Archive for August, 2006

Wally World

Friday, August 18th, 2006

The discussion here on SMITH about whether or not to talk about your own life gets me thinking about the value of community in this regard, and that in turn gets me thinking about this wonderful stanza by Wallace Stevens, from the poem “Of the Surface of Things”:

In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four hills and a cloud.

Which to me says that participation in the world, as in conversation, is a great way to find perspective.

How We Share the Stories We Do Not Tell

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Staying with the theme of the stories we do not tell, one way that we do tell them is anonymously. I can think of no other web project that has explored this concept better than Postsecret. I think pretty much everyone knows about this website, but if you haven’t seen it or haven’t checked in on it in awhile, it’s always worth a visit. The image and usually just a sentence or two on the featured postcards are often haunting and thought-provoking. I often find myself either personally identifying with the confession in some way, or feeling like I really want to know more of the whole story. Some I just raise my eyebrows and shake my head and then try to forget, because they are so chilling. The stories we do not tell… or how we tell the stories that we are afraid to tell. Those are often the best stories, the ones that have the most to offer, the ones with the deepest and most moving insights.

So here’s the deal. I have two copies of the Postsecret book to giveaway. The first two people who leave a relevant comment on this post (not just “First” or something like that), we’ll mail you a copy of the book. Make sure you provide an email address in the email address field when you comment so we can get in touch. (Your email will not be made public).

Too Viral To Be True

Friday, August 18th, 2006

This week’s video comes from John House - it’s a very funny spoof on New England preppies. Too funny, actually, and maybe a little too slickly done… I wonder - is someone foisting a fake viral video on the world? Why yes, yes they are.

Whatever. It’s still funny, and it’s certainly worth looking at how companies are taking advantage of the personal media trend to get their own content out to consumers, sometimes with disastrous results.

By the way, should I be embarrassed to admit that the reason I didn’t put this up when John originally sent it to me is that I was catching up on work after a vacation… on Cape Cod?

I’m gonna go with probably.

JonBenet Ramsey And A Nation of Amateur Web Sleuths

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

The big news of today, obviously - the question of whether it should be the big news of the day is probably best left for another forum, but I’m gonna go ahead and say no - is the arrest of John Mark Karr, who has confessed to killing child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey almost 10 years ago.

If you’ve never delved into the world of crimeblogging before, now’s a good - that is, particularly interesting - time to do it. I used to do some crime reporting, and became intimately acquainted with some of the crime blogs and bulletin boards and their users and let me tell you: it’s a whole different, totally unexpected, world out there.

The really interesting thing about this, from a SMITH perspective, is that this isn’t personal media - and yet it is. The crime bloggers and patrons of the crime bulletin boards become deeply intertwined with the facts of the cases they’re discussing, making the victims almost a part of their lives, sometimes even becoming involved in the case. Most of these people never met, let alone lived in the same state as, the victims they’re discussing, and yet you’ll see sentiments in their bulletin board signatures like this:

“Personally, I think people who immerse
themselves in this case on the Internet are disturbed individuals who must
not have much of a life and are to be pitied.” Lin Wood April 15th 2003

Demand a special prosecutor in the JonBenet Ramsey case.

(That’s from the owner of the most prominent crime bulletin board, Websleuths, which I’ll get into later. Much more after the jump.)


The Stories We Do Not Tell

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Glad to be guest-blogging here at SMITH. I’m Jeffrey Yamaguchi, and I run a site called The site is all about projects and project-making. I stray into personal areas, such as a love of the music of John Denver, but for the most part, I don’t get too personal. But recently, I got sick and had to have some medical tests done, and after it was all said and done, I really wanted to write the story. But did I want to post the story on my site? That I was not so sure about. For the first time, I really thought about the lines I draw in terms of what I would put on my site. So that’s what I wanted to blog about here at SMITH — the site that celebrates the fact that everyone has a story. I totally agree with that sentiment. What I’ll spend some time blogging about here is the stories we do not tell. Or think about not telling, or worry about telling, or tell and then wonder if the story should not have been put out there…

I did end up posting the story — You can read it here: “A Trip to the Urologist, Or, Damn That Prostate.” Before I did post it, I shared the piece with a few friends and colleagues, and they all said go for it. That was encouraging, and yet I was very nervous hitting that “Publish” button. In my mind, there was going to be all kinds of reaction… But there wasn’t. Still, I believe it’s a story that will be helpful, even it features perhaps “too much information.”

Here’s an excerpt, to show an example:

Did I mention that the nurse was quite attractive? I’m noting this not because it was some kind of turn-on (I didn’t just feel asexual, I felt anti-sexual during my time at the urologist’s office), but because it seemed to make the whole situation much more embarrassing. I know this makes me sound like a pig, but I would have rather had some old school, grey-haired grandmothery-type in the room. A grown man naked from the waist down with his penis shrunk down well below the “I was in the pool” level, whimpering, “Will it hurt?” — Now that’s the last way you want to be seen in front of a young, gorgeous woman. Get Nurse Marge in the room, STAT!

Any bloggers or writers out there who have written stories or posted blog entries where they really weren’t sure that it was a story they should tell? Stories that you’ve held back on? Comments are welcome.

What’s Your Worst Moviegoing Experience?

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

It won’t be long before audiences terrorize each other screaming during screenings of Snakes On A Plane (personally, I’m hoping it’s bad to the point of Showgirls-style camp, with midnight showings and friends fighting over who gets to dress up as the snakes and who gets to be Samuel Jackson and who gets to be the pilot).

Which reminds me to plug my friend Bilge Ebiri’s smart and funny film blog for Nerve, The Screengrab,. Bilge blogs about movie deals and rumors, trends, funny film videos making the rounds, forgotten films he loves, and other manna for movie lovers. He also has a weekly bit in which he asks readers for their “Worst Moviegoing Experiences,” like this one by an unhappy Da Vinci Code-goer and the Inconsiderate Cell Phone Lady. Check out Brother B’s blog and add your own cinema horror story.

Also receiving votes today from The Screengrab, a comic featuring a couple of snakes in coach class (scroll down a bit after the link).

Gizmodo’s Lam: A Conversation Starter

Wednesday, August 16th, 2006

We’re obviously interested in what makes a successful blog here at SMITH, so we ate up’s Amber Cartwright’s interview with new Gizmodo chief Brian Lam. Lam says that the power and brilliance of blogs are about, “the promise of constant conversational updates. I think the best blogs cover the kinds of things that traditional media don’t think are important enough to cover.”

True that. And true this (and thanks Mr. Lam):

What social or technical features would you like to see enter the world of blogging?
I’d really like to see it become as easy as talking to a group of people…I would like it to be more fluid. There is this web comic called Shooting War; it got picked up in the Village Voice and it’s this really cool web comic about blogging in 2011 in Iraq. The war is still going on and the blogger does everything by video because it’s easier than typing. The fact of it is that the web comic shows the future of blogging as being more flowing, more conversational.

Old Man Blogger

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

The other day I sent my dad a link to SMITH so he could check out some of my blog entries.

He didn’t reply.

I began wondered if he really “got” this whole blogging thing — after all, dad still uses his trusty typewriter to communicate his message to everyone from George W. Bush to John McCain to me.

So, when I read about AP Special Correspondent John Roderick’s adventures in blogging — the guy’s 91 years old for heaven’s sake — I started thinking that maybe I should push my dad into the blogging arena. Heck, if Mr. Roderick could go from Morse code (I swear to God) to blogging, surely my dad, who is 30 years younger than this dude, could be making a name for himself in the blogosphere.

You can check out Mr. Roderick’s piece here. And you can read his latest blog entry here about Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China.

Who knows, maybe you’ll soon see my beloved dad writing for SMITH.

Big Marketer is Watching

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

Following up what John posted last week about AOL’s inadvertent release of user-specific search records, here’s an interesting article from today’s New York Times on what advertisers are planning to do with this data.

Earlier this year, Yahoo introduced a computer system that uses complex models to analyze records of what each of its 500 million users do on its site: what they search for, what pages they read, what ads they click on. It then tries to show them advertisements that speak directly to their interests and the events in their lives. …

Collectively, a person’s Web searches, it turns out, can create an eerily intimate portrait — one that some privacy advocates say should never be assembled and stored in the first place.

Still, Web companies continue refining their techniques. Advertising on search engines is already a $14-billion-a-year business because the ads can be so closely tied to what people are looking for. Yahoo’s system is meant to use search queries and other actions to select ads people see while checking their e-mail and reading other pages.

AOL is working on a similar system to display ads for products related to a person’s Web search history. MSN from Microsoft just introduced technology to do the same. Other companies use systems that bring together information about users from across many sites. Internet companies call this behavioral targeting, and it is based on the insight that knowing what people do online can be more valuable to a marketer than knowing how old they are or what they do for a living.

Man, I can’t wait to see what user 711391 gets pitched.

In Which MySpace Turns Me Into Woody Allen

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

I’ve been accused, several times, of having a MySpace obsession. For the record, it’s not true. But at least I used to have plausible deniability - after all, I don’t even have a profile on the damn thing. Or at least, I didn’t. See, I caved last night.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It’s not like I had a crisis of conscience or anything; it’s just that setting up a profile on MySpace isn’t as simple as it appears. There are a lot of factors that come into play: screw up any one of them, I’m convinced, and no one will ever like you again.

The background, for instance. Like, is it acceptable just to have the plain default profile? Will its plainness and simplicity merely point up the emptiness of my profile, the paucity of content and friends in this early stage, and mark me as a man whose life is as empty and meaningless as his plain white profile? Should I use a profile editor? Or will that make me look like I’m still in high school?

And the interests section. Should I list my real interests or be cooly sarcastic and ironic? If I decide that being ironic will just make me look bitter and unfun and list my real interests, will people think I’m a dork for liking the Jackson 5 and hopelessly unoriginal for enjoying The Shawshank Redemption? Will I, as a consequence, remain a virgin forever?

But all these concerns pale in comparison to the harrowing process of adding my friends. “But Alex!” you say. (I have good hearing.) “It’s so simple - you just find your friends and add them!” Oh, you naive fool: would that it were so easy.

See, it’s all about establishing the proper order. Certain people can only be added at certain times. You’ve got to get a first tier, a base from which to add certain other people. Like, say I wanted to add an old friend of mine; let’s call her “X.” X and I used to be decently close, but we’re in different cities and we haven’t seen or spoken to each other in a few years. It’s MySpace, so it’s totally fine to add her (at least, I think it’s totally fine to add her) but is it really acceptable to add her as my fourth or fifth friend? Isn’t the message I’m sending, “Hey, X, I know we haven’t spoken in five years, but I really couldn’t think of five friends I needed to add before you?” I think it is, and I don’t know if my ego can handle that. Ditto acquaintances, for whom I worry that the message would be the same. So the trick is to find the people - my best friends, and then at least my longtime friends - who know me well enough to know that no one really likes me all that much anyway.

After that, it’s about padding that first tier with people who won’t judge me; JahFurry, for instance, seems rather forgiving, and Larry knows I haven’t had a profile until now. They probably won’t think I’m a loser for having few friends. (Guys? Please?) Once I’m at, I dunno, 40 or so, I think I can move on to the second tier with a minimum of worry.

And don’t even get me started on that whole “Top 8″ thing. Jesus, is there anything more nervewracking than ranking your friends, loved ones and employers for the world to see?

I need a drink.

Oh, and if you didn’t get the headline - it’s because being on MySpace has made me a neurotic Jew. (See, see, I can make allusions. I’m smart! Love me! Oh, why won’t you love me? And after you love me, for God’s sake, please add me.)

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