Wired Pursuits

Archive for the ‘tools’ Category

What does Charlton Heston and crowdsourcing have in common?


Seems Microsoft is attempting to “integrate human expertise permanently into our writing tools” with a plug in that leverages crowdsourced labor via Mechanical Turk to create a better spell/grammar checker.

Mechanical Turk is an on-demand workforce platform that leverages the crowd (anyone, anywhere, who’s interested and connected to the Internet) to compete routine, time-consuming tasks that are difficult for computers but easy for humans – commonly referred to as human intelligence tasks or HITs.

Turkers – as the workers on the site are called – are paid nominal fees to complete HITs. Often one group may complete a task and another verifies quality of others.

How does it work?

Soylent is an add-on that leverages Mechanical Turk to copy-edit your document. Currently in Beta, Soylent attempts to “embed human knowledge into a word processor.”

Soylent uses a program design pattern called “Find-Fix-Verify” that splits task into smaller tasks that can be done in stages. Theory is that this decreases costs but increased quality.

Features include:

  • Shortn – Turkers cut out extra words and shorten your manuscript
  • Crowdproof – leverages the crowd to check spelling grammar and provide suggestions about style
  • The Human Macro – allows you to describe the types of changes you want (e.g., change all to past tense), then turn it loose to the crowd

Ask not what the you can do for the people, but what the people can do for you.

While Clippy came with Microsoft Word, Soylent requires payment to crowdworkers.

Costs are descried as “small” or “just a few cents” so it’s hard to really estimate real costs. The creators say it costs about $1.50 per paragraph.

Are you game?

Check out the short YouTube video.

You can join the Beta to see what the people can do for you. If you do, let me know what you think.

As an educator, I’ve always looked for new and interesting ways to engage my students (that desire also followed me into the corporate world when I started speaking and presenting to clients).

As a future college professor, and hopefully a soon to be teaching assistant, I’m collecting examples of how professors are using technology to connect with students where they live (i.e., online) and to create more dynamic learning environments.

Here are some resources I’ve come across related to using technology in the classroom.

  • Academic Commons attempted to “understand better the changing nature of learning in new media environments and the potential of new media environments to make learning–and faculty insights into teaching–visible and usable.”
  • Visible Knowledge Project, “a five-year project looking at the impact of technology on learning, primarily in the humanities, through the lens of the scholarship of teaching and learning.”  The studies were conducted from 2000 to 2005, and a lot has changed since then, so it will be interesting to see if findings still ring true.
  • Classroom experiment conducted by Dr. Wesch at Kansas State University. “Instead of the standard syllabus that requires everybody to read a few articles to discuss, we decided instead to organize ourselves into a Smart Mob that would try to read a good hunk of the literature on a single topic in one go.”

I hope that all educators continually mix up what they do in the classroom, looking to find the right mix of technology and face-to-face with the hopes of creating a more dynamic, and yes, fun, way to learn.

If you know of others experimenting with technology in the classroom, let me know.

Seems that many conversations I’m in today are all a twitter about Twitter (pun intended).  I find that most people have heard about it, some have an idea what it is, and less are actually using it.  ­.

For those of you using it, I’d be interested in how you find it most helpful. For those of you who don’t, here’s my 2 cents (in Twitter style – 140 characters at a time).

It’s IM on steroids or a teeny tiny blog with a bazillion writers.

Twitter is a microblog. That means you can only type up to 140 characters at any one time.

You “follow” people, which means you see whatever they type.  If you have an account, people can also follow you and see what you type.

Each twitter “address” starts with @.  (e.g., @lerickson). You also have a photo.  When you tweet, people see your photo and what you type.

You can @reply, which means you are directing your tweet back to a specific person.  Anyone who follows you can see your @reply.

You can also direct message someone. Only that person will see your direct message.

It’s all about what you’re doing.

Twitter is intended to allow people to listen in to what you’re up to.  Basically follow you throughout your day.

There are Twitters who tweet about everything they do. And there are those who tweet mostly about the latest events or news in their industry.

There are also people whose only objective is to get as many followers as possible and those trying to sell you stuff.

Who hangs out on Twitter?

I find that a lot of journalists, experts, vendors, and IT people hang out on Twitter. Oh, and of course social media freaks.

I follow people who share my interests and who tweet mostly about relevant, interesting content around those interests.

I find people who include links to other sites, news stories, or latest expert advice to be the most helpful.

You often hear it first on Twitter.

I often hear about things early, because I have access to so many other people with similar interests who are looking for the latest too.

I don’t have to do all the searching. People filter through everything and point me to most important stuff.

I’ve found speakers for EB events, been offered discounts to switch to a competitor’s solution, and found great stories to blog about.

I feel connected to a larger pool of experts.

Slice and dice followers to help make it manageable.

Following a bunch of people can be overwhelming.  I use TweetDeck to sort by “best content” and by subject areas to help scan tweets better.

When I’m in a hurry I scan the best content, then later go back and see what others have said.

If I’m looking for advice or expertise on a specific topic, I look for tweets with specific words. Twitter search lets you do this too.

Where do I start?

Start by listening.  Create an account, search for keywords to find people talking about your interest, follow them, then listen in.

Put a note on your monitor to remind yourself to check it every now and then. It takes a while to get it into your routine.

If you don’t want to read it everyday, you can go back when you have time and see what people in your industry are talking about.

Even if you never do anything else but listen, you’ll have access to a ton of good info. The key is to find what’s right for you.

You can follow me @lerickson.  I welcome your comments here or there.

One of the first steps for companies to take into the social media world is to just start listening to and monitoring the conversation.  A while back, I wrote a post on Google Blog Search and how you can use it to monitor what people ­are saying about you and your competition.  Here’s a quick introduction to another great tool I use.  And it’s FREE!

Addictomatic groups results by source.


Addictomatic.com searches the web for the latest news, blog posts, videos, and images.  It displays results by site, or type of site, so it sorts information differently than Google where you just get a list of items without any context of where they are.

Addictomatic provides results for a bunch of different sources including:

  • Twitter
  • Bloglines
  • Technorati
  • WordPress.com
  • Live.com News
  • YouTube
  • Ask.com News
  • Yahoo Web Search
  • Google Blog Search
  • Digg
  • Flickr
  • del.icio.us

For example:


Customize, save, and share your results.

You can move individual source boxes around on the screen and bookmark the page to save your results. As well as select which sources are searched and displayed.

You can also share results using Facebook, Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us,  reddit, BlinkList, Furl, and Ma.gnolia.

See what people are saying.

As with Google Blog Search, you can use Addictomatic.com to look up what people are saying about you, your products, and your customers.

Try checking out results once a week to see what’s changing.  Then share what you find (either about your company or your competitors) with others inside your company to keep them up to date.

If you use the tool, let me know what you think.

Google Blog Search is a great way to start listening to the conversation when it comes to what people are saying about your company and your competitors.  If you’re not currently monitoring the conversation out there in the blogosphere, here’s an easy way to get started. ­

1.  First, go to Google Blog Search and search for your company name.

  • Use quotes if your name is more than one word.
  • Results are sorted by relevance (based on a complex Google algorithm). You can also sort by date, but sorting by relevance pushes up posts that may be more influential.
  • On the left side of the results page, you can specify the timeframes you want to look at.  Search results automatically default to “anytime” which can show you post from over 6 months ago, giving you a false sense of the amount or chatter related to your company, so I’d recommend changing to “past month” as it’s a good way to gauge the real activity.
  • At the bottom of the results you’ll see options to “stay up to date” on the results.  Choose “Add blog search gadget” to your Google home page.  By adding the results to your home page you can monitor results on a regular basis without having to re-run the search every time.

2. Now, do the same thing for your competitors or people you want to follow.

  • Search by name and add a gadget for results to your home page.

3.  Review every couple of days.

  • I always click on the very first item in each gadget to mark it as visited.   Then when I come back in a few days I can quickly see how many new items have been added since the last time I looked.  Of course, if your company or competitors have lots of traffic, new items may push the top item off the list.

4.  Share what you find.

  • As you find interesting links (either about your company, your competitors, or people you want to follow) send these links to others who may be interested to keep them up to date.

Sometimes it’s hard to accurately describe how the world in changing due to social media and the power of the Internet to connect people in a real-time way.  It’s a shift in how you think about being “connected”.  ­

I’m always looking for examples of real events and uses to help better illustrate what’s changed.  Here’s a story that totally does that for me.

A Berkeley graduate student, James Buck, was in Egypt doing a project for his masters degree thesis on Egypt’s “new leftists and the blogosphere”.  He was using Twitter and a blog to keep everyone up-to-date on what he was doing and where he was.

Through Twitter, he heard that a planned protest against high food priced and low wages had been shut down by the authorities, and many of the individual involved in the planning had been detained.  Family and friends of those detained created a protest of their own and things got pretty heated.

Buck when to cover the protest and wisely stayed away from the fray so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a protester.  But not far enough as he and his friend were detained and questioned.  Worried that he be “off the grid”, he Twittered the word “arrested” from the back of the police car on his way to the station.

That single word started a chain of events, alerting Buck’s friends on two continents (US and in Egypt) instantly that he was being detained.  His friends used the web to get the word out and document what was happening.  Buck was also able to send hourly updated letting his friends know he was ok and what was going on.

Eventually Buck was release, Twittering “free” as he left the jail.

That’s incredible.  Read the entire story on CNN.com.


Twitter updates

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