Swine Flu: Why All the Hype?

As I wrote on Twitter earlier today: “35,000-50,000 die each year from influenza [and subsequent bacterial pneumonia] in the U.S. The panic over this swine flu is whacko. Is it just a slow news week?”

Okay, so I can understand the media frenzy — we’re all used to it — but what about the Obama administration? Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security) and CDC officials aren’t just accepting interviews, they’re pushing this. When’s the last time a U.S. president opened a major press conference suggesting we wash our hands and stay home from school or work? It’s really quite extraordinary. And puzzling.

And then it hit me. Of course! The Obama administration is scared to death that this could be their Katrina. They know the chances of the H1N1 flu becoming a true national tragedy are quite slim, but they’d rather risk the consequences of overreacting than take the chance they’d be blamed for an inadequate response. For them it’s not about the likelihood the swine flu will become something we should worry about. Instead, it’s about *their* risk of being associated with the previous administration’s national-response failures. Once I figured that out, it all made sense.

I don’t want to give the impression that this isn’t a potentially serious situation. I believe it is, particularly because the virus has essentially spread worldwide and development of a vaccine has just begun. I hear it could take 9-12 months before large quantities can be available and by then 25%-30% of the population could have already been infected. And we also don’t know how virulent this microbe really is. Only one fatality yet in the U.S., and that was a young child who came here from Mexico. 160+ deaths in Mexico, but we don’t yet have a clue of the actual death rate. How many were infected and recovered? If the virus is already widespread, 160 deaths could actually suggest a milder-than-usual outbreak.

Bottom line: It’s early. Let’s all hope the pandemic (already declared by the WHO) turns out to blow over quickly. But in the meantime, there’s certainly no shortage of attention being given to it, from the White House on down.

A New Program Page (SpokenWord.org)

Tweaking the UI design for SpokenWord.org, starting with the /program detail page. One of the most-frequent complaints is that there was too much metadata on our detail pages for programs, feeds and collections. Here are examples of a new /program page and a /feed page in the old style. Note that many of the links and metadata have been moved to the right-hand column and the tag cloud has been eliminated.

What do you think?

Abandoned-Feed Hijacking (FeedBurner)

I was researching a new feature for SpokenWord.org when I came across a site that lists an old URL to the primary IT Conversations RSS feed. Curious, I clicked on it and discovered someone else’s content there. I just assumed that when we abandoned that URL years ago it would simply disappear, but that appears not to be the case. (http://feeds.feedburner.com/ITConversations-EverythingMP3)

I’m not sure how this happened. Are some site looking for abandoned FeedBurner URLs? How do they learn that a URL has become dead? If you’re thining of changing or abandoing an RSS feed URL hosted at FeedBurner — okay, I admit you should never do that — just remember that someone else may come along and grab that URL for themselves once the FeedBurner free-redirection period has ended. You’re probably better to keep that URL forever even if it means you need to run permanent redirection at the target.

Open Search for SpokenWord.org

I’ve created an Open Search description file and <link> tag to SpokenWord.org. If you’re using a browser that supports Open Search, you can now add SpokenWord.org search to your list of available search-engine shortcuts. In Firefox, for example, use the pull-down in the upper-right corner of your browser window and select Add “SpokenWord.org”. More Open Search stuff still to come as I figure it out.

Ira Glass on the Power of Podcasting

From an article in the Washington Post as quoted on a private list by P.W. Fenton:

Ira Glass was recently involved in a sort of public Q&A session to
promote his latest “This American Life – Live” project and a fan asked
about podcasting…

Question: “Have you found that podcasting has changed TAL? I’m
incredibly grateful to the podcasts, which give me access to TAL for
my subway commute or running errands. I would imagine that there are
lots of people like me, and that TAL’s exposure has grown as a result
of podcasts. But are there other ways in which the podcasting has
changed the show?”

Ira Glass: “Interestingly, it’s pulled in a much younger audience. The
radio audience has stayed the same size – 1.8 million people a week –
but now there’s this extra half million people and they’re much much
younger than the public radio audience. Which is fantastic, of course.
I now meet lots of people in their teens and twenties at our live
events, and some of them aren’t public radio listeners at all. They
simply know us as a podcast.

In terms of content this hasn’t changed the show but in terms of
reach, it’s really nice.”

Helvetica, the Movie

If you’re a fan of design and typefaces, or just like stunning visuals, check out Helvetica. I rented it from Netflix just on a whim and really enjoyed it. And if you can, you gotta see it in Blu-Ray. Clearly it’s an all-digital/HD original. Gorgeous. (Disclaimer: I personally have no design skills whatsoever. Just an observer.)

The Conversations Network: Board Meeting Report

What an amazing Board of Directors we have. In addition to Jon Udell, David Weinberger and Jake Shapiro, today we elected Brian Gruber of Fora.tv to the board then spent the rest of our time in informal session. Discussion highlights included:

  • PodCorps.org is not being used. We may put it into cold storage until we can find someone or some organization to champion it.
  • What’s the 3-5 year strategy? Should The Conversations Network merge with another compatible non-profit?
  • Our traditional channels (eg, IT Conversations) are solid and stable.
  • SpokenWord.org is the future growth of The Conversations Network.
  • How can SpokenWord.org best serve the public? Academia? The press/media? Libraries?
  • Should we exercise more of our own curatorial control and influence? Serendipity only goes so far.
  • How are we better than any other aggregator? Open APIs are critical to creating value.
  • What benefit do we offer our content provider/partners?

Yes, we asked more questions than we answered, but that’s what a good board meeting is all about.

Stepping into the River

Jon Udell has posted a fascinating essay disecting two different but often confused usage models for RSS and other content feeds. Jon refers to the duality of his experience at SpokenWord.org. One one hand he follows feeds or others’ collections prospectively looking for good programs that may appear in the future. In the other use case, he also searches the SpokenWord.org archives for already-published programs. Both cases make use of SpokenWord.org’s collections and RSS feeds, but in different ways.