Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Available services for online discussions

Just today, Professor Anna Theresa Santiago tweeted that Vice Chancellor Josefina Tayag encourages professors to assign activities to students and/or conduct online discussions. In this line, I will talk shortly about available services for online discussions.

While there are many online services available, each has its strength. Let's take a look at some:
  • Instant Messaging
Using the Conference feature of your IM client (eg, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Chat, AIM, etc.), you can talk to many participants in a conference in near real-time.

Yahoo! Messenger or IM-only software
Strength: Number of participants almost limitless
Weakness: Text only. Sharing files available but participants need to download. Participants need to use the same system.
How to use: Assuming all your students use the same system, you ask them prior to logging in that you will be available online at a particular time. Once all of them are online, you invite them to join the online conference. You may want to set "house rules" in that particular conference as an online conference can be very unstructured.
  • Blogs
The good thing about blog is that you can talk at length about a topic (like a lecture), and then ask your students to give their comments.

Strength: Allows non-realtime interaction. Participants can respond to other participants even at different times. Allows posting of other online resources, such as online video from YouTube or online slideshows.
Weakness: Interaction not as dynamic as IM. You maybe typing a comment that someone else has already entered, so you are not able to support or respond to one another.
How to use: You create your blog. You share the particular post you want them to read, and then ask them to post their comments. Most blogs ask participants to register before leaving a comment.
  • Online forums
Also called message boards (eg, Proboards.com), Online forums allow one to post a comment/issue, then all other interested participants can respond. Your participants need to be registered (ie, like a member of an organization) to respond and leave a comment. Your participants are relatively permanent.

Strength: Captures your audience
Weakness: Not realtime.
How to use: You create a message board, and then invite your students to register. After they register, you create your first thread/topic, and students respond.
  • Online Presentations
If you use Google Docs or the UPM Post Mail (http://post.upm.edu.ph) you can upload your presentations or documents, have others read it, while you talk about it, in the same screen. People can also interact with you like in IM, also in the same screen.

Strengths: Multi-channel (text, visual and other available online resources) near-realtime communication
Weaknesses: People have to have Google Mail or UPM Post Mail.
How to use: You upload your presentation (or document) to Google Docs, then invite your participants by sharing them. People will need to log in or register using the link you send them.

Of course, you can use any combination of these.

If you have questions, just IM me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

How email service providers tag spam

As a former technical support representative for two big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the United States, I have come to understand how their mail servers work in reducing spam. Of course, the one I would like to discuss is just the basic manner of recognizing spam. Providers may have other means of identifying spam.

First: For definition, we will work on "spam" as unsolicited email--be it business, advocacy or commercial email. I will not talk about IM spam or SMS spam or gaming spam. I will discuss spamming in emails.

Spam identification is the key to spam reduction, so ISPs actually focus on that aspect. As soon as they determine that an email is spam, what they do with that spam is just a matter of creativity on the email address owner or the email service provider.

There are two key strategies in spam identification: Keyword monitoring and Spam tagging.

Keyword monitoring is (of course) monitoring key words in the email's subject line. Based on the ISP's pre-studied list of words that are most likely to contain spam, ISPs control the distribution of messages that have these words. Instead of going to the recipients' Inbox, they go to the Junk or Bulk mail folder.

This means that if you send email with words such as "tits" or "dicks" in your email, this will probably be sent to the Spam folder of the recipient if the email server has that approach in spam detection.

While this seems logical, the downside of this is not supported by certain groups as this same rule may be applied to the words such as "breasts" or "penis" which may be required in medical professions. Useful emails may be forwarded to the spam folder without knowledge of the recipient (obviously) even though they intend to receive it.

Spam tagging refers to the use of the "Report Spam" or "This is spam" feature of your email service provider to report that the email you are reading is actually a spam. Most of the email service providers have this feature, but the level of effect of the feature varies.

With this feature, what happens usually is that the email you use is transferred to your Spam folder. What you may not know, however, is that what you actually do is not just tag the email as spam, but tag the sender as a spammer.

This indicates that if a certain number of users tag that email sender as a spammer, the email server of the recipient will automatically tag it as spam, resulting to the future emails of that sender to be forwarded to the Spam folder, even for other receivers.

Spam identification focus on two parts of the communication model: the message (Email subject line)b and the sender (Email sender / address), with the channel (email service provider) processing also the setting of rules in spam identification.

The implication of these technologies is simply discretionary use of spam identification. Spam costs a lot of money for organizations as they have to deal with wasted resources (bandwidth) and time (for deleting spam), not to mention privacy and other security issues, so proper identification of spam is really useful. On other hand, be careful with tagging an email as "spam" if you are in an organization where the sender is sending relevant information that only you do not appreciate receiving. You may be costing the inconvenience not just to the sender but to the other recipients.

Resolution for recipients who have discovered they have received an email but it is in the Spam folder when it is actually not spam:
  1. Use the "Unmark as spam" or similar feature
  2. Add the recipient's email address to your address book. This adds a rule to your email that the sender is a valid contact.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What is cloud computing?

Wikipedia defines "cloud computing" as a "paradigm of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet." For me, it is just a way of computing (or doing your work with your computer) with your data or your applications--or both--on the Internet.

To concretize, look at Google Docs, or Zoho, or ThinkFree. Also, previously, when one conceives of a website, you use either your Notepad or Microsoft Frontpage. Now, you can do so with Google Sites, which reduces your need to learn HTML or similar languages. Further, Google Sites allows collaboration, multiple types of access, and easy addition of content. Imagine if you will have to write all these in code, and you are not a computer science graduate.

Why "cloud compute?" As Eric Knorr and Galen Gruman say, it "comes into focus only when you think about what IT always needs: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software."

The previous paragraph summarizes the benefits. What are the costs? As I see it, it is minimal. Access to the Internet and necessary software for connecting to the internet (which can be free, considering open source solutions), which are all being used anyway.

I will stop here. But I hope this short post stimulates your creativity--focusing on your own interest while expanding your capability at minimal if no cost.