Joy bigger than the universe, and sorrow for a lifetime

Absolute must read – Jennifer Lawler: “For Jessica”.

The latest: “A vigil for Jessica”:

Now, between the crisis and the catastrophe, you know you should lift a glass of champagne, but you have failed to lay in supplies yet again. Maybe next time you will remember.

Tonight there is just a long time till morning, and your lost saints can give no comfort. So you pick up your pen instead and you pin the terror to the page, and you hope it does not get loose. And a circle of women who have sat this vigil themselves seem to surround you, echoing back so many generations you cannot begin to count, and you know you are not alone, and you never have been, even in that hardest part before dawn.

(via Susie Madrak)

“A New Media Tells Different Stories” by Bruno Giussani

“A New Media Tells Different Stories” by Bruno Giussani April, 1997:

There are also many other ramifications that the new journalist will have to take into consideration while handling information and exploiting the different tools.

quote First, the behavior of online information seekers is very different than the traditional readers: some surf, some search. The first group is satisfied which just seeing what’s there – they seek pleasure and surprise. The second group is looking for specific information – their priorities are easy and rapid access, and accuracy.

Second, geography is no longer an issue. Because of the Internet global reach, geographical audiences and ethnic audiences can overlap (for instance, Swiss readers living in the United States access our magazine online) as well as thematic audiences (say, worldwide car racing fans hooking up to an Indianapolis newspaper).

Thirdly, the development of the many different types of intelligent agents will double the human public in all of its diversity by becoming an artificial public. We will have to think of a way to present our information so that it reaches both people and robots: software which behaves according to their owners’ desires.

Forth, we will have to handle many different types of information that previously were not taken into consideration and which do not necessarily respond to the traditional definition of news: weather forecasts, traffic updates, sport results, real estate markets, transcripts of school board meetings, unedited documents, etc.

Fifth, we will have to face new competitors coming from outside the field of publishing, using different approaches and different techniques. The first name that comes to mind is, of course, Microsoft, a software company which has recently rolled out a magazine (Slate), launched a TV/Web station (MSNBC), and started projects for local Web guides (Sidewalk). But there are thousands more doing the same, becoming news publishers all the while being car manufacturers or phone companies.

Finally, and it’s an essential point, we are going to witness an explosion in the media diversity. It would be incredibly naive to envision the future looking only at what we can see today – the computer as a plastic box with a screen and a keyboard. The digital revolution is giving birth to multiple new forms of devices bringing together the quality of television images, the communication power of telephones, the memory and speed of computers, the selection and ease of use of newspapers. They are spreading out in different shapes and forms and locations: cellular phones with e-mail capability, network computers, videotext, electronic paper, digital wallets, voice recognition, audiotex, pagers, beep-watches, and so on. The future will allow us to access worldwide information, in many different forms, adapted to needs and places

Jeneane Sessum rocks – Why Journalism Matters

We become part of the stories we discuss on our blogs. We mold, change, and affect the public’s perception of the people, places and events we talk about, via Google’s lasting, aggregating lens.

More and more evidence points to Jeneane Sessum being unfairly connected to the matters I posted about yesterday and her good name has been drug through the mud. That mud leaving trails all over Google.

As Jeneane says:

There are layers and layers of important issues that intelligent people can tackle and use to make meaning out of this. I hope that effort moves forward.

Me too.

So while folks are discussing the code of conduct suggestions over at Tim O’Reilly’s, I’d like to remind folks of The Citizen News Network and Center for Citizen Media project – Principles of Citizen Journalism, and think about that first principal – Accuracy – before passing on information that isn’t proven again.

As Scott Karp says, this entire episode illustrates “Why Journalism Matters”:

I have been watching in silent horror for days as this drama has unfolded – horror not only at Kathy Sierra’s traumatization, but over the total unrestrained free-for-all in the blogosphere. This is a case study in hearsay, innuendo, rumor, defamation, libel, jumping to conclusions and every other negative consequence of unrestrained publishing that the principles of journalism are intended to prevent, and notwithstanding some notable failures, generally do prevent when applied with some seriousness of purpose.

I read dozens of blog posts on this incident, and I still had NO CLUE who might or might not be guilty of what. Each new post I read tangled the web further, layering misinformation on top of disinformation. There was precious little “WHAT do I know” and a whole lot of “WHO do I know and how do I feel about them.”

Then I read this article by a JOURNALIST at the San Francisco Chronicle. I can’t say for sure whether all of the fact here are straight, but this is the only place I came across that actually attempted to ascertain through a coherent process what the facts might be or to lay out a coherent sequence of events. AND, you’ll notice that the only names of those (alleged) to be directly involved in the incident that the article mentions are Chris Locke and Kathy Sierra, both of whom the journalist interviewed and quoted. In the blogosphere, naming names was all about shoot first and ask questions latter.

Update: Anyone can commit acts of journalism. With this story, the fact is, few of us actually did. And the consequences are no good for anyone.

Update: There should be a “Clay Shirky rule” for social software discussion threads…

First person to make a connection to a Clay Shirky piece gets props or insults or something like that….

I bring this up because so much of this series of events recalls an old Clay Shirky piece worth revisiting: “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”:

…We’ve had social software for 40 years at most, dated from the Plato BBS system, and we’ve only had 10 years or so of widespread availability, so we’re just finding out what works. We’re still learning how to make these kinds of things.

Now, software that supports group interaction is a fundamentally unsatisfying definition in many ways, because it doesn’t point to a specific class of technology. If you look at email, it obviously supports social patterns, but it can also support a broadcast pattern. If I’m a spammer, I’m going to mail things out to a million people, but they’re not going to be talking to one another, and I’m not going to be talking to them — spam is email, but it isn’t social. If I’m mailing you, and you’re mailing me back, we’re having point-to-point and two-way conversation, but not one that creates group dynamics.

So email doesn’t necessarily support social patterns, group patterns, although it can. Ditto a weblog. If I’m Glenn Reynolds, and I’m publishing something with Comments Off and reaching a million users a month, that’s really broadcast. It’s interesting that I can do it as a single individual, but the pattern is closer to MSNBC than it is to a conversation. If it’s a cluster of half a dozen LiveJournal users, on the other hand, talking about their lives with one another, that’s social. So, again, weblogs are not necessarily social, although they can support social patterns.

Nevertheless, I think that definition is the right one, because it recognizes the fundamentally social nature of the problem. Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can’t substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen.

Now, there’s a large body of literature saying “We built this software, a group came and used it, and they began to exhibit behaviors that surprised us enormously, so we’ve gone and documented these behaviors.” Over and over and over again this pattern comes up. (I hear Stewart [Brand, of the WELL] laughing.) The WELL is one of those places where this pattern came up over and over again.

Well worth reading if you never have, or re-reading if you did a long time ago.

Adrian Holovaty: “Newspapers need to stop the story-centric worldview”

Adrian Holovaty: A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change:

This is a subtle problem, and therein lies the rub. In my experience, when I’ve tried to explain the error of storing everything as a news article, journalists don’t immediately understand why it is bad. To them, a publishing system is just a means to an end: getting information out to the public. They want it to be as fast and streamlined as possible to take information batch X and put it on Web site Y. The goal isn’t to have clean data — it’s to publish data quickly, with bonus points for a nice user interface.

But the goal for me, a data person focused more on the long term, is to store information in the most valuable format possible. The problem is particularly frustrating to explain because it’s not necessarily obvious; if you store everything on your Web site as a news article, the Web site is not necessarily hard to use. Rather, it’s a problem of lost opportunity. If all of your information is stored in the same “news article” bucket, you can’t easily pull out just the crimes and plot them on a map of the city. You can’t easily grab the events to create an event calendar. You end up settling on the least common denominator: a Web site that knows how to display one type of content, a big blob of text. That Web site cannot do the cool things that readers are beginning to expect.

I left a comment responding to a poster saying this sounded like the Semantic Web, I’ve been meaning to write Adrian for a while now as well:

Hello Adrian,

I’ve been meaning to say hello to you for a number of different reasons over the past few years.

I’m an old Knight Ridder Digital developer. One of the folks that helped develop the Cofax CMS that was later replaced by KRD with… something else.

Cofax was a framework as well as a CMS, and in some very positive ways (well *I* think so :)), Django reminds me of it. Cofax was open sourced, but when KRD replaced it, well, work pretty much kept me from going back, refactoring, and taking it where it could still go. It’s still in use in many places. Well enough of that…

I definitively agree with you that newspapers are terrific places to work if you are a software engineer. The pace is quick, the work challenging, and you get the rare opportunity to not only practice your profession, but do so building tools and services that connect, inform and empower people.

It’s hard to beat.

anonymous – yes, I think Adrian is talking Semantic Web here. But like Adrian’s call for newspaper organizations to take a hard look at how they manage information in their publishing systems, Tim Berners-Lee has made the same call to the web developer community. The hard sell has been that that the Semantic Web likewise solves a series of problems of lost opportunity. It requires an investment in time and effort by the developer community to see its potential archived. Adrian, please correct me if that’s an incorrect understanding on my part.

Great piece.

Related reading material: Aaron Swartz: “The Semantic Web In Breadth” and Shelley Powers: “The Bottoms Up RDF Tutorial”. Then there’s “Practical RDF” also by Shelley Powers (which I ummm need to get around to reading, but have always heard good things about).

More at Techdirt.