Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Internet's Magician Playground

The one thing that we have learned over the course of the past semester is that in this day and age it is vital for any publication to maintain a Web presence.

Genii Magazine, the oldest magician magazine in the United States, has done just that by using a combination of both older Web tools (i.e, Bulletin Board System) and Web 2.0 tools (user-edited encyclopedias) to create a unique Web experience that will only continue to improve as the Internet gets more advanced.

One of the newer additions to the Genii site, and very Web 2.0 savvy, I must add, is the Magicpedia, "a version of Wikipedia for magicians...that has about 2000 pages of information on it," said Richard Kaufman, 50, the owner and editor of Genii which is based out of Washington D.C.

The Magicpedia allows any Web user to look up different magicians, tricks, and even magic history. Like Wikipedia, Magicpedia also gives users the privilege and ability to edit or create articles, so long as the user has a (free) Magicpedia account.

Genii's Web site also offers a massive magazine database called the Genii Archives. The archives are literally a PDF catalog of "every issue of Genii Magazine from 1936-1998," said Kaufman. "You do have to pay to get this," Kaufman added, and a six month subscription to the archives starts at $45.

"I use the Genii Archives all the time," said David Oliver, 42, a Boston based full-time magician and product reviewer for Genii Magazine. "As a reviewer I need to know what the history of various magic effects are, and I need to be able to go back and find out where things came from, where they're going, who did it first, who did it second, who stole what from whom, and I need to be able to put that in writing with the knowledge that I get from the Genii Archives," he said.

Unlike Magicpedia which allows access and even editing power to anyone, the archives are primarily for professional use. "The people who have subscriptions to the archives are fairly serious magicians," said Michael Patrick, 22, demonstrator at the world renowned Tannen's Magic Shop in New York City.

Both Magicpedia and the Genii Archives are progressive measures that Genii has taken to ensure a dominating Web presence. Magicpedia in particular embodies Web 2.0, as it is a site made up of user-submitted content and is totally user-driven. In contrast, Genii's main competitor, Magic Magazine, offers no interactive content on their site. Instead it provides links for purchasing subscriptions of the magazine and gives viewers a condensed version of the cover story.

Most magicians agree that although Magicpedia and the Genii Archives offer a good source of information, the majority of people visiting the Genii site are there to surf the Genii forum. The forum is an online magic community where magicians can go to discuss either the current issue of Genii or any magical topic with other professionals. The forum is so useful because anyone can start a discussion on what they're interested in and then get feedback from the entire Genii forum community, including the editor of Genii. "I post [on the forum] every day," said Kaufman.

"I think the forum is useful for both professionals and amateurs," said Oliver. "Professionals have a safe place to congregate where they know their ideas are looked at in a serious matter... the Genii forum has an attraction for people who know what they're talking about."

Although popular among many, not all in the magic community would agree that the Internet is the right place for the discussion of a trade and profession based on secrets.

"I'm not involved in main-stream conventional magic," said mentalist Jon Stetson, 49. "My bend is a little bit different, but I feel the Internet is the worst thing that ever happened to the art of magic."

Stetson said that having magic on the Internet offers novices and those with a passive magic interest an easy platform to make videos and deliver lectures as if they were seasoned professionals, something he staunchly disagrees with.

"I've only done a couple of lectures for the magic people of the world," Stetson said. "Basically, because I don't feel I'm qualified to teach, I've only been doing this for 45 years."

Whether one agrees with magic discussion being on the Web or not, there is no debate that having an open market of ideas on the forum can offer guidance and help.

"I've gotten a lot out of reading the posts on the forums," said Rob Balchunas, 21, a senior at Emerson College and part-time balloon-sculptor. "I've read a lot of posts on things to wear, the psychology on creating a show, and things related to constructing a show in general."

With Web sites constantly changing and updating, it is interesting to ponder what the future of the Genii Web site will look like.

"I personally don't think there should be instructional videos on the Web, perhaps a performance-only piece that goes with the tricks or routines that are taught in the magazine each month," said Oliver, "so you could click on a link and see a video presentation of what tricks are supposed to look like."

Balchunas agreed. "I definitely feel that video would enhance the Genii site," he said. "Maybe video interviews of some of the featured magicians from the magazine. I think the way the Net is going and the way digital video is going it would make a good addition to the Web site."

It seems that magicians and magic enthusiasts will be getting the video that they desire on the Genii Web site soon.

"It will have video on it," said Kaufman, "but the video will be generated by us."


Friday, December 5, 2008

Universal Hub

Local blog enthusiasts prepare yourselves. There has been a revolution in ways of finding local Boston blogs and it definitely does not include a Google search. Adam Gaffin, co-founder of Boston blog database, Universal Hub, tells us how it all started.

Gaffin has a full-time day job, but at night he becomes the legendary blogger of Universal Hub, who soars through Internet domains until he finds local boston blogs to add to the Hub's collections. He links those local blogs to his site as a way to bring those blog readers to his site, and also a way for him to direct traffic to the blogs he posts.

Universal Hub does something that not many others have tried by congregating thousands of local blogs and putting them all in one place. Although I would imagine the task to be somewhat tedious for Gaffin, he is quite the blogging hobbyist and has made his blog a business.

Universal Hub does not link to just any Boston blog, but to ones that are relevant and news-worthy. Gaffin emphasized his desire to make the Hub a news gathering portal, where local news that would never have made the Boston Globe would make a popular post on his site. He especially likes stories about the "T" because it is one of the mosst common tools that Bostonians use day-in and day-out, which is why one should expect to see a "T" blog when browsing the Hub. To illustrate my example, the newest blog link on the Hub at this second is called "Sure, it's no T Radio - it's worse," and discusses a new PA system that the MBTA brought forth in North Station. It's stories like this that hold relevance in a Bostonian's mind and stories like this that one would never encounter in the Globe.

I think the Universal Hub is an extraordinary tool to finding local blogs, it offers a unique Web service that I have not seen in any other cities, and for that alone I think it's a tremendous and creative effort. I think it's inevitable for this platform to spread to other cities across the United States taking the example that Gaffin offers with the one and only Universal Hub.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ah Twitter.

Twitter is a very recent social networking phenomenon, it was started in 2006 and has taken-off in popularity within the past year. Twitter is basically a website where people can do one thing, write a sentence with less than 140 characters to be broadcast on the Web. Sounds silly? Well it kind of is, who would ever imagine that people would be so interested in what others have to say in a sentence, but silly or no its here to stay.

I took a look at some Tweets (apparently what a Twitter post is called) to investigate whether Twitter broaches the realm of news and not just gossip, and this is what I found...

The first Twitter account I looked at was that of Fake Rahm Emanuel, the new chief-of-staff of the Obama administration, suprisingly he has a Twitter account. Emanuel post very satircally, and even posts about his opinions on the going-ons in Washington. It's quite entertaining to read and I would consider it news-worthy because this guys opinion will have a lot of influence on the course this country takes come January. Here's a funny post, on December 1st, Emanuel wrote "So what do you think of our defense team? They have a lot of work to do cleaning up the global foreign policy diarrhea bomb Bush detonated."

He's quite unbiased...that was e-sarcasm.

Being a huge NY Giants fan ( team ever...cough) I wanted to check out a Twitter account that talked about my team. I found Roger Resnicoff's Twitter account, a self-proclaimed "Mad Scientist" who does a lot of posting on NY Giants news. Resnicoff comments on stories from the news in most of his posts, but he does not break any news himself.

Suprisingly Foxs News has a Twitter account as well, and this was the most newsy account I have seen yet. All of the Fox News tweets are headlines with a link to the story, it bacially looks and operates like a Fox News RSS news feed.

I think that Twitter can definitely be used as a News site but only if the posts are done carefully. Most of the posts have to do with people's lives and what they are doing day-to-day which is not news worthy to me, but there are special exceptions. The examples I gave were Twitter accounts that try to share the news, these Twitter users are reposting and commenting on stories that are already on the Web but not breaking any news specifically on Twitter. Still though, I think sharing the news is slightly news-worthy in the same way reading ones blog would be. I think Twitter has potential to break news, as seen during the Mumbai attacks this past week, but unfortunately I think most users just want to post about themselves and their own lives, mostly boring drab.