Online Auctions: Site organization and interactivity

Online auction sites provide shoppers the opportunity to discover rare finds, exceptional bargains or useful items, all with the click of a mouse. E-bay, eBid, OnlineAuction, OZtion and Overstock are currently the top five online auction sites of 2010. Four of the five sites offer free services and OnlineAuction charges users $8 per month.

Each of these Web sites offers users a similar experience. Upon coming to the site, most recent posts or new items are featured with accompanying thumbnail images. After logging in, featured items often include products related to previous purchases or searches made by the user. Site visitors can navigate thousands of listings with the search feature. Items are then displayed with a small description. Users can bid on any entry within a certain timeframe.

In looking at the variety of services offered by the top five auction sites, each site has a unique combination of features. Some of the sites offer private auctions, others allow extra picture options, and some of the Web sites include wanted ads and gift cards. But one thing offered across the board for all five sites is the feedback and response option.

This is where interactivity comes in. Buyers and sellers are able to engage in a dialogue.  Buyers rate sellers and leave comments about the product and their experience with the product. Other buyers can then add to those comments—agreeing or disagreeing with previous ratings. The seller is able to view the comments and the feedback remains visible for future site visitors. This kind of open dialogue contributes to a sense of site reliability—especially for OnlineAuction, which is the only site of the top five that does not allow comments to be revised or deleted. This interactive feedback system allows users to collaborate and help one another in the online shopping process, encouraging further reviews and often enhancing the popularity of the Web site.

More information about online auction sites can be found here.


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Can the Internet save Democracy?

The Internet has the potential to provide the much-needed public sphere in Democracy. McChesney addresses this issue in his book: “The Political Economy of Media.”

Among his reasoning: It is cheap, easy to use, hard to prevent access to and nearly impossible to censor. It seems like these factors have all the mixings to create a forum that is perfect for public debate and free flow of content.

But there are underlying issues with the Internet that may prevent it from reaching its potential as a catalyst for democratic discussion. McChesney outlines several issues:

1. Personal computers are not affordable for many people.
2. Computer literacy is not necessarily certain.
3. Universal access is not something that is guaranteed.

These issues are all centered around one important and crucial issue: The Digital Divide.

Is McChesney putting too much pressure on the Internet to be the saving grace of democratic discussion? Can America overcome the digital divide?

Research and current events in the media are suggesting that the divide is decreasing—at a rate more rapid than many originally thought. In 2002, reporter Sonia Arrison reported on C-NET that more than half of the U.S. population was online—showing an increase of Internet access for 26 million people in just 13 months.

A common criticism with Digital Divide statistics: Most of these statistics show a bias toward higher income areas. What about poorer areas? Arrison cited a report from the Department of Commerce, which showed that Internet use is increasing overall—regardless of income, ethnicity, gender or age.

“Between December 1998 and September 2001, Internet use by individuals in the lowest income households…increased at a 25 percent annual growth rate.”

The full C-NET article can be accessed here.

And those statistics were reported in 2002. As of February 2010, 64 percent of Americans now have broadband Internet access. This number has increased from 51 percent in 2007. (The complete article citing the U.S. Census Bureau survey can be found here.)

Not to mention Google’s recent broadband project. The Internet giant recently announced that it will be experimenting with a fiber network designed to provide “ultra high-speed broadband networks” at 1 GB per second—Internet 100 times faster than many Americans have previously had access to. The company cited the goal of their project as a way to “experiment with new ways to help make Internet access better and faster for everyone.”

The original post on the Google blog can be accessed here. The company also made a short summary video about the project.

With Google planning to provide their trial experiment to between 50,000-500,000 homes at a price comparable to other Internet services, who knows what the implications of this experiment may be in the future? If successful, Internet could be more readily accessible and convenient to more people.

I don’t think that McChesney is wrong in holding the Internet up as a beacon of hope for Democracy in the U.S. On the contrary, I believe that the medium has all the makings to be the knight in shining armor, set to give a voice to the voiceless and provide the opportunity for effective discussion and exchange of opinion in an open forum.

Regardless of the fact that the Digital Divide is still a very real and important issue, I would argue that the Internet is already facilitating more democratic discussion. And it can only get better from here as more Americans are able to gain access to personal computers and the Internet.

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Objectivity vs. Neutrality: One in the same?

Objective: “Undistorted by emotion or personal bias; based on observable phenomena.” According to several Web definitions, those characteristics make up the term that journalism organizations strive to maintain in the news.

But according to Robert McChesney in “The Political Economy of Media,” achieving objectivity is a losing battle.  “Journalism cannot actually be neutral or objective,” McChesney states, arguing that decision making about news worthiness and prominence of certain stories over others negates the idea that objectivity can be attainable.
Take a small-town paper for instance: How can an editor “objectively” choose between a lead story about the crisis in Haiti and a devastating car wreck involving members of the community? The answer: It would depend. Was the editor personally connected to the accident victims? Or did they have family or friends in Haiti? As much as journalists don’t like to admit it, these factors do play a role in the decision-making process. Some stories touch our hearts or hit closer to home than others, and there is nothing we can do to stop that from happening.
But this dilemma about objectivity in terms of the stories appearing in newspapers or on the evening news is all about prominence of certain issues over others. What about the actual content in the stories: The words on the paper, the sound bytes used in broadcast news packages. Is objectivity a moot point for them too? I would argue no; journalists can write objectively in news stories.
Going by the Web definition, it seems entirely possible that stories can be constructed “based on observable phenomena.” I mean, why not? After all, it is the job of the reporter to gather evidence and report on it in an unbiased manner.

But this brings me to another issue. Are objectivity and neutrality one in the same? McChesney presents them as such, but I would argue against it. Nicholas Lemann, associate dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism, cites Thomas Haskell’s book “Objectivity is Not Neutrality,” in supporting the idea that “it is wrong to understand objectivity as requiring people not to have an opinion or not to make judgments about everything” ( If judgments are made based on fact, then objectivity is possible, in a way that will not reduce journalism to bare bones facts with no angle or excitement for the news audience.
At a time when traditional news organizations are struggling to compete with the vast amount of resources more readily available to the public on the Internet, quality of content is an essential factor. Journalists shouldn’t just take quotes from official sources and print them word for word. They should delve into the story one step further. Look at the facts presented on each side. Are there contradictions? Similarities? Give us the good stuff. It shouldn’t be fabricated by any means, but it should be something truthful and interesting–more than a mere presentation of facts at face value.
The value systems and personal beliefs of journalists or editors will undoubtedly jump into their minds when deciding the stories that need to be covered for the week, or which ones should hold more prominence over others, but the content itself is a different issue. Despite McChesney’s beliefs, objectivity in the content of professional journalism is an attainable goal.


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Social Networking: Changing the face of communication online

Social networking is an idea that has taken interactivity on the Web to the next level. Not only are people able to explore the wealth of information available on the Web, but they are also able to engage in two-way communication with others via social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Yammer. Social networking is changing the way that people communicate—giving individuals the opportunity to connect with long-lost friends or engage in easy file sharing via social networking platforms.
When the first social network SixDegrees was launched in 1997, I wonder if the creators had any idea that the site, which folded three years later, would lead to an upsurge of social networks between the years of 2003 and 2006—including networks linked to specialized interests. Social networks have given users the opportunity to find a place online—whether it be through connecting with old friends, or through forming discussions with others around a common interest such as a non-profit organization or a particular hobby. Now, anyone can create their own social network on Web sites such as Ning, which gives users the opportunity to create multiple networks and potentially rally people around a common interest, such as fundraising.
For the above reasons, I would choose social networking as my great idea for interactive media. To be a bit more specific, I think that LinkedIn is an example of a particularly safe and useful social network that allows people to connect with peers and form relationships in a competitive job market either geographically or based on a specific industry. Social networks have both enhanced communication on the Internet, and provided an outlet for users with specialized interests.

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IGF Egypt: Panel on the mobile Web

I am currently sitting in the conference center, finishing up a 13-hour work day at the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.
One of the most interesting sessions that I attended today had to do with the mobile Web. I was able to briefly speak with keynote speaker Tim Berners-Lee following the session.

Some of the main points from panelists included the need for Web content to be tailored to smaller devices, as well as the pressing issue of expanding content on the Web to come from non-Western countries. In order for under-developed and developing countries to be able to access the Web, it is essential for content on the Web to appeal to them. With billions of documents available online, very little content is appropriate or understandable to individuals in Africa, Southeast Asia or Latin America.

I was able to live tweet during some of the sessions. The Twitter feed for Imagining the Internet can be accessed here.

The following are some memorable quotes from the session:


Tim Berners-Lee:

“In Ghana, the government was less worried about connectivity and more concerned with their being enough content. There is no realization that they could actually create it online, or tat they could go to a street map and enter information. There is a culture shock that this is not America’s Internet.”

“We have always found in the past that the open world beats the closed world. When America Online tried to put themselves online without acknowledging the Web, it didn’t work. Everybody else is always going to be bigger. The open platform is very important and we should push for it.”

Nii Quaynor:
“Networks in Africa are fragile, and coverage is not total in several African countries. The user-interface may become a principal access instrument for people in Africa. There has been a focus on developing applications for UI’s.”

Yoshiko Kurisaki:
“Technology alone does not change a society. But if it is used appropriately by the people, it has the potential to change the society for the better. The focus should be on the people who are at the far end of the digital divide.”

Leslie Martinkovics:

“Broadband infrastructure is an absolutely vital component. Broadband investments create jobs, stimulates demand for richer content and fuels the growth of a dynamic global Internet.”

Read more information about the Internet Governance Forum here.

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Space tourism: A useful venture or a waste of money?

In two years time, $4 million could earn you a trip to outer space. In 2012, Galactic Suite is set to begin accommodating guests at the first hotel in space. According to the article on Yahoo, guests will spend eight weeks training for the trip on an island in the Caribbean. Following the training, the trip to space will take a day and a half. Guests will spend three days in the resort—wearing Velcro suits in order to stick to the walls. The Barcelona-based company will launch guests into space via Russian rockets.

I found this topic quite suitable for my final face-to-face topic because it expressed what we have been talking about and researching throughout the semester: The future. This future is very real, and in many ways we are already living it. Five years ago, a hotel in space would seem impossible. It still seems implausible now. It is unimaginable to think that space tourism could become a booming industry.

When I read about the upcoming space resort I was excited about the opportunities available, such as the fact that guests could orbit earth in 80 minutes, seeing 15 sunsets each day, or that this resort could make space travel more accessible to the general public (well, the general public who has $4 million dollars to spare).

And that brings me to my concerns. The cost is obviously a big one. If space tourism does catch on, the cost will likely decrease significantly, but at the moment there are very few people who can afford the expensive vacation. But affording it is one thing. Who has the time to take eight weeks off of work to complete a space-training program?  Billionaires, apparently.

Aside from cost, I also have concerns about safety. These issues are not addressed on the Web site. If disastrous accidents can occur for professional astronauts, then surely they can happen with a rocket full of civilians. I am curious as to how the rocket will attach to the resort, as well as how expensive it would be to maintain the structure in space.

As reported on Yahoo, 43 guests have made reservations so far, and Galactic Suite is currently accepting reservations from their Web site.

While I think that success with this project is beneficial to those interested in space and space training, the cost and safety concerns make me wonder if some things should just be left to the professionals.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of this project, as well as competing space travel companies, such as Virgin Galactic.




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Web redesign success stories: Yahoo and MSN

Two major Web companies have recently completed Web site redesigns. While the designs themselves are different, both have similar themes:


  1. Simplicity
  2. Personalization
  3. Integration and links to social media tools



Yahoo launched its homepage re-design in July 2009. The site, which remains one of the most visited sites with a third-place ranking on, receives millions of page views each day.


While Yahoo’s old interface used to be cluttered and jumbled with text-heavy sections and minimal use of images or graphics, the site’s new design is very purposeful and effective.


The redesign maintains the same layout and overall look and feel, but the placement of elements and their presentation is more effective for users. The top four stories on Yahoo are now shown in the form of an interactive menu—users can select images and see a photo preview. In addition, a sliding bar was added at the bottom of the graphic so that previous top stories can be easily accessed from that section of the site.


Instead of using the left panel of the Web site to link exclusively to other Yahoo pages, the sidebar now includes buttons for media tools, such as Facebook and Flickr.


The site has also worked to integrate personalization into the interface. The “My Favorites” section gives users the option of choosing their favorite applications and saving them in one location—making the interface more useful to them.


According to a recent article from, Yahoo’s redesign efforts have been a success. Time spent on the homepage has increased 20 percent. The article also reported that there was a 76 percent increase in click-through rates of stories placed in the “Today” section of the site. Customization has also drawn in more users. The addition of more choice and control helped to draw a wider and more loyal audience base.


More specifics about the redesign can be found here.

The new homepage design plans for were launched today. The old page was much more cluttered and text heavy than the new, simplistic design. The site is still in its preview stage, but presents a much easier navigation and interface.


The new design promotes the use of video and customization features. Users can specify settings for their home page, as well as stream feeds from social media tools such as Windows Live, Facebook and Twitter. Yahoo’s homepage does not yet offer a Twitter application.


According to, remains one of the most popular Web sites, ranking in eighth place. The site’s integration with Bing, and its cleaner design will make it more competitive with top sites such as Google and Yahoo.


Read more about the redesign here.

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