Social Media Challenge #6 – Best of the Blogosphere

February 25, 2010

It’s almost time to begin our group blog project. As a final stage of your preparation for blogging excellence, you’ll be taking a look at blogs that ARE excellent. Your assignments are drawn from a list compiled from four sites (technorati, Time, eBizMBA, The Guardian) and ranked based on 1) number of times a blog is listed, and 2) rankings of that blog. The result is not exactly scientific, but it gives us a list with some variety.

You were all assigned, in pairs, to one of these blogs in Tuesday’s class (the numbers are their rankings on my unscientific list). These blogs are allegedly some of the best of the best, so go to it, read it, and get to know all about it:

3. Engadget: Gabrielle and Chip

6. TechCrunch: Travis and Evan

7. The Daily Dish: Garrett and Greg

10. Perez Hilton: Julia and Rachel

13. Treehugger: Paden

15. Crooks and Liars: Brittany and Gavin

16. Daily Kos: Cambria and Hillary

17. Metafilter: Ashley and Heather

18. Ray and Austin

In next week’s class, each pair will do a 10-15 minute presentation on your blog. First, you’ll need to explain the blog, its content, and its tone (providing examples on-screen). Beyond this, you may address issues including but not limited to the following: Who is its audience? How is the site designed (use of links, categories, tags, etc.)? Is commenting allowed, and if so, how is it moderated (if at all)? Has it been in the news? Does it advertise? How? Is information provided on traffic and business information?

This should not be stressful (no, really). Approach the blog as a reader first and a student second. Think about what we’ve read thus far in providing your critique. What are your blog’s strengths and weaknesses? What can you and your classmates learn from it for your own projects?

Due: In class on Monday, March 1. In addition to your presentations, please post a short review of your findings to the course wiki by the start of class (and post that link to this assignment).

That’s right, there are no assigned readings for next week. All the more reason to read your blog!

Read & Respond – Week 7

February 17, 2010

Welcome to Wiki Week! This week’s we’ll be taking the collaborative ideas we’ve used in our mapping projects and apply them to a different kind of crowdsourced project.

First, you’ll read a chapter from Clay Shirky’s (remember him?) Here Comes Everybody that deals with wikis, Wikipedia, and the function of collaboration in communication. You can find this PDF in the “readings” folder on the main page of our class eCampus page.

For a light counterpoint, have a look at this article on wikigroaning from venerable humor site Something Awful (there are later installments here and here) – if you like your information more traditional, there’s also a story on the phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal). The argument is that collaborative works like Wikipedia tend to emphasize trivia and pop culture over substantive information. Consider, for example, that the entry for television program Grey’s Anatomy is almost seven times the length of the entry for seminal health handbook Gray’s Anatomy. (If you’re not easily offended, you can also have a look at this informative but characteristically profane entry from Encyclopedia Dramatica).

Whew. Let’s pull back from the chaos of Internet humor for a different approach. Philosopher Martin Cohen writes about who edits Wikipedia, what they edit, and why. With the above perspectives in mind, let’s consider the concepts of “wikiality” and “wikilobbying” (below; the last 30 seconds are an ignorable user-added rant on Fox News):

Finally, have a look at the Wikipedia page for our own P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Pay particular attention to those three little windows at the top of the page. These are Wikipedia standards alerts that indicate our entry isn’t up to snuff. How can we improve it?

What is your take on the function of wikis and wiki-like processes in communication and journalism today? How do concepts like wikiality and wikigroaning impact on the positive qualities made available by this new way of communicating? If you see it as a problem, how could the process be improved? And just what can we do about that J-school page? (hint hint …)

Respond by commenting on this post by the end of the day Monday, Feb. 22.

Social Media Challenge #5 – Health Violations Mapping

February 17, 2010

Over the past two weeks we’ve used Google Maps for an individual project and for a group collaboration. Now we’re going a step farther. This link will take you to the Monongalia County Health Department’s public health department page. Here you’ll find PDF documents from the last 13 months of health inspections in Mon County. The reports include restaurant names and addresses, as well as data for critical and noncritical violations. Can you guess where this is going?

In groups of 4-5, you are going to create maps (one month per group) of these violations. What will these maps look like? How will the data be visualized? That’s up to you as long as ALL data points in your file are mapped. Group and month assignments are listed at the bottom. One member will create the map – this person will then invite the others with the “collaborate” link.


  • The description of your map needs an explanation of the difference between critical and noncritical reviews. You can find that information here.
  • All data points for your file must be mapped and labeled. How many layers of information you add (e.g., distinctions between critical/noncritical reviews, links to more information) is up to you.
  • Every group member must be involved in posting data points.
  • Every group member must post the map to their personal blog by the due date.

How you’ll submit your work:

  • Each group must post ONE comment to the assignment that includes a link to one of the maps and a brief description of what your map does (not just “health code violations”). It’s up to you who gets to post it.
  • Come to class prepared for a brief presentation (don’t panic!) on your group’s map – either nominate a spokesperson or present as a group.

Grades will reflect the level of work put in. Maps that meet the minimum necessary requirements of this assignment will earn a grade that reflects that level of effort. Maps that go beyond the minimum will be graded accordingly. Use the different strengths of your team to build something unique!

Due: Noon on Tuesday, February 23 (no later than this – I need time to post them!)

Group assignments:

  • Group 1 (January 2010): Evan Moore, Brittany Nelson, Ray Zawodni, Heather Tawney, Travis Crum
  • Group 2 (December 2009): Gabrielle Ash, Garrett Cullen, Casey Hofmann, Julia Day, Austin Sanders
  • Group 3 (November 2009): Chip Fontanazza, Ashley Alford, Rachel Davis, Kaitlynn Anderson, Greg Carey
  • Group 4 (October 2008): Cambria Stubelt, Gavin Matela, Paden Wyatt, Hillary Baum

Collaborative mapping project result

February 17, 2010

Behold our handiwork! 19 students worked together, entirely online, to produce this map of West Virginia nursing homes in the span of about an hour and a half (see the assignment here). In addition to mapping each of the state’s 128 nursing homes, the data points indicate overall rating (on a scale of 1 to 5 stars) and for-profit or non-profit status. You can also click any point to its name, contact information, and more specific ratings.

-Map Key-

Overall ratings

  • Green: 5 stars
  • Dark Blue: 4 stars
  • Light Blue: 3 stars
  • Yellow: 2 stars
  • Red: 1 star


  • Dot: For-profit
  • No dot: Non-profit or government-run

All data comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Medicare information site.

“In class” assignment: Collaboration

February 16, 2010

We’re going to try something different this week: A collaborative online journalism project. Many professional blogs have staffs that rarely see each other face to face; instead, they do their daily business via instant messaging and collaborative tools like the Google suite of applications. We’re going to integrate the skills from last week’s mapping project with this week’s location readings to produce a collaborative visualization project based on government-provided data.

Instead of going to Martin Hall at 6 p.m., you’re going to each sign on to eCampus, click the “chat” link and enter the chatroom (I’ll be signed on at 5:30 to help troubleshoot, but it’s your responsibility to make sure you can get on). Once there, we’ll have attendance and discussion as usual. We’ll be discussing Adrian Holovaty’s EveryBlock project, so if you get the chance have a look beforehand (the site’s “about” page is here). What does this site do, and what value is there to it?

After that, we’ll begin our project. You’ll need to sign in to Google Maps like you did last week and log in to your MIX account. I’ll be sending a “collaborate” invitation to each of your MIX accounts, and you’ll need to accept this to do the project. We’ll be producing a collaborative map using the U.S. government’s Medicare website for West Virginia, which we’ll access via this address. We’ll complete this group map by the end of class (the directions are at the end of this post).

Despite the settings, this will be a typical class in terms of attendance and participation – to get credit, you’ll need to show up and be heard. This should be a unique and (I hope) exciting way for you to experience how online journalists in the real world use collaborative tools to get the job done and see how visualizing data produces new information about relationships between the data. I look forward to seeing you all at 6!

The project:

  1. Go to the Medicare Nursing Home information site
  2. Click the “Find and Compare Nursing Homes” button
  3. Select “Find a Nursing Home within a County”
  4. Select “West Virginia” in the drop-down menu that appears and click “Next Step”
  5. Select your assigned county from the drop-down menu and click continue
  6. The menu you get will list addresses and ratings for each Nursing Home in your county. You will map each nursing home in your assigned county or counties.


  • The color of the pointer you use is based on the Overall Rating of the Nursing Home: 5 stars (green), 4 stars (dark blue), 3 stars (light blue), 2 stars (yellow), or 1 star (red)
  • Pointers for For-profit Nursing Homes should have a dot; Non-profit Nursing Homes should have NO dot.
  • Include the name, address, and ALL ratings (overall rating, health inspection rating, staffing rating, and quality measures rating) for each home in the info box for its pointer. Extra information is up to you (but is helpful!)
  • I have already mapped the five nursing homes in Monongalia County as an example for you.

County Assignments:

Read & Respond – Week 6

February 10, 2010

To tie in with our “in-class” mapping project, this week’s readings all deal with the subject of location-specific news and social media use. Get ready to get located! Or at least to read about it.

As always, we’ll start off with some Foursquare news. Our pet application has recently partnered with the New York Times for the 2010 Winter Olympics. This post also describes Foursquare’s teaming with Zagat, the well-known recommendation guide, and Bravo, the well-known home of shows about great chefs and horrible people. Among Zagat’s ideas are a series of “meet the mayor” where you can learn more about the #1 users of various sites (at least as far as Foursquare is concerned). In this older link, the application’s partnership with San Francisco’s light rail system, users can earn free tickets by checking in. What do you think of these uses of location-specific updating? If you don’t see much value here, can you propose better uses of the idea (not necessarily with Foursquare, but in a general sense)?

Location is predicted to be the keyword of 2010. First, have a look at what Jeremy Littau has to say on the relationship of social media and sense of place. Some are calling it as a necessity for SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Others have suggested it as a way for newspapers like the New York Times to save their profession (and as an alternative to paywalls). And of course, Twitter is gearing up a location aware feature, and Google Buzz is trying to get into the act in its own way. Read-Write Web offers a few perspectives on the location-based trend, but rather than link the rest (there’s a lot), I’m posting this link to their page for all articles tagged “location based.” Have a look through.

So what’s happening with location out there? Why is it happening now? What are the assets and problems you can see, and what’s it all mean for your chosen line of work?

As always, post your responses HERE (not on your blogs!) by the close of business next Monday, February 15.

Finally, in meme news, it turns out this onion ring CAN get more fans than Justin Bieber. No word yet on the pickle vs. Nickelback showdown.

“In-class” assignment: Google Maps

February 9, 2010

Hope everyone is staying safe throughout the recent inclement weather. I’ve been vindicated in choosing to cancel class this evening, as WVU has followed suit in the face of frozen catastrophe from the skies. What better way to spend an evening in than by pulling up a computer and making a map?

Don’t panic – this won’t hurt much. What you need to do in lieu of class this evening is head to my friend Grant’s blog, where you’ll find a simple tutorial on creating a map in Google and adding it to your website or blog. Have a look through (we’re only dealing with step #1, unless you feel like going further), and use it as your guide for this assignment:

  1. Write a post that incorporates location in some way (e.g., I went to this restaurant; I saw Da’Sean Butler here, or whatever). It does not need to be hard news (yet), but it should be a full-fledged posted.
  2. Using the above guide, create a map in Google Maps with a marker for this location. You’ll use the same login you use for Google Reader.
  3. Attach the map to your blog post just like you would an image (directions are included with the how-to link).
  4. Publish!
  5. Post the link (with a description of what’s being mapped) to the comments of this post.

This should be a simple assignment, so the due date is by the end of today (so midnight). The assignment is a quickie if you follow the directions, and you’ve all got this class time free. Get it written, get it posted, and be prepared to discuss your work in next week’s class. Tomorrow’s readings will deal further with the subject of location.

I don’t want you to overcomplicate this, but here are a few tips:

  • Add markers by clicking on the name of your map in the left bar, then click the “Edit” button. The tools for markers and drawing appear in the top left corner of your map. If they don’t, you may need to re-click the map name (you MUST add these pointers).
  • Test your post. If the map doesn’t look right, try re-copying and pasting the link.
  • If the map is incorrectly zoomed on your page, click “link” then “customize and preview embedded map.” In the window that pops up, zoom the map in or out as necessary, then copy the text in the window below and paste it to your site. You can also change the size of the map here.
  • You can see a sample post that shows what I want at my personal blog via this link.

If you’ve got questions, I’ve added a “chat” link to the left menu of the course eCampus page. I’ll be available here for Digital Office Hours from 6-830 p.m. this evening to answer questions – you can also use the chat window to discuss what you’re doing with the group.

Read & Respond will be posted tomorrow as usual.