The people formerly known as the audience

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A very interesting article in the Economist about the changing landscape of news in light of recent developments with Newscorp.

It provides a thorough outline of how journalism has evolved with a focus on the influence of social media, and specific examples of how social media has impacted the news since it’s inception in the late 90’s. From the “Rathergate” scandal in 2004 which provoked the resignation of renowned television anchor Dan Rather to the rise of hybrid news sources such as the Huffington post and the viral news of the revolutions in the middle East, this article provides insight into the increasingly important role that social media has in our lives.

Rather than thinking of themselves as setting the agenda and managing the conversation, news organisations need to recognise that journalism is now just part of a conversation that is going on anyway, argues Jeff Jarvis, a media guru at the City University of New York. The role of journalists in this new world is to add value to the conversation by providing reporting, context, analysis, verification and debunking, and by making available tools and platforms that allow people to participate. All this requires journalists to admit that they do not have a monopoly on wisdom. 

Full article>>

NYT article: The Data-Driven Life

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A very interesting article in The New York Times today about ubiqutous self-tracking. The article, titled The Data-Driven Life, is written by Gary Wolf who usually writes about science and social issues for Wired.

This article explores both the benefits and drawbacks of new technology which allows us to compensate for “human error” such as e blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention.

Sometimes we can’t even answer the simplest questions. Where was I last week at this time? How long have I had this pain in my knee? How much money do I typically spend in a day? These weaknesses put us at a disadvantage. We make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork. We go with our gut.

Apparently, machines can compensate for these lacunas. Examples depicted cover a range of tracking devices from the simplest used for sports (runners) to sophisticated systems applied to track bipolar disorders, addiction, and even ranges in mental function. Perhaps the most frightening of those mentioned is a digital device that tucks into specially designed toddlers’ clothing and can be used to predict language development through tracking the number of conversational exchanges a child has with adults.

“The more they want to share, the more they want to have something to share.” Personal data are ideally suited to a social life of sharing. You might not always have something to say, but you always have a number to report.

Our search history, friend networks and status updates allow us to be analyzed by machines in ways we can’t always anticipate or control. It’s natural that we would want to reclaim some of this power: to look outward to the cloud, as well as inward toward the psyche, in our quest to figure ourselves out.

Watch out for those machines, though. Humans know a special trick of self-observation: when to avert our gaze. Machines don’t understand the value of forgiving a lapse, or of treating an unpleasant detail with tactful silence. A graph or a spreadsheet talks only in numbers, but there is a policeman inside all of our heads who is well equipped with punishing words. “Each day my self-worth was tied to the data”.

Electronic trackers have no feelings. They are emotionally neutral, but this very fact makes them powerful mirrors of our own values and judgments. The objectivity of a machine can seem generous or merciless, tolerant or cruel. Designers of tracking systems are trying to finesse this ambivalence.

Often, pioneering trackers struggle with feelings of being both aided and tormented by the very systems they have built. The article mentions a woman, Alexandra Carmichael, one of the founders of the self-tracking site CureTogether, who recently had to stop.  “One pound heavier this morning? You’re fat. Skipped a day of running? You’re lazy. It felt like being back in school. Less than 100 percent on an exam? You’re dumb.” Carmichael had been tracking 40 different things about herself. The data she was seeing every day didn’t respect her wishes or her self-esteem. It was awful, and she had to stop.

What motivates Trackers? Those focused on their health want to ensure that their medical practitioners don’t miss the particulars of their condition; those who record their mental states are often trying to find their own way to personal fulfillment amid the seductions of marketing and the errors of common opinion; fitness trackers are trying to tune their training regimes to their own body types and competitive goals, but they are also looking to understand their strengths and weaknesses, to uncover potential they didn’t know they had.

All this to satisfy our struggle for self-actualization and perfection? Is that the future? We will all walk around with contraptions attached to our bodies, or inserted under our skin, which will track our every move. the information will be sent to a computer which will then alert us to inconsistencies and provide suggestions about how to get back on the “right track” to perfection? And what happens to all this information if it falls into the wrong hands? Something to ponder on over the week-end.

The article also includes a number of very interesting comments worth reading.

The Mass Amateurization of the Web

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I have been reading Clay Shirky’s book “Here Comes Everybody“, which inspired me to explore other articles by this author. I found a few interesting points about the ongoing discussions on the credibility of bloggers. Can anyone make a living through blogging? According to Shirky we can’t.

Weblogs are not a new kind of publishing that requires a new system of financial reward. Instead, weblogs mark a radical break. They are such an efficient tool for distributing the written word that they make publishing a financially worthless activity. It’s intuitively appealing to believe that by making the connection between writer and reader more direct, weblogs will improve the environment for direct payments as well, but the opposite is true. By removing the barriers to publishing, weblogs ensure that the few people who earn anything from their weblogs will make their money indirectly.

The search for direct fees is driven by the belief that, since weblogs make publishing easy, they should lower the barriers to becoming a professional writer. This assumption has it backwards, because mass professionalization is an oxymoron; a professional class implies a minority of members. The principal effect of weblogs is instead mass amateurization. Mass amateurization is the web’s normal pattern. Travelocity doesn’t make everyone a travel agent. It undermines the value of being travel agent at all, by fixing the inefficiencies travel agents are paid to overcome one booking at a time. Weblogs fix the inefficiencies traditional publishers are paid to overcome one book at a time, and in a world where publishing is that efficient, it is no longer an activity worth paying for.

The pay-for-news venture

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In my courses we often speak about the future of news and information. Recently, a debate has emerged about a new model proposing a system that requires users to pay for news content. It was submitted to the the Newspaper Association of America(NAA) and now made public. The essence of this controversial model links back to none other than Google. The company describes a scenario in which paid content might co-exist in mostly free-content digital environment.

“Google believes that an open Web benefits all users and publishers,” Google’s RFI said. “However, ‘open’ need not mean free. We believe that content on the Internet can thrive supported by multiple business models — including content available only via subscription.” Google’s position is that advertising will likely be the main source of revenue for most news content, but that “a successful paid content model can enhance advertising opportunities, rather than replace them.” Pointing out the obvious, Google’s “Vision Statement” described two challenges: Foremost, the content has to be something consumers are willing to pay for. The second challenge is to create an e-commerce model that is “painless for users.” Google mentions its Checkout payment system and suggests it could be tailored for publishers’ use. “We can use this expertise to help create a successful e-commerce platform for publishers.

Google’s “ecosystem” includes:
• Single sign-on capability for users to access content and manage subscriptions.
• Ability for publishers to combine subscriptions from different titles together for one price.
• Ability for publishers to create multiple payment options and easily include/exclude content behind a paywall.
• Multiple tiers of access to search including 1) snippets only with “subscription” label, 2) access to preview pages and 3) “first click free” access.
• Advertising systems that offer highly relevant ads for users, such as interest-based advertising.

Read full article on Niemanlab