Web Category #3 – News

Originally published in The Clarion | March 30, 2011

This week we will take a look at our third defined category of Web content – News. On several occasions I have mentioned that the definition of the word news has changed or evolved over the years. I imagine one way of elaborating on that comment would be to say that what today’s media outlets consider to be news might not be or is not necessarily everyone’s definition of the term. A recent example would be the escapades of the actor Charlie Sheen. While I’m sure many people found his situation intriguing, I’m sure there are just as many or more who simply could care less. Regardless, information about his situation has been persistently shoved at us via all of the major media outlets for several weeks. While typical television news broadcasts only have an allotted amount of time to present news to their viewers, the Web has proven to be quite a different medium for presenting up-to-date information to those requesting it. Actually, the fact that a Web user must request certain information has changed the entire landscape of news presentation when compared to television, radio and printed media outlets.

By definition, news is information about recent and important events or informal information of any kind that is not previously known to someone. Using this combined definition, it is pretty easy to see how most any current website could be considered a source of news. Sure all of the major media outlets have attractive, up-to-date websites that present breaking news seemingly immediately as it happens. On the other hand, the Web is full of subject-specific sites that present timely information to their visitors. While you may have a favorite site that provides recent information and articles about your favorite hobby, someone else might have a favorite that centers around their favorite entertainment personality. With current information virtually at our fingertips, the Web has increasingly replaced television, radio and print media for many people. There have also been many traditional media outlets (primarily print) that have moved all of their publication to the Web, allowing them to provide content that is more up-to-date without the costs of publishing and delivering their product in traditional manners.

One of my favorite subject-specific news sources on the Web is arstechnica.com – a technology website. Throughout the day, every day, the site is updated with current articles from the field of information technology. While some articles do not appeal to me, the ones I do have an interest in are almost always very well thought-out and relevant to not only my job but personal interests and hobbies as well. I am confident that someone would have a difficult time not finding a website that is tailored to their personal interests. That’s just one of the beauties of the Web – it allows people who share common interests to easily find, share and build on specific topics of interest.

 

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Web Category #2 – Business and Commerce

Originally published in The Clarion | March 23, 2011

Take a moment and consider the process you take in purchasing a new large-ticket item, say a new HDTV or automobile. For some of us, I’m sure the traditional shopping route is preferred – that is, hop in the car and drive down to our favorite retailer of such items. For others (probably a majority if I were to guess), the first thing we would do without even leaving the comforts of home would be to hit the Web and begin looking for a deal. Once satisfied with the product and price that was found, we then would most likely either purchase it online with a few clicks of the mouse or, if necessary, hop in the car and find the item on the shelf or lot and make the purchase in-person.

Wherever you fit into our above scenario, there is no denying that our second category of Web content – Business and Commerce – has revolutionized the entire landscape of buying and selling goods worldwide. Most of you who know me are aware that I am often a very impatient person, and with that comes a true dislike for shopping. Typically it’s the other shoppers that I find intolerable, sometimes the store personnel. Regardless, online retailing has been a blessing in disguise for myself and I’m sure many others around the globe. Never would I have imagined that I would purchase bulk supplies of coffee online and have it shipped to my home. The reality though is, I do.

As I mentioned in our introduction a few weeks ago, I feel it is fair to say that Business and Commerce is the heartbeat of the Web. From online retail sites which include but are not limited to all of the big-box stores we typically frequent, to a new plethora of online-only retailers, auction sites and the like, the Web has evolved into an electronic marketplace. Add to that online advertising and we have a conglomeration of billions upon billions of dollars floating around in tiny IP packets worldwide.

One of my favorite online retailers (and quite possibly yours as well) is Amazon.com. Founded in the mid-1990’s, Amazon.com is by-far the largest online retailer in the United States, and for good reason. If Amazon.com doesn’t sell or distribute an item itself, it has made partnerships with countless other retailers worldwide – enabling Amazon.com to essentially become a one-stop-shop for those of us wanting a good deal on our favorite items. From its humble beginnings as an online bookstore to now having thirty or so major product categories including it’s highly-successful Kindle eReader, Amazon.com is not only a great story in the history of American commerce, but holds a high ranking in the history of the Web as well.

 

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Web Category #1 – Entertainment

Originally published in The Clarion | March 16, 2011

This week we will take a look at the first of six predefined categories of Web content – Entertainment. By definition, entertainment is an activity that is diverting and holds the attention -or- any activity which provides a diversion or permits people to amuse themselves in their leisure time. Since the beginning of time, mankind has both sought and created all sorts of entertainment for passing the time. Whether it was making music, dancing, reading and writing, watching television, going to a ballgame or movie – all sorts of entertainment have been enjoyed by people like you and me over the years. With the introduction of the Internet and World Wide Web, a new source of entertainment crept into our homes seemingly overnight. Some studies have shown that the Web has decreased television viewership hours – and I am in no way surprised.

The activities that we enjoy online are as diverse as our individual personalities. To attempt to pinpoint strict sources of entertainment on the World Wide Web would prove futile as what I might find entertaining you might find bland. Such is the beauty of the Web – what works for you might not work for me, and that is simply ok. One of the most obvious subcategories of entertainment on the Web is the plethora of games available to play – both free and for a fee. In preparing for this article, I posted a request on Facebook asking what sites my friends’ kids enjoy using. It was no surprise that most of the responses were sites that include some sort of game, and it was also no surprise that I had only ever heard of a couple of them. Just another example of how wide the Web stretches when it comes to content.

Today I would like to introduce a site that I occasionally visit when I have some time to kill. This site is called the Internet Archive – www.archive.org. The site has several categories including a live music archive, a generic audio archive and an archive of texts. I rarely browse through these categories, although the amount of content in each is bountiful. My favorite part of archive.org is something they call their ‘WayBack Machine’. Using this, you can enter a Web URL and be presented with a list of documented pages for the site. Think of it as a picture album – snapshots of the site were taken various times over the years and are presented for, if nothing else, historical purposes. I find it interesting to look back at some of the larger sites on the Web to see what the page looked like when it was born and its maturation over the years. It is also pretty neat to go back and look at some of my personal websites from my college days.

Whatever your fancy is regarding entertainment, there is no doubt that the Web has become a major, if not primary source of entertainment for young and old alike.

 

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Categorizing Web Content – Part 2

Originally published in The Clarion | March 09, 2011

Picking up where we left off last week, today we will finish up a look at the six categories of Web content that we will examine in more detail in upcoming weeks. The six categories I defined are Entertainment, Business and Commerce, News, History, Science and Technology and finally Communication and Social Media. Again, your top-level categories may be very different from mine, which is fine. I simply feel that in order to take a closer look at individual Websites we must first define broader categories for the seemingly endless content on the Web. Last week we defined the first two categories, today we will continue with the final four.

Our third category – News – is pretty self-explanatory. While the definition of News has evolved over the years, many news sites on the Web can be considered a one-stop shop for all things current in our world. Many news sites span most, if not all of our six defined categories. Others are subject-specific, concentrating on one specific area of interest.

On to our fourth category – History – simply put, the Web can be considered a living encyclopedia. Gone are the days of waiting for the local library to open in order to research a subject of interest. While not all information on the Web should be taken as fact, a little discretion makes the historical information available invaluable. Many historians, while still publishing traditional papers and full-length books, make their work available on the Web as well. I am confident a lifetime could be spent studying most any subject of history from the comforts of home.

Our fifth category – Science and Technology – is most likely my favorite. Daily articles on any number of scientific and technological breakthroughs enable those of us who work in these fields to stay on top of the swiftly-changing field. Because of the rapid speed in which scientific and technological breakthroughs occur, traditional paper publications in these fields have proven to be invaluable as the content, by the time it is delivered, is for the most part already outdated.

Finally, our sixth category – Communication and Social Media – is one of the fastest-growing arenas of today’s Web. Used as a tool for expedient communication and collaboration, the Web has put mankind in touch with simple clicks of a mouse. Beginning with eMail and Bulletin Board services, the Web has evolved into a communication and collaboration mechanism that allows families to keep in touch, businesspeople to easily work on projects from remote locations, friends to stay on top of others’ day-to-day lives and has created opportunities for new friendships to be established that most likely never would have been without the Web.

Next week we will begin looking at individual Websites that fall into these six categories.

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Categorizing Web Content – Part 1

Originally published in The Clarion | March 02, 2011

Continuing from last week’s article, today we will begin taking a look at some of the more popular sites on the Web. Instead of jumping in head-first, I feel it is important we start by taking a top-down approach to content on the Web and begin by trying to define the primary categories of Web content. This approach should assist us in streamlining our efforts opposed to finding ourselves in a tangled mess (the Web isn’t called a web by mistake!). Because so many sites contain such a wide array of information, it is natural for many sites to encompass most, if not all categories of information I have defined. On the other hand, there are a plethora of subject-specific sites that fit nicely within one single category. Considering the fact that by default the Web and its content adhere to no specific rules or guidelines, this should not be unexpected.

In defining specific top-level categories of Web content, I was able to come up with six that I am comfortable with. To my surprise, a quick Web search for such information essentially turned up nothing of value. That aside, the six top-level categories of Web content that we will be working with (in no particular order) are: Entertainment, Business and Commerce, News, History, Science and Technology and finally Communication and Social Media. Your idea of top-level categories may be very different from mine, which is fine. This endeavour is simply one person’s attempt at structuring a tangled mass of information that by default has seemingly no structure and follows no guidelines.

Our first category – Entertainment – might possibly be your favorite. Hours upon hours can be spent on the Web for entertainment purposes. Whether it’s watching music videos of your favorite 1980’s hair band or playing any number of online games, there is no denying that the Web is a fantastic source for entertainment. A sub-category of Entertainment would be Hobbies which, by definition, are things we like to do for fun and relaxation.

The second category – Business and Commerce – is arguably what keeps the Web alive. By transitioning from Mom and Pop stores to online commerce, businesses are able to sell their wares to essentially anyone from anywhere at any time of day. Online sales and other business transactions are, in my opinion, the heartbeat of the Web. Business advertising on the Web keeps many of our favorite sites free for our enjoyment. Without online advertising, sites would have to either begin charging their visitors an access fee or simply shut down. In the United States alone, estimated online retail sales in 2010 was $173 Billion, 7% of all retail sales for the year. Predictions are that by 2014, the percentage of US online retail sales will only increase by 1% but will grow to a figure of almost $250 Billion. Staggering figures indeed.

Next week we will continue defining our six categories of Web content.

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