Blogs everywhere you turn

I’ve found it surprising that over the last couple of years, even in the last year, everywhere I turn, people are finding their information from blogs. Not only are blogs quicker (than waiting around for the 5 o’clock news) but also they share some information not considered mainstream. I know lots of people who check out different blogs daily, not only because they have update information quick, but because it contains information many can’t find anywhere else. I have one friend who has lists upon lists of blogs she looks at, sometimes daily, but definitely weekly. Usually these blogs are meant to inform about topics not on the news or anywhere else. I know lots of people who read celebrity blogs, not only are they quicker than waiting for the new People or US Weekly to come out, but also, it’s free. Other people have transitioned to blogs because that seems to be the only place to find information anymore. My same friend only looks at music blogs for her music anymore, MTV is all reality shows, and she never listens to the radio anymore. This seems to be the case for me too, I can’t find really good music a lot without turning to the internet to find it, everywhere else is so limited, and blogs are making it unlimited. It’s quicker to check out blogs and hear what you want than waiting for a good song to play on the radio. Because so many sit at computers all day, and with technology allowing people to access the internet everywhere, blogs have become the standby for providing information. Just the other day I saw a girl on the shuttle bus looking at perezhilton.com on her i-phone, she couldn’t’ wait the 20 more minutes until she got to her apartment/dorm/house. People want access all the time, and to get information anyway possible and blogs are allowing people to do just that.


Video Hosting Options

A rotating group of around ten of my friends and I run a series on YouTube - or rather we did, I'll get to that - that's about entertainment like video gaming, movies, television and so on; kind of a video blog sort of thing. We've also got a talking puppet. It's crazy. Anyway, it's a pretty fun hobby, and the satisfaction you get after finally making everything work out with sound, writing, acting, clips, and so on is pretty great.

The thing is, YouTube has quite a few downsides when it comes to hosting videos, and since video is an integral part of new media it might be important to look at some alternative video hosting options. While this probably wouldn't be an issue for a big site like CNN or the Post - who could just host their videos on their own webspace - small-time journalists and bloggers have a lot to consider when it comes to a host. I've done some research on various hosts, and I've decided to present my findings here.

First, YouTube is probably the first video host that leaps to everyone's mind. YouTube is easy to use, it's accessible to pretty much everyone, and it's very popular, which is a big deal when you're making a series that you want people to see. Like I mentioned earlier, though, YouTube has some downsides:

*This is the big one: YouTube will not host videos that are over ten minutes long. Some older accounts can exceed this limit, but the vast majority of the time your videos must be under ten minutes to be hosted on YouTube. This may not seem like a big deal, but it's possible to run into issues with it, and being constrained to ten minutes can be bad for creativity.
*Well, maybe this is the big one: YouTube's picture quality is absolutely horrible. They've tried to address this in a number of ways over the years. For instance, they now have a "high-quality" option for videos - which doesn't seem to do all that much - and they've added in options for hosting widescreen videos. Even with these additions, YouTube just can't compare to other hosts in terms of visual quality. Your videos will usually become grainy and pixelated on YouTube due to the way they compress them after you upload them.
*YouTube requires that all videos be less than one gigabyte in size. This isn't actually a big deal, since if your video is this big you're doing something wrong when you compress it. This is much better than earlier this year, where videos had to be less than around 150 megabytes or so.

These flaws may not seem like a big deal, but they were enough for my group to pack our bags and find another host. Let's take a look at some other options:

Google Video - video.google.com - has picture quality that's even worse than YouTube's. It doesn't have any file size or time restrictions if you use the downloadable upload program offered at the site, but your videos will turn out so hideous that it doesn't matter. I'd stay away from Google Video.
DailyMotion, located at www.dailymotion.com, is very similar to YouTube. However, it has a 20 minute time limit instead of 10, and there's no file size restriction. The picture quality is also slightly better.
Revver, www.revver.com, offers to pay you for the privilege of hosting your videos! Sounds great, right? Well, it's too good to be true: Revver loads up your videos with invasive ads if you choose to host them there. Revver's also affiliated with Zango, which is a notorious spyware company, and that makes it even more of a bad idea to have anything to do with it. Oh, and get this: while they DO pay you, they have a required amount of money that you have to earn before you actually see a cent, and don't expect to make that amount anytime soon.
Vimeo, at www.vimeo.com, has the best picture quality of any video host. If you have a high-definition video that you need to upload, Vimeo is the way to go. Unfortunately, it also has a very harsh file size restriction - 500MB per week for non-paying users. The staff also has a tendency of deleting videos and accounts that don't meet a certain set of "artistic criteria", which can be a problem.
Viddler, at www.viddler.com, is a happy medium between Dailymotion's unlimited file size and Vimeo's gorgeous picture quality. Viddler also allows people to download your video to view on their own computers - this is a Godsend for some people whose computers have trouble handling streaming video. This is my recommended file host, and the one that my group's series will be moving to.

There are a few other options - Blip.tv is similar to Viddler, for instance. However, these are some of the most notable choices right now. If you ever need to host a video - say, for the upcoming multimedia article assignment - you might consider giving one of these a try instead of YouTube. You could be pleasantly surprised.

A little exploration into RSS feeds

As we learned in class and were tested on during our first exam RSS feeds compile information from a number of Web sites all into one place for a reader. Like our one reading said they are like Web butlers, bringing us all the information on a particular subject right to a single page on our computer screens. After setting up my Google Reader in class I forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when I was playing with different options and settings on my Google account. I came across my RSS reader and decided that I was going to try it more thoroughly and then report my findings for my entry on the class blog. Since we only discussed them briefly, I figured most people would forget about their subscription quickly and never explore them more. I wanted to see how efficiently they worked and if they pulled up information on some obscure topics that I could think of. The following are some of my findings:

1.) A good starting point for research- I began researching a paper for another class on the American Civil Liberties Union. This group has many books about them in the shelves of Mckeldin, but the paper called for more information on their current involvments in U.S. politics. I typed “ACLU” into the search bar and was only presented with two headlines. However, both of these headlines lead me to sites with more information about the ACLU listed on them. From this discovery, I began looking at the RSS feeder as an alternative to a general search engine and wikipedia combined. It offereed more specific answers within the searches, but offered me more information and places to search. This RSS feed was similar to wikipedia because it was a good starting point for basic research

2.) A great way to explore additional information on topics you already like- Something that I really enjoyed about this feeder is being able to gather information not only on topics I was interested in, but related ideas as well. For example, I read a non-fiction book a fewweeks back about a women who escaped a polygamist community in Utah. When I entered her name into the search I realized that this camp combined with one in Texas and this womans ‘family’ were actually among the women and children taken during the raids last spring. The reader extended the information I learned in the book and brought it to current times.

3.) A friend to reporters- This was one of the things that was first presented to us with the RSS readers, but it is so helpful that I wanted to mention it again. Readers are especially helpful in finding story ideas because instead of searching all over the internet for various headlines or current events. Stories about your particular beat or area of interest are pulled from sites across the Web and filed into your personal Reader. This allows ideas to all be in one place and easily organized, offering less stress of developing a story idea and saving you as a reporter time.

RSS Feeders offer journalists and curious people a chance to save time and enjoy the news. Instead of spending hours seeking out stories on various Web sites, feeders like Google Reader and Yahoo! bring you headlines and articles from a multitude of sites. There are also specific readers set up to follow only stories on particular sunjects such as New York Time’s Health Reader. Sites many times have links listed right on there that allow readers to link to a RSS feeder that gives their headlines. Some other sites have different topics already formed and have RSS feeders constantly sending the latest headlines to the links on their site (See: http://arstechnica.com/site/rss.ars)

Overall, this little helpful tool is one that people should explore a little more. It offers a lot of information with very little work involved searching for it.Comments on how people use RSS feeds and if people enjoy using them or not are always welcome.

Visit to washingtonpost.com Dec. 3

Reminder: We'll be going on a professional Web newsroom tour and talk at washingtonpost.com in Arlington, Va., on Wednesday, Dec. 3. We're scheduled to meet with editors from 1:45 p.m. to 3:10 p.m., to allow for travel time to and from Virginia. We'll meet in the lobby of the building at 1:45 p.m. sharp. Chet Rhodes, AME for news video and a former broadcast teacher here at the University of Maryland, will join other editors in talking about how storytelling, story presentation and reader interaction at Web sites differ from storytelling in traditional media.

You will be given assigned questions to answer about the visit; your typed responses will count as an in-class grade and will be due at the start of the next class (Dec. 10). (Don't forget that your multimedia stories are also due at the start of class next week.)

Address for washingtonpost.com: 1515 N. Courthouse Road, Arlington, Va. 22201. The office is across from the Courthouse Metro stop on the Orange Line. There is a parking garage for the building, but you have to pay to park.

If any of you would like to carpool together, this blog would be a good place to connect with each other. Leave a comment to this thread.

Before arriving: Please familiarize yourself with the Post's Web site, including its Politics section and Inauguration Watch, its photos and videos page (Cameraworks), its Discussions area and more.

See you there!
Chris Harvey


Holiday Shopping Guides on News Sites

We talked a little bit about the election packages on news Web sites and it seems we almost now expect that when there's something going on in the country, there will be a web package that accompanies it.

I put that little theory to the test and searched on several different news sites to see if that had holiday shopping guides like they did election guides...and they do.

Though they're way less in-depth as the election guides, news sites are offering tips and info about the shopping market this season. I wasn't surprised to see a lot of cheap gift ideas, given the economy, as well as "green gift" ideas.

Here are some examples that are easily linked from the home pages:

The Today Show, via MSNBC's Web site, offers a new type of video segments where products can be "clicked" as they're being discussed in the video for more information.

A little less interesting, CNN offers a slideshow of gift ideas and pictures with a short paragraph describing each. I wonder if they'll up their game as the holidays get closer to compete with other sites.

That Washington Post offers a shmorgishborg of Holiday gift ideas, entertainment, fashion and family-time survival tips. It's like mini packages in one big package...some useful information on this one.

As I wasn't surprised to see bigger and better Web packages compared to last year, I wonder what the next big package will be for news Web sites that we now expect?