Tag Archives: information flow

Slow reading and poor content design

The Guardian published an article a few days ago discussing the concerns of some academics over modern reading habits. It centers around the idea that, for some, reading online is an inherently shallower process that leaves a person less educated than reading traditional print texts.

This misplaced concern does not account for the animated ads, commercial content, and constantly growing hodgepodge of buttons surrounding standard content online. Put this same interface garbage on a printed page and I would not be able to focus on a text either.

For a traditional media outlet to decry the perils of reading online it ought to at least place blame in the right space. The Guardian, and other media outlets, that plaster ads and irrelevant content around their articles are not innocent bystanders to this loss of attention span.

Mark Pesce at Webstock


Mark Pesce’s blog the human network is a must read and he just published the full video of his talk at Webstock. The transcript was posted back in February but the video is well worth watching.

Here are some scattered annotations on what Pesce discusses:

  • The arrival of the web as appliance (14:00)
  • The depth of a universally connected world is the individual (~18:00)
  • Once meaning is exposed it can be manipulated (20:00)
  • Books are standing on a threshold (23:30)
  • Personal health and medication management (or, the concept of a device as an interface to ourselves) (28:00)

Why “The Content Graph” Is Not The Next Generation of News

A couple weeks ago Scott Karp, founder of Publish2, began a blog post titled “The Content Graph and the Future of Brands” with:

Yesterday, two stories from Aol’s DailyFinance appeared in the Sunday print edition of the Daily Telegram, a newspaper in southern Michigan…Now I’m going to tell you why what you see on this page of the Daily Telegram could play a decisive role in the race between Aol, Demand Media, and Yahoo to win the prize of big brand advertising on the web, and why it is also pivotal to the future of news.

He goes on to detail the context for mutually beneficial interactions between large-scale content producers and traditional media institutions. The idea that this is the future of news is distressing.

The emphasis throughout the article is on large-scale content production. It focuses on the roles brand-names play in the construction of news. This is misplaced and, in my mind, ignores the lessons of the past decade.

How “The Content Graph” Sets Up Another Failed System

What Karp describes differs little from the type of one-size-fits-all news production that created organizations running large amounts of syndicated content. This traditional model of syndication has no close connection to the individual context and reality of readers. This is unchanged in Karp’s description. A newspaper in southern Michigan running stories that appeared on Aol’s finance page is no different than that same paper running a story off the Associated Press wire about finance. What relevance does content produced for Aol have to do with southern Michigan? Those are separate audiences and they deserve separate content.

Furthermore, what’s the pitch for news organizations here? There is not value in a news organization saying, “We take news stories you already ignore online and put them in print.” That does not sound like a winning proposition or a way to build a healthy foundation for journalism.

If the best hope for news organizations is to take content from a struggling internet company like Aol and republish it in print we are in worse shape then previously imagined. Reinventing journalism should be about new ideas and new models for content. It should not be about tired, failed methods of content syndication.

Losing Sight of the Individual

Lost among this collection of high-profile brands is the individual. Throughout “The Content Graph,” Karp never once mentions the role of a strong individual writer in this. All the focus is placed on impersonal brands.

Aol, Demand Media, and Yahoo are not even close to the top of my list of inspiring content producers. Instead, I think of John Gruber, Dan Benjamin, Gina Trapani, and Jason Kottke. These are individuals who have leveraged the power of today’s tools to create strong personal publishing powerhouses.

The tools we have at our disposal these days allow for an individual level of empowerment that provides a strong foundation for any news organization. From a news perspective this should be invigorating. It should drive us to think of innovative solutions to content that do not revolve around corporate brand names.

Dan Benjamin, for example, produces a series of podcasts that individually provide more value to me than any traditional news organization. What if news organizations syndicated this quality content that dealt with specific contexts instead of relying upon vague, bland stories? That would certainly give the news organization more value to pitch to readers.

To power the future of news, I would put my money behind a collection of these linchpins. Individuals who understand their audience and speak directly to experiences are far more worthy of my attention then a news organization republishing worthless content that nobody reads on Aol anyway.

Thinking about a data-driven college

In an effort to start tracking some of the ideas I have while reading I want to start making note of ideas and questions that come up here. This is the first of such posts and we’ll see what form they take in the future.

Tracking my book reading

Interesting article that examines some of the frustrations with current systems for tracking reading habits. Since I just finished writing an article for The Whitman Pioneer about open knowledge systems this got me thinking:

  • What if colleges started working together on building an open standard for tracking reading? I’m thinking of a system that would get me set up as a Freshman with a way to keep track of every article, journal essay, and book that I read while in school. Then, when I graduate I can either move the system to my server, or the college provides an export file to import into various other services. If I could go back four years and be presented with a choice between a school that had this system and one that didn’t I know which I would pick in a heartbeat.
  • Could we conceive of a service that would not only track reading but track conversations about books? What if I could record conversations with others about a book and upload them to a service, forever associating that conversation with that reading experience?
  • What good is it to track book titles and authors if I don’t also have a canonical, searchable copy of that book online?

The Data-Driven Life

Long feature piece from The New York Times about the various ways people are tracking data about their everyday lives. It turns out that seemingly mundane things can offer remarkable insight into how our minds and bodies work. Couple points about this:

  • All (unless I missed one) of the services mentioned are owned by single companies. Some, in the case of Nike+, by massive corporations. I think there’s a huge opportunity for someone to come up with an open source data tracking system that allows users to own their data. Follow up: what happens to all this wonderful, data-driven insight when these companies go out of business?
  • How can we tie this data-tracking to business interactions? What ways could I track data that would reveal the companies that most consistently affect my day in a positive way?
  • Academically, it’d be interesting to track attention during a semester-long course to see which subjects and discussions were most captivating.

Questions about the current state of knowledge management systems

Next week is the second iteration of BarCamp NewsInnovation Philadelphia. One of the ideas for a session is discussing the current state of knowledge management systems. Daniel Bachhuber describes this as:

how news organizations manage all of the data they’re privy to that is either stored in structured format or could be stored in a structured format if they had the tools to do so.

In preparation for the session there’s a thread going on Hacks/Hackers about what could be covered in such a session. Since I can’t make it out to Philly I wanted to outline my thoughts here.

I’m interested in three broad ideas about the way a knowledge management system could be effectively deployed in a news organization.

Cross-platform tracking of information

  • Can knowledge be tracked in standard formats so that a news organization’s KMS is valuable to non-news organizations as well?
  • What would it look like for various newsrooms to aggregate and integrate what is contained in their KMS? More importantly what would it look like if we had a system of standards-based KMSes from various fields that could be plugged into each other? What would the role of a news organization be here?

Role of a KMS in mobile

  • How can we present all of this data in a way that not only works for the desktop environment but is also discoverable enough for mobile users?
  • What forms could a KMS take that makes information even more relevant to mobile users?

Role of a KMS in ongoing coverage

  • What are the ways that this structured knowledge repository can be used to analyze and make adjustments to a news organization’s coverage?
  • Can tracking user interaction with the products of a KMS help us to create more (in both a quantitative and qualitative sense) journalism?
  • Do the views of a news organization’s topics of importance mesh with a community’s?

For those interested in this session I would also recommend this discussion with David Siegel about the semantic web and the notion of a pull economy of information. This post from “the human network” is also worth reading as a background for the discussion.

Those are just some brief thoughts for now. Wish I could be there in Philly but I look forward to tracking the conversations on Twitter.

Archiving Twitter With WordPress

Yesterday I had a spare couple hours and decided to follow Doug Bowman’s example and set up a self-hosted archive of my Twitter stream with WordPress. You can see the finished product of that here.

There was some interest expressed on Twitter of others wanting to do something similar so I thought I’d help out by making what I did available for download. You can grab a copy of the theme and required plugins which will provide pretty close to a turn key solution for getting this running.

I highly suggest following Bowman’s tutorial for downloading and importing the initial archive of previous tweets. Once you have that done and the plugins and theme are installed there’s a couple things you’ll want to do:

  • Replace the profile_image.jpg file in the theme folder with your own profile image.
  • Head to your profile page within your WordPress installation. You’ll see two new fields, one for the url of your Twitter profile and the other for your Twitter username. These power the text in the header so just fill them both out and the header text will be linked to your profile.
  • The tagline below the username in the header is pulled from your blog’s tagline so fill that out in General tab underneath Settings.
  • Setup Twitter Tools to create a new blog post every time you tweet. You can find more information about doing that at the WordPress plugin directory.
  • Run two queries using the Search Regex plugin (for more info on these queries read the original source). This will link up all the @usernames and #hashtags from your tweets.
    • For @usernames enter /(^|s)@(w+)/ into the Search Pattern field and then enter 1@<a href="http://twitter.com/2">2</a> into the Replace pattern field. Check the Regex box.
    • For #hashtags enter /(^|s)#(w+)/ into the Search pattern field and then enter 1#<a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%232">2</a> into the Replace pattern field. Check the Regex box.
    • In both cases I suggest running a Replace before running Replace & Save. This will allow you to look everything over before making changes that will affect your database.

That’s it. After doing those steps you should have a searchable, self-hosted archive of everything you’ve posted on Twitter. If you run into questions or problems feel free to fire away in the comments.

Update 3/23: Emily Ingram pointed me to a plugin that will achieve the same auto-linking of @replies and #hashtags that the regex calls do. It’s a super simple solution and can be downloaded from the WordPress directory. Sounds like it works quite well.

Participation Through Publication

As communication online continues to grow we must ensure that there are solid tools providing all with the ability to publish their voice. The ability to make one’s opinions known in a public forum is a requirement of a democratic political system. This right can be traced all the way back to Athenian democracy. Under this system all citizens came together in the Ekklesia to discuss and vote on issues of political importance.1 This can be seen in traditional spaces like town hall meetings, political rallies, and in newspaper editorial sections. The expansion of a desire to make one’s opinions known online signals the most recent manifestation of citizens’ desire to make their thoughts known in a public forum.

The current software available to people wanting to publish online allows for remarkably powerful publishing to occur. Numerous professional-level platforms are offered to any user for free. These tools allow for users to publish their thoughts through free and easy to use software in a public-by-default manner. Furthermore, a growing selection of tools allow for people to publish to a global audience from nearly anywhere. A stationary location with a full-featured computer is increasingly no longer a necessity to partake in online publishing. The ability to publish has been extended to anybody with a mobile phone.

The modern tools that have been developed for publishing online give more people a greater ability to make their voice heard from an expanding range of places. WordPress and Twitter take the ability to publish online and make it something that is accessible to a greater portion of the population. The political potential of the millions of people expressing their voice online can have a tremendous expansionary effect on participation in United States politics. Continue reading Participation Through Publication