RIP Tumblr?

Tumblr’s users and creators have been caught in the middle of a series of corporate decisions that have left them out in the cold. Finally, after a decade online, it seems the quirky social network won’t be left to its own devices, and it will have to find its own way forward. The other question, however, remains: is this the end of an era, or the end of Tumblr itself?

I can’t defend Tumblr if they are allowing people to break the law. Now that I’ve said that, I am concerned that this is the end of Tumblr. Back in the day I felt it was an amazing view of the future — easy republishing of content from all sorts of sources, one button sharing of content, and all of it wrapped in a bizarre social network. In so many ways it was the anti-facebook. You got a blog and a network to browse, follow, and repost. Comments were less important as getting reposted. To this day I don’t know of a platform that is as interesting as Tumblr.

I remember seeing the founder of Tumblr speak at SXSW and listening to his vision for Tumblr. And then Yahoo bought it … I sort of felt it was over then, but I kept publishing on my personal Tumblr because it was so easy and it connected with people.

Honestly this makes me very afraid of what comes next for Flickr. Perhaps it is time to move a bunch of content to yet another service … again.

10 Years

Turns out that 10 years ago today I moved my blog to the colecamplese.com domain. I don’t write here as much as I should, but having this space has been a pleasure. I have a living history of many of the things I have done and thought about for well over a decade. I stared blogging long before I moved to this domain and have lived on multiple platforms through the years — blogger, moveabletype, typepad, and WordPress to name the ones I can remember.

I have been thinking of writing more, especially with all that I have going on at Northeastern. Like today, I am heading off to speak to our Audit Committee about multiple topics including information security, digital governance, and various other risk factors. Not that those topics are generally interesting, but it always felt good to work ideas out here. At any rate, happy birthday to my domain.

MOOC Gone Ivy

I remember being bitten by the MOOC bug years ago at Penn State, not because I was enamored by the delivery model, but because I was curious about teaching and learning at scale and the idea that we should be taking risks with how we deliver it. The MOOC bubble did come and go, but while few people have been looking, Coursera, Udacity, and edX have moved forward with all sorts of interesting things.

I would say the announcement of a fully online Computer Science degree from an Ivy League school is an interesting development. From, Inside Higher Ed

The new master’s degree in computer and information technology from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science will be the engineering school’s first fully online degree. The program is aimed at working adults who are unable or unwilling to enroll in Penn’s established, on-campus version of the master’s, and who want to work in software development or high-demand fields like bioinformatics, medicine, finance and telecommunications. “This is a meaningful expansion of what we can do,” said Wendell Pritchett, the university’s provost. He said the new online degree is designed to appeal to nontraditional students “who are talented but can’t get to us on campus.”

I applaude UPenn for making this bold move and while it doesn’t justify the original hype in the MOOC crazed world of a few years ago, it does justify the notion that it is important to place a few bets here and there to see what can happen if you ignore the naysayers and just do something. In this case, what Coursera and UPenn have done is open up an Ivy League degree to so many more people — people who probably couldn’t otherwise step onto the campus in Philly because of time, location, cost, or other factors.

“This degree represents the democratization of computer science,” Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera’s CEO, said in a written statement. “It brings a world-class, Ivy League degree within reach of people of all backgrounds, from anywhere in the world.”

This makes me happy. I like the Internet. A lot.

My Internet. One Course at a Time.

I sit in my spare time these days searching my mind for sites to visit. I hit The Verge, NYT, and maybe a couple of other places that are familiar to me regularly. I still spend more time every morning browsing my RSS feeds via Feedly then I do resolving any random URLs. I only go to facebook once, maybe twice, a day and when I do I am really only interested in my lookback so I can see what I was doing a handful of years ago or to see a forgotten picture of one of my children doing something cute. I could look at my Photos library or Flickr to get the same, but it is an excuse to hit what has become the new AOL of the web for me … facebook.

I recall sitting in the audience at the Berkman@10 event at Harvard many years ago listening to Jonathan Zittran say something really interesting at the time — “the web has no main menu.” That resonated deeply with me as I spent my early years navigating floppy disk and CD-ROM based applications with main menus that delivered a pre-designed collection of content. These fixed text applications then magically morphed into online services like Prodigy and AOL that still placed a main menu on the early Internet. It was pretty amazing though … a keyword could get you to encyclopedia entries, travel information, weather, and even soap opera summaries of the week. It was huge and it was really small. When the Internet really happened, I was struck by the open architecture of the Web and my ability to explore all that this new place had to offer. Discovering new websites that people were building and curating was pretty awe inspiring. It was huge … and it was really small.

Today I feel like I spend more time sitting and thinking about where to go online then I do enjoying the destination. I feel the web has devolved into a main menu driven experience for so many of us, only this time the content behind the choices is being delivered to enhance a revenue opportunity. Facebook is a main menu on the web. It is a filtered gateway that seems to have sucked the joy out of creating new and interesting open content online. We aimlessly share, like, and repost without a whole lot of insight of the origins of the content and certainly without the creative thought to make it interesting outside of a main menu driven space that is hand delivered to us all.

Tonight I was thinking about my days teaching various classes and why I always insist on using a course blog as the hub of the teaching and learning experience. I think I know why based on that reflection tonight — for the duration of the semester I get to create the Internet I love. I get to ask my students to write and reflect upon things that make for joyous online reading. Maybe the Internet hasn’t gotten worse and there is a chance that I have simply moved on from what it has to offer. Perhaps that has everything to do with the idea that when I am part of a learning community I fall in love with the collective intelligence produced by that community in an online space. An online space that we co-own, co-create, and co-engage in. I think I still like the Internet, I just think I have gotten spoiled by the Internet we create when we are part of a community. Facebook is no longer a community in that sense to me. We aren’t co-creators as much as we a co-consumers of their corporate interests. The Internet I love is the product of a community, not a corporation with a “designed in a lab” main menu that guides me to selections.

I like our Internet. We just need more of it.

Some Ways to Make WebEx Meetings a Little Better

As WebEx adoption grows on campus, we now have over 5,200 users, I am spending more time using the technology to get groups from across campus together. Without using the technology we have at our fingertips, we spend way too much time getting from our “edge of campus” locations to more convenient meeting spaces at the center. Using WebEx well can save the University money in the form of less wasted time moving around … clearly that enhances productivity. The down side of using WebEx or a similar technology to conduct meetings is that we don’t always do it really well. I was thinking about that issue the other day as I listened to people talk over each other, come into a WebEx meeting room late and interrupt, and fumble with technology. The technology can support very effective meetings, but we need to use it better. I thought it might be worth throwing out some ideas on how to make the meetings more effective. Some of this isn’t rocket science, but good to think about. I’m curious if others have thoughts.

If you are the host or a participant of a WebEx or virtual meeting, think about doing these things to make the meeting more effective:

  • Email an agenda in advance of the meeting. It is always a good idea to send an agenda in advance, but particularly important to send one for a virtual meeting. Do everyone a favor and email one as well as attach it to the calendar invite as many people don’t see attachments when we accept calendar invites on mobile devices.
  • Start the WebEx on time and before you start ensure that the physical room has any necessary conference phone, projectors, and equipment before the start of the meeting.
  • Let the meeting attendees know which WebEx functions you intend to use. Audio only, screen sharing, video. It is a bummer to decide to do a meeting while in the car only to find out that screensharing will be a big part of the meeting.
  • If you have a large number of attendees, conduct a roll call at the start. This is most effectively done with the host reading out the list of attendees and asking if they are on the call.I don’t know about you, but I find it very ineffective on a large meeting to ask everyone on the phone to randomly announce themselves.
  • If key participants are missing at the start of a meeting, ask the group what they wish to do. In other words, wait for them, proceed without them, or reschedule the meeting.
  • Again, just good meeting practice, but particularly important with WebEx meetings, at the end of the meeting, summarize what was discussed, what was decided and what are the next steps. As a host you can work with the people on the call to decide who will send out a meeting summary.
  • Have one conversation at a time to respect the team members on the phone. Actively stop side conversations. It’s very difficult to be on the phone and hear multiple conversations going on in the meeting room.
  • If additional participants join a meeting in progress, it is generally not necessary to immediately stop the proceedings to ask who joined and recap for them. I typically wait for a logical break, then ask who joined and recap as appropriate.

I think the most important thing you can do is work to make sure you join on time and mute your microphone when you aren’t talking. You milage may vary with these ideas … anyone have other things they do to make virtual meetings less frustrating?

Can We Return to Blogging?

I was early to the blogging revolution. I was inspired by the dawn of Web 2.0 in the early 2000’s that empowered people to write and create in their own spaces. I’ve done the rounds — blogger.com, typepad, wordpress, drupal. I’ve explored, mastered, and published in all of them. I’ve launched enterprise blogging platforms at three different Universities that allowed and encouraged the open publishing of content by all members of those communities. I see blogs as personal content management systems, portfolios, connecting points as nodes on a global network, and as personal time machines.

I was also a very early adopter and promoter of social media tools. I sat in a conference room in a San Fransisco start up office called Odeo while one of its founders told me, as I was trying to negotiate a deal with Penn State, that they were pivoting away from podcasting to focus on the side project that would become twitter. I invited the first class of students at Penn State to join Facebook. I was all in on social media … all the while I remained enamored by the power of blogs.

I loved that blogs were personal and that people were using them to build strong communities … I would routinely write a post in the morning only to be engaged in long comment threads with people I cared about (but didn’t actually know in real life) all day long. It was authentic and it was powerful. Then the community, along with me, moved. People moved to Facebook and the length of posts and the associated attention spans dwindled until it was difficult to measure with meaning. I still wrote posts, but with less frequency. My community of bloggers still existed, but I had less time for their long form writing and I backed away from the blogosphere. I think I made a big mistake. Some of my friends were right, “likes” don’t really matter.

It isn’t just me noticing this. Our adopted communities, contained in social networks, have been exposed as a breeding ground for bots, fake accounts, and pushers of false information. “Social” has succeeded in demolishing the original promise of Web 2.0. I always said, “communities self correct” when questioned about the read/write web. Well, here we are and we need to self correct. We need to find a new path forward and I am committed to returning to the open web as a way to do my part. I think it is time for something new. Something that isn’t “free” in the way we have come to expect from Facebook. I think we need to all reinvest in journalism. I think we all need to reinvest in creating content that is published in our domains. I think it is time RSS is the glue that binds the Internet. I think it is time to reclaim our identity. I’d like to think we can do that.

I read a great piece at the Washington Post today about the death of the Mommy blog community. It made me think back to the amazing days of when we were all writing under domains we decided upon. We were writing the content that helped each of our communities. My wife’s community was the Mommy blogosphere, mine was educational technology. Both of us created deep connections and very real friendships. I read it today via a link on Facebook that my wife shared and the comments on her post were filled with names I recall her talking about daily. It was pretty awesome, but I wanted to so badly to go and visit those blogs and comment there. We need to figure this out, or the Internet and its promise will be further diminished. This quote pretty much sums it up for me …

The death of the mom blog has something to do with shifts in how people consume and create on the Internet. Blogging on the whole has fizzled as audiences and writers have moved to other platforms.

Those “other platforms” are ready for their swan song. They’ve done enough damage and they have no real reason to fix it. Their shareholders aren’t interested in them doing so. The greatness of the social movements spanned by twitter years ago have been overwritten. It might be time to just write a couple of blog posts.

Over 90 percent of Gmail users still don’t use two-factor authentication

I came across this one from The Verge this morning …

A Google engineer revealed that more than 90 percent of active Gmail accounts don’t use two-factor authentication (2FA), reports The Register. Given the low uptake, The Register asked Google software engineer Grzegorz Milka why 2FA isn’t mandatory for all Gmail accounts. Milka chalks it up to usability, adding that, “It’s about how many people would we drive out if we force them to use additional security.” The statistic was shared during a presentation at Usenix’s Enigma 2018 security conference in California.

2FA will be a major push at the University for the rest of this calendar year. I would urge everyone at UChicago to enroll in 2FA. It is easy and is simply the best way to protect your institutional credentials.

I Really Wanted a HomePod for Christmas

The device I really was looking forward to getting for Christmas was a new Apple HomePod smart speaker. I wanted it even though we have already invested in the Amazon Echo line of smart speakers. When I say that we have invested in the Echo smart speakers, what I really mean is that we’ve spent money on few devices that let us do things like turn on lights, set timers, and play music out of an annoyingly poor sounding speaker. We really bought them to do stuff and they introduced us to the whole idea of just saying the name of a song or artist and getting instant gratification, even if the sound was inferior to what we have historically been accustomed to. I wanted the HomePod because it could do the smart home stuff, but is targeted as a “real” speaker and I have been missing real speakers since we moved to Chicago two and half years ago.

We’ve always had great speakers in our homes because we value listening to music. With the new place, there just hasn’t been a place, or frankly a desire, to put out real speakers connected to a real stereo. The Echo completely reinforced the idea for my wife and I that we did not want the complexity of a physical stereo system in the main part of our home. I also was not interested in spending tons of money on hiding systems in closets, getting in-wall speakers, and managing it all with multi-room gear. That just feels so last generation, especially now that I can simply say, “Alexa, play some Nora Jones” and it just happens. The problem is with the Echo it sounds less than satisfying when it magically starts playing.

Enter the HomePod. Apple promised it by Christmas and I had visions of pairing two to make a stereo front stage in the family room … yes, at $350 per speaker I wasn’t looking forward to the cost, but I’ve paid more for speakers in the past. I was ready to go and then they delayed it until sometime in early 2018.

I have been toying with the idea of entering into the world of Sonos for years. Ever since a great friend of ours showed it to me years ago in State College I was really intrigued, but I never pulled the trigger. It seemed limiting having to control it from your phone and the streaming services weren’t quite there, so I watched from the sideline. When Sonos and Amazon announced that there was a growing number of integrations between the Echo and what could be played via voice control I started to really do my research. At the end of the day, I dropped $300 on two Songs Play 1 speakers so they are paired as a stereo set and I couldn’t be happier. I have an Echo Dot in the family room that can voice control playback on the Sonos speakers and they sound very good. I compared them across the line and found the Play 1 to be better suited to what we needed (and was easier on the wallet) than getting the larger Play models.

The reality is that while Amazon is now one of the largest installed base of speaker manufacturers in the World, their speakers sort of stink at being speakers. Apple had a great opportunity to steal some thunder from Amazon this Holiday season and they let that opportunity slip by while Amazon sold tens of millions of Echos of all flavors (especially the Dot). Now that Sonos has integrated Echo into its new, One speaker, there is a very high quality smart speaker on the market from an audio company. Have I mentioned that Google has a couple of nice products as well? I am upset I couldn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas, but I am very happy with my Sonos setup. It leaves me wondering if there will be a chance for Apple to catch up in this space? I will be hard pressed to go back and buy a HomePod now, but I have learned over the last few years to not bet against Apple. Right now I am more likely to expand my Sonos collection than spend on the HomePod. Time will tell and your milage may vary when it comes to Sonos, Echo, Google, and eventually the HomePod … it is an interesting space to be watching at the moment and it sounds like it is just getting started.