Honor Among Bloggers

A Soap Box.
Image by MonsieurLui via Flickr

Yesterday, I read something that riled me up. A tech blog post with an inflammatory title designed to ensure click-through and “opinionated” content marginally “based” on “facts” with an equally inflammatory bent. On a well-respected and highly viewed tech blog.  The post was dressed up like a “tech” review, but in reality served as a “hot poker” to get readers to hit it and come back repeatedly to check the comments for more outrageousness. The blog author kept the craziness going by answering challenges in the comments with additional “facts” he failed to mention in the original post.

This post reminded me of a similar post that I read last fall – another in which the writing was clearly designed to encourage readers to enter the fray and even post comments in outrage because of the over-the-top nature of the post and its equally poor writing.

I am not going to link to the post here, because I am not interested in encouraging more “hits” on it and in rewarding the writer for a job poorly done. One reason that bloggers engage in such tactics is to inflate hits and statistics, measures which affect revenues for a blog that relies on hits and clicks to increase its income.

I surely don’t begrudge anyone their income opportunities, as long as they are not hurting anyone in the process. Are these manipulaters hurting anyone here? Umm, yes!  Whether they choose to be or not, bloggers populate the new wave of journalism. The advent of blogging has dramatically changed the way in which people receive their “news.” Blogging has changed the face of traditional news outlets. More and more readers have shifted reliance on traditional news outlets to bloggers for cutting-edge information, particularly on cutting-edge topics.When readers believe they are receiving quality and are instead fed drivel, it breaches reasonable expectations of validity, bringing our profession down in the process.

Journalists adhere to a code of ethics, through the Society of Professional Journalists. I thought I might quote some of it here:

Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

*   *   *

— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

*   *   *

— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

There are reasons for ethical codes. When people perceive that a practice has the power to harm, they rightly craft a set of “rules” to ensure protection of those who could be subject to the foul play that misuse of power can wreak. Lawyers have a code of ethics. Journalists have a code of ethics. Cyber Journalist has proposed a blogger code of ethics as well. The admonitions make sense. Here is the proposed Code in its entireity:

Be Honest and Fair
Bloggers should be honest and fair in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Bloggers should:
• Never plagiarize.
• Identify and link to sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
• Make certain that Weblog entries, quotations, headlines, photos and all other content do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Never distort the content of photos without disclosing what has been changed. Image enhancement is only acceptable for for technical clarity. Label montages and photo illustrations.
• Never publish information they know is inaccurate — and if publishing questionable information, make it clear it’s in doubt.
• Distinguish between advocacy, commentary and factual information. Even advocacy writing and commentary should not misrepresent fact or context.
• Distinguish factual information and commentary from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

Minimize Harm
Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect.
Bloggers should:
• Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by Weblog content. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
• Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of information is not a license for arrogance.
• Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
• Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes and criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

Legal bloggers may already be sensitive to many of these concerns. Their reasons for blogging differ from those bloggers who make their money from hits and click-throughs. Legal bloggers undertake blogging to showcase their expertise, make connections and earn trust and respect from peers and clients. I would imagine  (and hope) that the incidence of “sensational” headlines and outrageous assertions would be either zero or none on law blogs. I only wish that such irresponsible conduct could be limited to blogs that pander to the National Enquirer crowd – far away from blogs that profess to provide valid news and reviews on tech matters or other professional subjects.

Reserve wild assertions and crazy opinions for the cocktail party or Twitter, Friendfeed or any of the social media outlets where they clearly will be viewed as opinion. Remember your footprint when you blog and, hopefully, your content will add to the blogosphere, rather than detract from it.

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Kumo is now Bing

As promised last week, Microsoft has trotted out its new search engine. It’s called Bing and you can find it here. PCMag has a great review and slideshow of the search engine here. True to its semantic genetics (including the Powerset search engine that Microsoft previously purchased and incorporated), Microsoft is calling Bing a “decision engine” rather than a search engine. Bing offers suggestions for related concepts and information, with answers to inquiries, rather than just links to other pages, offered right on the search results page. You can get even more information from suggested links when you hover over a result entry. You can get “deep” links, such as search boxes for FedEx or UPS tracking right on a Bing results page. Bing’s pages are not spare, but can include images of current events, landscapes or other “bling” (sorry – couldn’t resist 😉 ).

Rather than review each element of Bing and how it handles matters such as travel, shopping, images and video and news, I recommend you go try it yourself. Check out the PC Mag article linked above for a comprehensive list of features and the page slide show. While many web commenters are echoing the famous refrain “it’s not a Google killer”, Bing looks to be a promising hike along the evolutionary path away from the popular-by-number-of-links search option.

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Zensify: Track Social Media Trends With Ease On Your iPhone

A large part of leveraging the Web for marketing, research and information-gathering lies in the ability to track trends across social network “hangouts.” Much is made of real-time searching, trending topics and hashtags. It can get more than a little confusing to chart out and implement a tracking strategy.

Enter Zensify: a free (yes, I said free) app for the iPhone which streams information from various social media sites, like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Delicious, Photobucket and 12seconds, and offers up the goods via a tag cloud. The cloud can show topics gleaned from the people you follow as well as the people they follow.  You can also update or upload to your social media sites from the app and share it all on Twitter. Save and reuse searches across your networks and even watch video from YouTube and 12seconds.

Zensify is looking to open itself up to other developers and offer more social services in the future. It is currently in “preview’ mode and the full launch of the app is slated for June.

Just another tool to add to your belt!

Hat tip to Mike Butcher at Techcrunch

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More Legal Goodness from JD Supra – Law Centers

Image representing JD Supra as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Not content to merely offer a repository of free on-line legal documents benefiting both legal practitioners offering quality content and searchers seeking that content, JD Supra has just announced its new Law Centers. Law Centers are pages on the JD Supra site that organize and aggregate the uploaded documents by subject matter: business law; personal law; government law; and, law practice. Within these broad categories are narrower topics such as real estate and construction, immigration, bankruptcy and many other common legal subjects. The Centers will feature top news, recent articles and top contributors to the particular subject area. Searchers will find both the relevant documents and articles and blurbs highlighting the practitioners offering the documents and articles. Coming soon, you will be able to subscribe to a Law Center feed by RSS to keep track of what practitioners in a particular subject are are contributing.

Once again, JD Supra gives up the goods to lawyers and Web-izens interested in all things legal!

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Find a Search Engine to Match Your Visual Learning Style

Did you know that your search results need not be limited to a page full of text identifying relevant sites an links? If you are a visual person, there are other options that might better serve your needs. Pandia Search Engine News lists five of their favorites here. Their top picks include SearchMe (highlighted in the Studio here); Viewzi; EyePlorer; Ujiko; and, NeXplore. SearchMes offer pictures of sites in their results page, rather than text descriptions, with a Cover Flow-like interface. You can roll over the image to get page title and link with a short description of the site. SearchMe also allows sharing on Twitter and Facebook. Finally, you can select and store pages in a stack, which also can be shared or embedded. My personal experience with SearchMe is all positive and the visual interface offers a much faster search experience, particularly for image searches or other queries with picture-friendly results.

I don’t have personal experience with the other options and recommend you hit the jump to Pandia to get their reviews. They provide different tools and options, each being better suited to different uses. Eyespot, for example, offers a circular result with information and responsive links primarily pulled from Wikipedia. Ujiko does something similar, but pulls its results from a broader source. Nexplore and Viewzi offer different views of results, including visual images.

Although it is not itself a search engine, Cooliris has a place here. I am a big Cooliris fan. Cooliris is a Firefox add-on that takes Google Search and responds with a Cover Flow-like result. Searchme and Cooliris are phenomenal for image searching – offering a much faster way to breeze through results with a flick of the mouse or track pad.

As in the real world, the right tool for the right job. These search engines offer different functionality with different strengths. Don’t limit yourself to that Google box: try out some of these other options and make your search results take you where you want to go
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One More Reason to Love Firefox: High-Powered People / Profile Search

There are all sorts of reasons for attorneys and everyone else to be interested in what kind of information is lurking on-line about particular individuals. People get involved in business dealings and litigation, from parties to experts, from witnesses to jurors. Potential clients are on-line creating profiles and offering information about needs to be met. And attorneys who are sensitive to modern modes of communication are on-line, promoting their brands and, hopefully, following up to determine whether their on-line marketing is making the desired impression.

Enter Identify. Based on the Google Social Graph API, Identify is a Firefox plug-in that allows you to search of profile pages and track links.  When viewing a page, just click “control + i” and get a pop-up box showing connections from all around the Web associated with the person referenced on the viewed page. Primarily designed to profile pages, it can be used as well with web-pages with the proper coding and information.

If you have Firefox, you can get the plug-in here. Check out your own profiles and see how well you represent on the Web.

Hat tip to Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb.

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Focus on Outcome, Not Income

All right, I admit that my title isn’t quite accurate, but it does have  that alliterative quality that makes for a memorable catch-phrase. What I am refering to here is a thought-provoking post at Clinician’s With Not Enough To Do regarding a shift in the focus of higher education to stress “outcome” over “input.”  The author, Carolyn Grose, is a member of the “Future of Legal Education Task Force”, a force I am certain is paying close attention these days to the problem of helping crops of new attorneys hit the ground running as traditional legal jobs dry up.

The post excerpts a presentation to the William Mitchell College of Law outlining the Task Force’s progress to date on how to render legal education responsive to the needs of modern lawyers and their firms and clients. In keeping with the American Bar Association’s recent injunctions regarding accreditation, the Task Force opines that legal education needs to shift from “input” to “output.” “Input” is what students are taught. “Output” is what students know and can perform. This boils down to increasing the “practical wisdom” of students passing out of the third year and into the real world.

Seems a Herculean task. But a laudable goal without a doubt. In keeping with an “outcome”-driven approach, the Task Force suggests working backwards in designing the curriculum. The first step in this backward progress is identifying desired “outcomes” for law grads. The areas of proficiency deemed most important include: basic legal knowledge of core subject matter and legal systems, process and source of law; the skills of analysis, research, communication, and representation; and, professional conduct and judgment in the use of knowledge and skills.

None of these “outcomes” seem particularly earth-shattering: they track the same “outcomes” my school seemed interested in imparting 20 years ago. My question is:  What does the Task Force suggest regarding the degree of emphasis to be placed on each outcome? In other words, how much effort should be placed upon instruction in “core” subjects and how much should be focused on research, writing, analytics, organization and communication, both written and oral?

I believe the answer should lie, at least in part, in educators’ assessments of how easy it will be for a fresh attorney to glean the knowledge and skills after graduation. Emphasis should be placed on the knowledge and skills that are peculiar to the profession or more difficult to learn without academic guidance. Students cannot bank on the chance that they will find their personal “Yoda” who will help them use the “Force” to defeat the Dark Side; good mentors are few and far between in the real world. Who has time to help a new associate understand how to navigate a completely unfamiliar area of law and cogently explain his or her findings to a partner focused, now more than ever, on the elusive bottom line? When will the most prestigious law schools “buy” this “outcome”-based approach and drop the pretense that ivory-tower academics should win out over practical skills training – the nuts and bolts of the average lawyer’s every day practice ? Until there is a major shift in perceptions across academic institutions and the largest firms regarding what really matters in practice, there is unlikely to be widespread change regarding the nature of legal education.

Which brings me back around to my original point: the title of this post. Maybe it isn’t that far off the mark, after all.

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Advantage Advocates Featured on JD Supra's Facebook Page

Pleased as punch (why is punch pleased?) to announce that my writing and consulting  business and I are featured on JD Supra’s Facebook Page! They asked and I submitted a short video describing who I am, what I do and where you can find me on the Web. You can hit the jump to their page and read a lot of good info on their contributors and what JD Supra is all about. Or you can check out the YouTube version below:

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Advantage Advocates Featured on JD Supra’s Facebook Page

Pleased as punch (why is punch pleased?) to announce that my writing and consulting  business and I are featured on JD Supra’s Facebook Page! They asked and I submitted a short video describing who I am, what I do and where you can find me on the Web. You can hit the jump to their page and read a lot of good info on their contributors and what JD Supra is all about. Or you can check out the YouTube version below:

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Firefox Handles the Wolfram Alpha / Google Debate with its own Negotiated Option

Leave it to Firefox to come up with a way to have your cake and eat it too. Amidst the hue and cry over the last few weeks surrounding the announcement and deployment of Alpha’s computational knowledge-based search engine and whether it would topple Google from its thrown (a decidedly red-herring-esque question), Lifehacker reports on a new Firefox extension that embeds Wolfram Alpha results into your Google search results page. Author Kevin Purdy advises that the experimental Firefox extension is a bit glitchy and haphazard. Nonetheless, Purdy is correct that the extension is worth trying because “getting a second, nerdier opinion from Wolfram Alpha is just what you needed in some cases.”

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