Department of Labor and Industry launches new website

Montana Department of Labor and Industry homepageThe Montana Department of Labor and Industry announced Monday the launch of its new department Web page at dli.mt.gov.

In a written statement, the department said the new site will “improve functionality and customer service for Montana workers, employers, contractors and taxpayers.”

The site was designed and built in-house and is responsive. The redesign is not complete, and sections of the site will be reworked over the next several months. The work should be done by summer.

Online services like unemployment claims filing and professional licensing will continue through the transition, the department said.

Resolutions

Hello everyone. I know it’s been a while since my last post here, but with the holidays and my rediscovery of a certain video game that rhymes with “myrim,” it’s been a busy two months.

But now it’s a new year and I hope to move forward with a new dedication to regular posting here and over at the Chronicle’s newsroom blog — where my co-author Ted Sullivan has made a similar resolution to post more often as well.

Part of what got me back in the blogging mood was a post by digital news consultant Steve Buttry. (Reading his blog regularly is another of my “resolutions” for the new year. It’s actually a habit I just need to get back into. Alas, a lot of my RSS habits died with Google Reader.)

The very title of his post is pretty much a question/complaint about digital journalism that I have heard in this newsroom at one point or another over the last three years. People here have been concerned about tipping off the TV news people by tweeting or posting stories early. Because the TV news airs at 5:30 and 10 p.m., the public might perceive that TV broke the story, so that it’s “old news” by the time it appears in ink the next morning.

Granted, this opinion has withered somewhat as the importance of the website has become more and more clear. On top of that, we are pretty much digital-first now, or at least we are trying to be, posting stories online well before the Associated Press can beat us with a stripped-down copy of the same thing. It’s a far more progressive place that we have been in ever before.

Still, Buttry indirectly raises a great point about the website that I haven’t had the time to consider deeply enough. We need to be offering online features that drive people to the website, features that take advantage of the Web and make the experience there unique from print.

Maybe I’ll put it this way: We can be digital-first all we want, but if “digital” is offering nothing more than people can get in print, so what?

The low-hanging-fruit idea that I gleaned from Buttry was to use a live-blogging service — he heavily promotes ScribbleLive, though we have used CoverItLive here — to provide live coverage of stories. Embed a live blog into an article on the website and stream in the reporter’s tweets. Make it clear to the public that they can follow the meeting live either on Twitter or on our site.

Bam. Something print can’t do. Easy.

Look for something like that from us soon as I figure out which live blogging service we’ll use. I’d like to pick up ScribbleLive, but it costs… well, it costs, which is always a hurdle in this brave new journalism industry world.

Another thing you should look for from the Chronicle in the new year is a new direction with blogs. We have all gotten too busy to post much here, and I think that needs to stop. We need to either post more and get you, our readers, involved in the conversation better via the comments. And if we can’t do that for a particular blog, I think we need to look at cutting it.

I have a couple of reporters interested in starting new blogs this year, so we’ll see where that goes. One may focus on business and another on city matters. What other topics would you like to see covered?

For that matter, what other features have you seen out there in the wild that you’d like to see us offer? What else can we do to make the website experience better and more useful to you? Let me know in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter.

 

Judge rules Google book-scanning project fair use

In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences,while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without adversely impacting the rights of copyright holders. It has become an invaluable research tool that permits students, teachers,librarians, and others to more efficiently identify and locate books. It has given scholars the ability, for the first time, to conduct full-text searches of tens of millions of books. It preserves books, in particular out-of-print and old books that have been forgotten in the bowels of libraries, and it gives them new life. It facilitates access to books for print-disabled and remote or underserved populations. It generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers. Indeed, all society benefits.

- U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin, Nov. 14, 2013

Study: Montana has longest average @-reply tweets

A recent study shows that, on average, @-reply tweets are getting shorter because people are using fewer and shorter words — especially jargon and coined words.

Authors Christian M. Alis and May T. Lim, also broke out the length of tweets geographically across the U.S. and found that states with a higher percentage of African American residents tended to have shorter tweets.

Louisiana had the shortest average @-reply tweets, for example, at 27 characters.

Utterance lengths across US states

Contiguous US states colored with the bootstrapped median utterance length.

Among the data from the U.S., the study showed that, for geo-located tweets, our own state of Montana produced the longest @-reply tweets at an average of 43 characters apiece.

Louisiana had the shortest at an average 27 characters. Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina also had relatively short conversational tweets.

Montana, with its small population of African Americans, had the longest average tweets at 43 characters.

Alis and Lim used Census data and compared this to 229 million tweets gathered from September 2009 to December 2012. However, the subset of those tweets that the authors could map using the tweets’ embedded geo-data was significantly smaller than the total, which could mean their theory about tweet’s length and its connection to race is not solid.

Their explanation for the seeming race connection? Twitter users have broken into sub-groups as the number of users has grown, and these users develop their own language shortcuts. African Americans, the authors say, may “converse more distinctly and more characteristically than other racial groups.” In full:

The observation of geographic variability is not entirely unexpected because of the existence of dialects. What is more surprising is that the utterance length is (anti)correlated with the resident Black population…. A possible explanation is that Blacks converse more distinctly and more characteristically than other racial groups. Since utterances are only weakly correlated with median income and educational attainment then perhaps the shorter utterance lengths is a characteristic of their race–perhaps pointing towards the controversial language of Ebonics
The authors are quick to back down from the mere mention of Ebonics, adding at the end of the paragraph that it is “beyond the scope of this work to look for actual evidence of Ebonics in the tweets.”

 

Twitter introduces custom timelines

I learned about Twitter’s new custom timelines feature when I logged in to Tweetdeck this morning. I have to admit, like this user, I immediately thought of Storify.

After all, custom timelines does exactly what Storify does — well, if you discount the fact that Storify includes tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram images, RSS feeds, plain old Web pages, and more. I mean, if forget all of that, then I suppose custom timelines are like Storify — a really inadequate version clone of it.

But then again, perhaps it’s not that inadequate. Twitter is, after all, the running water cooler conversation of the (online and tech savvy) country. Twitter’s owners want to make sure it stays that way. Hence we have a new tool to use Twitter in a slightly different way than we could before.

How slight is the difference? Well, consider your favorites list on Twitter. Many people use the “favorite” button as a sort of “like” button. For me, it’s a much more selective process; I probably add six tweets to my favorites list per year. At any rate, all you’re doing with the favorites tool is creating a custom timeline.

Then consider lists — a feature I contend Twitter is trying to phase out because of how inconveniently the company has placed it in its native iOS apps. Lists create custom timelines as well. The difference being that you only control the people on them and not the individual tweets.

Finally, remember the humble retweet. When you retweet something, it too goes on to a timeline of your RTs — same as a custom timeline.

In fact, the only new feature of custom timelines is proliferation. You can have only one list of RTs and one favorites list, but you can make as many custom timelines as you want.

That’s the slight difference, and I think it’s probably interesting enough to foster all kinds of experimentation over the first few weeks. Will it hold out in the long term? Maybe. It seems very attention-intensive, but perhaps its no more attention-intensive than trying to keep up with your regular timeline as it is. Lauren Hockenson at GigaOm doesn’t feel like its prospects are good.

The limiting factor right now seems to be that it’s only on Tweetdeck, and given that it’s a drag-and-drop interface, it’s probably only for desktop Tweetdeck users. If the feature shows early success, though, I’m sure we’ll see methods for adding Tweets to your favorites filter out to the mobile platforms as well.

And yes, of course I’m experimenting with it too. 

Consistency

cnn oldI stumbled upon this old page on CNN’s site today while searching for something in Google.

The interesting thing is, despite the template being very similar to the one I remember being on the site on 9/11, it’s got live breaking news on it.

That’s right, the underlying architecture of CNN’s breaking news in its content management system apparently worked the same way on 9/11 as it does today.

That’s consistency, friends.

Internet roots

I was delighted to see this tweet come through my timeline today.

As the description says, this is a hypothetical drawing of Vanvevar Bush’s memex device, one of the first hypertext machines imagined. I wrote about this machine in my thesis in graduate school.

In 1945, Bush was the director of the government’s Office of Scientific Research and Development. In the wake of World War II, so much research was being done that the centuries-old means of scholarly communication wasn’t keeping up. Something had to be done to modernize it, and Bush proposed a punch card-driven device he called the “memex.”

Here’s how I described it a few years ago:

The memex was intended to model human memory. A memex user might read a text and then link it to another text by association. These “trails” were what Bush saw as the “essential feature of the memex” because they allowed the user to return to what he or she was doing, perhaps months later, and recall those same trails with the push of a button.

A lot of people see the memex notion as the predecessor of the hyperlink, which, of course, we all use everyday.

In a week in which the creator of the computer mouse and modern user interface design passed away, it’s good to remember your Internet roots.

Did you know…?

Domain names

A quick one-off post today: Did you know that Bozeman entrepreneur extraordinaire Greg Gianforte has had claim to the domain “bozeman.com” since 1995?

Registry records show the site is registered to Bozeman Technology Incubator Inc., a company run by Gianforte to mentor Montana entrepreneurs. The administrative contact on the domain is a Thomas Jinneman at RightNow Technologies. The domain record was created on Feb. 21, 1995.

In case you’re rusty on your Internet history, that’s just two years after the U.S. Department of Commerce, along with public and private organizations, created InterNIC to centralize the management of domain names online.

To round out the top-level domains:

  • bozeman.net is owned by the city of Bozeman
  • bozeman.org is owned by the Prospera Business Network

Montana AG demands FTC action to stop mobile phone cramming

Montana’s attorney general has joined with his counterparts in 39 other states and territories to demand the Federal Trade Commission do something about mobile cramming.

Cramming, you might recall, is the practice of adding third-party charges — often unauthorized — onto a person’s phone bill. People who discover the charges on their bills rarely get a full refund, Attorney General Tim Fox said in a written statement.

“Consumers who see suspicious charges, which can range from one-time-only charges to monthly ‘subscriptions,’ should call their cellphone carrier, ask how long the unauthorized charges have been placed on their bills, and demand a refund,” Fox said.

The letter from the states’ attorneys general asks the FTC to look into four main areas of concern:

  1. Cramming itself
  2. Inadequate disclosure of third-party charges on mobile phone bills
  3. Inadequate methods to block cramming and obtain refunds
  4. A lack of federal protections for consumers in disputes over cramming charges

The FTC held a roundtable discussion on cramming on May 8. The transcript of that meeting is online here.

In the transcript, Stephanie Rosenthal, chief of staff of the Division of Financial Practices at the FTC, said the agency has been looking into landline cramming for years but only recently brought its first case against mobile crammers.

In that case, announced in April, the FTC alleged that Wise Media was charging customers $9.99 a month for horoscope alerts, flirting tips and love advice sent via text message.

In 2012, the FCC announced new rules to help prevent cramming, partially in light of a study by the commission that found that only 1 in 20 cramming victims realized they’ve been had.

Here’s a guide from the FCC on understanding your phone bill and another on cramming from the FTC.

Trust in newspapers hits all-time low

Short post tonight. A recent Gallup poll shows that, once again, fewer people than ever measured before have a high level of trust in newspapers. A total of 23 percent of Americans polled said they had a high level of trust in newspapers. The number has declined steadily since 1979, when the number was 51 percent.

Sadly, the poll differentiated between liberals, conservatives and moderates, further reinforcing the stereotypes of ideological rifts dividing the country and the idea that conservatives inherently distrust mainstream media sources.