It was certainly nice to see my Mountaineers win the big game. I know it isn't the NCAA tournament, but I have to say that seeing my alma mater work its way to the NIT Championship was more exciting for me than this year's Big Dance.
Call it an unconference or whatever ... the idea hit me last night to have a meet up of the PSU Twitter folks so we can step beyond our new found online community into the real thing. I can honestly say I am more engaged with my local community than I ever have been before and Twitter is a big reason.
I was hoping we could get together for some lively discussion about the things going on in and around PSU. Think of it as a way for us to engage in a conversation that can be longer than 140 characters.
Fill out the form and show up! This is something that could be really good for the whole community. I have blocked off Wednesday, April 4th starting at 3 PM to be at Otto's to meet up. If we want to create an agenda, or if you have ideas for things you'd like to hear or talk about, just leave comments after filling out the form.
I say that only because it is true ... last night after reading about the horrific behavior aimed at Kathy Sierra my wife and I had a long conversation about this whole transparent life thing.
Let me set this up just a bit ... I have been blogging since sometime in early 2003 in one form or another. I didn't really get into it until 2004 with the launch of Learning and Innovation, but I had been writing here and there for a year until I really got committed to it a few years ago. My wife has also been a blogger for several years ... she spent about a year on a blog that focused on how women (Mother's particularly) are often caught in the middle of their careers, families, political beliefs, and just about everything else. She got big traffic for the year or so she kept it alive. After the Bush/Kerry election she lost her energy to fight that fight -- that was coupled and compounded with some particularly nasty comments from one person. A few months later she launched another blog that has grown in popularity and has made a significant impact to many people. She is a great writer who is funny and passionate ... it is a good voice in the blogosphere. Both of us enjoy doing what we do, but things are changing ... having a voice that is heard is a good thing even if it is not as loud or as popular as Kathy Sierra -- it can still provide impact.
You'll remember that a couple of months ago we decided to pull our pictures from the public eye at Flickr. What I thought was a small decision spurred a lot of email and comments from people asking me deeper questions. Some of the more interesting comments focused on me never thinking about giving my children a say in how I was shaping their public identity through my open use of Flickr. Really got me thinking. I very rarely write here about my children in any real way -- I mention them, but rarely do I air thoughts and observations about their development or actions. I know there are sites like the wildly popular Dooce where it is all chronicled with minuet detail. I don't point at Heather Armstrong and say anything negative at all. Hell I read Dooce and find it very entertaining. But, I made the choice early on that this space was for the things I think about in my work space. The identity I am working to create for myself online is based on that environment -- not home. The thinking hasn't stopped with regard to creating online identity and what it means ... if nothing else, the Kathy Sierra story pulled the thoughts back into focus a bit.
Back to the conversation with my wife ... we talked about a lot of things. One of them was how both of our use of RSS has dipped way down on the charts. It is funny how all of a sudden I am back at reading a couple of sites for "real." I visit the NY Times, ESPN, and a few other sites everyday ... I have only ten or so that I am spending time at in my RSS reader ... a far cry from the 150 subscriptions I have. Just strange. Both of us have noticed it and expressed feeling overwhelmed or even bored by the whole thing. Problem is that there is great stuff out there that neither of us are taking part in for some reason. No idea why (Twitter maybe).
Also, we both sort of came around to the idea that this whole writing thing in the open is largely for us. Don't get me wrong, the comments, emails, and all the other stuff we both get from readers is amazing. In many ways the few comments I get drive me forward -- but they drive me to really to think more clearly about the things I write, not to write more. We both sort of looked at each other and said that we didn't care about the rules of blogging -- you know, post everyday as many times as you can, comment at a ton of blogs, and link to all sorts of people and stories ... it just doesn't matter to me. I love writing, sharing my thoughts, and getting the occasional feedback from those who do read. But at the end of the day my thoughts towards why and how I blog are changing. This is all sort of new stuff in my head, but I thought I would throw it out there and see what others are thinking. Are we all just sort of changing our perspective on this stuff or is there really something changing in the space that makes us refocus? I'm not sure. Would I be a hypocrite to ask for feedback?
As we race towards the release of our Penn State Blog pilot I am bumping my head into the same question over and over again -- will our students care? This isn't really something I am being asked by people in general, this is one of those nagging questions that one of the various voices in my head is repeating. We all know that students do live fairly digital lives and the fact of the matter is that they are doing it more and more -- especially when it comes to participation in social sites. Not sure if you've heard of MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube but PSU students have. Here's just a couple of data points for you from a November PSU PULSE Survey on social software usage at our University:
83% of Penn State students use Facebook (with the number at 90% at the University Park campus)
50% of Penn State students report having a MySpace account
85% of Penn State students report watching video on YouTube
So if you look at those numbers you can see they are consumers and producers of the digital lifestyle. You might argue that simply watching a video isn't really taking part, but if you consider that about 16% of our students have posted video you see that there is a solid percentage contributing (BTW, at 80,000+ students 16% is a nice number). The results of the survey are not really surprising, but they do paint a very interesting picture for us to build a case for new services and opporutnities at the University -- or do they?
At second glance I have to return to my question of will they show up if we build it. I am fumbling over this specific question and I am obviously going to take a wait and see attitude. Will they come out of their existing spaces to participate? Probably not ... but the better question is if we can come up with reasons to pull them out and participate in our environments. The funny thing is that when I say "our" environment I am actually talking about their space. We want to publish their blogs/media/stuff into their personal webspace so they can actually take it with them when they go. I wonder how Facebook feels when you say, "thanks for the free account, but I'd like to take my stuff with me." I can't imagine they make it all that easy.
Another strange thing going on with all this is the Facebook's CEO recent comments about becoming a publishing giant ... relying on new tools within the FB environment to encourage its users to create and contribute stories. I found it both very interesting and disturbing. I can say from experience that it is very hard to maintain identity at too many places ... in other words, blogging in both the FB and at their other PSU sites may be a lot to ask. They spend a lot of time in the FB -- consider that about 25% report spending five hours or more a week in there! I know from other results that is more than they report spending on homework and is close to half of the typical weekly class load!
So, the question is being asked again in my head -- will our students care? I'd like to know what you all think and I am really interested in seeing what we do about making it important to them. Or should we?
This could possibly be the longest I've let a new piece of Apple hardware sit around in a box. It showed up on Thursday and sat as I tried to figure out how I was going to integrate it into my home setup -- My existing receiver has only two component video inputs and it doesn't do HDMI, so figuring that out was a mess. My TV is on the wall a good 12 feet away from where the equipment sits. All my cables run out through the wall into the garage and back in behind the TV. It all looks very clean, but running a 16' HDMI cable (at $200.00) wasn't part of the equation. Long story short, I am setup now after a couple of hours of planning this morning. If the TV was right next to the Apple TV box this would have all been avoided.
That aside, I have to say that the experience of turning it on for the first time exceeded my expectations. I should have taken some pictures, but my wife already thinks I am too into this tuff (here are some pictures of setup from TUAW).It has the standard Apple feel to it ... plug it in, flip on the TV, and the glowing Apple logo greets you on screen. The only real setting out of the box are selecting a screen resolution and wireless network. The Apple TV actually saw about a half dozen wireless networks that my laptop doesn't see. I selected mine and it instantly worked. It gave me a little pass code to pair it with my iMac in the office and that was it. The Apple TV showed up under the heading "devices" on the iMac's iTunes much like it was an iPod. From there I was able to syncing options for TV Shows, Movies, Music, Photos, and Podcasts. Either all or selected playlists/albums can get synced. No need for me to tell you how it manages all that as Apple does a good job at their website.
What I will tell you about is how fast it all is -- very. I instantly filled up about half of the hard drive on the Apple TV with my selections ... honestly it was very fast moving items to the Apple TV itself. No problems and I have not purchased the new Airport. No need. As you can imagine the menus are very slick and seem well polished -- as a matter of fact the interface is better than FrontRow as far as I am concerned. One thing that is interesting is that one of the menu selections is "sources." Going in there lets you switch between the items living on the hard drive of the Apple TV or switch to other machines. Selecting the iMac sees the Apple TV connect to it very quickly and make all the media on it instantly available. Unlike the problems I've had streaming music from laptop to laptop I haven't seen any issues pulling the music and video from the air.
This morning we watched a bunch of movie trailers, listened to music (the screen saver is very cool), and watched slideshows backed by our own soundtrack. Everything worked perfectly. I'm not too keen on having yet another little Apple Remote, but it does let you pair it so it doesn't mess with my iPod sitting next to it. I'll post more, but I have to say the quality is great, music sounds great over the digital out and video quality of things purchased recently via iTunes Store look good. I was even able to watch movies I had originally prepared to watch on my iPod and they look solid as well. I'm not done putting it through the paces, but it does what Apple claims and does it all with the typical elegance we've come to expect from Apple. Good purchase and I have a feeling as I get more used to the way it all works I'll be taking advantage of it quite a bit.
There are so many times that a bunch of us sit down and talk about what is next ... we've spent so much time looking at all this web 2.0 stuff that we are ready to look into the future a bit. The problem is that I keep coming back to the same conclusion -- the future looks a hell of a lot like today. If you look around at today's higher education campuses you see a ton of faculty, staff, and students using three apps -- Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
At the moment these apps are locked into a desktop environment ... one without the real feature that web 2.0 is built on -- collaboration. I would also add portability, convenience, and accessibility to that basic tenant, but the collaboration thing is paramount. I teach here and there at PSU and I can tell you that these are the true killer apps on campus. In the web space there are two champs -- google and PSU webmail -- but these are in the background serving the community in a different way. The Office suite is the thing that we all rely on. But you know what? It is starting to change ... people are starting to get the Google Docs fever around here. The last time I taught I introduced my class to Writely (google docs) and I have never seen students react so positively to a technology. When I asked them why, they looked at me like I was an idiot -- "we need this" is what they told me.
Made sense given the fact that so many of them are now asked to work in teams. In the old scenario there is a real mess ... think about what a pain in the ass it is to have 5 people all working on the same Word document. People adding new sections, sending it around to each other, and trying like mad to merge changes. No wonder they like it.
The more I talk to my friends about this it is clear that the google docs suite will continue to have a major impact on our campus. As with all this stuff, it will take time for it to gain wide adoption. Within the next 18 months I am guessing that our primary stake holders will be clamoring for a local solution to this issue. So, as I look into the future all I see is the current ... the big differences are that we'll be able to connect with others and run it all in our browser. The future looks a lot like today -- sorta.
Just a note to say my Apple TV shipped this morning ... Apple pushed it back a few times, but they kept their word on the "Ships by March 20, 2007" email I got a couple of weeks ago. I should have it by the end of the week. I intend to do a full review this weekend and will post my thoughts then. I am actually excited to see how well this thing plays in my home entertainment network ... I didn't buy the new Airport Extreme and am hopeful speeds will be good enough to make this thing work as advertised. We shall see ... stay tuned.
So if you've been following the blog the last three weeks you know I have been on travel -- some of it business and some personal. The personal stuff served as the bookends to three weeks of insanity. Three weeks ago I packed the whole family into the Pacifica and headed to Florida so my wife and our two children could spend time with the in-laws for a couple of weeks while I flew to San Fran to meet with Apple, then back to State College for a couple of days of work, and then to Chicago for a CIC Learning Technologies group meeting ... that Chicago trip got me back to Florida for a week long vacation, joining my family. I have to say the week away was wonderful, but way too short.
The drive down was a bitch ... we left on a Sunday and promptly got jacked up in the DC area due to a winter storm ... three days later we were in Pine Island, FL ... I got to spend an evening with the family before I left for Cupertino for the Apple trip. Getting there was easy and the meetings with Apple were good. That's when the problems started. The return trip turned into a nightmare and a day and half later I was red-eyeing back to State College. Trust me, we made the most of the extra day in SF -- if you are going to get stranded in a city, make it SF ... I'm just saying, it is the right place to be. Coming back to State College from the west coast almost always pushes me into quasi-depression as I just feel at home in Northern California. This time was even harder ... my family was in FL and I was racing to pack a week of work into a couple of days before Chicago. The Chicago trip was good and the company was excellent as always, but the return from there to FL was a mess -- strike two for the airlines. While in Chicago I got nothing but mis-information from the airline monitors, employees, and websites ... it was a mess. I did finally get out of Chicago and back into FL so all was good.
A week on Marco Island cures all sorts of things -- and this trip was no different. The week blew past and the drive home arrived away too quickly. We left Saturday morning under beautiful sunny skies ... it was way too perfect to leave. The drive up I 75 in FL was brutal ... it typically takes us 6 hours to get out FL, but 10 hours in and we had to stop. The boy (6 months old) cried most of the way as we sat in traffic like I haven't seen in years ... made it even more painful. So a night in St. Augustine allowed us to regroup for the rest of the trip ... a whole day and still close to an hour from Georgia. Day two started fine, but that ended in South Carolina where we sat in pile-up traffic for an hour. Long story short it took three full days to get back and when we got to PA it was grey and a mess. As I sit here typing it is snowing outside ... depression is a terrible thing.
But, with all that said I did want to mention something that cracked me up while we sat in traffic in SC. The Pacifica has integrated GPS so I was trying to find alternate routes to beat the traffic. As I was doing that, my daughter was happily looking at the in-car DVD system watching whatever movie we dropped in there for that two hour stretch. Finally my wife had pulled out my MacBook and plugged in the Verizon USB broadband modem trying to frantically find any updated traffic information. That means 3 out of the 4 of us in the car had our eyes glued to either an entertainment or information screen. A far cry from when I was my daughter's age rolling to FL in the back of my parent's station wagon. The other thing that jumped out at both of us was just how bad all the access to information really is. With a device like the iPhone getting ready to hit these people better get their shit together, because when people need information there better be information waiting for them. Ubiquitous access doesn't mean shit if there aren't people providing ubiquitous data. I'm just saying ... this whole trip has shown me a lot about how bad information systems are in this country -- unless of course all you want to do is watch a DVD.
As a quick follow-up to my USA Today post this morning ... I was digging a little deeper into the tools there and saw a little, "powered by Pluck" link. When I followed it I surprised to see the tools and services they offer to bring a little social activity to your site. Not sure how we could tap into them, but it is worth some more investigation.
When I first started to really use the web back in the early to mid 90s one of my primary destinations was the online version of the USA Today newspaper. It had all the characteristics of what could make the web good back in the day-- constantly updated content, ease of navigation, and good search. Every morning I would go into my little home office, fire up my PowerMac 7200 (let it crash and restart a few times), open up a PPP connection, wait while Netscape crawled to life, and watch the USA Today slowly draw on screen ... it was my pre-rss daily routine. I would visit it a few times a day just to get the latest news. It was good, but then the web started to change for me and I just stopped showing up. By the emerging social standards the USA Today lacked the punch and collaborative feel of the places I began to spend most of my time -- blogs.
Seeing that it is NCAA tournament time, I tend to use "real" web sites a bit more -- you know ESPN, CBS Sportsline, and the USA Today. I find their coverage is more in line with what I need to make my annual (terrible) picks. At any rate, I hit the USA Today yesterday to find an interesting opportunity at the top of the site that pulled me in -- an opportunity to become a member and log in. Right next to it I saw quotes from real people (just like me) about the things going on in the paper with links to the articles they were associated with. Here's what I mean:
It isn't immediately clear what membership provides, but after exploring it starts to make sense ... set up a profile, give them some demographic info, and watch the news you want roll in. I accomplish the same thing through RSS and the dozens of sites I use to cull together the information I need to stay current. I suspect that the USA Today folks finally figured out it was time to hook up the power of the information they manage with the increasing demand for personalization and participation.
Will I spend more time at the USA Today? Maybe ... I know it won't be like it was back in the day, but I imagine if I get engaged with a community there I'll be a return customer. I know other news sites are actively soliciting user participation in the form of videos and other user generated stories, but this one struck me as a nice move for one of my favorite old school web hangouts. Are there other traditional web spaces that are working hard to integrate web 2.0 concepts? I'd like to explore and watch how that goes for them as well.