MediaNext: The Internet is Not Your FriendJune 17, 2009
Sometimes, the Internet can be your worst enemy. Well, I should say, your Internet connection. But I won’t, because really the enemy is the Internet.
Everything was fine with our Internet connection in Kyiv. Of course, you’d kind of expect that, because it’s the capital, and Internet connections tend to be better in capitals, right? Two days, the Internet connection was the least of our problems (not that we had a lot of problems).
Then, we got to Lviv, and our Internet connection at the training dropped a bomb on us. It planted itself in the foundation of our sessions, and exploded into a burst of shrapnel that ripped through our structure, shredding flesh and concrete and electrical wiring and everything else in its path.
Let me tell something that I am now a expert of: It is QUITE a challenge to train people how to use Internet tools when your connection won’t allow you to load Webpages. Trust me on this. It might take a while to fully comprehend. Especially for those who have been using broadband so long that they’ve forgotten what dial-up was like, and just how creative you have to be to make the best use of your time to avoid losing half your day to page loads.
Needless to say, a lot of other adjustments in our training were needed.
YouTube videos were suddenly difficult to show, since they require so much bandwidth to watch. I had been planning on providing links to people so they too could click on the various videos I was showing, should they so desire. But, during the disaster that was quickly becoming our attempt at having everyone load Webpages, I backed off on this idea of providing a whole mess of high bandwidth links.
My blogging strategy session wasn’t so bad, because I was mostly talking and loading pages. And I could kill a lot of download time talking stats and how to think about blogs. Good think I had this information on my hard drive, and didn’t need to keep loading pages just to get this info.
Twitter wasn’t so bad either (compared to what was to come), because we weren’t showing a lot on Twitter. Mostly just how to send messages, how to find and follow people, some examples of news organizations using Twitter, and a lot about how I approach Twitter for research and how journalists can benefit from this.
What was really challenging was when we had people actually working on these tools. For a number of sites, people had to register (I had recommended that we require people to register before the training, but only got my colleagues as far as telling the trainees to register for Twitter, because of it’s issues with many people trying to register at once from the same IP address, woo HAH). So, this made YouTube fun, especially when I walked them through how to create a playlist and their own channel. It easily doubled how long these activities took, given that we had to spend a lot of time enjoying the lovely green or blue of the load progress bar. And, some people’s connections were loading much faster than others, so some people got to sit and wait for others to catch up. How do you accommodate both? There’s only so much content I can tell them. This was a training to show them how to do something.
Yeah, we could just show them on our main computer, projected onto the screen, and told them not to do anything on the Internet, letting them just sit and watch. (Works GREAT!!! when you give people an Internet connection during a training and expect them not to wander). The rub here is that our feedback from the Kyiv training was consistently: “More practice!”
The beautiful irony here-like so many that life loves to gift us no matter how much we try to prepare for everything that can go wrong, Murphy-is that we tweaked our sessions to give the trainees in Lviv a lot more chance to practice the sites we were showing. Man, I was so ready to blow their minds with practice (and of course fully expected to hear “More theory and cases!” on our feedback forms).
Then came my “Facebook and Social Networking” session. I’m not going to relive the gore and the devastation for you. Sorry. But, I will say this. As you should expect, I most certainly began my session with, “Hey, everybody, let’s REGISTER!”. Yeah, that lopped off pounds of flesh. This was an experiment in how people can somehow manage to click the links I wasn’t asking them to click, and going off in completely wrong directions. I’d ask if everyone was okay, and a few didn’t seem to want to admit that they were very much on the wrong page and couldn’t find their way back. Or, a few had to go to their email and confirm their accounts, and though it was written in Ukrainian, there was some kind of mental disconnect preventing them from taking this action. Then, I had the great idea to show them how to create an RSS feed into their profile from their LiveJournal blogs. More flesh pounds. I never even got to how to feed Twitter to Facebook. There were a lot of blank screens and progress bars. And I had all these great examples of how various journalists and news organizations were using Facebook, a plan to show them how to create a group and a page, show them Causes, and perhaps even have a little fun with the search function-those ideas were leveled by the aftershock of the Internet connection. I think all I really did was confuse the begeebers out of them.
After the session, I asked Maxon, “How do you say ‘disaster’ in Ukrainian?” He said, “катастрофа”.
At least I was able to show them how to convert Facebook into Ukrainian in the beginning. I can only imagine what kind of disaster this would have been in English. (Actually, I would have stuck with Vkontakte).
So, you might ask, “Why are you saying that the Internet can be your worst enemy, and not your Internet connection?”
This is simple. The Internet promises us so much. Web 2.0 came along and made everything so easy, so quick. Every day, more and more people are doing more and more on the Internet. Because it is so easy, so quick. But, there is another side to this. A dark side, with snarling dogs, crying babies, and little devils that hate us and constantly look for ways to inflict trouble and harm. The Internet calms us into thinking that nothing can go wrong, that it will all be so simple. Just point. And click. And boom. A Webpage appears. Just like that. Except when you find yourself in the presence of a bad Internet connection. And you find yourself at a two-day training, telling everyone, “Oh, it’s so SIMPLE! This will CHANGE YOUR LIFE! All you have to do is… um… wait… and… well… on this page, once it finally loads, you will see… well… maybe we should just wait… it will be easier to explain when you see it… ah, technology…”
Thank you, Internet. You charmed me with your blissful offers of hope and promise. You lulled me to sleep in your arms. And finally, you ripped off your mask and revealed your other face. Friends don’t deceive each other like this.
Man, here’s hoping the Internet is our friend in Donetsk.
If anyone out there has any recommendations for how to approach a training situation like this, or would like to share their experiences, please do.
Author’s Note: This is part of a series of posts on my experiences doing New Media trainings with Internews-Ukraine in June 2009, as part of their MediaNext initiative, in partnership with European Journalism Centre. These views are my own, and do not reflect those of Internews-Ukraine or European Journalism Centre. Just so we’re clear on that.
Photo: Me and Coffee McGee in front of what I understand to be a Ukrainian nationalist flag. Courtesy of MediaNext.