Meet the New Philly.com Brain Trust

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Mike Topel, left, and Eric Ulken of Philly.com.

Meet the new braintrust of Philly.com. These are the guys who may hold the future of Philadelphia’s two major daily newspapers in their hands.

Mike Topel, the executive editor of Philly.com, is an old hand — he worked on the print side at the Inquirer, then Philly.com, before leaving for several years. He returned this summer to lead the operation. Eric Ulken arrived shortly after from the Seattle Times to become the site’s director of digital strategy — a position that has a foot both in journalism and the business of Philly.com

With the recent announcement that the Inquirer and Daily News sites are shutting down and folding into Philly.com, this duo’s work becomes more important than ever to the future of the Interstate General Media, which owns all three organizations. It’s a fraught assignment: The three newsrooms have a spotty record, at best, of cooperation. Philly.com has had its own reputational problems. But the duo vows a renewed emphasis on journalism — and on making that journalism look good on the web.

The two sat down with Philly Mag recently to talk about the future of Philly.com, how to get three newsrooms to cooperate together on the web, what went wrong with the newspapers’ websites, and Philly.com’s advantages in the marketplace.

Oh, and we talked about comments. Of course.

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Penn Course Requires Students to Waste Time on the Internet

This is why Penn is ranked 19th in the world, folks.

Aptly-named “Wasting time on the Internet,” the real-life course will be offered by the Ivy League school’s English department during the upcoming spring 2015 semester.

“Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs.”

And oh yeah: “Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.”
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Facebook Trying to Civilize Young People; Young People Resist

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It’s no surprise to anyone who’s ever had one that kids are mean. Really mean. Unspeakably mean. They’re enormously invested in social status, and the way to attain it, as far as they can see (they’re short), is to tear others down. For many eons, young people were only able to do this to those in their immediate vicinity, but now the miracle of technology allows them to stomp all over the feelings of young people around the world and drive them to suicide. (You can read about some particularly egregious examples here, if that’s how you like to spend your spare time.) This is why bullying, and cyberbullying in particular, have become such hot topics. According to Pew Research, 65 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 say they’ve been cyberbullied, and 92 percent have seen it done to somebody else.

Now Facebook is attempting to address the problem, at least on its pages, by teaching its users to empathize with others. A recent story in the New York Times discussed the work of Arturo Bejar, director of engineering for Facebook’s Protect and Care Team, which is exploring ways that Facebook users might let others know when their feelings are hurt by a post. Read more »

Privacy in the Age of the Internet

On the Internet, do we make sure that our passwords contain at least 8 case-sensitive characters and include at least one special character because we believe that our information is safe from prying eyes?

No.

Are we judicious about our privacy settings and visibility of our online profiles because we believe that our online reputations are not without consequence?

Of course not.
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Crowdfunding Has Consequences

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Over two weeks this past summer, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge poured millions of gallons of frigid water over people’s heads and millions of dollars into the ALS Association’s coffers. (“Coffers”: one of those words used only in writing, never in conversation.) The combination gag phenomenon/act of charity caused a social media tsunami and quadrupled the foundation’s usual fund-raising take, drawing 70,000 new donors to the cause.

I thought about the Ice Bucket Challenge when I read in the New York Times about the “Table of Peace,” a nifty little jewel-bedecked item of 18th-century French furniture (see close-ups here) that made a guest appearance in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. (Fancy!) The table was in the Times because it’s the latest item the august Louvre is attempting to buy through crowdfunding. Turns out the French government has had to downsize financial support for cultural institutions for two years straight, so the museum launched a campaign to raise a million euros of the $12.5 million euro price tag set by the current owners, the family of the Baron de Breteuil, from the people. (Let them eat cake off of that, amirite?)

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Will This New “Sex App” Clear Up College Sexual Assaults?

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In his eloquent paean last week to watching porn, Daily News scold Stu Bykofsky equated the practice to stopping by the watercooler to chat with a colleague. There’s one essential way, at least, in which the two acts differ: One is solitary, and one is not. Stu cited the statistic that 29 percent of Americans say watching porn is morally acceptable.

I’m surprised the number’s that low. I don’t give a royal hoot who watches porn, though I’d prefer public officials not be doing so while they’re on the job. But what’s being called “Porngate” reminded me of a handy app that’s being pushed as the answer to the current “crisis” of sexual assault on college campuses. The app, Good2Go, takes the mushy gray out of “He said, she said” college sexual assault accusations by reducing the question of consent to a Wawa touchscreen condiment choice. Read more »

Report: Abington Police, Delco DA Handed Out Dangerous Spyware

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Back in 2011, Action News ran a story about ComputerCop, which was described as “a new Internet monitoring software designed to protect young people from online predators.” Police departments and other authorities around the country were distributing ComputerCop to freaked out To Catch a Predator-bingeing parents, including, according to a new report, in Abington Township and Delaware County. But now we’re learning that ComputerCop may have done far more harm than good. Read more »

Need a Cuddle Buddy?

Screen grabs from the Cuddlr app.

Screen grabs from the Cuddlr app.

Need a cuddle buddy? There’s an app for that, too.

How sad.

If there’s ever a moment where you might feel especially in need of a human touch, head over to the App Store and download Cuddlr, a new lifestyle app designed to allow complete strangers to find time to cuddle in a place of their choosing.

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