Category: technology

Paying for Quality Information

For the first long while of the internet, the push for everything seemed to be toward making everything free. Companies were happy just to have their pages used, so the content there was free. Bloggers popped up by the thousands overnight, with all of them happy to push out their own content, gratis. File sharing was enormously popular, with platforms like Napster letting users swap music files back and forth, much to the consternation of media conglomerates.

After those first wild west years were behind us, everything seemed to shift from “free” to “monetized.” Google was happy to let you use its service for free, as long as it could embed ads in its search results. Facebook did the same. YouTube has followed suit, and it’s fairly ubiquitous at this point. The saying went, “If you’re not paying for the product, you’re the product,” and that’s still largely true.

But what I’m beginning to see is a swing in a new direction. A swing back to paying for content, because it’s worth it. There are a ton of free books out there right now you could buy. Amazon has gobs of them on Kindle. But people are still ready and willing to pay for books. Why? Because they’ve seen a difference in quality. There are great free books out there, sure. But finding them, sifting through the tons of other books, is a real slog. It’s worth it to pay some money for a book that someone else has done that effort for you.

Likewise, there’s a whole ton of free information out there. Many, many people are ready and willing to tell you just about anything you want to hear, when it comes to the news. Yes, much of the free stuff is biased (and so is much of the paid stuff), but for the last long while, that hasn’t seemed to matter. Free beat out quality.

These days, I’m thinking quality beats out free, and that’s why news organizations have been able to start charging for subscriptions. The Washington Post. The New York Times. The Atlantic. Places with trained editors and paid staff. Because you can get much better information when people do something professionally, by and large. (We can have a different conversation around organizational bias by different institutions, but that’s not for today’s discussion.)

I expect to see this trend continue for the next few years at least, as we finally begin to reach a sort of balancing point between what people are willing to pay for quality information. The problem is, because quality information will continue to cost more than nothing, there will be an uphill battle persuading people who don’t pay for information that the things they’ve been reading might not be as accurate or informed. In other words, taken to its extreme, free and abundant shoddy information is a big threat.

What can we do about it? I’m honestly not sure. On the one hand, you could get around it by having a state-sponsored information channel, but that makes me skittish for clear and obvious reasons. It’s all fine and good while the state is trustworthy, but what if that stops being the case? I suppose you could somehow enact some kind of legal protections around that subsidized information source, but again, those are only as useful as the enforcement behind them.

You could argue information should just be free, period. But that’s not how it’s been able to work in our society. Reporters need to eat, and they need time to really investigate different issues. They should be compensated for the time they spend on investigating, so that they can eat. The better compensation they get, the more likely we are to get quality information in return.

I’m not sure I have a conclusion here. Just the general observation of a problem, and the statement that, while I used to be obsessed with getting everything for free, I’m believing more and more there are some things that are just worth paying for. Information is one of those.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

How Do You Treat Social Media?

I’ll admit I still don’t really understand the motivations behind the way some people use social media. The whole concept of trying to be an “influencer” eludes me, a fact that’s likely reflected by my very modest following on the blog and social media in general. I’ve never been one to try to aggressively market myself, even while I’ve seen other successfully do so to the point that they’ve been able to transition away from their full time jobs and make all their money from their blogging or podcasting or what have you.

Naturally, there are times that I question my reluctance. Maybe I should be more assertive. Maybe I should do more to try and get more people to read what I have to say. But each time I think about that, I follow it up with, “That sounds like way too much work.” It also goes against how I generally view social media.

To me, platforms like Facebook and Twitter are places where I can go and interact with good friends. I can find out what they’re doing, and they can see what I’m doing. We can discuss topics we each care about, and have a free exchange of ideas. When social media sticks to that level, I almost never have a problem with it, mainly because the people I’m good friends with aren’t the sort of people to be obnoxious on social media about things. They might disagree with me about something, and I might disagree with them, but we generally let people be how they’re going to be, unless we’re really passionate about something. (Of course, the past few years have given plenty of reasons to be really passionate about various things, so that’s broken down now and then, but it’s still largely true.)

The best real world comparison I can make is to a party where a bunch of my friends are in the room. I can go around, listen to what they’re saying, and join in if I feel inclined. But it stays friends talking to friends. If I see a friend talking to someone I know, I might listen in for a bit, but I’ll leave them be unless I’m introduced or something.

At the same time, I know there are many people who treat social media differently. To them, it’s a party where everyone’s talking, and everyone’s invited to come on up and speak their mind about a topic. I see more popular people on Twitter have to deal with strangers basically telling them what they feel they should be doing, or how they’re wrong about something, or foisting their opinions about X, Y, or Z on them. I can’t imagine putting up with that for too long, just because that’s not what social media has ever really been about for me. I’m not interested in hearing what the general public thinks about something. I’m not trying to make new friends. I just want to keep the relationships I already have.

(This also explains why I’ll hide someone from my feed if I feel like social media is making for a less positive relationship with that person. I don’t want Facebook or Twitter to make me like a person less than I would have otherwise, so I remove myself from that conversation if that’s the way it’s trending.)

Some of the more problematic interactions I’ve had on Facebook have come up because my posts are public. And the people involved in those interactions have justified them by saying, “Your post was public. If you didn’t want strangers commenting, you shouldn’t have it be public.” Which I can understand on the one hand, but I’ve always resisted for a number of reasons. First, I write what I write in the hopes that it’s read, obviously. I want it easily shareable, and setting it as public does that. Second, just because something’s public doesn’t mean I wash my hands of the ability to edit the comments. My wall, my rules. My blog, my rules.

None of this has ever really caused a problem for me, likely because I’m just not that big of a presence for it to matter. (Definitely a silver lining, there.) But I do wonder now and then if my perception of social media’s place is the common one, or if I’m in the minority. So . . . how do you view it?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Few More Dungeons & Dragons Presentation Thoughts (and a link to the presentation itself)

Now that my D&D presentation is behind me (huzzah!), I wanted to take a bit of time to look back at the process and detail a few things I would have done differently. The idea behind the presentation was pretty straightforward: I wanted to film the whole thing ahead of time, and then give the audience a series of choices about which way the presentation would go.

For a while, I thought I was going to have to do some sort of fancy editing to enable those choices, but I discovered YouTube has the ability to link to other YouTube videos at the end of each video you upload, so making those choices possible would be as simple as just mapping out how the videos could play out, and then being sure I linked everything the right way.

I learned a few things as I went:

  • To have those “links to other videos” at the end of a YouTube video, the video has to be at least 25 seconds long. There were a few snippet sequences I filmed that were much shorter than that, so I had to end up adding in some empty space at the end of those videos so there was enough time for the menu to pop up.
  • Actually, I had to individually edit each video to add blank space at the end, since the choice menu shows up over whatever is at the end of that video.
  • I used Quicktime to record myself at my laptop. I would then trim the beginning and ending portion of that recording from within Quicktime. I used iMovie to add in the space at the end of each video so I could have the choice menu pop up.
  • Somehow I had thought YouTube only let you have two linked videos at the end of its clips, but after I was into the innards of the interface, I saw you could have up to four links. I would have likely designed my presentation differently had I known about the extra capacity.
  • There were some sections where I wanted to splice YouTube clips into my presentation. I used MacX YouTube Downloader to get this done. It was super easy to do, and made for a seamless presentation.
  • I was impressed how far iMovie has come. Switching between audio tracks and video tracks is a simple process. So much better and more intuitive than it used to be.
  • Having a definite outline of what was going to happen when, and how everything would link together, was key. In the end, I uploaded the videos in reverse order, with the ones that happened at the end of the presentation being uploaded first. This way, I could link the videos that came before them properly once they were uploaded as well. (If that makes sense.)
  • It doesn’t take too much to give the perception of choice without actually having to film 1,000 different variations. For this, I filmed the lecture itself in several chunks. The choices then led to alternate takes that then funneled back to the core presentation each time. That said, if I were to really go all out on this, that could be done with more editing of the videos. It wouldn’t be hard, I don’t think. It would just involve more scripting, more recording, and a better decision tree map.
  • It would be fun to film an actual story this way, though I don’t know that I’ll ever justify the time it would take to do it . . .

With all that out of the way, I realize I linked the video of the presentation on Facebook, but I didn’t do it here. So if you’d like to see a 40 minute discussion about D&D and its impact on our society, check it out:

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Technology Deep Dive

It’s not that often these days that I really have to throw myself into the deep end of the technology pool. Most of my work is focused on managing what the library is doing. Big picture stuff, along with some smattering of teaching classes, providing reference, and tons and tons of meetings, of course. Mustn’t forget the meetings.

However, there are still times when something comes up that I end up pushing myself outside my comfort zone. I’ll have some sort of crazy idea, and then I really want to make that crazy idea a reality. For example, back when I wanted to make a video nomination for the New Commons Project, I wanted to do something that was really good. I wanted clips, a soundtrack, memes, and more. The vision was clear in my head, but it took a fair bit of on-the-cuff experimentation and googling for me to figure out exactly how to make it happen. In the end, I was very pleased with the result, but it was a lot of work to get it there.

Probably due to how well that video came off, I was asked by the New Commons folks to give a lecture on D&D as part of the series, since D&D was selected as a finalist. (Yay!) And in classic present-Bryce mode, I assumed that future-Bryce would have plenty of time and desire to do that, so I heartily agreed.

But as the date grew closer, I began to have a fair number of second thoughts, especially when I found out I’d be speaking for 40 minutes. That’s . . . a lot of lecture. (I should have expected this. I’ve been to a number of those New Commons lectures as an audience member.) What in the world was I going to speak about for that long? How could I make it all interesting? And just as importantly, could I do something that would translate well to a socially distanced audience?

(At the time, I wasn’t sure at all if the presentation would be in person, and I didn’t want to spend hours and hours on a presentation that all of 10 people ended up being able to listen to.)

After much thought, I came up with a plan: what if I designed a presentation to be given Choose Your Own Adventure style? It could be a series of branching videos, with the audience in control of what happened in the talk. I really liked that idea, and so I’ve spent the last long while ironing out just how to make that happen. I’m not saying this is cutting edge technology or anything. I’m just using YouTube’s interface to set up the branching pathways. But you’d be surprised about the amount of work it takes to figure all that out as a novice. And then I still had to write the talk, record it all (and all the various possibilities), map out how they’d be handled, edit the videos, upload the videos, link the videos . . .

It’s been a hefty bit of work, and I wasn’t sure I’d finish in time. I’m still not done, technically, but the end is in sight, and I’m quite confident I’ll be able to share the final result with you all here online tomorrow.

Stay tuned . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A New Buy Nothing Group

Denisa has long been a firm believer in doing what she can to help the environment and improve the world around her. She’s taken the kids out each Earth Day to go pick up trash along our street, she’s taught classes at UMF around reducing waste, and she’s been an active participant in different online groups about the topic. She upped her game a few days ago, however, deciding to take the step from being a participant to being a leader, despite the fact that it was a step that put her out of her comfort zone.

On the surface, the Buy Nothing Project seems pretty straightforward: it’s got to be about a bunch of people either trying to get free stuff or avoiding buying new stuff to reduce waste. That’s what I assumed when Denisa first started talking about it, at least. But it turns out it’s much more than that. The idea is to use social media as a tool for connecting communities, eliminating needless purchases, helping other people, and making new friends. That sounds like a really ambitious goal for a group, but this video gives a good overview about it:

They’re very specific about the rules for the group. For one thing, people are limited to belonging to one group only, determined by their geography. (This helps avoid anyone just joining a bunch of groups and going around trying to score free stuff.) You’re allowed to post things you’re looking to give away or things you’re looking to get. No money or bartering for anything. They’re all supposed to be essentially gifts. And what was most surprising to me, the groups are intended to be fairly small: 1,000 people or less.

The reason is simple: the group hopes to connect people. To get people to know their neighbors and start doing nice things for them. (It’s not just about giving away free things. It also encourages people to post expressions of gratitude or offer services like teaching a skill or helping with a chore.) If the group gets too large, then it’s both unwieldy to manage, and the close knit community can’t really flourish as well. With that in mind, they suggest limiting the geographical footprint of any one group to 10-25,000 residents.

Denisa loved the idea, but there was one big problem: no group existed in our area. Maine has a few, but if you live outside those boundaries, you’re not allowed to join. So Denisa reached out to find out about how to go about creating a new official group for the Buy Nothing Project. The Buy Nothing Mt. Blue Area, ME Facebook group was born, and she’s working on drumming up interest now. She thought limiting to the school district was a natural boundary most people already recognize in the area. It’s people who are already connected through schools, after all. So that means that towns like Jay or Strong are out of range, unfortunately, but if you live in the Mt. Blue school district and any of this sounds interesting, I encourage you to give it a shot. If you live outside that area, then check to see if there’s a group already in your area. If there isn’t, you could always form one!

Social media doesn’t have to be a divisive thing, and I really like the idea of it being used for community building this way. Denisa’s been doing a ton of research on how to make a successful group and how to make the page as useful as possible, and it’s been nice to see her start diving into the ins and outs of a platform, since that’s usually something she’s shied away from. Go check it out, and join if you meet the criteria.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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