Saturday, December 27, 2008

More Connected by the Minute.

I came across yet another neat social networking tool that has the potential to be used in the academic world. FriendFeed allows you to connect to a variety of people, and condenses all the various multimedia tools people use into a single feed. It essentially creates individual user feeds which can contain almost anything. Some common items included are: blogs, twitter postings, amazon favorites, flickr accounts, facebook postings, youtube videos etc. Users can then subscribe to groups or other users based on their interests. So far the best way I can describe the site is to say that it is something like a glorified RRS feed with a community attatched to it.

In addition to the RRS feed type component of FriendFeed, the site is easily searchable, provides possible 'friend' recommendations, allows you to keep track of other sites which are not linked up to FriendFeed and lets users select their level of privacy. The site could easily be used by academic users who are attempting to keep on top of various times of media which is relevant to their work. My only qualm thus far is that because there is such a wide range of features on the site it does take a little bit of time to attempt to understand how everything works and connects.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Digital Scrapbooking Revisited

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about digital scrapbooking and the extent to which family scrapbooks are often used as valuable historical resources. I recently stumbled upon a site that bridges digital scrapbooking and physical scrapbooking. essentially lets users 'publish' their own books. The users have complete artistic freedom in their design and content, many have used the site to create family or wedding scrapbooks. In addition to letting users design their own books allows users the option to make their book public online, which then makes a good portion of their book available for preview digitally. The only downside that I can see so far about Blurb is the somewhat costly price of actually having the books printed. So once again maybe there is hope for those of us who aren't quite as artistically inclined to create physical scrapbooks of our family history.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights Debate

This Friday Stephen Harper will attend the ground breaking ceremony for the much debated Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg. Initial estimates suggest that the museum will cost somewhere around the $265 million range. The construction costs are estimated at being the greater than the costs for the ROM or the War Museum, while operating costs are anticipated as being the lowest of all the national museums. The design for the museum is architecturally pretty amazing and the idea that a museum should be dedicated to the struggles of marginalized groups is fairly refreshing.

One of the main debates about the project has been the location of the museum The CMHR will be the only national museum located outside of Ottawa. Some of the arguments for having the CMHR in Winnipeg include: it is at the center of North America, Winnipeg has a unique civil rights history, and that Winnipeg has a diverse cultural community. The fact that the General Strike of 1919, Louis Riel, and Neillie McClung are all connected to Winnipeg is one of the many reasons Winnipeg was chosen.

That being said I'm still not entirely sure placing a national museum in Winnipeg was the best decision. The phrase "national museum" implies it is connected to the nation as a whole and is aimed at serving the entire nation. One of the nice things about having all the national museums located in Ottawa is that one trip allows people to experience all of them. Likewise there are numerous other incentives to visit Ottawa, such as seeing the Parliament buildings, which Winnipeg does not have.

However I do think this project is salvageable and has the potential to succeed. Providing proper incentives to visit Winnipeg are created and more importantly a digital version of the museum is at least partially available. A digital tour or digital exhibits would all more Canadians to experience this national museum, even if they cannot make the trek to Winnipeg.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tweedsmuir Histories.

Over the holidays I am once again volunteering at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives (DCMA). During the past week I was exposed to their collection of Tweedsmuir History Books. This is not the first time I have come across the Tweedsmuir collection, however I am once again amazed at what a great source of local history these books are. Put together by the local Women's Institute the books chronicle all major events that occurred in the region in a scrapbook fashion.

After spending sometime thinking about what a great source these books were I began to wish more of them were digitally accessible. At this point none of the DCMA's Tweedsmuir Books are digitized. However I did discover that Simcoe County (which is right next to Dufferin County) has digitized their collection of Tweedsmuir Books. The digitized copies are available free of charge online, and each book has a brief blurb highlighting the local names mentioned in it. The only downside being that a good portion of the Books are a bit blurry, they are still readable but I'm sure looking over them for hours might cause a pretty bad headache. Another little neat fact about Simcoe County's digitization project is that initially the all digitization of the local history was done by two students who were paid by a LibraryNet grant (hurray for student employment?!)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How often should things be commemorated?

December 10, 2008 was the 60th anniversary of the UN's International Declaration of Human Rights. I had been hoping to write a blog about the digital commemoration of the event, however little to no media coverage or online commemoration of the anniversary was to be found. This struck me as particularly odd considering in honour of the 60th anniversary the UNESCO designated this past year as a year of commemoration.

The lack of available media brings me to the question, how often should things be commemorated? And who gets to decide how much effort will be put into a commemoration? Private organizations often pick major milestones such as 50, 75, or 100 years to commemorate their history. However who is in charge of celebrating ideas and abstract concepts. Something like the International Declaration of Human Rights has had an impact on numerous countries and people, so should each country have their own commemoration schedule? Should the UN be in charge of organizing uniform commemoration events?

Ethnic Browsers

A new version of Mozilla was recently released, the Blackbird browser is aimed at African Americans. It features a design, content and add-ons which are supposed to appeal to African Americans. The idea of a customized browser is nothing new, however as far as I know Blackbird is the first ethnic specific browser to be released to the public.

The browser contains a few unique features which are supposed to make finding relevant web content easier for African Americans. Blackbird includes a number of networking and social bookmarking tools, a charity content channel designed to connect users to African American focused organizations, and a search box which bases its results around the niche market of African Americans. Overall the Blackbird browser operates a lot like Firefox does after user customer customizations.

I get the idea of niche browsers and love the ability to customize Firefox with add-ons and personal features. However I'm not completely sure the idea of a ethnic browser sits well with me. Generalizations about what African Americans are interested in and their preferences are made by some of the Blackbird features. These generalizations have the potential to make information more readily accessible to users, however they are generalizations and don't apply to everyone. I'm not convinced that internet users should have a specific browser based on their race, age, gender, or anything else. It might be more useful to teach users about the wide range of add-ons available to personalize browsers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Web Activism

Like many people I get a lot of my news updates via some form of online media. I recently read Michael Y. Dartnell book, Insurgency Online: Web Activism and Global Conflict[1], which highlighted the impact of the Internet on political views, activism and larger political movements. Prior to reading Dartnell's book I had considered some of the political implications of the Internet, but my thoughts were mainly focused on the accessibility of information, the ability of people to communicate and the ease of publishing political ideas online. Insurgency Online brought a whole other stream of questions about politics and the Internet to mind.

Dartnell suggests that the Internet has allowed for the development of web activism, which he claims is a new type of global conflict. Web activism is based on "producing, providing, and spreading information outside of government control or regulation." [2] Web activism allows for marginalized and radical political points of view to gain a medium. Insurgency Online focuses specifically on the use of the web by the Irish Republican Socialist Movement (IRSM), the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA). All three of these political groups have different political agendas, however each employ the web as a means of reshaping government prescribed perceptions. The IRSM has used the web to create coherence amongst people geographically separated, RAWA has used web activism to document gender abuse in an attempt to influence global views, and MRTA has used the Internet to relay information about its cause to mainstream media outlets [3].

After reading about all of these very political uses of the Internet I was left wondering if this was a good or a bad thing. It is clear that the web has the potential to be used, and at times manipulated, by political groups. The Internet can be used to illuminate the struggles of wrongly marginalized groups, however it can also be used to organize radicals and further radical political views. Regardless of the 'moral' implications of the use of the Internet by certain groups I do agree with Dartnell's assessment of it's impact. He maintains that web activism alone does not overthrow governments, rather "web activism is a powerful method for political organizations of all stripes in precise circumstances that favour their particular messages" [4]. The notion that web activism alone, cannot completely destroy a government is a reassuring idea and suggests that despite the range of the Internet there are still some practical limitations.

Despite considering myself fairly Internet savvy, I am still constantly being introduced to new implications and uses of the net. Web activism has further opened my eyes to how diverse the internet is and how it can be used in a multiplicity of ways.

[1]A preview of Darnell's book is available online via google books.
[2] Michael Y. Dartnell,
Insurgency Online: Web Activism and Global Conflict, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 6.
[3] Dartnell, 8-10.
[4] Dartnell, 101.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Virtual Dark Tourism

As some of my classmates have already mentioned in their blogs, a few weeks ago we spent part of a public history class discussing the idea of dark tourism and the way in which history is often the basis for it. Yesterday, an aspect of dark tourism that I had not previously even considered was brought to my attention. A digital aspect of dark tourism is already flourishing. I'm not merely talking about death notices available online, which though a valuable resource are not something I would consider dark tourism, I'm talking about virtual graveyards.

When I first heard of this concept I was more than a bit astonished, it never occurred to me that graveyards would be something that could be transferred into the digital world. However they existing in surprising abundance. One of the most prominent examples is the Virtual Graveyard. This site allows you to search a variety of graveyards to find whatever particular tombstone you are looking for, pick the weather conditions you wish to view the grave in, then you are 'walked' to the grave and given the option of leaving candles or other pieces of remembrance at the grave. Likewise, virtual memorials can easily be setup my loved ones and tailored to the particular religion and burial preferences of the family. After getting over the initial shock factor of the whole idea of an online graveyard the thought behind the virtual graveyard is kind of neat. It allows mourners and those just generally interested in tombstones (for historical reasons or otherwise) to pay their respects from a distance. This can be a valuable tool for someone who wants to honour a deceased friend but lives to far away to physically do so.

I am still kind of debating if digital graveyards fit into the realm of dark tourism or not. Even if they do not fit every aspect of what dark tourism is typically regarded as, they definitely do invoke an emotional response and after being curious enough to examine various grave sites I can attest to the curiosity that they inspire. Similarly, like most physical dark tourism sites there are subtle peripheral tourist aspects in the digital graveyards. In most cases visitors and mourners can purchase virtual flowers and candles to place at graves. Regardless of if digital graveyards actually fit the dark tourism mold or not, they do highlight the increasing movement toward digital memorials, digital communities and the digitization of everyday life.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Dropbox sharing.

I came across a neat application the other day that is designed to make file sharing easier. The Dropbox application allows 'easy' sharing between computers and users, even if the computers are running different operating systems.

Essentially the program designates a folder on your computer as a dropbox, and copies the contents of that folder to a web-accessible account and to any other computers connected to that account. The option of having the files accessible online without accessing one of the computers connected to your dropbox is kind of neat, as it allows the accessibility of accessing your files from any computer in addition to those specified as part of your dropbox group. You also have the option of making your dropbox contents available to the public and completely open access.

If nothing else this application could make sharing files from a work computer to a home computer a bit easier. It also has the potential to be useful to those working on collaborative or group projects, and be a lot more efficient then constantly sending out mass group emails.