May 25th, 2010
Welcome to this morning’s Daily Research Update. Today’s themes are social news, color e-books, and tweaking history. If you want more context for this research, take a look at our Education and Technology Trends for 2010. You may also be interested in our Weekly Research Index, or you can follow our live, daily research on our Current News page.
(Click here to see a simple listing of today’s suggested reading)
According to a new study by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, news is becoming more of a social experience in the U.S. “Half of Americans say they rely on the people around them to find out at least some of the news they need to know.” What is particularly interesting is the impact of technology on extending news stories or determining which ones are most popular.
The study underlines the large disconnect between what mainstream media thinks is “top news” and what social media users consider newsworthy, as well as the different kinds of content and discussion each platform attracts. It also suggests that if traditional news companies want to succeed online — that is, if they want to attract a large number of page views and be relevant to users on the web — they may need to alter their content to match readers’ interests.
Speaking of the social Web, Facebook has been in the news of late for its problems with user privacy. The negative PR doesn’t seem to be having too big an effect on Facebook numbers, however, and Tim O’Reilly may have the reason in his “defense” of Facebook.
The essence of my argument is that there’s enormous advantage for users in giving up some privacy online and that we need to be exploring the boundary conditions – asking ourselves when is it good for users, and when is it bad, to reveal their personal information. I’d rather have entrepreneurs making high-profile mistakes about those boundaries, and then correcting them, than silently avoiding controversy while quietly taking advantage of public ignorance of the subject, or avoiding a potentially contentious area of innovation because they are afraid of backlash. It’s easy to say that this should always be the user’s choice, but entrepreneurs from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg are in the business of discovering things that users don’t already know that they will want, and sometimes we only find the right balance by pushing too far, and then recovering.
By the way, if you’ve ever wondered what 400 million users translates to in terms of information shared, here’s your answer. “10,000 pieces of information are exchanged per second on Facebook, says Facebook investor Yuri Milner.” That kind of byte-sized information sharing is at the heart of Nicholas Carr’s forthcoming book on how the Web diminished the brain’s ability to focus.
The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture. What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.”
In other technology news, you’ve got to like Barnes and Noble’s strategy around devices. They have their own proprietary Nook, but are also aligning themselves with other readers that can be sold in their stores and which connect to their online bookstore. This is a smart way to leverage/marry their brick and mortar/online retail presences. Their latest such device alliance is with Pandigital and it’s new color e-reader. “Pandigital Novel is an Android-powered e-reader that has a full color touch-screen 7-inch display, Wi-Fi connectivity, and multimedia capabilities. It will retail for $199.99 when it ships in June.” This looks affordable and promising. No, it won’t be as good at the iPad in terms of color and performance, but its price may offset such comparisons.
Over in the world of textbooks, you might be interested in my new post — Six Rules Textbook Publishers Should Follow for Strategic Planning in a Digital World. This is a preamble of sorts to next months series on “Transformations in textbook Publishing.” Finally, if you haven’t kept up with the hoopla around the recent Texas textbook decisions, this article provides a nice summary, along with links to coverage from other news outlets. My personal position is that such modifications — “tweaking” of history — have ample precedence in education and are mostly irrelevant in today’s Internet Age.
Texas’ Republican-dominated board of education moved the state’s U.S. history and social studies curricula broadly to the right on Friday, approving a slate of controversial changes along party lines. The changes, including downplaying church-state separation, and offering more attention to the conservative movements of the 1980s and ’90s, could affect other states, too, since Texas is the No. 2 buyer of textbooks (California, the No. 1 buyer, is considering a ban on the Texas curricula).
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