Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ours is an Open Source World

"The future is open source everything." —Linus Torvalds

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Need for News

A post on Slashdot entitled, "Does Personalized News Lead To Ignorance?" points to a discussion between James Turner and Chris Lee:

I think the really interesting and kind of scary question is so just how much consumption of what we traditionally call news is still a requirement of citizenship [...], of being a productive member of a community.

There are those huge investigative things, but the truth is, with very few exceptions, nobody's doing that today. There are, maybe, the big national news organizations and some of this foundation-funded stuff that's starting. I think the bigger worry is the nuts and bolts. As you know, the meat and potatoes of daily journalism is that you've got to ask six people the same question; you've got to go to a council meeting. People get paid to do it for a reason.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Media Must Adapt to Open Source Culture

The following article was original published on October 27, 2009 in the Technician:

Individuals born in the 1990's make up the most technology savvy generation of all time.1 They have grown up in a world where they are constantly connected, always communicating and sharing information freely. These aspects of our world are strikingly different from the environment in which newspapers, television and radio evolved. As a result, open source culture is undermining the effectiveness and financial stability of the traditional media industry.

The Internet originally began as a U.S. military project in the late 1960s.2 Starting with email, web technology was quickly adopted by public and private institutions. Although a degree of open source culture was present in the scientific and academic fields, it began to grow and flourish among users and developers of web technology. Rather than claiming software code as their own property, developers contributed to projects that solved complex problems. Apache, PHP, MySQL and WordPress were collaboratively developed and made available for free. Together these packages are enough to begin distributing your own content online. Add Shoutcast and you have an Internet radio station capable of being heard around the globe.

As a result of open source culture, traditional media companies, previously shaped by an environment of scarce information and expensive production and distribution methods, now find themselves in a new landscape where content is virtually unlimited and automatically disseminated. Explosive growth in user-generated content has put the media in direct competition with its consumers. "Professionally produced" has succumbed to "good enough"3 as consumers flock to Facebook to interact with their peers, post pictures of their homemade meals to Tumblr, upload incriminating videos from their phone to YouTube or coordinate protests on Twitter.

These online activities represent the crux of what traditional media companies must address: consumers of media are not just consumers, they are also producers.4 They are experts on their own circumstances and willing to share what they learn for the benefit of their community--just as software developers continue to innovate the very platform that has usurped traditional media models and empowered the average citizen.

Adapting to this new cultural context requires a revamping of the traditional media business model. If news and information are no longer scarce and have less value in the eyes on the consumer,5 where can value now be found? In my opinion, consumer demographics have more value than the content they consume. Advertisers can use this data to target ads more effectively and media can get a clearer view of their customers.

In addition, redefining the relative importance of privacy, objectivity and intellectual property are also important parts of adaptation. The media can look to many examples of how other industries are embracing the culture: OpenCourseWare in academia, FutureMelbourne in government and Creative Commons licensing amongst artists and musicians.

I expect open source culture to continue to spread. Traditional media companies will struggle, and perhaps fail, if they expect to operate as they have in the past. Regardless of the outcome, now is an exciting time to be involved in the media industry.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why is Journalism a Profession?

In Bernard Lunn's recent article, Journalism 2.0: Don't Throw Out the Baby, he described bloggers as "passionate experts first and journalists second."

Lunn then goes on to list the aspects of journalism that he deems important, including a desire for truth, humility, skepticism and independence from commercial interests. His list echoes concepts expressed in the Pew Research Center's Principles of Journalism.

Why aren't journalism principles, which are essentially synonymous with critical thinking, being imbibed by our culture and education system already?

Lunn describes an expert that thinks critically. This implies that experts are qualified to be journalists, i.e., authoritative bloggers. Of course, these experts may have to adjust their presentation to accommodate differences in audiences. Still, experts must apply the same, if not a greater degree of critical thinking as journalists, otherwise they would not be experts.

Which forces me to ask: why is journalism a profession?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

'Create content for people to love'

From New media virtual interview No. 2 via @macloo

What's the best way for media companies to move from a print first to a web first mentality?

... when it comes to the print-first vs. web-first shift, it's actually not rocket surgery. You have to take some of your staff and give it the mission of doing incremental, breaking news on the Web. And then you have to get your key newsroom people, and I'm talking managing editors, city editors, sports editors, and you've got to make the success of the website part of their mission. If you do those two things, you're going to wind up producing news in a different workflow and it's going to work.

Most places want to treat this as a training issue and a systems issue, and don't get me wrong. Both are important. But it's really a trust and accountability issue. Unless your top leaders are actually accountable for the success of your Web efforts, they're going to be sabotaging or at least undermining them. It's just too easy for them to give the Web lip service, and then stick to doing the same old thing. And employees aren't stupid. They see that, and they just wait out most 'web-first' initiatives.

... unless your top management is accountable for its success, and by that I mean that their salaries and bonuses are tied to it, it's not going to change. This is a cultural challenge masquerading as a technical problem.

Create content for people to love, not for people to encounter in this zipless, bloodless, view-from-nowhere mass-media fantasy world that we created in the 20th century.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More on the Importance of Social Data

On the Harvard Business blog, Andreas Weigend writes:

During the first data revolution, successful companies gained power by collecting, aggregating, and analyzing the customer data they collected. However, most companies did not know what to do and ended up burying their data in tombs.

Today, the online world has shifted to a model of collaboration and explicit data creation. Successful firms develop systematic ways to encourage and reward users who contribute honest data. A good system does not try to trick customers into revealing demographics or contact information that is useful for the company. Rather, it rewards users with information that is useful to them.

The center of the universe has shifted from e-business to me-business. Customers are also starting to discover and interact with each other. Knowing that they are not alone has shifted the balance of power from companies back to consumers. And they have begun to demand transparency. Customers are beginning to have a voice. They are realizing that the data they voluntarily contribute can help them and others with making decisions, providing true value. In turn, they want to be treated fairly as individuals by the companies they pay attention and money to.

See also: Transparency is the new objectivity.
As the expectations of users change, firms must spend more time developing incentive systems that will entice more users to participate.

See Techdirt's CwF + RtB.

These statements by Andreas Weigend relate back to my article entitled User data is the currency of the web.

Friday, July 24, 2009

'Transparency is the New Objectivity'

Some interesting ideas to ponder from

... during a bloggers press conference at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I asked Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Walter Mears whom he was supporting for president. He replied (paraphrasing!), 'If I tell you, how can you trust what I write?,' to which I replied that if he doesn’t tell us, how can we trust what he blogs?

... What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

... credentials and authority work best for vouchsafing commoditized knowledge, the stuff that’s settled and not worth arguing about. At the edges of knowledge — in the analysis and contextualization that journalists nowadays tell us is their real value — we want, need, can have, and expect transparency. Transparency puts within the report itself a way for us to see what assumptions and values may have shaped it, and lets us see the arguments that the report resolved one way and not another. Transparency — the embedded ability to see through the published draft — often gives us more reason to believe a report than the claim of objectivity did."