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Do You Agree that Word Clouds Are The “Mullets of The Internet?”

14 Oct

I am guilty of perpetuating Internet Mullets with my resume word cloud.

There’s a great piece on Nieman Journalism Lab about Jacob Harris’ hatred of word clouds. Harris, a journalist and software architect for The New York Times, argues that in terms of data visualization, word clouds just don’t deliver any valuable information. He gives some great examples of articles that use word clouds versus articles that use other more successful forms of data visualization.

I agree with Harris about word clouds popping up too frequently in journalism, but think that word clouds can be used as an online self-promotion tool for freelancers. If you go into your resume and remove all the non-descriptive words and leave all the action verbs and descriptive nouns you can turn that into a word cloud resume. I wrote a post about self-promotions for freelancers that describes this idea further.

Perhaps Harris would condone my use of a word cloud resume. He concedes that word clouds are useful for textual analysis. For example, if a Phd student wants to show how many times an author uses a specific word in a great work of literature (although arguably you could use a simple chart.)

Harris says that the biggest problems he sees with word clouds, is when a news organization uses a word cloud in a situation where textual analysis is not appropriate, like in a war analysis. Seeing how many times Iraq War coverage mentions the words “car” or “blast” really doesn’t give readers any new insight into the conflict.

Here is one choice passage from Harris’ post where he compares reading word clouds with looking at tea leaves:

I’ve seen this pattern across many news organizations: reporters sidestepping their limited knowledge of the subject material by peering for patterns in a word cloud — like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. What you’re left with is a shoddy visualization that fails all the principles I hold dear.

The best part about Harris’ blog post is at the end, when he taunts the “sadistically inclined” readers who may go ahead and make a word cloud out of his post with this.

New Yorker’s Bare Bones iPad App a Success

1 Aug

A story in today’s New York Times explains how the New Yorker’s simple iPad App, built for reading and not much else, is leading in subscriptions amongst Conde Nast publications.

I’ve always wondered why publishers want to build ridiculous Apps where there’s too much navigation and flash, and the turn of a page makes an annoying “swishing sound.” It’s good news that the bare-bones aesthetics of the Kindle work just as well for publishers on the iPad.

I do wonder how much these numbers are skewed by the combined demographics of the New Yorker’s audience and the average iPad owner. The publication has a pretty serious audience —  very different from a typical glossy ad-packed magazine. Does anyone read the New Yorker just for the cartoons? The iPad owners are also likely older, wealthier and more educated than most audiences.

The article does address the issue of demographics:

One apparent reason for The New Yorker’s success with the iPad is that the magazine has the right demographics. iPad users tend to inhabit households with annual income of more than $100,000, much like readers of The New Yorker. Research from comScore shows that all iPad users read news on the device more than they seek out entertainment like videos and games.

The article also discusses how the subscription revenue is great, but figuring out behavioral statistics and how to advertise to this audience is still an unanswered question.

Robin Steinberg, executive vice president of investment and activation for MediaVest, a media buyer, said that The New Yorker’s 20,000 iPad subscribers and the 75,000 more who had activated through their print accounts were a big first step. But she said use patterns needed further study.

“The question we now face is of those 75,000, how many are engaging with the magazine and the app or one exclusively?” she asked. “Understanding these behaviors will provide a stronger opportunity for advertisers to appropriately connect and create the right experiences by channel without misapplying dollars.”

Nevertheless this is an interesting trend to watch for in the space of digital publishing models. Long live content!

The in NY Times for Being a “Solvent” Boutique Blog

25 Oct

I’ve always enjoyed the because you never know whether you are going to read a post that could be in “US Weekly,” a great personal essay or a serious piece of journalism.

The Awl is a boutique blog with no start-up investors, a bunch of seasoned blogger/editors and a bevy of writers on all kinds of topics.  The is like a fresh antidote to Nick Denton’s or Arianna Huffington’s blog empires. The editors telecommute from home, eliminating the overhead of an office. It seems as though they like what they’re doing. Instead of being paid a salary at a well-funded site and taking orders, they can cover anything they want.

Check out the story in the New York Times today, about how the is finally becoming a solvent business. The site goes after “corporate sponsorships” that fit well with their audience, and they don’t have to rely on display advertising.

I hope their site does become profitable and establishes a precedent for other fledgling sites and all the editors and writers out there looking for a new business model and a way to keep working.

Social Media Magazine App- Flipboard Launches

23 Jul

FlipBoard is very buzzworthy at the moment- it’s a really well-funded startup with an application for the iPad that aggregates all of your social media streams into an easy-on-the-eyes magazine layout.

All you have to do is ‘flip’ through the pages. Content has a byline, “shared by” and the handle of whomever posted that link, story, video or piece of user-generated content online.

This is a pretty elegant solution for those social media users flipping between accounts, blogs, rss feeds and bookmarking sites.  I currently use Hootsuite to manage my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, but find the interface difficult to use. For example, I have a half a dozen different Twitter lists lined up next to one another and need to scroll all the way across the screen to view them all.

I just wonder what kind of algorithm or user-preferences FlipBoard employs to know which content is preferred? I am trying to visualize a magazine made out of my contacts’ updates and I am balking at the idea of random musings, links to funny videos and other people’s’ vacation pictures comparing to a real magazine like Vanity Fair. We’ll see how this application does!

You can read more about FlipBoard and see screen shots at
Read about potential legal/copyright issues already threatening FlipBoard at

image via

Car Sharing is Alternative to Expense of Owning One

7 Jun

(originally published in Tucson Green Times May 2010.)

In a majority of American households car ownership is a priority. Folks enjoy having access to a car and being able to drive it whenever and wherever they want.

But sometimes the costs and burdens of car ownership, including insurance, gas, parking, maintenance and environmental concerns, can outweigh the convenience.

While our culture tells us that owning and driving a single occupant vehicle is normal, think about how many hours each day your car sits idle in the driveway at home or in the parking lot at work.

What if there were fewer cars on the road, less traffic, less costs for drivers and each car was being used more efficiently? This utopia can actually become a reality if car sharing programs, which are popular with a subset of environmentally concerned individuals, become a part of our mainstream culture.

Car shares are membership-based car rental programs, which offer a fleet of conveniently located cars, that members can reserve and access by the hour or by the day. These programs offer a viable alternative to car ownership at a low cost and can decrease the community’s fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Carsharing also decreases the number of vehicles on the road, due to members tselling their cars or delaying additional car purchases and instead relying on the car share, walking, biking and public transportation to get around. Members also tend to become more aware of their car usage and take less trips via automobile in general after joining a car share. According to the study “North American Car Sharing,” every shared used vehicle on the road has the potential to remove up to 20 additional cars from the transportation network.

There are for profit car sharing models, such as ZipCar, and outfits run by leading car rental agencies like U-haul’s U Car Share, and there are also localized non-profits, such as City Car Share (in the Bay Area) and PhillyCarShare. Spride Share and RelayRides, are two peer-to-peer car share models, that allow car owners to rent out their vehicles to other members, and are slated to launch later this year in the U.S.

A majority of car sharing programs currently operate in densely populated, urban areas, and most of the members are already environmentally conscious and don’t own a car to begin with. But as car sharing programs become more streamlined and affordable they have the potential to develop attract mainstream users who want to live more sustainably in less densely populated suburban areas.

In fact, there’s a car sharing program right here in Tucson. Through a partnership with the Department of Parking and Transportation at The University of Arizona, Connect by Hertz offers car share membership to U of A students, employees and Tucson residents. The program began in August of 2009 and boasts almost 500 members.

Most car share programs, work in much the same way as Connect by Hertz does, with varying membership requirements, costs and insurance coverage. In Tucson, Connect by Hertz maintains a fleet of hybrid and high mpg vehicles parked near the university of Arizona.

It’s free to sign up for the Connect by Hertz program until August 2010 because the company waives all membership and applications fees during the first year of the program. After August, there will be a $50 dollar annual membership charge and a $25 dollar application fee.

All you need to sign up is a valid U.S. driver’s license and a debit or credit card. Once approved, members receive a card in the mail (for unlocking the vehicles) and can make reservations online or over the phone.

Cars can be reserved weeks, days or hours in advance and rental rates vary by the type of vehicle selected but range between $6.80 and $9.00 dollars per hour. Included in the hourly rental price are gas (there’s a gas card located in each vehicle) and liability insurance, making the car share a pretty affordable option compared to private ownership and traditional car rental. There is also a GPS navigation system in each car, 24/7 roadside assistance and a liberal cap of 180 free miles per trip.

David Heineking, director of the Parking and Transportation Department for the Univeristy of Arizona, says that the local program is the most successful of all of Hertz’s University-based car shares and that the department is in talks with Hertz to increase the number of vehicles in the fleet for next year, potentially adding Smart Cars and Electric vehicles to the mix.

The best way to find out more about car sharing and support it’s growth here in Tucson, is to become a member yourself. “It is free to anyone until August of 2010 to sign up, so there’s no membership fee at all. You should try it!,” Heineking says. If more local residents sign up, there’s more potential for Connect by Hertz to increase the program’s reach within the community by adding additional vehicles and rental locations.

If Tucson residents support car sharing, and show there’s a demand in the community for alternative transportation, we may even see competition from a second for profit or non profit car share organization, which will help local drivers get the best prices.

To join or find out more visit and select The Univeristy of Arizona.
Membership is free to U of A students, faculty and staff and Tucson residents until August of 2010 using the codes below:

  • U of A students: 1858747
  • U of A faculty or staff: 1858748
  • Tucson residents: 1858749
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