Topic 5: Research Tools

May 26th, 2010

In class, we reviewed the various research tools available to us for finding information on the internet. We can use search engines, meta-search tools and directories to browse through different databases and see the information we want organized in different ways. We take it for granted that we can find essentially any kind of information with any of these tools, whereas this privilege is not shared by internet users worldwide.

For instance, China’s censorship of politically sensitive topics regarding its communist government  has lead to all kinds of subjects being blocked, from pornography to blogs about independence movements. This posed as an ethical dilemma for Google, Yahoo and Microsoft as they began providing web browsing services in China ( For example, a Google search for the Tiannamen Square protests of 1989 return no results in China (

In 2005, Yahoo faced some heavy criticism for being too cooperative with the Chinese government. Yahoo was accused of acting like an informant for the Chinese government, resulting in the arrest of a journalist who divulged government secrets. A year later, Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco were all called out on comprising their integrity for business purposes ( They argued that they were obligated to abide by Chinese policies and that it was necessary for their companies to survive. Google further argued that providing its services in China is actually a step toward achieving less internet regulation by the Chinese government. Collaboration with these western giants would increase international interest in the way China does business, and China would feel the pressure to conform to western ideals of free speech. Also, Google debated that they at least notified internet users that web content was censored when they researched certain topics, although it cannot exactly say what it has blocked (

Topic 4: Wikis

May 25th, 2010 / CC BY 2.0

Whenever I want to look up something on Wikipedia, it’s so easy to just Google  whatever it is I’m searching for, and the first – or one of the first- links is the Wikipedia page I want. Because of this, I’ve never actually been to Wikipedia’s main page, so this the first time I have ever seen it.  The main page offers a bunch of fun facts under various categories. “Today’s Featured Article” offers a snippet of information about the Victoria Cross, which apparently is the highest Canadian military decoration that a person can receive. Half way into this paragraph, I suddenly realized I don’t care about the Victoria Cross at all. But not to worry, because there are plenty of interesting tidbits under the headings “Did You Know”, “In the News”, and “On This Day”( ).

“Did You Know” offers some truly random facts about things, people and events that I have never heard of, so I’ll pass. “In the News” states that the Palme d’Or (the Golden Palm) award at the Cannes Film Festival was just given to Apichatpong Weerasthakul for Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives. According to the plot summary Uncle Boonme had sex with a cat fish in an earlier life, lol!  ( ). Here’s something interesting under “On This Day”: apparently May 25 was Independence Day for Jordan, and Liberation Day for Lebanon and several African countries, not to mention Argentina’s Bicentennial.

Other things on Wikipedia’s main page include “Today’s Featured Picture” (just a plant), and links to other sections of Wikipedia, Wikipedia’s sister projects, and main pages in other languages. If I wanted, I could continue searching for interesting information by content, category, featured content, the A-Z index, or through a key word search. I also have the option to view the source and history of the information given in the Wikipedia articles. The website’s free content has no copyright restrictions of its own for redistribution, studying, modifying, etc. for any purpose, except when the Wikimedia Foundation’s exemption doctrine policy, “allowing the use non-free content within strictly defined limitations… where acquiring a freely licensed image for a particular subject may not be possible…within the doctrine of fair use.” Also, images that are not free for reuse by Wikipedia are considered non-free (

Topic 3: Social Networking

May 24th, 2010

As a non-serious social networker, I have only really been exposed to the most popular networks such as MySpace, Twitter, and Facebook (the only one I actually use). But there are so many other social networks that are worth looking into. Plurk, Ning and Meetup all have something unique to offer, and just might fit your personality or your networking needs better than the ones you may be using right now.

Plurk / CC BY 2.0

Plurk’s name has three separate meanings. It is a combination of the words “people” and “lurk”, and “play” and “work”. Also, PLURK is an acronym for “peace”, “love”, “unity”, “respect”, and “karma”. According to Wikipedia, Plurk is the social network that is regarded as Twitter’s main competitor because it focuses on microblogging. Instead of tweeting, users “plurk” updates  up to 140 characters in length and can “qualify” each post with a verb such as “feels” or “loves”. Another big difference between Twitter and Plurk is the way in which posts and presented. Plurk’s updates are listed in a horizontal timeline which can be viewed by scrolling left to right (

Ning / CC BY 2.0

Ning is a platform that lets you “create your own social network for anything” ( It is comparable to MySpace and Facebook as a social networking system, but offers a wider variety of topic-based networks that users can start and/or become members of. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the members of the networks that you create. Member profile information is made readily available through a”Mangage Members” page which includes names, email addresses, links, birthday dates, and more (

Meetup / CC BY 2.0

Meetup is a social networking tool that is similar to Ning in that it emphasizes networking based on common interests. However, Meetup takes social networking in a different direction by enabling users to find people with similar interests in their geographic area so that they can meet in person ( According to Meetup’s website, Meetup is the “largest network of local groups” ( Since Plurk and Ning are fairly similar to other online networks like Twitter, MySpace or Facebook, they may be more likely to be passed over by people seeking online communities. However, Meetup can be complimentary to all of these networks because social connections made online can be reinforced with face-to-face engagement.

Topic 2: Microblogging

May 20th, 2010

Probably very few people have heard the term “microblogging”, but it seems just about everyone has heard of the microblogging network called Twitter. Twitter is receiving a great deal of exposure, partly because of its popularity with famous celebrities, athletes and even politicians.

The frequency with which people use Twitter makes it an efficient way to send messages quickly to a large number of people. This effective broadcast of real-time information makes Twitter a useful tool even in emergencies. According to New Scientist, it has proven to be even faster in disseminating emergency alerts and updates than news media and government services (

For this reason, all types of businesses are joining Twitter to promote themselves and share real-time information with employees, customers and investors.  The international community fostered by Twitter provides a unique opportunity particularly for nonprofit organizations. This cross-cultural camaraderie will help make tweeters more sympathetic to the issues affecting the countries of their friends. For charities who can afford celebrity endorsement, one promotional tweet from a celebrity is immediately visible to all followers of that celebrity, wherever they may be.

However, nonprofit organizations do not need celebrities to raise awareness of their cause. All they need is some faithful followers who will share their cause with their own followers, and the organization could see awareness grow at tremendous speed. Therefore, if you are already enjoying Twitter’s cornucopia of real-time tidbits as a Tweeter, why not make a difference while you’re at it? Share the cause that’s important to you with all of your friends, far and wide.

Mary Washington students may be particularly interested in these Fredericksburg-based organizations:

Students Helping Honduras

Hope House

Thurman Brisben Center

Topic 1: Blogging

May 19th, 2010

Blogging is an online tool of communication that grows increasingly popular as a social media because of its ability to create a community around a common interest with a down-to-earth approach that also puts big emphasis on the individual. Such a medium is ideal for companies looking for a way to better manage their external relationships with customers and their internal relationships with employees.

Corporations have also been taking advantage of the growing trend in blogging by establishing blogs to strengthen relationships with customers and with employees. Companies are also using other mediums such as FaceBook and Twitter to develop their customer and employee communities. As a tool for creating brand awareness, some important advantages of blogging include its trendiness, cost-effectiveness, capacity for multimedia content, its grassroots-type approach to advertising and its viral marketing effect.

Blogs are also excellent places for a company’s employees to express their opinions (positive and negative) about the company, share support, and cross geographical boundaries to bounce new ideas off of each other. As with the business-to-customer blogs, the type of communication that the blog provides gives a louder voice to these blog users when it would have otherwise been stifled. In a blog, employees can share their perspective on company issues without any intimidating face-to-face encounters or hierarchical hindrances.

However, companies need to take certain precautions when setting up an employee blog, such as establishing rules and guidelines for users, and adding a disclaimer clarifying that opinions stated by blog users are not necessarily those of the company itself. Nowadays, when it is commonplace for internet users to speak their mind online without facing any sort of accountability, companies face pressure to not only monitor what employees say on corporate blogs, but on their personal blogs as well.

Here are some (somewhat surprisingly) popular corporate blogs that are worth looking at as a customer or an employee:


37 Signals


Southwest Airlines

Hello world!

May 18th, 2010

Coming soon:           an exploration of the technology, information and issues surrounding the internet, covered in a series of 15 blog posts.