Category: Blogging


If you’ve never heard of them before, don’t fret; the concept is simple. Screencasts are much like screenshots—only better. Screencasting features a video-feed comprised wholly of partly of someone’s computer screen. Often, they’re supplemented with audio narration and sometimes they’re even incorporated into their close cousin, the videocast.

Screencasts are not new technology. They date back to the heady days of 2004, when Twitter was but a twinkle in Jack Dorsey’s eye, and when Livejournal was still the preeminent social networking site.

Since then, however, the screencasts have evolved and been used for everything from tutorials to product demos. The tech has become near ubiquitous—prominent enough for the eponymous Ze Frank to provide his own screencast on how to passive aggressively punctuate emails.

But beyond the obvious, screencasting’s potential ranges farther than just broadcasting how-to’s. The tech also helps germinate dialogue; it provides a way for users to provide suggestions in real time—to layer on feedback to a real-time demonstration of a piece a software. Namely, for those inclined to care about trivial pursuits, a screencast provides a way for gamer and developer to communicate.

Case and point: Cynical Brit. This particular screencaster publishes under the alias TotalBiscuit. His youtube profile hosts numerous screencasts of popular MMORPGs; namely, screencasts of beta gameplay of Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming expansion: World of Warcraft Cataclysm. TotalBiscuits’s screencasts serve the obvious purpose of providing eager gamers with previews of upcoming content and tips on how to pass it. But the videos serve another purpose: they provide play-by-play feedback, including what quests are too long, what’s glitching, and where the plot could be improved.

The only question remains is whether or not Blizzard developers actually watch some of TotalBiscuits’s videos. If they do, kudos. If not, they should. For developers in the beta stages of a game, the sort of detailed criticism provided by TotalHalibut, for example, is golden.

(If you’re looking an article on how to create screencasts, Jon Udell provides one on digitalmedia. The post is dated, written back in 2005, so the tips on software have expired. Nonetheless, the article is still worth reading for those interested in learning the fundamentals of screencast creation and design.)

In an August Newsweek article, William J. Dobson tried defending Haystack and its creator–Austin Heap–as a new generation of “Hacktivists” eschewing silver bullets for a “go-slow” approach to fighting online censorship. Dobson’s article was the last gasp of Haystack media praise. A month later on September 13, Heap shut down Haystack and its website, the Censorship Research Center, in response to criticism over the program’s safety by Foreign Policy‘s Evgeny Morozov, who later likened Haystack’s collapse as the internet’s version of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Haystack’s  rise to fame and sudden fall, and the amount of publicity the program received highlights the limits of micro-blogging and raises questions about the media’s complicity in hyping online social media.

If you haven’t heard of it before, Haystack’s purpose was to provide users anonymity by rerouting traffic through proxies and making use of sites like Twitter and Facebook seem as innocuous as browsing weather reports. The software program was the invention of a 26-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Heap, who created Haystack in response to the 2009 Iranian election protests—one of the two so-called “Twitter Revolutions.” (The other being the 2009 civil unrest in Moldova.)

Heap’s efforts earned him notoriety, including being titled an Innovator of the year by the Guardian, and Heap was quick to capitalize on the attention. In a now infamous August 9, 2009 interview with the BBC, Heap touted his product’s safety:

[Haystack] is completely secure for the user so the government can’t snoop on them. We use many anonymising steps so that identities are masked and it is as safe as possible so people have a safe way to communicate with the world.

But that safety has proven illusory. Now, after Haystack’s source code has finally been released, it’s clear massive holes in Haystack’s programming could’ve allowed Iranian authorities to track down and punish users. In particular, as Simon Phipps of Simon Says has pointed out, routing Haystack’s traffic through a single site was akin to fixing the program with a “big red self-destruct button.”

That Haystack could be so flawed is disturbing; but what’s worse is the media’s  fanning of Haystack’s notoriety without doing a basic fact-check. Jillian C. York had some sharp criticism for the media—and Heap in particular—on her blog:

I also firmly place blame on the media, which elevated the status of a person who, at best was just trying to help, and a tool which very well could have been a great thing, to the level of a kid genius and his silver bullet, without so much as a call to circumvention experts.

…While Heap and his partners were out pushing Haystack to the media, actual Iranian human beings were being used as lab rats, to test a product that could potentially put their very lives in danger.

Hopefully, Haystack will prove a lesson, and the next “big thing” in social media will be greeted with more skepticism. But I have my doubts.

Much has been said about how to blog well. Less has been said about how to blog ethically.

You might find bloggers and blogging questionable, and not without reason. Bloggers lack fact-checkers; they’re not required to properly cite their sources (or even cite them at all); they can write pretty much anything; and the means for holding them accountable are few. Some believe unethical, one-sided blogging has been responsible for the past decade’s worth of political polarization. (A good study of the issue can be found summed up on crookedtimber.org.)

However, responsible bloggers do exist and so do a number of good ethics resources–if you know where to find them.

Check out Rebecca’s Pocket, a catch-all blog that happens to have a critical discussion on blogging ethics.

If you’re looking for something succinct, Cyberjournalist.net provides an code of ethics based off of the Society of Professional Journalists‘.

Another good resource from a professional’s perspective can be found at Journalismethics.ca. The site includes a code of ethics as well as other resources relevant to aspiring journalists.

Additionally, you can find one final site for ethical info: my own. For the sake of being fashionable, I’ve compiled a code of ethics too:

  1. Don’t prevaricate and be objective: Be honest and fair; don’t lie or delibrately misrepresent facts.
  2. Link your sources: When you make a point or accusation, have the gumption to link your sources (if they’re online) so your reader can check them for his or herself.
  3. Be open about your source’s shortcomings: Where your sources are questionable, admit as much to your reader.
  4. Be honest about conflicts of interest: Generally not a problem for your average amateur blogger. However, if you own a shoe shop and blog about shoes, be sure to mention it to your readers. It’ll give them the context they need to properly judge your blog’s slant.
  5. Be open and accountable about errors: When you make a mistake, acknowledge and correct it; treat each post as a final, finished product. You can add to a post, but it’s not kosher to remove entries. Nor should you try concealing an error by surreptitiously editing it out of existence. (When you decide to excise a paragraph, don’t delete; instead use strikethrough to indicate what’s been removed.)

If you want to keep ethical, it’s recommended to post a list of ethics in your workspace.

If you really don’t care and would rather just learn how to blog, click no further than—here. Problogger.net has a comprehensive set of posts on everything from blog concept to design.

<Edited to fix broken links.>