Richard Gingras at the International Symposium on Online Journalism

Richard Gingras, Google News
Richard Gingras, Google News

The leader of Google News gave an insightful talk about the current state of online journalism. Here are my tweets during his keynote. Appreciated his visionary thinking about the state and future of news, especially the extent to which the concept of a “news story” is being redefined and reshaped as the Internet evolves past old media paradigms (page/periodical/book) and new forms of distribution emerge that are a more natural fit for technical and social networks. One caveat: he doesn’t really have to think the same way as some of the other speakers about finding a new business model – Google already has one that works. Also note that he was feeling good about Google+. (You think Facebook has Google+ beat? We used to think that Apple was never going to be a leader.)

(Pardon my typos.)

Live blogging #ISOJ

I was actively live tweeting the International Sympsium on Online Journalism when I hit Twitter’s limit of 1000 posts within 24 hours. (I’m finding it a little hard to believe I posted that much, but that’s what Twitter’s algorithm is saying, I suppose).

I’ll do some live blogging here instead, offering this brief post by way of explanation – if you find this interesting, see the @jonl posts for #isoj and #isoj12. I’ll look for a chance to storify some of those tweets later.

My tweets from the Day 1 of DrupalCamp Austin 2011

Blogchat and mutation

It’s hard to scale conversations beyond some manageable number of participants. Christopher Allen, in an excellent article on Dunbar’s number and other potential limits of social scale, argues that the optimimum limit is around 5-9 participants, possibly as many as 12.

In last night’s #blogchat on Twitter, I saw an example of attempted conversation beyond any reasonable scale, yet it did kind of work in that participants felt they were getting value from the conversation, and were excited and stimulated by the firehose of tweets and retweets.

I’m not sure “chat” is exactly the right word for this kind of conversational explosion where it’s difficult to track specific comments and ideas. In the Tweetchat application, a dozen or more comments would appear every few seconds. My experience was one of zeroing in a best I could, tracking only a fraction of the conversation. That’s the way Twitter generally works, anyway, as you scale up – you’ can’t hope to follow everything that’s said, so you dip in and out of the stream of expression. It’s nonlinear, chaotic; what I sometimes refer to as “drive-by conversation.” It feels very ADD. On the other hand, it’s stimulating, and I never fail to learn from these conversations, however disjointed they may seem.

I thought the experience would be more poweful as an asynchronous forum – that Twitter might not be the right tool for this kind of conversation. I posted so: “I wish we had this same group talking in an asynchronous forum to facilitate attention and focus.” Someone responded “That’s what the transcript is for – attention & focus.” So this is more like a blast of ideas, a group brainstorm, not quite a conversation, if you assume that conversation is sustained and coherent exchange of ideas, somewhat linear and trackable.

My concluding point is that we’re creating new ways of communicating that don’t necessarily acknowledge presumed limits of scale. We can say that meaningful conversation or teamwork has a limit of a dozen particpants, but we’re pushing that envelope hard. Same with Dunbar’s number, “a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships,” presumably 150. The Wikipedia article for Dunbar’s numbers says”this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.” Maybe we’ll see a neocortical mutation as we friend and follow many hundreds or thousands of people and attempt to manage ever larger numbers of “stable” relationships.

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.

Fiber Fete: Telemedicine notes

Speaker: Lawrence Keyes, CEO, Microdesign

Continuing from Twitter tweets…

Talking about the DocBox, a set-top box for telemedicine. Currently seeing senior Tai Chi class taught over the DocBox, which is connected via DLS or cable of at least 384Kbs up and down. Sound is transmitted through the television set; DocBox has a built in microphone (controlled for classes centrally – microphones may be switched off for a class, can hold up your hand to speak.) Via split screen, the patients in a class can see each other.

Requires fixed IP address, “illegal” with some providers who use DHCP persistently.

It’s obvious how Fiber to the Home would help: better video and audio. Quality potentially good enough for diagnostic imaging. Electronic Health Record, video conferencing and monitoring expected. Anyone can be a provider: every patient can be a transmitter via symmetrical network, and network can be managed from anywhere.

See for more info.

Social semantics

Much semantic confusion around the new world of ubiquitous omindirectional communication, especially in the business/marketing world where it’s critical to understand how to capture attention and make effective, productive connections. I happened onto a post by Venessa Miemis that explores confusion about reputation (or whuffie) vs social capital.

Parenthetical: Flashing back to a meeting David Armistead and I had with a supposedly savvy social business entrepreneur where we used the term “social capital,” and she informed us that we were confused about the term, and proceeded to define it in the “social entrepreneur” sense – that social capital is microfinance, the sort of thing Muhammad Yunus is into. We realized she was confused and decided she was less than credible, but with a kind of “gold rush” around social-whatever, as we have today, Babelian weirdness is inherently part of the scene.

Okay, end paren. I was excited about Miemis’ post, quite a bit because of it’s clarity (vs the post by Brian Solis that it dissects, which is somewhat opaque). Also because it resolves a confusion of labels and contexts: reputation is not the same a social capital, and social capital is more complex than some who invoke it might allow.

I like the thinking in this paragraph:

If we decide that reputation is the new “currency” of the social economy, and decide to attach a number to it, I’m going to suggest that that would undermine the entire premise itself, instead resulting in commodity fetishism. (Neither Solis nor [Tara] Hunt directly suggests attaching a number to it, but I’m just pointing out that if we talk about this using economic words, people will be led to develop it accordingly.) I’m just trying to think ahead here. What Hunt is trying to promote is a return to human-centric practices in business and leading from underlying human values. (One of the tweets she sent me was a link to this post of hers, which indicates as much) I think that’s what we’re all trying to do – I’m just cautioning that people may abuse this premise if its meaning is cloaked in economic metaphor.

I’m not sure it’s a “return to human-centric practices,” i.e. I don’t know that we were ever especially human-centric in business, depending how that’s defined, but I’m pretty sure that markets were conversations before they were mediated by broadcast technology and became more abstract – I said as much in the early 90s, when I proposed FringeWare, Inc. as a “street market in cyberspace.” I suppose I was thinking then, too, that markets had been more “human-centric” in the past, but we have to be careful not to view the past – or the future, for that matter – with rose colored glasses. Neither the past nor the future exists, only hazy memory and hazy speculation.

What we do know is that mass media fragmented via the Internet, and mindshare in general is more focused on the personal and the conversational. We may still watch some things on television, but there’s so much more texting, tweeting, blogging and Facebooking. The business challenge is to get into that space and get a word in edgewise. Especially hard if you spent your life pushing and controlling messages that were transmitted over a limited number of channels by the few to the many.

In this context reputation is important – trust is crucial – and social capital is inherent, if not well-understood. It’s good to see writers and thinkers and even merchants trying to get their heads around all this.

NY Times: Twitter is haunted

The New York Times just discovered that there are ghost tweeters on Twitter. That was common knowledge in the Twitterverse, of course; part of the fun is figuring out whether a celebrity persona on the system is a spoof, a ghost, or the real thing. Spoofs already made news via Shaquille O’Neals decision to tweet as “The Real Shaq” after he learned there was a spoof account, and the more recent outing of a fake Dalai Lama. We all suspected other celebrities were using ghost tweeters, and some have been pretty transparent, like Britney Spears, who shares her account with others on her staff – they’ve been identifying who’s posting in the posted tweets.

I’m realizing how weird this all must sound to those of you who haven’t drunk the Twitter Kool-Aid quite yet. It’s really pretty irrelevant to the experience current adopters are having – scads are following these celebrities, but I suspect they’re getting a tiny slice of the overall commitment of attention.

The Times article outs Guy Kawasaki, who currently has over 94,000 followers, as “an unabashed user of ghost Twitterers.” He is “is full of praise for the two employees who enliven his Twitter feed, often posting updates while he is on stage addressing a conference.” In response, Kawasaki told publisher Tim O’Reilly (via Twitter) “2 people supplement my posts. They only do links to cool stuff. I do all responses.”

The “ghosts” raise the question of authenticity, but where celebrities are concerned, has that ever really been an issue? The cool thing about Twitter is that it can accommodate bogus PR posturing and completely authentic personal sharing, all in the same virtual “room.” Put your attention where it does you the most good – and if you’re getting useful intelligence from Kawasaki’s feed, you probably don’t care whether it’s him or his ghost that’s posting.