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Matthew Osborn-Grosso

Al Jazeera America is Launching: Here is What I am Looking For

I have been following the build-up of Al Jazeera America since it was announced. As a fan of Al Jazeera English’s coverage, I had high hopes for this channel; but some reports about the network raise concerns.

My wariness first came when Al Jazeera decided to pull an op-ed from its website. Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian does a great job of explaining why this action is troublesome, that it is not about the article, but about stifling opinion. It is very odd to take down an op-ed once it is published. This concerned me, and gave great pause to my expectations of Al Jazeera America when I heard that the directive came from a contractor working on launching the network.

More concerns arose when I read another report by Glenn Greenwald on Al Jazeera America . Greenwald hits the nail on the head on most of what I was looking forward to Al Jazeera America, “Those excited by the entrance of a new Al Jazeera network into the US marketplace - and I included myself in that group - typically cited the urgent need for such an adversarial, bold and brave approach on the US airways from a large and well-funded TV news organization.” Greenwald outlines an email from a former Al Jazeera English employee who says this will not be the case. Al Jazeera employees refuted these claims.

Other than offering hard-hitting journalism, my biggest expectation out of Al Jazeera America was that it would give me a good source of international news. In fact my first thought when I heard a new network from Al Jazeera was coming to my television was “finally some real international coverage.” It is not just that American news networks don’t do a good job, it is that often they aren’t covering something at all. I was hoping to see Al Jazeera America give attention here as their sister channel Al Jazeera English has done a stellar job, but again flags were raised . Brian Stelter over at the New York Times explains a shift in thinking, and more focus was going to be put on domestic news and away from international.

Michael Calderone over at The Huffington Post also wrote about the concerns about Al Jazeera America, it is written really well and does a great job of summarizing some of the key concerns that have been flying around. It also brought in words from employees who are working at Al Jazeera America. While they didn’t quite reassure me that Al Jazeera America was going to be a great channel, they did say a lot of the right things, and made me feel that they are interested in doing good journalism and covering news that is under-covered.

In the last few weeks shortly before their launch, Al Jazeera America has been putting out content and a lot of it has been pretty good, telling me maybe they are on the right path. If you go to Al Jazeera America’s website, you will see an abundance of content, and quite a bit of international news sprinkled in there. Skimming through it the other day I found this article on the stop-and-frisk Policy in New York, it was great to not only see them covering this and leading with it on their website, but how they handled the story, like talking to someone from a neighborhood where stop-and-frisk happens.

Almost all of the information about the channel’s lineup has been revealed and there is a lot to like. They are doing an American version of their show The Stream, which originally started on Al Jazeera English. It is a show where they engage with the audience via social networks, and I am also glad to see that they are seeking input for their other shows on social networks, it is just not something you see from other news networks. They are going to have a science/technology show, something I’ve always been interested in seeing on air, called TechKnow. They will have live news bulletins on every half-hour, something that will come in handy if done right, because news networks now often don’t break a story when it is at night, they will just be playing a recorded show. [Update: since they launched they have had news bulletins on every hour.]

So I will be tuning in on Tuesday when they launch, and I am hoping they prove my concerns wrong. I will be looking for excellence in reporting from them not only because of their past in Al Jazeera English, but because the American market desperately needs a great news network.

Science is Cool

Over the course of this year there has been several science events that have garnered attention and are held as genuine achievements.

The First one was at the end of May with Space X when on May 25th their Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to attach to the International Space Station (ISS). This event was probably the most captivating of them all because there was a livestream of the countdown and the actual launch. This mission was a test run for their official cargo run, which happened earlier this month and was successful.

The next major event came as an announcement from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN (originally Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire),that they had found a new particle consistent with the Higgs Boson particle. They can’t confirm it is the Higgs Boson particle though, as they say it could perhaps be “something more exotic.” This news, coming from two years of data and over ten years of experimenting, echoed all over the internet and even made its way to television. Better yet people were talking about it and were watching the live stream of the announcement.

The landing of Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity was the most recent. This story also got picked up everywhere and had people talking about it before and after. You were not able to get a livestream of the event because of many technical limitations, but it was supplemented by news conferences by NASA before the event and livestream of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they provided commentary of what was happening.

With many shows about science coming the excitement should continue, and that is a fantastic thing. Out of the three shows two of them are reboots sequels of once popular shows, able to return because of this resurgence of interest in science.

"Bill Nye the Science Guy" is a the show that was originally on PBS will be returning on the Nerdist YouTube Channel as originally announced on the Nerdist Podcast.

Next we have a followup to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” a show that covered many broad science topics, called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson and produced by Seth Macfarlane and Ann Duryan, widow of Carl Sagan. This documentary television series will be broadcasted on fox and Neil deGrasse Tyson indicates it will be premiering in the Spring of 2014 as a thirteen-part series.

Lastly we have Neil deGrasse Tyson will also be appearing on "Startalk" on Nerdist a port of his fantastic radio show, a talk show with guests talking about their relation to science. Startalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson will premiere tomorrow.

But why these shows? Sure there are many other science shows around on science specific channels (or as Neil deGrasse likes to call them, the "science ghetto"). But these shows are on Fox and YouTube so they will be able to reach mass, and hopefully they will be able to get many new people educated, and the mass interested in science—again.

The End of Static Products

Previously computers were the only the products to get updates. Now we are seeing all sorts of products from phones to televisions getting them. We are seeing the demise of the static product.

The technology website The Verge is the latest to jump on. Other sites do push “updates” but usually they come in a site refresh every year or so not steady updates. The Verge even has a version history page just like you would get with apps.

Speaking of apps, you are now getting easy application update by the way of app stores. You are not having to go out and buy another copy and install it over your old copy, you just have to press an update button. There is also an advantage for the App developers, because it makes it more likely for the user to see that their is an update and this might make the user pick up an app that they had not used in a while. With app stores you get the convenience of all updates in one place. The mac is getting the new convenience of being able to update your operating system via the Mac Appstore.

If you have a Google TV then your television will get updates. People are also watching content on their televisions from their Apple TV and Xbox where they will get updates for both.

If you have a modern smartphone you will get updates to your phone. The prefered way of updating a smart phone is over the air (OTA) updates, which allow you to update your phone without having to hook it up to a computer. The iPhone and Android phones both have OTA updates, but the Windows Phone does not. Android has OTA updates but isn’t perfect, it has the issue in not pushing updates often and not getting to all phones.

It is not just the computer like devices and the apps that run on them that are getting updates. With the Nest Learning Thermostat your thermostat can get updates.

Updates allow developers to give their users a better user experience as time progresses. The developer can quickly fix a bug with an update, no need for the product to be sent in. It allows the product to stay up to its quality indefinitely. There will be products that do not have updates, but they will be in the minority and will have less of chance to be picked up by customers. It is best to give your users updates and make them easy. Just Another Set of Apps

Back in June at WWDC 2011, Steve Jobs said when he unveiled iCloud, “we’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device.” He then showed how the Mac, iPhone, iPod touch and iPad were all on the same level and iCloud was above all of them.

But there should be something else on the level of the devices, and that is The iCloud website. This is not just because it to is being pushed data from iCloud, but it is treated with with the same level of importance. When poking around with some settings I found out that the settings in the iCloud’s web apps control just the apps themselves, just like the native apps on iOS devices and on the Mac. It will take a little bit to get used to, but I think it is for the better.

This is very unique. See most other web services have a web app and a native app. The web app is thought of as the control panel to them and because of this the native app is crippled. They are treated differently because the developers think their users will perceive the web app as being closer, or is, the cloud because it is on the web. Something that is not true, so the developers are underestimating their users. In Apple’s view all of their apps should be granted the same power. It might be difficult at first not have a main settings that controls all the apps, but it is for the better, because in reality each of those apps have a different use case so they should have their own settings.

A Step in the Wrong Direction by Google Music

Today Google released Google Music, but the product is very uninteresting. The Google Music store has brought nothing new to the table, it is basically iTunes except with sharing to Google Plus instead of Ping. It is pay-to-play instead of the on-demand, which is where the music market is heading.

Just read this article about how Spotify, the leading streaming on-demand music service, and Facebook are scaring iTunes. If iTunes is in for trouble, Google Music should feel just as scared. Spotify already had an estimated 13 million in August and added over 4 million after their intergration with Facebook. People clearly want on-demand not pay-to-play.

Mobile is for Doing, Web is for Viewing

Cell phones have become a computer that you can carry with you anywhere. One of the most popular uses is social networking. It is so big that Facebook, the biggest social network, is reporting that more than 350 million people are using it through their mobile device that is more than 43% of their active users. Mobile is not only playing a major part in social networks but has become the de facto way to update your social network if you have a smartphone.

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Guy Kawasaki: What I learned from Steve Jobs

One of Guy Kawasaki’s lessons he learned from Steve Jobs:

Real CEOs ship.

For all his perfectionism, Steve could ship. Maybe the product wasn’t perfect every time, but it was almost always great enough to go. The lesson is that Steve wasn’t tinkering for the sake of tinkering—he had a goal: shipping and achieving worldwide domination of existing markets or creation of new markets.

At first I was taken back by this because it doesn’t seem like something Apple would adhere to because their products seem perfect when shipped and perfection is something that seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from the “just ship it” belief. But then when I thought about deeper and Apple does do this, take for example the iPhone they have shipped a new one every year since 2007. This definitely stems from Steve Jobs, he was the one to tell Steve Wozniak to ship the Apple I. To ship these products they had to exclude some features in the first iteration, they are easily forgotten because of the perfection of the features that are shipped.

The Joy of Interface Sounds

Sounds are not just for games or notifications or games. Many apps will just have sounds used for their notifications, and even then they often just use Apple’s built in sounds. People might think original in app sounds are just for games. Well this is not true, they can be used for many types of apps.

Normally boring apps become more enjoyable with in-app sounds. Instacast calls them interface sounds, and I think that is an apt name for them. Some of the apps that take advantage of them are the Tapbots apps (Tweetbot is one of the apps, here is a demo video). Instacast is another great app that uses them, you can hear them when you refresh the feeds, there is a new episode, or an episode has finished downloading. Spotify gives you a sound when you pause and resume a song. Apps use them for actions or in-app notifications.

Apple uses interface sounds. Most of them are operating system interface sounds like when you unlock the phone, typing and putting the phone to sleep. They also put them in their apps, when you take a picture with the camera app, dialing in the phone app, sending a message and sending an email.

More developers can make their apps less bland and more delightful by adding interface sounds.

The Early Days of Twitter

How was Twitter used in its early days? How did people converse without all the syntax that is established now?

Earlier this year on Twitter’s fifth anniversary, people were retweeting old tweets, and there was one I saw that wasn’t retweeted that much. By not having many retweets I was able to see it was retweeted from the account @wetreet. I didn’t know who it was so I checked it out. On its bio it says “retweet up from status_id = 1,” and it does just that, retweeting tweets from the very beginning and then progressing through more recent tweets. The account was really interesting, so I went through them and found some really interesting tweets that answered the questions I had at the beginning, below are those tweets.

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Business Class News

In this article Oliver Reichenstein of Information Architects, Inc. makes the case for a freemium model of news. Oliver proposes this model in favor of paywalls that sites like the Wall Street Journal and more recently the New York Times. He promotes the idea of the user paying for a better experience instead paying for the information. The paying users would get a site that was stripped of advertisements and a better design given the increased space they have.

When I read this article I thought of magazines. I have found the magazines that I read are really well designed. I have also seen the trend of that most or sometimes all of there content is also put up online, this is true with Wired (pictured below) and Macworld.

Wired Magazine layout

A news organization does run differently than one produce magazines however the magazine style can be altered to work for them. A news organization could compile there top stories into a magazine at the end of the week or month.

In this time it has to be everywhere though, online, an app for tablets and print if you want. This will be the important factor, to have it available everywhere and anywhere you are, this is the only way to be successful.

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