Steve Ivy: The Voice in the Stream

My thinking’s focused on activity streams lately, thinking of them as lifestreams – increasingly people are putting their lives online through various social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Also via blogs or similar structures for holding longer form content.

I found this post by Steve Ivy. He’s talking specifically about the third person perspective in autoposts that record users’ actions, vs content that users posts. Interesting point about Twitter – it’s mostly comments rather than actions (aside from location app checkins, e.g. Foursquare and Gowalla).

Steve doesn’t like the third person for these reports, but I’m not clear there’s a better way. Imagine a string of “I did this” posts – it’s more efficient and clear to say that “Jon did this,” rather than “I” with a signature or an avatar.

Good point about how the Flickr UI makes the third person reports less prominent, stressing their ambience relative to actual comments.

How much of this stuff do we really want to know? I want to have conversations with people online, I don’t necessarily care as much what they like or unlike, what they added to their Netflix queue, where they last checked in, what they scored on QRANK, etc. Well, actually, I do care about the latter, if they scored less than I did.

I don’t necessarily want these third person reports to go away – they add to the sense of activity, the life of the system. But I can see where it makes sense to turn down the volume on those things and stress comments.

Information spill?

We’ve all zeroed in on a set of established platforms for interaction, primarily Facebook and Twitter. Icons linking to Facebook and Twitter pages are standard on many web sites now – suggesting a consensus about where people are hanging out. Many experience the Internet through one or both of these platforms, and a few scattered others (.e.g YouTube, Yelp, blogs etc.). Increasingly we see world-views based on shared content and hyperlinks. As it becomes the new normal, social media is just media, no need to make the distinction. We can end the obsession with tools and forms on the production side, and focus on content. On the consumption or demand side, we have a problem of abundance, of having more quality content than we can track and manage. Filters are crucial, but imperfect. Maybe we still need some work here.

How do we characterize the flow of media? In this context, we invoke the words “push” and “pull.” John Hagel describes pull as ” creating platforms that help people to reach out, find and access appropriate resources when the need arises.” This morning I met with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune, and he used the opposite word, talking about pushing media to readers where they are, rather than expecting them to come to you – “web site as destination” is obsolete in the world of social media.

I think they’re both correct. Is this a 21st Century media koan? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Whatever the case, I don’t think we have a handle on the evolving flow of information online, any more than BP has a handle on the flow of oil from the MC252 spill (if you can call a explosive hemorrhage of oil a “spill”) in the Gulf of Mexico.

Project VRM and e-patients

I’ve been talking to the Project VRM group about healthcare applications of vendor relationship management, also related to the work of the Society for Participatory Medicine and the e-Patients Working Group that preceded it (of which I’ve been a founding member).

Doc Searls and I were talking about this again last week at Fiber Fete; he’s just posted a note about Dave deBronkart’s “Gimme My Damn Data” rant and its implications (expanded and well-overviewed by Dave along with Vince Kuraitis and David Kibbe) to the Project VRM site. Doc takes issue with the use of the word “consume” in the longer piece by Dave et al:

Patients today no longer only consume. They produce. What they want and need is more responsibility for their own health care. More importantly, a patient cannot be a platform if he or she is only consuming. By nature and definition, a consumer is a subordinate creature. It lives downhill from the flow of services. Platforms stand below what they support, but are not subordinate. They are the independent variable on which the variable ones standing on it depend.

Redefining journalism: the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Journalists have been curious, and often anxious, about prospects for the future of news in an era of user generated content, fragmented abundant media, and cheap or free web-based advertising platforms. Nobody doubts the importance of in-depth news reporting, but the business model’s unclear. Many publications are moving online, which may reduce some physical costs but also reduces advertising revenues. There’s still the cost of content development. Sure, you can leverage user-generated free content, which can be very good, but the time and attention required for excellent reporting can’t be free. Said another way, to the extent writing is done without compensation, it tends to be shallow and incomplete. And reporting without editorial process and fact checking is subjective, not authoritative. Reporters may try to be objective and fair, but that’s very hard to do outside a process of vetting, checks and balances.

Academics that study journalism are studying and thinking about the changing present and the future. Several gathered in Austin last week for the International Symposium on Online Journalism. I was there the second day. It was a great event; I came away with my brain churning – though I’ve had an interesting thread of complementary career paths in my life, my original goal was to be a journalist, and I’m most passionate about writing.

You can see my complete tweets (over 250, I think, in one day) here. I also jotted down some notes just after the conference; here are some thoughts based on those notes:

I felt I was hearing a consensus that news is a public good, and news reporting will increasingly be funded, coordinated, and curated through nonprofit entities. I’ve been focused quite a bit lately on Texas Tribune, which is an innovative Texas news organization operating as a nonprofit. Its CEO and editor, Evan Smith, told me at the conference that he’s feeling positive and excited about the future of journalism and the kinds of experiments we were hearing about at the conference.

Former for-profit newspapers are focusing more on infotainment to build and sustain attention and revenue – it’s harder for them to fund hard, in-depth reporting. One potential model would be for nonprofits to report in depth, and provide reporting through content syndication partnerships with for-profits. That may be one wave of the future.

Another interesting experiment presented at the conference:, a site set up to source public funding for news stories suggested by – I think the best word to use here is particpants. We were talking a lot about participatory journalism, which could manifest in any number of ways. Anyone who can read, write, and has access to a computer can potentially report news. What works as journalism is, I think, a matter of context. Is the reporting feeding into a journalistic process of some sort, and what sort of analysis/vetting do you have within that process? I’m all for broader sourcing of facts and perspectives, but how that mix becomes journalism in today’s world of social and collaborative media is still being defined.

iPad for Breakfast

Yours truly with Bryan Person, iPad winner Charlie Nichols Browning, and Rob Quigley.
Yours truly with Bryan Person, iPad winner Charlie Nichols Browning, and Rob Quigley.

This morning (April 26, 2010), as part of the Social Media Breakfast series organized by Bryan Person and Maura Thomas, I led a discussion about the iPad. I don’t actually have an iPad myself, but I was eager to hear what the diverse SMB crowd would have to say about the impact and future of the device. Several who came had already bought iPads; we distributed them among the breakout sessions.

I framed the discussion by talking about the devices apparent strengths (light, mobile, easy to use) and limitations (hard to print, hard to interface with other systems, doesn’t have a built-in phone or camera). Then we had breakouts to discuss the iPad from various perspectives: what makes the iPad compelling; what is its impact on productivity, lifestyled, marketing, publishing, and social media; what can we expect from a world where we have connectivity like water – always on, everywhere. What had a great turnout, almost sixty people, and they were smart and vocal – so we had great conversations.

What were the conclusions? People felt that the iPad is more for lifestyle and entertainment, though there’s a potential for it to become a productivity tool. We heard that some hospitals are already incorporating it into their workflow, for instance.

One group felt that the “what the hell is that thing” confusion was part of what made the iPad compelling – people are drawn to it to try to figure it out.

They also felt that the iPad is driving a shift to new standards – platforms that start instantly, are light and mobile, incorporate touch technology, and are accessible and easy to use.

The iPad is not exactly great for productivity, though it can have an impact on efficiency. In business, it’s a great sales tool and communication tool, but it’s not a laptop or PC replacement. However it will allow sales professionals to demo anywhere, and gather information on the spot.

Where marketing is concerned, the iPad integrates both push and pull technologies and is a promising platform for ad-based content and services. There are already effective news apps. It’s also a great tool for engagement – many apps that run on the iPad and iPhone are social technologies.

The group that discussed social media was split regarding the impact of the iPad. They felt the biggest impact of the iPad would be in bringing in new social media adopters and spreading awareness of social media. Because it’s easy, it might help older people who are not digital natives adopt social media. It’s also great for multitasking. (We didn’t get into the discussion whether multitasking is evil.)

In publishing, there’s a split between specialized apps and browser-based experiences; the iPad facilitates both. The iPad might evolve as a textbook replacement. It will have an impact on organizing and editing information. The group agreed that information is more important than the platform for its delivery. There were questions about the future of print media as it becomes digital. The move from legacy to digital environments has meant lower revenues.

The iPad can be great for mobile professionals – physicians, for example, who will find the iPad even more useful as more health data is digitized and accessible in electronic health records.

The various limitations of the platform. – printing limitations, connectivity limitations, lack of USB, display interaces, cameras, and the lack of tethering were all limitations of the iPad, but none of them insurmountable. The iPad just wasn’t built to do everything. And it’s evolving.