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Blogs, Podcasts, Vidcasts: 
    New Media Communication (8/2007)

    by Douglas Dixon

Blogs: Understanding the New Media -- Finding Blogs -- N.J. Blogs
Podcasts -- Finding Podcasts - N.J.
Vidcasts
New Media at N.J. Colleges
References

See also: Notes on Blogging, Syndication, Podcasting, and Vidcasting (4/2006)
    www.manifest-tech.com/docs/dixon_blogs_notes_0604.mht

We love to sit back and enjoy our mass media -- books and radio and TV. But we also like to communicate, to share our own thoughts and opinions and experience. The Internet has enabled mass communication as never before, resulting in an explosion of personal expression and niche content (as well as spam e-mail).

Do you have a hobby, a passion, a need, a burning question? In today's world, the immediate response is to say "I'll just look it up on the Web." A wealth of knowledge is ready and available, created by the wonderful variety of people that you can find with an interest almost any topic, so you can indulge your curiosity, and explore and learn to your heart's content.

And beyond Google searches and links to websites, the new media forms of blogs and podcasts and vidcasts offer even better mechanisms to share information. Now everyone can use the same tools of mass media -- text, audio, and video -- to create and share. You not only can find information, but you can actually experience it.

With blogs and podcasts and vidcasts, organizations and individuals can publish and broadcast Web-accessible media. Then anyone can subscribe to these feeds using Web tools to automatically access the latest updates, and even download media to portable media players.

But what are blogs and podcasts and vidcasts? Where do you find them? How do you access them? We'll take a look at all these of these new media, and explore examples of what people are doing with them in our local New Jersey area.


Blogs: Understanding the New Media

On the one hand, blogs and podcasts and vidcasts are just files posted on the Web (text and audio and video, respectively). You can link to them, view them, and download them like any other Web files.

But these new media forms have two additional key features: by convention, they are intended as a kind of focused and periodic publication, and they are enabled by technology and tools -- designed for creating, posting, subscribing, viewing, and downloading material in these formats.

Blogs (from web log) are basically chronological journals on the Web -- typically words with images. They are created by an individual, group, or organization that has something to say -- for example about broad topics in movies or politics or law or business or technology (of course) -- or more personal pursuits like cats or knitting or antique cars or punk rock. If you're interested, you can find blogs on almost any topic.

   
        Sample blog: Overlawyered (www.overlawyered.com) -- "Chronicling the high cost of our legal system"
            Entries listed by date, with Permanent links (Permalink) and Comments from readers
            Side bar with RSS feed, About, Search, Recent Posts, plus Greatest Hits, Categories, Archives, Links ...

A blog should have a focus, a voice, a personality that makes it interesting to readers who will want to follow the writer's interests and commentary and opinions. As a kind of publication, blogs then carry an expectation of periodic publication -- some hourly, or daily, or maybe weekly. As a blogger builds an audience, readers expect to come back regularly for new postings.

Blogs also are part of an ongoing public and two-way conversation, not just one-way mass broadcasting. Blog postings typically are full of links, to comment on news and other online references. Some offer sections for readers to leave comments, which can grow into further discussions. You also may see TrackBacks, cross-references to other blogs that commented on a specific posting. And many bloggers post a Blogroll of links to their own recommended blogs.

All these conventions are then enabled by the tools and technology -- Sites like Blogger (www.blogger.com) and TypePad (www.typepad.com) where you can set up your own blog, and blogging tools like the open source WordPress (wordpress.org) and Six Apart Movable Type (www.sixapart.com/movabletype) that you can install on your website.

   
        Blogger (www.blogger.com) -- Create a simple blog

These blog publishing tools manage a database of your postings and then build a entire blog website to present them in useful ways to visitors -- typically including a main page with reverse chronological postings for the current month, archives for each previous month, pages organized by categories and keyword tags, and search features.

A blog than can be accessed like any other website, using any web browser to follow the links through the generated structure. However, you then will need to keep up with the site by periodically checking in to see if there's something new. Even better, you can subscribe to this blog publication, and have it delivered fresh to your virtual door. A blog's content can be made available for subscription using content syndication feeds (look for links labeled RSS or Atom or XML). Then you can use new versions of the popular Web browsers to subscribe to the feeds of your favorite blogs, and the browser will take care of checking for new content across all the blogs you are interested in, and automatically display the new articles for you.


Finding Blogs

To find blogs on topics that interest you, use search tools that understand the difference between general websites and pages on the broad Web, and blogs and postings in the "blogosphere." Many Web search sites now have dedicated blog searches, like Google (blogsearch.google.com), while sites like Technorati (www.technorati.com) are focused on tracking and rating blogs.

   
        Technorati (www.technorati.com) -- Popular blogs, trends, keyword tags (right)

(As of August 2007, Technorati was tracking 94.9 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media. According to Technorati data, there are over 175,000 new blogs created every day. Bloggers update their blogs regularly with over 1.6 million posts per day, or over 18 updates a second.)

With all the linking and trackbacks and blogrolls among these sites, you don't need to do much searching before you will find yourself following chains of links to other related sites, and quickly understanding which sites in your area of interest are more useful and more popular.

Of course, like any areas of human endeavor, there are noisy and unpleasant people (trolls) out there blogging and browsing, with plenty of time to participate in flame wars arguing about blog postings. So just don't go there, and stick with bloggers who participate in a web of trust with their readers and other blogs -- backing up their writing with links to references, keeping within the bounds of reasonable discourse, and admitting and correcting mistakes when they are pointed out.

You also will see references to social networking sites like del.icio.us (yes, http://del.icio.us) where fans post references to interesting blog posts, which then are rated by other readers. Similar sites for the more tech oriented include digg (digg.com), reddit (reddit.com), and slashdot (slashdot.org). These sites can have tremendous influence in quickly spreading news and ideas -- the wave of traffic generated by a post can sometime bring a linked site to its knees, a phenomenon known as being slashdotted.


N.J. Blogs

To look for blogs with a regional New Jersey focus, start with the blogs associated with the local newspapers that specialize in the news and events of their region:

- NJ.com has information from The Star-Ledger, The Trenton Times, and other local papers -- plus a large collection of blogs on Jersey, entertainment, news, sports, and local areas (www.nj.com/blogs). For example, you can subscribe to a feed of breaking N.J. news.

- The Jersey Blogs blog then reports on blogs around the state (blog.nj.com/jerseyblogs).

   
        NJ.com blogs (www.nj.com/blogs) -- Regional blogs and feeds

Critiquing fits well with the blog format, allowing bloggers the freedom and the audience to vent their personal feelings on a variety of topics, whether books, music, movies, plays, or food. With its location between Philly and New York (and its own collection of excellent eateries), New Jersey has become a haven for food and wine enthusiasts, as reflected by blogs hosted at NJ.com.

- The Artful Diner by Art Namendorf reviews the quality of the food served a New Jersey eateries, and looks behind the scenes at the chefs who make the food and the public's reactions to the restaurant (http://blog.nj.com/artful_diner).

- To compliment your meal, Wine Goddess by Debbie Miller Nelson reviews wine-sellers and their products across the state, as well as providing information on upcoming wine tastings, plus travels and meals to compliment the beloved beverage (http://blog.nj.com/wine_goddess).

Here at Princeton University, Computer Science professor Ed Felton writes the Freedom to Tinker blog, focused on legal regulation of technology, and the right to tinker with technological devices (www.freedom-to-tinker.com). Felton has become the definitive national technical voice when copy-protection technology hits the shoals of the consumer market, as in the recent Sony BMG recall of CDs with virus-like features.

Another well-known blogger with a history in New Jersey is Jeff Jarvis, whose Buzzmachine blog focuses on new media and journalism (www.buzzmachine.com). Jarvis advocates using the Web for hyperlocal blogging and online citizen journalism, leveraging the world-wide Web to share and communicate about local geographic regions:

- Baristanet acts like an online local paper, with news and reviews and classifieds focused around Montclair, N.J. (baristanet.typepad.com). It receives more than 5,000 visits a day. Unlike a weekly or even daily newspaper, it's a place for continued discussions of community issues. And when there's a power outage, or an emergency in the school, it's a go-to place for instant news and updates.

- RedBankGreen is an independent, advertiser-supported, web-only blog covering greater Red Bank (www.redbankgreen.com). It provides a wide collection of information about the town, ranging from local government news to real estate to spotlighted postings on notable residents.

- Hoboken411 covers covering local businesses, politics, crime, social life and most topics related to Hoboken (hoboken411.com). It's a great place for residents interested in local gossip, upcoming events, and other light-hearted features.


Podcasts

Blogs are written communication, designed to be read in a Web browser. But lots of people need to listen to their entertainment -- commuters in cars on the radio, and joggers or riders on mass transit on an iPod. So just as radio stations have regularly scheduled shows and broadcasts, you also can record audio productions and make them available over the Internet as podcasts (as in iPod broadcasting).

Again, while podcasts are basically audio clips that you can download over the Internet, their real power comes from both the convention of a site regularly producing shows on a specific topic, and the technology to subscribe and automatically download your favorite shows. For example, the Apple iTunes podcast store, besides selling music and audiobooks, offers over a 100,000 podcasts (www.apple.com/itunes/store/podcasts.html), ranging from independent creators to recorded broadcasts from big media outlets like National Public Radio. Just click to download and listen to a podcast on your computer, or click again to subscribe, and iTunes will automatically download new shows for you.

(As of the end of July 2007, Apple announced that more than three billion songs have been purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store, along with over 50 million TV shows, as well as over two million movies by the end of May. iTunes is the "world's most popular online music, TV and movie store," featuring a catalog of over five million songs, 550 television shows and 500 movies. iTunes recently surpassed Amazon and Target to become the third largest music retailer in the U.S.)

The real magic of iTunes, however, is Apple's integration with the iPod. Each time you plug in your iPod (or iPhone) to your computer to recharge, it not only syncs any new songs that you have added to your iTunes library, but it also downloads any new podcasts that have become available from your subscriptions. The next morning you're ready to go, with hours more of your favorite shows to listen to as you like.


Finding Podcasts - N.J.

If you're using Apple iTunes (which is a free download for Mac or Windows, www.apple.com/itunes/download), podcasts are just a click or a search away. For example, search iTunes for "Princeton" and you'll find posts from the Princeton High School Choir to the Princeton Review, as well as episodes of "House." Or search for "New Jersey" to find music from groups including the New Jersey Choral Society, NJ Transient, NJ Percussion Ensemble, and the NJ Mass Choir. There are also posts from local universities, as discussed below.

You can also search out and download podcasts from other sites, such as Yahoo Podcasts (podcasts.yahoo.com). Or use sites like PodcastingNews to search and browse popular blogs (www.podcastingnews.com).

Examples of other local podcasts:

- The Princeton Mac Users Group podcasts its meetings for its members, and has a nice page explaining about podcasts and how to access them in iTunes (www.pmug-nj.org/podcast). Also check out the New Jersey Podcasters Association (www.njpodcasters.org).

- The Blue Jersey blog dishes up the latest Trenton news and politics (www.BlueJersey.com), with a weekly Blue Jersey Radio podcast by Jeff Gardner and Jay Lassiter on The Voice of NJ Politics (www.blogtalkradio.com/bluejersey).

- The New Jersey Law Blog has contributions from more than 40 attorneys from Stark & Stark dating back to 2004 (www.njlawblog.com). The associated New Jersey Law Blog Podcast has some 70 weekly New Jersey Legal Update podcasts (lexblog.com/NewJerseyLawBlogPodcast).


Vidcasts

So blogs are for reading, and podcasts are for listening, but to really connect with an audience you need to step up to video. Here the naming conventions break down, because we don't have a good name for video blogs -- also known as vidcasts or vodcasts (for Video On Demand) -- or iTunes uses video podcasts.

The basic idea is the same -- regular postings, the ability to subscribe to feeds, and automated downloading to video iPods.

Of course, there's lots of video on the Internet, but strictly speaking sites full of assorted clips are not vidcasts. Broadcast sites like CNN or ESPN post lots of clips based on the day's news, and user-generated content sites like YouTube and Google Video aggregate unbelievable collections of random clips, but they are not focused publications. However, YouTube does organize clips into channels that can be subscribed to.

Search YouTube for "Princeton" and "NJ" and you'll find over 200 hits, from video tours of the city to performances from the University's a cappella group, to short clips from college basketball games to footage of local architecture.

Again, the Apple iTunes store, besides selling TV shows and movies, offers true video podcasts, organized in areas including comedy, music, news, sports, and tech.


New Media at N.J. Colleges

Not surprisingly, colleges have been quick to take advantage of these new forms of communications -- informally from students, faculty in departments, and more broadly to disseminate all the events taking place on campus:

- At the College of New Jersey site, you can use the News page to subscribe to a variety of feeds, and listen to podcasts of lectures and performances (www.tcnj.edu/~ccr/news). TCNJ's SOCS course management system (Simple Online Courseware System) allows students to blog and listen to their professor's podcasts.

- The Rider University Media Server hosts audio and video clips and podcast feeds of academic and arts events (media.rider.edu/blog).

Meanwhile, Princeton University has been working hard to stay ahead of this flowering of new media:

- The Princeton Faculty and Academic Blogs site provides a central list of campus blogs (www.princeton.edu/main/campuslife/media/blogs).

- The Princeton WebMedia site organizes University-sponsored live events, lectures, special events, and sports, with live streaming, and podcasts (www.princeton.edu/webmedia). Streaming services began in 1998, and associated podcasts started last year, though the site and the iTunes store. The New Media Center has seen about 38 million downloads this year of the approximately 450 podcasts listed.

Looking beyond the one campus, Princeton University also hosts the University Channel, a collection of public affairs lectures, panels and events from over 40 academic institutions all over the world (http://uc.princeton.edu). Members range from Ivies like Penn and Harvard, to Duke and Berkeley, to Oxford and The London School of Economics, to the Australian National University. You can download or stream audio and video in a variety of formats, or subscribe to feeds as blogs, podcasts, and vidcasts.

   
        Princeton University - University Channel (http://uc.princeton.edu) -- Streaming, download, subscribe

Similarly, Apple's iTunes U, announced in May 2007, is a dedicated area within the iTunes store featuring free content provided by 16 U.S. colleges including Stanford, Berkeley, Duke, and MIT. The material includes videos and audio (and PDF notes) of course lectures, language lessons, lab demonstrations, sports highlights, and campus tours.

Stanford has been particularly aggressive in making its course material available online (itunes.standford.edu). The New Jersey Institute of Technology currently has over 100 course lectures, public talks, student podcasts, and informational clips available (itunes.njit.edu).

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References

See also: Notes on Blogging, Syndication, Podcasting, and Vidcasting (4/2006)
    www.manifest-tech.com/docs/dixon_blogs_notes_0604.mht

See Wikipedia for more about blogs and podcasts and vidcasts
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blogs

Blog Primer - John C. Dvorak (PC Mag)
    Understanding and Reading a Blog (for Newcomers)
    www.dvorak.org/blog/primer/blogprimer1.htm

CNET Blog 100 - Top Blogs (2/2006)
    news.com.com/2310-10784_3-0.html

Google Blog Search
    blogsearch.google.com

Technorati - tracking blogs and social media
    www.technorati.com

Apple - iTunes
    www.apple.com/itunes

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    Originally published in the U.S.1 Newspaper
    Princeton's business and entertainment weekly, www.princetoninfo.com