Why I Quit Facebook

As a pretty heavy Twitter user, it may seem strange that I quit Facebook on account of privacy concerns. But two posts—one from ReadWriteWeb and another from the Electronic Frontier Foundation—together do a pretty good job of summing up my concerns. The first describes a Facebook quiz developed by the American Civil Liberties Union designed to show Facebook users exactly what kinds of information about themselves and their friends they’re sharing when they add applications to their profiles. The answer: basically everything. The second describes the latest set of changes Facebook has made it its labyrinthine privacy policies. Facebook implements these changes every couple of months by means of simple click-through agreements, and, as in this case, they’re almost always designed to convince users to allow increased public and commercial access to their personal data and that of their friends.

Everything on Twitter is right out there in the open. But that’s what I signed up for. Facebook, on the other hand, promises its users privacy, but (best case) does very little to protect it and (worst case) even seems ready to subvert it.

A Google Books Cautionary Tale

This one made the rounds of Twitter earlier today thanks to Jo Guldi. This month Wired Magazine tells a cautionary tale for those following the progress of Google Books. Entitled “Google’s Abandoned Library of 700 Million Titles,” the article reminds readers of Google’s 2001 acquisition of a Usenet archive of more than 700 million articles from more than 35,000 newsgroups. Incorporated today into Google Groups, the Wired article contends the archival Usenet material is poorly indexed and hardly searchable, rendering much of it practically inaccessible. The article concludes, “In the end, then, the rusting shell of Google Groups is a reminder that Google is an advertising company — not a modern-day Library of Alexandria.” Something to remember when considering the Google Books settlement and its implications.

Privatizing Holocaust History?

For the past few years, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has undertaken a series of public-private digitization partnerships, especially with a company called Footnote.com. These partnerships provide NARA with free digitization services, and visitors to NARA’s reading rooms with access to the products, but allow Footnote.com and NARA’s other private partners to charge offsite users for online access public documents. I have never been particularly thrilled with this arrangement—charging the American people for access to their own records and all that—but in the past the projects have focused mainly on older document collections of mainly genealogical interest. Now NARA announces that online access to its collection of Holocaust-related material is being made available through Footnote.com, free for the month of October, but presumably for a fee afterwards. Something about this doesn’t sit right with me: should we really be limiting access to a history we desperately don’t want to repeat?

Another concern is Footnote.com’s extensive use of social media. Web 2.0 technologies provide tremendous opportunities for knowledge sharing and creating community around cultural heritage. But when dealing with topics as difficult as genocide, the values of sharing and openness need to be tempered by caution and sensitivity towards victims and their memory. For topics like the Holocaust, public tagging, spontaneous tweets, and YouTube mash-ups may not be the most appropriate or productive vehicles for public discussion and reflection. Indeed, this difficult question of how best to implement social media around topics of conscience is the premise behind CHNM and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s upcoming event, The Conscience Un-Conference, which remains open for applications until October 13, 2009.

The Conscience Un-Conference: Using Social Media for Good

Inspired in part by THATCamp, the Conscience Un-Conference: Using Social Media for Good is now open for applications. Co-hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and the Center for History and New Media, the Conscience Un-Conference is a free, one-day “un-conference” that intends to bring together interesting and interested people to talk about the problems, practicalities, and opportunities of using social media to further the missions of “institutions of conscience”—those concerned with violence and atrocities, human rights, and related issues. I feel very fortunate to be among the great group from USHMM planning the event.

conscience_banner

The un-conference will be held on Saturday, December 5, 2009 from 8:30am to 5:30pm at USHMM in Washington, DC. To learn more and submit an application, visit http://www.ushmm.org/social/blog/.

Briefly Noted: Surviving the Downturn; Help with Creative Commons; Yahoo Pipes

The American Association of State and Local History (AASLH) provides cultural heritage professionals with some relevant information on surviving the economic downturn.

JISC provides advice on choosing (or not choosing) a Creative Commons license.

Missed it at the launch? Didn’t see the point? Don’t know where to start? Ars Technica has a nice reintroduction and tutorial for Yahoo Pipes, a visual web content mashup editor. Here’s an example of the kind of thing you can do very easily (20 minutes in this case) with Pipes: an aggregated feed of CHNMers’ tweets displayed on a Dipity timeline.

Brand Name Scholar

Scholars may not like it, but that doesn’t change the fact that in the 21st century’s fragmented media environment, marketing and branding are key to disseminating the knowledge and tools we produce. This is especially true in the field of digital humanities, where we are competing for attention not only with other humanists and other cultural institutions, but also with titans of the blogosphere and big-time technology firms. Indeed, CHNM spends quite a bit of energy on branding—logo design, search engine optimization, cool SWAG, blogs like this one—something we view as central to our success and our mission: to get history into as many hands possible. (CHNM’s actual mission statement reads, “Since 1994 under the founding direction of Roy Rosenzweig, CHNM has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.”)

In my experience, branding is mostly a game learned by trial and error, which is the only way to really understand what works for your target audience. But business school types also have some worthwhile advice. One good place to start is a two part series on “personal branding” from Mashable, which provides some easy advice for building a brand for your self or your projects. Another very valuable resource, which was just posted yesterday, is the Mozilla Community Marketing Guide. In it the team that managed to carve out a 20% market share from Microsoft for the open source web browser Firefox provides invaluable guidance not only on branding, but also on giving public presentations, using social networking, finding sponsorships, and dealing with the media that is widely transferable to marketing digital humanities and cultural heritage projects.

It may not be pretty, but in an internet of more than one trillion pages, helping your work stand out is no sin.

(Note: I’ll be leading a lunchtime discussion of these and other issues relating to electronic marketing and outreach for cultural heritage projects later today at the IMLS WebWise conference in Washington, D.C. I’ll be using #webwise on Twitter if you’d like to follow my updates from the conference.)

Honest Abe

Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library explores our ongoing fascination with Abraham Lincoln with 21st Century Abe. Launching officially on Lincoln’s bicentennial on February 12, 2009, the site will present reflections on Lincoln’s legacy by leading scholars and artists. More interesting is that between now and February, the project’s curators will also be using Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, a blog and other digital tools to collect public impressions of Lincoln in text, images, audio, and video. These popular impressions will sit alongside those of the scholars and artists on the website to present a fuller and ultimately more honest picture of what Lincoln really means to Americans two hundred years after his birth.

Briefly Noted for October 28, 2008

The Oral History Association has launched a new and improved website, including a social network and an instructional wiki.

Jim Spadaccini has a great post about the special kind of planning involved in building museum and other cultural heritage websites that incorporate social networking features. Jim writes, “While the standard methods of web design—such as wireframes and mockups—are still part of the process, we’ve been concurrently working on plans for social interaction.”

AHA Today points to TimesTraveler, a new blog from the New York Times. The premise is simple: TimesTraveler excavates Times’ headlines from exactly 100 years ago, giving readers a sense of what was happening on this day in 1908. Surprisingly compelling and very well done. For a more entertaining and more creative glimpse at 1908, however, I suggest TweetCapsule—time-twittering life in the last century. (Thanks, Tad.)

Briefly Noted for June 12, 2008

Geek meme: Command line history. For about a month during the spring, geeks everywhere were using

history|awk ‘{a[$2]++} END{for(i in a){printf “%5dt%s n”,a[i],i}}’|sort -rn|head

to post their top ten most used shell commands to the interwebs.

Samuel Pepys on Twitter. Good idea, but doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I have enjoyed the Pepys Diary blog over the years, and I’d like to see it done in 140 characters or less.

A few months ago I recorded an interview with UC Santa Barbara professor, Claudio Fogu for an article he is preparing for History and Theory. Over the course of an hour or so, Claudio and I discussed the September 11 Digital Archive, the history of CHNM, and other topics of possible interest to Found History readers. Claudio has kindly allowed me to post the full audio of the interview. I can’t wait to see the article.

[audio:http://foundhistory.org/audio/fogu_interview.mp3]

Six Tips for Hiring Good Programmers

1864823746_d6bb92c305.jpg There has been a useful discussion on Twitter (of all places!) among some of the THATCamp participants about how to write a good help wanted ad for programmers for digital humanities projects. Here are a few of the suggestions, mostly from the programmers in the bunch:

  • “All depends on what you’re looking for: a real programmer or just a code secretary? Good coders show up for fun real problems … code secretary = comes to meetings, takes orders, transcribes them into code without creative insight.”
  • “Regardless of the title, make clear if people will have the authority to use their own creativity and do things in new ways.”
  • “One suggestion is to get tied in to local user-group communities—especially ones that attract freelancers and learners.”
  • “But good programmers also get paid a bit better, and thrive on a community of other programmers (which means other area employers).”
  • “Another thing to tout is the ability to choose the technical stack, & freedom to explore new languages/frameworks, if true.”
  • “Also, is there any chance you could offer a referral bonus to univ employees? No better applicants than that.”

Good tips. Good use of Twitter.

[Thanks to Karin Dalziel, Adam Solove, and Ben Brumfield for allowing me to republish this conversation! Image credit: Matt Wetzler.]