is in direct conflict with the formal structure of the U.S. Military's C&C. A military cyber C&C, based on former case studies, would more likely than not fail at objective goals.

An Open Source Milestone...

I admit, for being a student of cyberstudies and a strong supporter for open source, that I was late in the whole Linux party. I finally have a Linux computer in my office and it has been working great. It seems that most of the barriers to entry with regards to Linux have been worked out. This is thanks to an easy installation process and a friendly user interface. I use Ubuntu and it seems a lot smoother than Windows XP and I've had none of the glitches that popped up when I used Vista. But, I have to admit that I was surprised to learn that Linux now has a 1% share on user's devices.

What this means is that one out of every 100 computers accessing the web will be running some version of Linux on it, called a distro. It seems, in hindsight, that this trend was a long time coming. I would argue the entry point to open source software for most people is Firefox. Firefox is simply a browser that allows for customization that the typical web user could apply easily and a typical web user could add add-ons created by third parties to personalize the web browsing experience.

The next step for me, and several of my colleagues, was I discovered this little gem when creating my USB boot-able drive and adding Portable Apps on it. I am a long time user of Microsoft Office (more than a decade to be honest) and I found that performed like Office 2002 and ran smoothly. I still use Office, but I normally use when I'm on the road using a hotel computer.

Linux was the next logical place for me to play in. I've been doing research in creating a Linux box for over a year and I finally bought a cheap computer to install Linux on and run my BOINC/GRID projects. For the most part, it seems like a smart investment. With the ease of my transition to an open source computing lifestyle and how many of my colleagues adapting open source computing, I wouldn't be surprised if Linux hits 5% of user share by the end of 2015.

Cyberbullying and Sexting

It seems that the issues that I get requested to speak on most during the last couple of months has been the issues of cyberbullying and sexting. Most of the time it comes in the form of an educator who has heard of me and wanted me to talk to other teachers about these technological issues. There was a rare occurrence that I had the opportunity to discuss these issues with high school students.

When I address the issues with educators, what they want to focus on is how they can recognize when somebody is a victim of cyberbullying or if somebody is in a sexting relationship, especially after the focus on both of the subjects by the media. It seems hard for me to separate these two issues as both deal with identity online and others' perception of that created identity. I am not saying that both are the same or even that both have the same social impact. The point is that both of these issues are popping up as teenagers attempt to create their own space in a virtual realm. 

Cyberbullying is really a mechanism that a individual would use to force someone else out of website, social network or the entire Internet structure through the use of negative interactions. It is a power play used to claim control of the area that is hard to regulate and harder to control. The major problem occurs that cyberbullying is often reinforced in the real world setting and forces the individual target of the cyberbullying to protect themselves far beyond their ability to do so.

Sexting, on the other hand, is a mechanism used by a few as a form of individual expression and exposure. I am not saying that this is harmless exposure, rather there are risks that the individual may not be aware of. Once a picture, a video or even a simple note is sent, it can not be retrieved. It remains online forever. This is why I encourage individuals to think before they post anything online.

Both of these issues come back to the idea that one should be manage their online identity and interactions carefully. It is extremely easy to find yourself in a sititution that can be too much to manage if you are careless with what you say or post online.

My impression of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Annual Conference (Part 2)

3.) Everyone was worried about money. This was more than the simple worrying about operating expenses, it seemed that the focus was on the economy and how this added to the uncertainty of the overall business. All of the keynote lectures that I attended seem to fixate on this vital point. In addition, the economy was pointed to as the main reason that attendance was down clear across the board for all of the 11 conferences that make up the 10 days of the NAB Annual Conference.

4.) The future will be push the level of simulacra. The examples that comes from the conference and the exhibitor hall were the increase in vendors focusing on 3-D broadcasting, holographic television and virtual sets. The uncanny valley seems to be closing up. I especially looked at the virtual sets as a way of create good digital programming at the fraction of the cost of traditional broadcast models.

5.) There are no real future tellers in the field of digital media. The final point that was a consistent theme at the conference is that the future of communication is wide-open. Some felt that there were certain trends that would continue in the future (an increase in user-generated content, a stronger focus in narrowcasting, broadcasters speaking to a smaller segment of the entire public). If there is one lesson to learn over the past decade, it is that technology and public interest can change these trends very quickly. Therefore, it is best to curb your bets as much as possible.

My impression of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Annual Conference (Part 1)

This is the first time that I've attend NAB/BEA, as oppose to the BEA (Broadcast Education Association) by itself. So, that means I'll been here in Las Vegas for ten days when I finally leave on Sunday. During my time here, I did manage to gather some really helpful hints. Most of them were posted on Twitter, however I figured that I could try to summarize and provide context to the conference.

1.) Broadcasters are storytellers with really cool tools and toys. It seems that the first couple of days that the sessions were focused on breaking down the key elements of the story and how the story should be framed in camera and enhanced with natural sounds and good B-roll. Broadcasters and other producers of content must also get their subject(s) to tell their stories so those stories are compelling to others.

2.) Everyone is dealing with the issues regarding new & social media. The majority of my third day at the conference dealt with strategies in the field of new & social media. Some where focusing social media as a way of finding new business leads. Some where focusing of repurposing old information to new media streams. I got to believe that these approaches will have problems. I'm still reminded of the lessons I'm learning from the "Clue Train Manifesto" (which is a great book). If we approach the audience as nothing more than revenue stream, your business will not survive. There must be a great effort in attempting to speak to an audience with a very human voice.

Well, that's a brief analysis of everything that I got out of NAB this year. However, there's no rest for me. Tomorrow starts BEA. So, good night everyone.

A Model of How Collegiate Online Social Networks Fit into Internet Communication (Part 2)

The brick and mortar structure of the university feeds into the two opposing forces in forms the conflict that is presented in the media when regarding the university's position on online social networks. Those two forces are the emersion of the individual user into the online social network and the influence of the real world power structures on the online social network. The fuel for the conflict really comes from the media presented created in Facebook. When there are pictures of underage students' drinking, posts about students using illegal drugs and/or videos of other activities that would normally get a student thrown out of college, there is a good possibility that there will be some media focus of the story. 

Perhaps a bigger point of conflict regarding online social networks is that they can not be controlled from the top-down. For example, if one were to examine the role that Ohio State played in an attempted ban on negative comments on their Facebook page, one could argue that the news focus went beyond the initial point of conflict and the "censorship" the university attempted was perceived as a lack of openness on the part of the university. OSU attempted to formal public relations communication on an informal social network (Facebook) within an informal communication system (the Internet). Such a move is really misunderstanding of the public sphere and how system like Facebook work around blocks to the system.

It seems that the conflict could be mediated through a type of social network literacy. Users should be made aware of the potential audience of their online presentations. Also if all of the stakeholders to the system could take some time and attempt to play and/or understand the network, then there could be less misunderstanding regarding the presentations on online social networks.

A Model of How Collegiate Online Social Networks Fit into Internet Communication (Part 1)

(Writer's note: I would like to apologize for the next series of posts, as they are going to deal with my dissertation and may be slightly technical. I'll mark this post as dissertation in the category section. Thanks in advance.)

The development of a profile on an online social network begins with simple access to the technology, both hardware and software. This could be examined as a digital divide issue (Van Dijk) or even an issue of the portability of new communication technology or it could be discussed in terms of the democratization of the network. This access leds to the ability of the individual to add content through the network by referring to outside sources. The individual has the ability to create their own content to add to the robustness of the network. Both of these points (access to technology & the ability to add content) forms the basis of a multimedia literacy for the individual.

One way that a user of an online social network can find value in the network is through the perceived interactions conducted online and the perceived connection point that the environment of the online social network provides. It is fair to make the statement that users of most online social networks use the service to keep updated on what their friends are doing, find where people went after they graduated high school and discuss plans for the future. These interactions occur within the friendly confines of the graphic user interface and the overall framework of the social network. It is through these gated gardens of the network that guideposts appear to point users to a "familiar" world that the user may or may not recognize. Pictures and videos that appear on the network and the textual clues present in posts creates an image for the user to construct and/or analyze. It is by the cultural power of these online artifacts that users have the capability to take those connections from the online social network and place them in the real world environment. The perceived value of the network and the ability to bridge online/offline relationships represents a basic version of a social network theory.

The brick and mortar structure of the university exists, in one role, as the traditional mechanism of socialization to incoming freshmen. It is through the orientation process that individuals educate themselves and prepare them for the academic world. With the introduction of services like Facebook, the role of orientation is enhanced by students from the university assisting those incoming freshman to the environment of the university. This discussion of the university forces all of the stakeholders to examine the university through a critical lens. The university can be judged and analyzed based on a number of criteria giving the student an basic understanding of how good, or bad, is the college. The Internet plays the great equalizer to all information, public relations and spin.

Thoughts on the Future Imperfect

During the summer of 1996, I experience my first taste of freedom. Since I recently graduated high school, I had the summer to myself. There was no track or cross country practice. There was no band rehersals. It would be three months till I found a job.  I had no responsiblities to anybody. So, I explored the last public space in our town, the mall. Those days, the mall had the best gaming shop in my area. I got to search through the new card and board game, look at the comics and explore the latest video tapes. This experience formed my current research interest. I played "Netrunner" in the store with my friends, watched "Tek War" and some other cyberpunk movies and read the works of William Gibson and Douglas Adams.

I thought computers would be more present in the "public sphere." What I mean is that I had images of the information superhighway being virtually rendered to anybody who jack into the system through some piece of hardware that was connected to his or her body. The user could touch the electronic representation of the Internet and be able to float on the network and fly to the different destinations online. As you can tell by typing on your keyboard and looking at the information on a screen, this didn't happen.

I guess most of my academic exploration online has been simply trying to resolve the disconnect between the world laid out by these mediated futurists and the world as it is now. I was expecting a cyber-distopia to exist after a collapse of some world power. Some wanted the future to have jetpacks, I wanted VR5.


Twitter and its Impact on American Governance

I was happy that one of my articles was selected for Communication Currents, an amazing produced by the National Communication Association. Communication Currents is an online web magazine of the National Communication Association. This site is designed to translate current communication scholarship published in scholarly journals of the National Communication Association. Working from recently-published journal articles, Communication Currents makes scholarship available in a form understandable and usable for broad audiences, including communication experts working with lay audiences, instructors and students, the press, and other interested members of the public. Essays in Communication Currents highlight the relevance of communication scholarship; demonstrates the way in which communication impacts our world; and demonstrates the leadership of NCA in the study of communication.

My article dealt with how microblogging was being used by government official as a way of communicating with their constitnuents. The article can be found here.