Posts Tagged ‘fark’

Thing 15 – Awareness Tools

Monday, June 18th, 2012

10 The Computer Age (In Motion)

Had Enough?

exploding head

CC License, Click to view

No doubt, the Internet and the Web are becoming indispensable, helpful, useful, and interesting. Every day in this class we’ve been looking into different tools, concepts, or ‘things.’ A few people have written in blogs that they don’t need some tools, for example  social bookmarking sites and online communities. I think they are saying, what all of us feel at one time or another: “Enough is enough” or “Enough already” or “You’re making my head explode with all these new things.”

Can we afford to take that attitude? My opinion is that we cannot. The world will change with or without us,and  the degree to which we can participate in  and take advantage of our culture, community, and economy will be measured by how savvy we are of contemporary technology.

So we need to move on, acquire new skills and tools. Part of the problem in doing that, though, is that the rate of change is increasing. Many agree that it has reached the stage where if we cannot rely on being able to know one technology or tool well.  Enhancements are always being developed so that the tool we are very comfortable with is replaced with another that is widely adopted and the new one has greater capabilities and is easier to use. As a simple example, if we can use only one email program then we limit ourselves to the types of communication in which we  can engage as newer email and other communication technologies are developed.

The skill to have  is not knowing or using a specific technology, but  the skill to have is to be able to learn or adapt  to changing technologies.

That’s the motivation behind a discussion of  these so-called awareness tools.  Much of what follows is taken from “Awareness Tools,” published in the IPL Wiki.

About Awareness Tools

Awareness tools provide you with a number of ways of finding useful, thought-provoking, humorous, or interesting content you may not normally find. Before the Internet came along, people mostly got their news from a handful of sources – newspapers, radio, television, friends and family, etc. But awareness tools allow you to find a wide variety of content on a scale like never before; you can still find traditional news articles from major newspapers, but now you can also find global news articles, local news articles, web-based games, movie reviews, blog posts, photos or photo collections, cartoons, and the list goes on and on. In fact, perhaps the biggest appeal of these types of tools is that they allow you to find and filter information from virtually anywhere on the web.

There are two major types of awareness tools: automated awareness tools like Google News or Technorati automatically grab content from other places on the web. Social awareness tools like Digg and reddit rely on users to provide links to content they find interesting. Oddly enough, two of the oldest and most popular social awareness tools did not actually start out that way. The first, Slashdot, was launched in 1997 by Rob Malda with the tagline “News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters.” and was simply a collection of traditional news stories that focused on technology. The second, Fark, launched in 1999 by Drew Curtis as a tool to help him share interesting news stories with his friends without having to send any e-mails. Both sites were wildly popular, getting over 1 million hits within a year of launching, and both soon added social features like user accounts, commenting, forums, and story suggestions.

Today, there are a number of awareness tools that offer a variety of ways to find new and interesting content:



  • Google News
  • Technorati
  • Original Signal
  • PopURLs– lists results from many different sites,categories, and can be customized.
  • AllTop – collect the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a top and then aggregate them.
  • Techmeme – “Techmeme arranges all of these links into a single, easy-to-scan page. Story selection is accomplished via computer algorithm extended with direct human editorial input.”
  • The WebList – is a snapshot of what people are clicking on around the internet right now. A single page with the latest news and stories from some of the Internet’s most popular websites.

How do Awareness Tools work?

Technologically speaking, awareness tools are actually quite similar to the book recommendation systems discussed in IPL Thing #13. The main difference is that awareness tools have two main functions: gathering content and filtering content. Automated awareness tools may rely on human editors to select which sources to pull content from, but the content itself is usually collected automatically based on source, topicality, currency, or popularity (e.g., Google News,Techmeme. Social awareness tools typically rely on users to submit URLs of interesting content; this is why many websites (especially blogs) provide links to Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon to allow users to quickly recommend content to their preferred service.

Once the content is gathered, all awareness tools generally use some type of complex programming algorithm to filter relevant or interesting information to the top. Since automated awareness tools usually pull content directly from the web, filtering is usually based on currency and popularity. By contrast, social awareness tools tend to rely on user feedback to determine what’s relevant and interesting. Often, these sites ask users to vote for any item they find interesting (a simple yes/no decision) and those judgments are then aggregated across the entire site. However, a number of other factors are also considered when trying to determine which content should get posted to the homepage: domain of URL, who submitted the URL, who voted for the URL, when the URL was submitted, number of comments about the URL, etc. [3].

Hands on Activities

Activity 1. Set up  some Google Alerts. Got to Set up an alert for UMW and one for University of Mary Washington. Experiment with the type of results – as email or a feed, once a day, as it happens… and so on.

Activity 2. Set up a Google alert for something you’d like to track, for example, a sports team, a venue, a musical group, genre of music, anything else.

Activity 3. First, sign up for an account on DiggReddit,  or another social awareness tool (if you don’t have one already).

Next, browse the ipl2 website for a page that you think people might find interesting. Some good examples are the POTUS special collection, the Stately Knowledge special collection, or theNewspapers & Magazines collection. Once you’ve found a page you’d like to share, copy the URL from your browser’s address bar.

Finally, visit your preferred awareness tool website. This activity will describe the procedure for submitting a link to Digg (the procedures are similar for each site, though). First click the “Submit New” link in the upper-right corner of the website. Paste the URL of the site you want to share in the first box and then click the appropriate box for the type of media it is (it’s probably a news article). Click submit and Digg will search its databases to see if the link you’re submitting has already been submitted (for quality control). After a few seconds, you’ll see a page where you can edit the title and description of the page you’re submitting (pulled directly from the page’s metadata field), add a thumbnail image, select an appropriate topic heading, and see a preview of what your submitted entry will look like. Once you’re satisfied with how your entry looks, click “Submit Story” and your story will automatically be added to the website.

Don’t get discouraged if your stories don’t make it to the front page right away! Because these sites rely on complex algorithms to find and filter interesting content, your stories likely won’t start getting popular until you become a much more active member on the website. We’ll cover two ways to do that in the following activities.

Activity 4. Now that you’ve submitted a story to your favorite awareness tool website, now it’s time to start exploring the site and becoming a more active member. The easiest way to do this is to start “voting” for stories you find interesting. Visit the homepage of your preferred awareness tool website (e.g., Digg) and browse through the items listed on the homepage. If you like any of them, click the “digg” button on the story to cast your vote; if you really don’t like an item, you can click the “bury” button (on Reddit, the equivalent votes are the “Up” arrow and the “Down” arrow).

In addition to the homepage, you can also browse for articles by topic or search for articles with specific keywords. One important thing to remember with these sites is that the more votes you cast, the more likely it is that you’ll be pointed to stories that you find interesting.

Activity 5. Once you’ve voted on a story that you liked (or disliked), you can start contributing to the discussion about that story (you can actually comment on any story, but it’s probably a good idea to start off with just the stories you voted for). Most of these sites work like forums or blog comments, so just jump into the conversation wherever and whenever you feel comfortable, just try to keep your comments short, polite, and on-topic (at least at first). You’ll also notice that you can sometimes vote “up” or “down” on individual user comments if you like or dislike what a person said.

While you technically don’t have to add stories, vote on stories, comment on stories, or vote on comments to stories if you don’t want to, your votes and submissions will gain more influence over time as you contribute more to the site and you’ll also get more precise and relevant story recommendations based on your interests.