Tuesday, February 27, 2007

'De la Rey, De la Rey' featured in Big Apple and UK

South African newspapers and blogs have been buzzing lately ad nauseum on the topic of Afrikaner identity and -nationalism (God forbid). All of this because of the incredible success of an Afrikaans rock ballad recalling the Anglo-Boer War and one General De la Rey. Personally I feel the song simply features a cool tune and catchy lyrics. All the other hocus pocus that came to the fore is in fact unrelated to the song. The latter is simply a convenient hook on which to 'hang' the more important issue.

I'll spend some time on addressing my imperfect views on Afrikaner identity soon.

For now I'm intrigued by the coverage the song has spawned. Initially within South Africa and now even globally. I picked up on a friend's blog (Mhambi) this morning that the Guardian (UK paper) covered the strange De la Rey phenomenon. On taking a peek at one of my favourite online sources, the New York Times, I was surprised to see De la Rey jumping off the 'front' page at me (online version). What the hell is going on!? Anyways, both papers deal very responsibly with the topic. Thankfully. I'm glad that global journalists, thus far, aren't predicting an up-rise by Afrikaners - a ridiculous notion.

I do believe an ongoing discussion on the identity and role of Afrikaans / Afrikaners is important. Especially in the context of the position of minorities within diverse societies. However, I think an ongoing debate on the role of the De la Rey song is ludicrous. It's a debate that ends up going in circles. I hope people will move on to a more meaningful discussion of the underlying issues.

If you somehow missed out on the De la Rey mania, I gladly include a Carte Blanche piece (source: YouTube) on the song and the hysteria around it. Amongst others, it features an old friend from my university days - Andries Bezuidenhout, better known as Roof Bezuidenhout. I very rarely get to see Andries these days, but I'm always interested to hear his views. He has played a big role in my own intellectual and political development as student. As can be expected a TV piece will always cut and edit interviews - thus resulting in excerpts which does not reflect the full complexity of arguments / views expressed in the original interview. I tried to include the actual music video as well but it would not show - I'll try and fix it when I have time...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Google Reader - quite a nifty blogaholic tool

I followed a prompt in Blogger's Dashboard (central console in Blogger for bloggers) to find out more about Google's new 'Reader'. When I read that it was a new way to view all the blogs that you subscribe to in one place I wasn't too excited. A short introductory video clip explained that the idea was to be able to read blog postings, from blogs that you subscribe to, in a similar way that you would your e-mail. That is instead of going to check on Peter, Sue and Dick's blog sites to see whether they've posted, or on each blog's newsfeed, you can slimpy open your Google Reader.

My skepticism aside, I decided to give it a try. It works pretty well. You have account folders similar to those in your favourite e-mail client, i.e. one for each of the blogs that you follow. You can also move blog folders into subdirectories. In similar fashion to an e-mail reading client a blog folder that contains a new posting will appear in bold with inverted commas showing the number of new unread postings. Thus you can pick up on new posts, literarally with a single glance The default setting is for postings within folders to be sorted from the most recent to the oldest, which makes sense to me.

You can read the full post in your Reader, which once again makes sense, or you can go to the posts' original web page with a single click. The only exception is where a blog only provides a introductory paragraph with a 'read more' link for the rest of the post. In such a case you have to read the 'more' (rest of the post) in its original location. Perhaps something to remember for bloggers who want to force readers to read posts in their original context...

Posts within a blog folder can be viewed in either 'list view' or 'expanded view'. In list view you can expand a selected post with a single click and collapse it likewise.

In keeping with the community and sharing nature of the contemporary internet, you have the ability to 'share' selected posts with friends or netizens in general. A further extension of this feature is that bloggers can create an object on their blog sites to show a pre-selected number of posts from their shared folder in their own Google Reader account. This feature being just another inovative way to emply news feeder technology. I've added such an object to the menu on this blog (see 'Favourite recent posts by others' below 'Blog archive' on the right). You don't have much control over how it is presented but can at least select font type, font colour and the number of items to show.

In certain respects Google Reader still has a 'beta' feel to it. I don't know exactly how Google classifies it's projects but the full name for the new product is "Google Reader Labs", perhaps an indication that it is still under pre-release development. I've also had a look on Google's main site under 'more' and could not find Google Reader listed there before. However, after writing this paragraph I went back to Google > more > Labs and then found Google Reader as a new project close to the top... It is indeed a pre-release product not listed in its own right in the root menu of Google/more.

I'm mostly impressed by the product, even though I do have one or two gripes with it. For one thing the 'shared items' folder and news feed is automatically sorted according to when you added an item to the shared folder, rather than the date on which the post was originally published. As you move through a favourite blog's posts, beginning with the most recent at the top you may decide to activate 'share' on some postings as you go along. However, in the shared folder the selected posts appear in the exact opposite order as per your sequence of activating share and not the publish dates of the posts. A result of this is that some of the oldest posts I decided to share are now listed in my Google Reader object in this blog, even though there are much, much, more recent ones that I would prefer to show. A visitor to your blog has the option to view all of your shared posts by clicking the 'Read more' link, once again to find the posts listed in the order that you activated share on each - not by publish date.

My other main gripe is that I do like to read posts within the context of the feel of the particular blog, i.e. with layout, colour schemes, etc. in place. In Google Reader basic formatting is retained, but everything appears against a white background and devoid of any of the other links that may appear on the post's web page (links within the post, as well as embedded objects in the post -such as video clips- are retained). I'm afraid this will probably stay as is. It will interfere with Reader's functionality to do it in any other way.

Stripping the blog of its original packaging does beg the question: "What about Google's AdSense?". One of Google's myriad of strategies to increase add revenue is by offering bloggers the option of including a Google advertisement feed, AdSense, in their blogs (rewarding such bloggers for click-throughs). These are (presently) not included in the Google Reader posts... I think the programme's approach is in line with an age old media adage, which very simply states that 'content is king'. But I suspect Google will be dishing up ads with posts in the Reader as well. Reading your favourite posts in Google's own GUI may very well be a very effective strategy to open a backdoor for the company to slip in its ad feeds with blogs which wouldn't otherwise include such feeds... Exactly the same strategy by which ads are displayed together with your friends' e-mails in Gmail. I suspect some bloggers may very well view this as an infringement on intellectual property or freedom of expression (adding to and thus possibly altering their intent with a particular posting or their blog as a whole). Once again, if Google could conquer such sentiments regarding Gmail up to now, they will surely be able to do so in this case as well.

In my opinion Google Reader is going to be one of Google's success stories. It's an innovation that can save you a hell of a lot of time. It centralises content from potentially a vast collection of different sources (news feeds / blogs). As stated above I'm sure it will also include ad feeds, thus making it a sustainable service. Give it a try and let me know what your verdict is.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snuki rides again

In an opinion piece posted yesterday (excerpts and link below) Anton Harber addresses the newest twist in the SABC News blacklist saga on which I posted before (July & Oct 2006). The news media has reported in the last few days that John Perlman has resigned from the SABC. This morning I listened to John Perlman as he retorted to an on-air pest caller that he will indeed be leaving on March 2nd. It is a big blow to any hopes that the national broadcaster may be changing its ways in the near future. It must be said that Perlman has up to now refrained from making any statements on why he is resigning. However, the blacklist saga and the SABC's failure to act on it seems to be the obvious cause.

Anton Harber is a former editor of the excellent Mail & Guardian (South Africa) newspaper. He's a media expert of note. Anton currently serves as Professor at Wits University in Johannesburg where he directs the Journalism and Media Studies Programme. I've added his blog to my 'Other South African blogs' menu. I'm confident that his blog should make for very interesting reading, especially if you have an interest in the news media and the South African news media in particular.

Heads are rolling at the SABC … the wrong ones
January 31st, 2007

SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu said in the middle of last year’s SABC “blacklist” saga that “heads would roll” if an independent inquiry found that there had been wrongdoing...What we didn’t expect, however, was that these heads would belong to those who came out best in the inquiry report. Those found in the report to have breached the SABC charter repeatedly...still have their heads firmly attached to their shoulders...

...The most striking thing is that no-one has criticised the report...on the blacklisting affair. Nobody has given any substantial reason to question the evidence...or...conclusions.

They said Perlman had behaved professionally. They said that SABC and its representatives had been dishonest by omission in their response...They confirmed that there were indeed a number of people blocked from the airwaves...They described serious management problems in the SABC newsroom...

Mpofu was energetic in his response...In other words, he did everything except pursue the findings and recommendations of the report. And he did it with drive and passion...

The person who emerges strongest from all of this is the head of news, Dr Snuki Zikalala. He has shown twice now that he is more powerful than the CEO...Zikalala’s critics are leaving the building.

One can only look upon this with an overwhelming sense of sadness. The notion of a national broadcaster as a home for the highest quality, independent, public service journalism is being denigrated...

(Read the full piece here)

* This column first appeared in
Business Day, January 31, 2007