Monthly Archives: November 2004

Dolls are scary enough

Another one for my Xmas list: a doll that looks just like me. The power of interactivity is being put to its best use at MyTwinn.com, where you can make your own doll, including choosing hair, skin, and eye colour as well as experiment with face shapes and hair styles. Oh, and you can also have a freckle pattern replicated from a photo onto the doll. All for only $119. Now if I can get it to talk in a creepy voice, ideally during the small hours…

Copyright Bill scaled back

Interesting comment on a revision to the Intellectual Property Protection Act in America, as Big Business seeks to protect its copyright. There’s a mention here about a person potentially getting three years for filming in a cinema – I wonder if anyone’s ever done a comparison between sentences for this type of crime, which harms big business, and those that harm actual people?

Someone just wrote my Xmas list

How helpful of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an investor advocacy group, to release its list of the 10 most violent games. This is supposed to be a warning to parents, but as a side effect it was very nice of them to help me out with my Xmas list.

My favourite quote comes from Dr. Martha Burk, president of the Center for Advancement of Public Policy: “The retailers have standards for other products,” she said. “Would Wal-Mart sell a board game where a player has to have sex with a prostitute to move forward four spaces and then kill her to move forward another six spaces? I don’t think so.”

Grand Theft Auto Monopoly, anyone?

Google Scholar helps you find offline stuff too

As Google launches yet another arm to what is becoming an octopus-like operation, I’m yet again impressed by what looks like a very useful search tool for academic writing. Google Scholar ranks results by how many articles reference it (among other things) rather than how many sites link to it – and it even pulls out references within texts and presents them as separate results, even if these are books or publications not available offline. I did a search for Online Journalism and immediately discovered some very useful stuff.

Meanwhile, bigger fish Microsoft is looking to challenge Google with its own search technology, expected to be bundled in its next OS (a la Explorer) in 2006. Apparently if you type in “more evil than Satan” Google comes up top, partly because the Google motto is apparently ‘Do no evil’, which is better than those bland corporate mottos you usually get (although the company is doing a good deal of its own gobbling, including Blogger.com and Usenet).

Losing readers to the Net

Two recent articles have raised the old spectre of the internet taking readers away from printed newspapers.

One concerns a recent survey which found that Europeans were spending nearly twice as much time online (20% of media consumption) as they did reading newspapers (11%). Of course, this was conducted by the European Interactive Advertising Association, so they do have a vested interest, and while most people went online to check email (88%), only 61% used the web for news.

Meanwhile, the eminent Roy Greenslade twins the decline in newspaper readership with the increase in newspaper website use, and envisages “a potentially disastrous situation for printed newspapers in which their sales have fallen to levels that are hard to sustain, yet their website offshoots will be hugely popular. […] Just as worrying”, he notes, “is the fact that many people get their news from net sources unconnected to newspapers, especially the BBC. There are hosts of sites offering news of varying quality and integrity, including those famous solo journalists known as bloggers.”

Roy quotes Pete Picton, the Sun’s online editor, as believing that the balance between what appears in print and online requires investigation. “The question of cannibalisation”, Picton told last month’s Association of Online Publishers’ annual conference, “is worthy of a whole separate debate in our industry.”

This is certainly an issue. I buy a paper perhaps a couple times a week these days, but most of my news consumption comes from electronic sources: my two homepages are the Guardian NewsBlog and the website of the journalist George Monbiot; I receive email briefings from the Guardian, NewsIsFree.com and the Online Publishers Association to name a few; and I’ve installed RSS reader on my computer, which duly chimes in twice a day with headlines from the areas that interest me.

We’re getting closer to that Daily Me that Nicholas Negroponte talked about almost ten years ago, but rather than being supplied by media organisations it’s being crafted by ourselves out of available sources. The important factor here is what those sources are. RSS Reader, for instance, leans heavily on American feeds, and when writing a blog it’s easy to fall into the trap of “If it ain’t online, it doesn’t exist” – because you can’t link to it.

This is perhaps the more immediately important debate. The low resolution of computer screens and the portability of newspapers will ensure they remain popular for a time yet. It may also be that online sources are offering something that newspapers are not. Newspapers face a journalistic and technical challenge; readers and bloggers face one of trust and reliability.

Changing my browser

I have to admit to being one of those stubborn types who insisted on using Netscape despite those occasional problems when websites didn’t display or work properly. For some people Internet Explorer represents the horrible dominance of Microsoft, but with Netscape now owned by one of the biggest media organisations in the world (TimeWarner AOL), that really is no reason for continuing to stick with Netscape.

So my reason is this: a cute little function hidden away in Netscape that allows you to have more than one homepage. This is how you do it: open up all the webpages you want as your homepages (the other nice thing about Netscape is the way it allows you to have a series of pages on different tabs, rather than as separate windows as in Explorer). Go to Edit > Preferences and select the Navigator tab. Under Home Page click Use Current Group. Want another reason? How about security issues with IE?

The one problem is it does mean your browser takes longer to boot up (which is why at home I use Explorer and set the homepage to Blank).

Meanwhile, Mozilla’s Firefox is making up significant ground on the two big names, as it hits version 1.0. It includes a clever little search function, apparently. I finally tried it today and have to admit to being an instant convert. It’s fast, intuitive in design and combines the best of both Netscape and Explorer. This includes multiple homepages too.

UPDATE (23.Nov.04): Firefox is already cutting into IE’s market, according to CNET – although IE still has 90% share.