Jay Rosen made a rich Tumblr post about mindcasting and Twitter. Mindcasting is Jay’s term for his posting style – where his goal is to have a high signal to noise ratio… and he’s a very active conversation engine. This post has notes on the form… e.g.

The act of building an editorial presence in Twitter by filtering, processing and structuring the flow of information that moves through the medium using one’s follow list, journalistic sensibilities and individual right to publish updates.

Also “It’s true that mindcasting is a pretentious term. People have always told me that certain things I do are pretentious. Every occupation has its hazards, right? What saves mindcasting from being totally so is that it’s an alternative to an even more pretentious notion: lifecasting.” He ends with a great Julian Dibbel quote:

It may begin as just a seed of an idea — a thought about the future of online media, say — tossed out into the germinating medium of the twitterverse, passed along from one Twitter feed to another, critiqued or praised, reshaped and edited, then handed back for fleshing out on a blog, first, and then, perhaps, in a book. It’s not that tweet-size sparks of insight haven’t always been part of the media ecosystem, in other words. It’s just that Twitter now has given them a vastly more exciting social life.

Read Jay’s whole post, my excerpts here don’t do it justice. Just registering my affinity. I really like the idea of diving into the information flow and working it to accelerate its quality. (Wondering if I should add Tumblr as yet another venue for writing/blogging/conversation.)

Open Government on the Internet

Friday’s “Open Government on the Internet” conference at the LBJ Library opened with Bill Bradley, who discussed his (and President Obama’s) profound interest inmaking government more accessible. The conference explored various aspects of government openness and transparency, but at the core of the conversation is an intention – affirmed by Federal CIO Vivek Kundra – to put all data online and to open up government databases, making as much data as possible accessible via clear and usable application programming interfaces. Bradly talked about data and information as raw material for sculpting democratic outcomes. For example, he supports a searchable Federal budget with links from each budget item to the appropriations bill, the authorization bill, information about the committee that passed the bill, who testified and who they represented. This would be a series of connections that would let you see who did what to affect spending at a granular level.

Bradley said we have the opportunity to leverage the ideas of enormously talented people throughout the U.S. via crowdsourcing or “ideastorming.” Truly open government ios not just about providing information from government sources to the people, but also about flowing ideas back from people to the government.

Most people, he said, are not extremely ideological. Their political views may be more complex, not well summarized by categories like “right” or “left,” “Republican” or “Democrat.” He imagined individuals having personal political pages that include more detail about their views, and from the contents of these pages, you could build constituencies around specific issues (the kinds of “adhocracies” that I envisioned in 1997, when I wrote “Nodal Politics” as one chapter of a never-published book about the Internet’s potential as a platform for democracy and political activism).

Following Bradley, there was a keynote by Vivek Kundra, the new Federal CIO he directs Federal technology policy and strategy. The Federal Government has a wealth of information, he says, that taxpayers paid for and have a right to access and use. Obama issued memoranda on transparency and open government as a first move after he took office – it was his highest priority. We have the Freedom of Information Act that LBJ signed when he was president, and we should assume that transparency and accessibility of information is the default, and not an exception that requires a special request.

Note the Human Genome Project, which put the genome data in the public domain. This resulted in a global explosion of innovation in treatment development, over 500 new drugs. Also consider the democratization of satellite information and its impact on navigation and mapping.

By opening up and making data available across disciplines, we can tap into the ingenuity of the people. The true value of technology and data lies at the intersection of multiple disciplines. Crowdsourcing is powerful – the crowd might see patterns the public section lacks the resources or attention to spot. Looking at innovation at a grassroots level, and lower cost of technologies.

Kundra is looking at agencies that have led the way, and new ways to leverage networks. It’s not enough to merely “webify” exiswting institutions. We should fundamentally change processes. There are 24,000 web sites within Federal government, but we need to think about moving government and services where the people are, systems like Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, Ebay, etc. where there’s high adoption. How do we move our applications where the people are, and fit them to context? We need to provide services in contextgs people are most comfortable with.

Wayne Caswell asked about broadband objectives. Kundra says the intention is to aggressively ensure that we extend broadband access into rural and underserved communities. Services should exist across the entire spectrum, and solutions should work everywhere.

Dennis Mick asked about the possibility of intrusive surveillance. There are robust privacy committees within the CIO council and within the White House. The idea is to bake privacy protection into technologies as they’re developed. They’re working closely with the General Services Administration to negotiate model agreements and ensure privacy protection.

Sharron Rush asked about accessibility. The Feds have rules about accessibility of web sites, yet not all the Fed sites meet accessibility standards (e.g. recovery.org). Kundra says part of the problem is in failing to address accessibility up front and bake it into the procurement process and the architecture of solutions. This will be corrected to make sure no one is disenfranchised.

Gary Chapman, Director of the LBJ School’s 21st Century Project and an organizer of the event, spoke next, saying that the discourse and vocabulary of enterprise computing is being challenged by a new discourse and thinking about consumer technology. What is the bridge between enterprise computing and the new consumer model that is encroaching on institutions?

Panic in the Tweets

A Guatemalan Twitter user has been arrested for “inciting a panic” with his tweets. Great reporting from Xeni at boingboing: “Twitter user “Jeanfer” was
arrested for suggesting in a tweet that people who had money deposited
in Banrural should remove those funds, and by doing so, break the
control that corrupt entities have over the state-controlled financial
institution.” [Link]

Heckle and Jeckle

Heckle and Jeckle

Magpie is troubling: “Allow us to embed our customers’ messages (aka spam?) in your Twitter timeline and earn money. Crass and inauthentic. Hoping anyone who signed up to have their Twitter feed hijacked by advertisers/spammers is thinking twice – Magpie will only work with adoption. I learned about this “service” from a post at ReadWriteWeb: “It’s so revolting and pitiful that it’s kind of sad.”

Should this really bother me? Well, yeah – I’ve invested much of the last two decades in my life online, and some significant percentage of that time evangelizing for an Internet that doesn’t go where commercial television, ultimately, went: ads interspersed with content. We’re not even sure that advertising works, certainly less so than before. At least with placement services like Google the ads have been subtle and generally out of the way. A redundant ad message popping up on every third tweet at Twitter would be rather completely unsubtle, potentially killing the goose.

In my life as a consultant, much of what I do is advise how to use the web to meet various business goals, and that’s often about making money, including sales, marketing, and advertising. If someone like Apple or Skype (users of the Magpie service) asked me about feeding canned ad messages into Twitter via Magpie, I would say “you’ll piss people off.” The weird and unfortunate thing about this kind of inauthentic brute force advertising is that, while it often does piss people off, it also somehow manages to increase sales. If statistics didn’t show that result, nobody would do it. All advertising would be tasteful and wonderful, authentic and well-placed. It’s a dilemma.

(In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s a reference to the once-famous cartoon magpies.)

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.

Participatory Medicine

In a retreat today and tomorrow with founders of a participatory medicine movement at Cook’s Branch near Houston. In participatory medicine, the patient comes first, and is part of a team that also includes patient groups and communities, healthcare providers, and clinical researchers (paraphrasing the Wikipedia article, which has much more on the subject):

Participatory medicine is a phenomenon similar to citizen/network journalism where everyone, including the professionals and their target audiences, works in partnership to produce accurate, in-depth & current information items. It is not about patients or amateurs vs. professionals. Participatory medicine is, like all contemporary knowledge-building activities, a collaborative venture. Medical knowledge is a network.

Truth to Power

Rebecca MacKinnon tweeted a pointer to Ai Weiwei’s Truth to Power, a Chinese blog. This links to an interview posted in Chinese and English.

Simon Kirby: Your criticisms of the Olympic Games are not reported in
the official media, but your blog remains online. What is the purpose of
your blog?
Ai Weiwei: I do my blog because this is the only possible channel through
which a person can express a personal opinion in China. No newspaper,
magazine or television channel would ever present your argument or ideas. I
am the most interviewed person in China, even domestically, and yet even if
I say something it cannot be published here: so I am talking to myself – it is
ridiculous. So I felt that a blog might be a good way to create one forum in
which to open one’s mind. Yet every time I sit to write I still hesitate: should
I do it? What will the consequences be?

Reminder that we take so much for granted in the USA.

A pretty unlikely early adopter

Clay Shirky just got some interesting ink (to use a trad media term) in the Guardian UK, which compares him visually to Michael Stipe of REM and quotes him re old media: “2009 is going to be a bloodbath,” albeit one that “may produce greater industry clarity.” [Read it here.]

The steady loss of advertising revenue, accelerated by the recession, has normalised the idea that it’s acceptable to move to the web. Even if we have the shallowest recession and advertising comes back as it inevitably does, more of it will go to the web. I think that’s it for newspapers. What we saw happen to the Christian Science Monitor [the international paper shifted its daily news operation online] is going to happen three or four dozen times (globally) in the next year. The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press – high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication – is over. But will the New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.

Art and social media

I really like Amrita Chandra’s guest post at Chris Brogan’s blog – “What Artists Can Teach Everyone About Social Media.” The art world has always been social and has always had the “consumer is producer” aspect, acknowledged or not. Here’s the best advice:

Live an interesting life. What I love most about art is how it allows people to tell their own stories, whether it is through a painting or a photograph or a video installation.And the best stories come from people who live interesting lives. Look at your own life.Are you in a rut?Are you afraid to try new things?When was the last time you did something that took you outside your comfort zone?By being an interesting person, you will draw people to you through the stories you tell whether you are talking about software or changing the world.

Makes me think of Henry Miller, who made his life his art. He said “art is only a means to life, to the life more abundant. It is not in itself the life more abundant. It merely points the way, something which is overlooked not only by the public, but very often by the artist himself. In becoming an end it defeats itself.”

That’s also true of “social media.”

Grouply isn’t cool

[Someone complained that a link to this post was “dead.” I had unpublished it because, after some conversation with the folks at Grouply, I decided I was a bit harsh. I left the system and I wouldn’t recommend it, but they do seem be resolving some of the issues, and I have to take responsibility for my misinterpretation of their “offer” to contact other members of my Yahoo groups in my name. On the other hand, that’s not a great way to grow the network, and the offer I thought I was seeing – to facilitate connection to Yahoo group members already on Grouply – would make more sense and be less spammy. Whatever the case, I’m republishing this post “for the record.”]

Actually Grouply is a cool idea, but poorly implemented. An application where you can see and manage all your Yahoo and Google groups and friend other group members is a cool idea. A feature that offers to connect you with others who are in your groups that have already signed up could be a good thing, as well. But an application with a feature that looks like that, but that spams everybody in every group you’ve ever joined, is a botch. The application is otherwise wonky… e.g. every time I log in, it takes me through the same setup processes I’ve already stepped through.

I should have looked before I leapt. Grouply’s had issues for months. Search on “grouply spam” and you get 14,300 hits. (Maybe 14,301, after I post this.) There’s an anti-grouply site called “Ungrouply Behavior.”

Grouply does appear to be working with Yahoo users to fix its problems. There’s a Yahoo Group set up for that purpose, called GrouplyImprovements.

If you fall into Grouply and don’t want to be there, you can leave grouply (and I have). You should also change your Yahoo groups password, just in case.

Jay Rosen: Getting a clue about bloggers and ethics

Jay Rosen understands better than anybody the distinctions between traditional media and social media, and he’s written a great post about it, called “If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn’t. So Let’s Get a Clue.”

He writes about trust, quoting Dave Winer, who says “a blog is not defined by the software or features in the format (like comments) but by a person talking: ‘one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think’…. To trust a blogger is to trust in a person, talking to you, who is working without the safety net of an institution.”

In talking about gatekeepers and filters, he makes a really important distinction

In closed systems, editorial production is expensive, so we need good gatekeepers. We solved that problem by having professionals do it.

In open systems, production is cheap and new material abundant, so we need good filters. We solved that problem by having bloggers, social media sites and software do it.

Bloggers have ethics, or practices that lead to trust. They practice “the ethic of the link,” pointing to other thoughts and ideas – Jeff Jarvis talks about a Golden Rule of links in journalism: “ink unto others’ good stuff as you would have them link unto your good stuff. This emerges from blogging etiquette but is exactly contrary to the old, competitive ways of news organizations: wasting now-precious resources matching competitors’ stories so you could say you’d done it yourself.” They readily correct themselves, “they don’t claim neutrality, but they do practice transparency,” they converse openly with each other, they point to each others’ sites as frames of reference, and when they have a story, they keep it alive until naturally cycles out. “In all these ways, good bloggers build up trust with a base of users online. And over time, the practices that lead to trust on the platform where the users actually are… these become their ethic, their rules.”

What are we missing?

Social media people still haven’t shaken broadcast thinking. So many still think there’s a relationship between attention and credibility. If I write a bestseller, I’ll be smarter than I was before I wrote the book, and a guy who writes a very smart book that doesn’t quite take off can’t be as smart as I am. Cream rises to the top. In the social media world, if I’m an A-list blogger, I’m smarter and cooler – even more so, because there’s so much more competition for attention in the blogosphere.

I think there are a lot of factors in producing success in the economy of attention, and being the smartest guy in the room ain’t necessarily one of them. Working hard and even working smart won’t necessarily do it for you. Talent isn’t enough. Having a smart PR person or machine will help. Luck is a big part of the deal – right place right time etc.

Someday I’ll talk about ways to get attention for yourself, but that’s not what I was thinking about when I started writing this post. The point I really want to make is that there are a lot of really smart, talented, and capable people in the world that nobody knows. They have zero visibility, and they don’t even try to get attention. In fact, real wisdom would probably suggest you don’t want the attention unless that happens to be your thing. Getting real attention – fame – is a lot of work and could get in the way of anything else you might want to do.

What I’m thinking about today is how we leverage intelligence and talent that we don’t necessarily see, and how we establish credibility for smart thinking that isn’t acknowledged by the media (or social media) machine. We like to think that social media is about crowdsourcing and brings more people into the conversation, but I’m not sure this is true. Consider the concept of the a-list blogger and Clay Shirky’s application of power law thinking to the blogosphere:

Though there are more new bloggers and more new readers every day, most of the new readers are adding to the traffic of the top few blogs, while most new blogs are getting below average traffic, a gap that will grow as the weblog world does. It’s not impossible to launch a good new blog and become widely read, but it’s harder than it was last year, and it will be harder still next year. At some point (probably one we’ve already passed), weblog technology will be seen as a platform for so many forms of publishing, filtering, aggregation, and syndication that blogging will stop referring to any particularly coherent activity. The term ‘blog’ will fall into the middle distance, as ‘home page’ and ‘portal’ have, words that used to mean some concrete thing, but which were stretched by use past the point of meaning. This will happen when head and tail of the power law distribution become so different that we can’t think of J. Random Blogger and Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit as doing the same thing.

At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase which seems to mean “media we’ve gotten used to.”) The transformation here is simple – as a blogger’s audience grows large, more people read her work than she can possibly read, she can’t link to everyone who wants her attention, and she can’t answer all her incoming mail or follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without participating in conversations about it.

Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average traffic, audience size can’t be the only metric for success. LiveJournal had this figured out years ago, by assuming that people would be writing for their friends, rather than some impersonal audience. Publishing an essay and having 3 random people read it is a recipe for disappointment, but publishing an account of your Saturday night and having your 3 closest friends read it feels like a conversation, especially if they follow up with their own accounts. LiveJournal has an edge on most other blogging platforms because it can keep far better track of friend and group relationships, but the rise of general blog tools like Trackback may enable this conversational mode for most blogs.

Clay wrote this in 2003; what we’ve seen since then is pretty consistent with his predictions.

The short version of what I’m thinking about is this: how do we find and leverage real intelligence within the long tail of bloggers, and how do we extract and process useful knowledge from larger ongoing conversations on the web. One way might be to depend quite a bit on writers who filter – who are exploring and crunching the larger conversations, placing them in context, and interpreting their meaning and relevance. We depend on thought leaders and intelligent aggregators.

And we still probably miss the thinking of some of the smartest people who for whatever reason don’t release their thoughts into the wild.

More on Mumbai/Twitter

I posted earlier about Mumbai/social media. Svetlana Gladkova says more about Twitter as a source of news and conversation about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Svetlana references an excellent piece by Mathew Ingram, who addresses the question whether Twitter can be trusted as a news source since “messages posted to Twitter aren’t verified in any sense of the word, and in many cases could be wrong, or could perpetuate misunderstandings or factual inaccuracies” (thought inaccuracies are often if not usually corrected in other messages). He notes that traditional media sources also often make reports that are incorrect. I think this became more common with the advent of cable news channels, then the Internet – news stories are more likely to be broken as they happen, and there’s less time for analysis and verification. Now we can all get the raw data, correct or incorrect, and we’re learning to interpret for ourselves what’s real, helped by evolving layers of analysis added by the journalists and experts that used to have sole ownership of the data.

Svetlana doesn’t

know why it should be important at all if Twitter is a good source of news or not – it is good in what it does and you can call it news since this is exactly what people share with us – news. And I don’t really think that people sending updates from their cell phones to let the world know what was going on were really trying to act like journalists – they wanted to share the news with anyone who was interested and that’s it.

She goes on to say that

Twitter is just the right place to get the information – and get it quick. When mainstream media takes time to bring reporters to site or at least find and verify a couple of sources and even bloggers taking a few minutes to type a post and hit that “Publish” button, Twitter is already here with multiple reports from people witnessing the entire situation directly where the situation is. And no, hardly all the facts will be correct but you will get to know something is happening – and you will have at least some understanding of what is going on. Besides, the wrong facts will probably be corrected soon right there on Twitter and if you watch with attention enough, you will get a more or less comprehensive picture.

That’s not just true of Twitter – we said the same about blogs before Twitter appeared, and we said the same about other forms computer-mediated communication, like email lists and online discussion forums, before blogs appeared.

Svetlana acknowledges that there are many levels of “noise” in the Twitter feeds, a combination of direct reports and quotes from media sources, facts and opinions.

But while noise at this level is typical mainly for Twitter only, there is another problem that Twitter shares with media outlets. The thing is that at crazy times like this you can never really trust anyone – be it a tweet from a person in the thick of things or a report from a reputable news organization. Simply because even news professionals can be wrong because their reporters can hardly get the full picture on site and often report mainly what they see themselves – which is not very different from what simple bystanders get to know. And we need to understand that when everything is equally disorganized and chaotic you will hardly find any source that will be actually reliable.

I found this especially interesting because it reminds me what I was thinking when I left journalism school for the English department 35 years ago (ouch! I’m getting grey). However hard you try as a journalist, you’re always presenting a limited set of facts and a limited interpretation. However well you try to adhere to standards of objectivity, in every piece you write you’re applying your particular cultural filters and biases, and you’re always working from a limited set of facts, even if you’re close to the story, sometimes even if you were in the middle of it.

This has been reinforced for me over and over through the years. In every case where I’ve been close to a news story, the published version was always inconsistent in some way with my awareness of the facts. It wasn’t that the reporter was “wrong” or I was missing something – we just had different perspectives. If you want to get closer to the truth, better to present the multiple perspectives, and the facts as ‘raw’ as you can make them. Journalists add context, and that’s valuable – we can’t all pore over the details of every story – but it’s good to know that we have the opportunity.

When I shifted my focus from journalism to literature, it was because I thought literature was better at capturing the truth. I was especially interested in the novel, which at its best presents a story from many perspectives in an attempt to capture what’s real. In the late 80s and 90s I was drawn to the Internet’s potential to do this – to provide the whole complexity of the narrative – around any subject or event. I made a career commitment to the web and social media because I could see the potential for the kind of writing I’d been interested in when I had wanted to be a journalist years before.

So now we have a complex narrative, nobody owns the truth, and everyone has the opportunity to think through the meaning of events like Mumbai. You can draw your own conclusions, and that’s powerful. As with everything that’s powerful, it carries responsibility: we should all learn to be far more media literate than broadcast media ever allowed us to be. But I see that happening, and I see in my many younger friends who have been living and breathing the Internet since grade school a better grasp of this democratization of knowledge, this opportunity to create a shared narrative.

The way we’re responding to Mumbai brings this into focus, but this is the new world of knowledge, and it’s the right evolution for the times we’re in – because our need to live sustainably is met with solutions built on knowledge as the key natural resource. Knowledge as a process is as vital in today’s world as industrial heavy equipment was in the industrial world of resource extraction and heavy infrastructure construction.

So what’s happening on Twitter – not just where Mumbai is concerned, but every day – is critical evolution, in my opinion.