“Think Macro” is moving

June 24, 2008

Just a quick note – the blog is moving. Not too far away, just to: www.thinkmacro.org

Veronica and i just reinstalled the blog to replace my personal website and at some point i will shut this one down (or redirect to the new location).  So, please update your RSS feeds and bare with me until i finish tweaking the new website.

Thanks!!!

Serious games

June 23, 2008

I saw a Washington Post article about an emerging trend of serious games.  It mentions a very interesting initiative called “Games for change“, which describes itself in the following way:

Games for Change (G4C) provides support, visibility and shared resources to individuals and organizations using digital games for social change. We provide special assistance to foundations and non-profits entering the field. Today, G4C acts as a national hub to help organizations network and develop videogame projects beyond their traditional expertise. Our members represent hundreds of organizations and include partners in the games industry, academia, nonprofits, local and state governments, foundations, the UN and artists.

They have a rather interesting website with many examples of serious games and it also seems that there is quite a vibrant community surrounding these issues.  They have a section of youth produced games, which currently has only one game and i could not really see how it was youth produced (but maybe i am missing something).  Nevertheless, the concept is interesting.

It also reminded that it’s been a while since wanted to post a note about (already not so) new project by Impact Games (creators of Peace Maker).  It’s called “Play the news” and it is kind of a dream league, but for news.  I’ve been following this project since its beta and i find it as an interesting approach to keep people interested in the world’s matters.  My only “worry” is that it seems (based on the discussions on the site) that at least the current pool of participants consists primarily of people who are already curious and knowledgeable about the world affairs.  It would be interesting to see how this idea flies among the youths, who are being blamed to become more disengaged, apathetic, and more.

Politics, popularity, and personalization

June 22, 2008

I already said that i love DC. Another reason to love it, are the many opportunities offered by this city.

A week ago or so, i participated in a debate/discussion about “new” media and political campaigns hosted by Google and National Journal and titled “The First 21-st Century Campaign“. Being hosted by Google, the event attracted some very interesting people and was held in a format of discussion rather than a traditional (academic) presentation-style lectures. Unfortunately, i wasn’t smart enough to bring a camera even though the event was absolutely open and the organizers even encouraged people capturing it in any possible way. Another unfortunate thing was that i couldn’t stay for the entire event and in fact stayed only for the first panel (out of three).

Ad of the Google\'s June Symposium

Fortunately, though, the first panel was very thought provoking.  Nothing super controversial or innovative has been said, but it was great to hear thet the industry people are concerned with the same issues that academics are.  Actually, i think the panel would benefit from a visionary academic person who could bring the entire discussion under a comprehensive (dare I say, macro) umbrella.

The first panel, moderated by Judy Woodruff of PBS, hosted Mark Halperin (“Time” – as a representative of the old media), Katherine Ham (Townhall.com, even though she announced she has a new job now), James Kotecki (Politico – he and Katherine were the representatives of “new” media), Phil Singer (Clinton campaign), and Kevin Madden (Mitt Romney campaign _ he and Singer were the political practitioners on the panel).

Most of the discussion focused on the tensions between the “old” and the “new” media.  In my view it started pretty awkward with Kotecki’s remark that he doesn’t see himself as a journalist and was (i got a sense that he was implying that he still is) making his video just to feel popular.  It was particularly stonning because one of the main points of the discussion was credibility of the “new” media as a journalistic practice.  Kotecki himself was making claims for being credible, which (together with some of the other comments, such as those made by Singer) got me thinking whether or not the 2.0 culture equates credibility to popularity.  If so, i find that idea pretty disturbing.  One the one hand, i can buy into the idea of wisdom of crowds (that’s the term i think), but, on the other hand, i cannot buy into dismissal of expertise that seems to be attached to it (at least in the current discussion).

Another interesting point came from the campaign people and it was primarily about the use they make of information.  For Madden, the “new” media were all about speed and precision of the media message.  Even though they never got talking explicitly about how they use microtargeting (even though i raised that questions), it was constantly implied in the examples they provided.  Building of the idea of popularity, it was now also the ability of precise targeting of the message.  I would describe that as an ability of talking about “popularities” rather than a single popularity.  To a a degree that appeared as a distinction between the “old” and the “new” media as well.  I found the latter rather interesting – the basic concepts mass (popularity) did not change, but progressed and evolved (into popularities), but the substance became implicitly even less important.  In other words, there is no substantive change in the policy or in the ideas, but the package is more personalized.

As the discussion evolved, it became more interesting and sophisticated.  To one degree or another, the panelists touched upon many relevant points.  This highlight was, I think, when Singer or Halperin, noticed that the mere division between the “old” and the “new” was artificial.  Ham also was very sharp when talking about the relations between the “old” and the “new” media (even though she was clearly advocating for the legitimacy of the latter).  I found this particularly interesting, because usually you hear a very deterministically-dichotomous discourse where the “new” is presented as separate and mostly superior to the “old”.  Even though Judy Woodruff finished the panel with some techno-utopian remarks (mostly as a tribute to the host), it did spoil the overall flavor of complexity.

On the practical level i came out of this symposium with two titles for potential books.  Not that i plan on writing those this summer, but… If i were to write a book with critical analysis of the modern Western society, particularly focusing on the youth, i would title it “The popularity generation.”  Maybe there is such a book already and maybe it will become the label of generation Y with all the reality shows and a myriad of televised competitions (for popularity of course :).  The other book would be about this campaign, or about contemporary politics in a broader sense.  That one i would title “The politics of personalization.”

Finally, kind of getting back to one of my first points, i think the symposium would really benefit from an academic input.  Maybe even more broadly, i think this industry could learn as much from the academia as the academia is learning from it.  At the end of the day, all the points raised by the panelists are being discussed and studied, and bringing those inputs would enrich the discussion and probably take it into the next level.

You can read a short post following the event on Google’s blog or you can actually watch the entire thing on C-Span (and enjoy me asking some questions :).

The AP drama

June 20, 2008

I just learned about a currently developing online drama.  Associated Press (AP) decided that they are going to charge bloggers and anyone who cites their content.  The tariff is $2.5 a word or $12.5 for five words.  Now, as I understand it, if I post here a title of AP’s article with a link to it, I will have to pay, and if i cite anything from their article and provide a link to it, i will still have to pay.

AP are explaning this move in copyright terms and are apparently threatening to sue some bloggers. Frankly, I am finding it really difficult to follow their logic.  If they don’t want people to cite and link to their content, why are they making it available online?  Either I am missing some huge point here, or peole at AP don’t understand the “rules of the game” they are into.

Dieing newspapers?

June 20, 2008

It seems to be a commonly shared believe these days that the traditional newspaper is dieing. However, it seems that it is not true everywhere. According to this Financial Express article, newspaper sales in India have increased by 11.2% in 2007 and by 35.51% in the last five years. More, counter-commonly-shared-wisdom cited in the article regards the advertising market for printed news. Although, the article suggests that in the last year the newspaper advertising revenues in India witnessed a decline of 1.42%, in the last five years they grew by 64.8%.

I know very little (or should i say “nothing”) about the Indian newspaper market, but i wonder if our understanding of Western media markets is completely adaptable to the developing world and/or to significantly different cultural settings?

Of course, one could suspect that the body that produced that statistics is biased. It is the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which obviously has its own interests. For example they cite a rise of 2.57% in paid-for newspaper circulation world-wide in 2007 (9.39% worldwide), which sounds really contrary to what we usually hear in media. Nevertheless, i think it is an interesting and thought provoking information.

What do you think?

Energy

June 16, 2008

I read an interesting post on TechBlorge and decided to share it. Following is an image of a table comparing energy consumption of various gadgets many of us are using. So, if you wonder how much your wireless router or the speakers of your computer cost you annually, this comparison provides a perspective.

Energy consumption by home gadgets

The image is taken from here and you may want read more on it here. Interesting….

Things you can do Wii with

June 14, 2008

A while ago i wrote about things you can do with Wii. Now i learned about a group of young Israelis, Veronica’s former colleagues, who created a software that allows you to make Wii using a regular webcam. The product is called CamSpace and they have already registered a company that is promoting it. Check out their video and feel free to sign up for beta-testing. I think it is very impressive!

Wiki-Britanica

June 11, 2008

Well, sometimes it is really nice being right :)

Erik shared with me the following news item about Britannica launching a wiki-based version of their website. I actually blogged about very similar idea about a year and a half ago. Now we will have to wait and see whether or not they will do it well.

Another face of media concentration?

June 10, 2008

I am not sure if many of the readers know, but my Masters’ thesis was on media industries dynamics. One of my original motivations to start looking at media industries was vast literature on media economics, particularly media concentration/conglomeration, i was exposed to during my undergraduate and graduate studies. In a super-simplistic way and in a nutshell, the common concern regarding the dynamics of media industries is that as time goes on there are fewer hands controlling the growing number of media outlets. Of course the actual picture is more complex and i should probably blog about it (and my thesis?) at some point.

However, the point of this post is different. Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the shrinking membership of the Entertainment Software Association – an association of video/computer games producers. The fact of intra-industrial battles was not as interesting as the mention of merger discussions between Activision (Guitar Hero) and Vivendy (WoW). This news comes in a span of just a few months from EA’s (The Sims) attempts to take over Take-Two Interactive (Grand Theft Auto). Are we moving towards

I find it really interesting and tied to the debate over mass media ownership at large. Ironically, being a huge and rather fast growing industry, video games industries are gaining less attention compared to the mainstream media. At the same time, i think the cultural function of video games can be legitimately compared to that of the popular culture. As video games become a more prominent outlet for leisure time we can start asking similar questions about this industry as we were asking about other culture-related industries.

I think the link above will become even more obvious as the two industries continue moving towards each other. For example, not too long ago I read about an attempt to create an interactive movie based on the popular WoW. The idea is that it would combine elements of the game and users’ input with cinematography and it is a clear step towards merging the two domains.

Probably the combination of the two developments – conglomeration of the video-games industries and amalgamation of cultural outlets – prompted me to think about the WP article in terms of another expression of media concentration. What do you think?

Chase scam

June 8, 2008

I noticed that my CFCU scam post is receiving a lot of traffic. So, when i got another “nice” scam message, i decided to post it here too as a service to the community.

This time the message came supposedly from Chase:

Dear Customer

Due to concerns, for the safety and integrity of your Chase.com account we have issued this warning message.

It has come to our attention that your Chase.com account information needs to be updated as part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.

Once you have updated your account records your account service will not be interrupted and will continue as normal.

To update your account records click on the following link:

http://update.chase.com/

JP Morgan Chase Bank © 2008 Chase Bank. Member FDIC.

Thank You.

Now, if you look at the code, the link actually leads to: http://www.0011race.com/images/chase.html. If you delete everything after the .com, you will see a website that seems to be in Korean.  It looks like a gambling website, but i don’t really know (if you read the language, please feel free to leave a comment telling what the orignal website is about).

Here, i have to give kudos to FireFox (FF). When i went to this page, i received a warning message telling that this is a scam and even its purpose:

FF warning message for Chase scam

So, one more reason to use FF. I was really impressed.

If you disregard this message, you will see a web page that resembles the Chase website with one weird (and i think not very smart) behavior – every single link at the website would bring you back to the same page.

Chase Scam screen 1

Unless, of course, you enter some random characters for the User ID and the Password.  In that case, you will receive the following page:

Chase Scam screen 2

This one is actually rather funny. They are asking you for a bunch of things such as your email password and your social security number. That should be a clear red flag for anyone, even the least experienced user! Similarly to the CFCU scam, they are smart about requesting a certain type and a certain number of characters in the various fields. However, unlike the CFCU folks, they are not clever with resuming it in an “elegant” way. They keep on telling you that the credit card number you’ve entered is wrong. Probably this is an attempt to collect a number of credit card numbers counting on a person trying a different card each time. But at the same time, i think this kind of behavior would alert anyone.

To summarize, it is a scam, and not the most elegant one. If you got that email and this post helped you in clarifying your doubts, i am glad.


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