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Super Catch Up

I hope there’s no word limit.

Catch Up Post – RSS

When I first learned about RSS feeds about two years ago (or some time around that), I thought it was the most brilliant idea ever because I was now able to see when my favorite web comics, and websites would be updated. I was one happy monkey. Fast-forward to the future. Today, I learned that I’ve been living the high life all along. A feed reader? Downloadable plugin? You mean not everyone has one built into their web browser like Safari? I just bookmark the RSS feeds, and tada! I can return to it at any time. If I put the bookmark in my bookmark bar, I can actually see the number of new postings change in real-time. (You might think is a shameless plug for Safari, because it is).

Anyways, I had a chance to do some testing on both Google Reader and Bloglines. Both are fairly easy to use, and are great for managing your feeds. I like how you can mark your feeds and view stats on your subscriptions. Having been on the google environment for a while (Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Groups, Calendar, etc.) I understand why people would love Google Reader.

After much pondering feed readers are STILL an extra step that can be much for seamless with the computer’s operating system. So instead of connecting to the web, have RSS options built into the computer’s web browser or mail client. Helps to prevent information overload. Which leads to the next part of this blurb.

Information overload and productivity optimization are things that I have been interested in for a long while. One of my favourite reads about this topic is “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. My strategy is to plan out all my tasks and identify steps I need to achieve them. If something is less than two steps on my part, I’ll act on them immediately. I also try to group things together so that I’m working on similar things at the same time. In the case of RSS feeds, it’s about picking out the specific feeds that are important. Many people are breaking down their feeds by topics or allowing users to pick out specific topics. So read those. Some may be just be interesting to look at, and that’s something you can do on a rainy weekend.


Catch Up Post – Tags.

Tag clouds have always been interesting to look at, but functionality-wise haven’t been very useful. It’s really hard to pick out the important stuff at a glance. For example using the TagCrowd generator for the U of T Mississauga website, big words that pop up aren’t necessarily useful categories that offer any meaningful distinction: academic, Mississauga, services, students, Toronto, and university. They’re very generic. Rather, I would think mid-range tags would be more important than the largest tags. One thing I’ve found is that tags aren’t always used properly, so it makes resources much harder to find.

I have a fun analogy for understanding tags (or explaining to someone what a tag cloud is for the first time). A tag cloud is like vomit after all you can eat sushi. The large clumps are popular goodies, and the little clumps are the not as popular items.  Okay, maybe not so appropriate for the blog.


Catch Up Post – Wikis!

I love wikis. It would be nice if U of T had a nice wiki where students could contribute. I’m just curious to find out what kinds of weird facts we might find i.e. asian truck food rankings (RW truck > Robarts > SS > Bahen) or increasing counter for the number of times students have sex and get caught in Robarts, or just the number of jaywalking incidents that happen on campus. 

On my exploration I found many wikis. There were some like Brown’s university who use wikis as course websites to exchange information and discuss projects, but also serve as a informational resource (i.e. tech assistance). Another cool thing I found was a research exchange network where researchers would exchange ideas about different topics of research and offer expertise from their own discipline. Pretty neat. 

But after some serious thought for student applications, maybe wikis might be harder to manage for a large population. I’m a little torn, because in my mind the type of interactions I’d like to see happen might not be scalable past classroom sizes. Still pondering…


Catch Up Post – Audio!

I kind of like audio podcasts, I have quite a few on my iPod from random tech suggestions to words of the week to random blabber. I have a feeling that as time progresses audio in my work may not be sufficient as a means of communicating with students. Students may listen to quick sound bites depending on the content, but a video is much more attractive. 

This reflection exercise reminds me of the time I went to a nice restaurant in montreal called Noir. What happens when you get there is that you order your meal, and you dine in complete darkness. Enhances the taste of the food and smell of food. Mmm… Anyways, I ended up listening to mission impossible and thinking about how we have grown accustomed to visuals. For example even when surfing a website our judgement is often clouded. Partially because of the information overload, and partially because of the time constraints we have. The result is that we rely on heuristics like past experiences and by flashy effects. I’m 100% sure that there’s research the shows that students are more likely to perceive something as credible if a) it looks lengthy and b) it looks fancy when in fact this has no correlation to actual credibility. Audio might be an alternative that might help us scrutinize the material we are presented with more carefully with the absence of visuals cues. 

But then again, video killed the radio star.


Catch Up Post – Video!

I’ve actually looked at quite a number of videos. Here are two that look pretty good. 

The first looks fairly professional, but it’s just a series of slideshows. The second is actually a whole group of really good videos with real people talking about the university. A combination of both would be something nice. Especially with all the good videos out there we shouldn’t just be satisfied by “youtube” quality (which is quite far down the scale imo). Information and how you package it is very important. Taking advantage available technologies (i.e. video + audio editing), and how you convey the information (concise + visual hooks) with different effects are what makes video to be attractive. 

The video has to kick ass like the opening scene for crazy 88. 

My personal stance is that your videos shouldn’t do all the talking for you. Content should be available somewhere and videos should add a layer of depth or interaction to your content. In some way enhancing the experience any not just repeating yourself.



Catch Up Post – Mashups

My mapping exercise was of an event on campus where students were able to post up blurbs, images, or video ideas and be able to tag a location on the campus map. Other students are able to post feedback or comments. A nice way to make this mashup more fun was if the creator incorporated a dynamic aspect to it where users can manipulate the terrain or the map. Maybe even see into the eyes of the student more. But it was great on the whole.

On a side note, iPhoto ’09 is an example of a brilliant mashup. Photos used to be grouped only in “albums” that you create and “events” where you participate in (automatically determined by the computer). But now, there’s face recognition which allows photos to be grouped/organized by person, and place recognition where your photos are mapped onto a world map. So if you’ve travelled around the world you’ll find photos that correspond directly to those places. It’s a pretty neat application.


Woo! I can finally get this off my chest. I hate starting something and not finishing it. Now to enjoy my weekend. 

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