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Archive for October, 2007

Is the Web as weak as its weakest link?

Donnacha DeLong argues that “Web 2.0 is rubbish” in an article in The Journalist, the National Union of Journalists’ magazine. The article argues against wiping out traditional media and replacing it with citizen journalism, which is not a position a lot of people hold. He concludes:

There are those who claim that Web 2.0 democratises the media. It would make everyone equal, yes, but should they be? It’s like saying anyone can play for Manchester United. In one of the main examples given to explain Web 2.0, Wikipedia replaces Britannica Online. Is that the kind of democracy we want – where anyone can determine the information that the public can access, regardless of their level of knowledge, expertise or agenda?

Oh sigh. This commits two fallacies.

First, it equivocates on “equal.” No one argues that all blog posts and all bloggers are of equal value. That’s why we have blogrolls. Hell, that’s why we have links. But, we all (well, all with economic means, physical access, etc.) have an equal ability to post. Equal access to post != equal value of posts.

Second, Donnacha ignores the social dynamics, as if Wikipedia (for example) were nothing but a series of posts by random individuals. In fact, Wikipedia results from a complex social dynamic and set of processes designed to move articles towards encyclopedic goodness. We can argue about whether those processes work and whether Wikipedia is reliable, and so forth, but Donnacha ignores those processes altogether. In fact, the processes are designed to keep all entries from being treated as equal.

Donnacha acts as if the Web were as weak as its weakest link because we can’t tell the difference between weak and strong links. In fact, the Web at its best is stronger than its strongest links, because those links get tempered through the exposure to multiple points of view. Of course the Web isn’t always at its best, and Donnacha is right to remind us of that. But perhaps this is Donnacha’s third fallacy: Citizen journalism is not “everybody writes what they want and we have to read it all as if it were all of equal value,” just as Wikipedia isn’t just a big blank scratch pad with publicly available pencils. Citizen journalism is founded on the idea that while many people can contribute, we need ways to surface what is of value. Everyone working in the field of citizen journalism understands Donnacha’s objection. Donnacha’s complaint isn’t a criticism of citizen journalism. It is citizen journalism’s starting point.

The fact that Donnacha’s credit at the end of the article reports that “He represents new media journalists on the union’s National Executive Council” is a bit scary. Indeed, veteran journalist Roy Greenslade resigned from the National Union of Journalists because of its attitude toward new media. Laura Oliver has an article about Roy’s resignation here. (Thanks to Richard Sambrook for the link.) [Tags: web2.0 donnacha_delong national_union_of_journalists citizen_journalism citizen_media wikipedia roy_greenslade ]

Pandora’s metadata explained explains some of the 400  metadata attributes it tracks so that it can tell that Song A is like Song B…

Open Library discussion

If you’re interested in the future of books and libraries, and if you’re in Cambridge MA on Tuesday, you should come to the Berkman Center at 12:30 to hear Aaron Swartz talk about the Open Library project, which is gathering a global, open and free list of every book it can find out about. It’s also attempting to help with the problem that books exist at multiple levels of abstraction: There’s Hamlet, editions of Hamlet, Hamlet in anthologies, Hamlet in translation, books based on Hamlet, etc. This is an important and fascinating project.

We serve lunch. Please RSVP. See you there…or on the webcast. (Details) [Tags: open_library aaron_swartz libraries ]

Alan Watts lives

Here’s Alan Watts talking to IBM (1 2), probably in the early 1970s, although I’m just guessing. Very Alan Wattsian, very Sixties yet contemporary, and very enjoyable. Here’s a bite:

“But nature itself is clouds, is water, is the outline of continents, is mountains, is bilogical existences. And all of them wiggle. And wiggly things are to human consciousness a little bit of a nuisance, because we want to figure it out.”

(Thanks to Steven Kruyswijk for the link.) [Tags:]

Can’t get no satisficing…oh, yes I can

After years to talking about our move to “good enough” information, I’m just a little late to learning that Herbert Simon coined a term for this phenomenon in 1957. Yes, it’s the fiftieth anniversary of “satisficing.”

I found this via a very interesting blog post at Just Communicate by a knowledge management grad student who, in the course of discussing the wisdom of Cory Doctorow’s Metacrap article, also points to a post by Steven Bell at the Association of College & Research Libraries blog, on using social sites to move good enough research beyond good enough. [Tags: satisfice herbert_simon cory_doctorow just_communicate ]

EiM explained in a 5:28 min YouTube

Michael Wesch, who did the incredible info-visualization YouTube, The Machine Is Us/ing Us, has now done the same to explain the change from paper-based information to digital information. In just a few minutes, he explains the thesis of Everything Is Miscellaneous (which he credits, thank you). It is a brilliant piece of work. And totally delightful. [Tags: wesch everything_is_miscellaneous ]

Dewey Decimal inside joke

Peter Van Dijck has set up a consulting company to help organizations organize their Web-based information in ways accessible to a world-wide community. Peter’s named his company 290s because that’s the “Other religions” category in the Dewey Decimal system.

The visual display of bibliography

Chris Locke has posted the cover of every book he’s read while researching his Mystic Bourgeoisie blog. It’s oddly compelling.

If he’d sized them by how important they were (and by how much of each he’d actually read), we’d have a Book Cover Cloud.

Tom Matrullo has a brief but thoughtful post that points out that the metaphor of the “miscellaneous” is spatial, whereas temporality is at the heart of so much of the Web.

Great point. Temporality is crucial to many (most?) of the innovations on the Web. E.g., the boon of Twitter and Jaiku isn’t that they promote short blogging but frequent blogging and blogging of transient events.

And Tom is right that the miscellaneous calls up spatial images. I refer to it as a pile of leaves frequently. And that strips the temporality out of it. Temporality shows up merely as one more piece of metadata that might be useful, e.g., wouldn’t it be helpful to know when a particular tag was created? The pile itself is temporal as a continuing presence that grows and gets enriched. But that’s pretty inert. It’d be interesting to re-express it in temporal terms. I don’t know how to do it, but it’d be interesting.

More important, Tom’s right (as usual) that we should pay attention to what the miscellaneous metaphor hides.

Google buys Jaiku

I like Jaiku both because as the second entrant, it learned from Twitter, the first entrant, and because Jyri Engeström is one of those brilliant, sweet people who make the world better in several dimensions at once. Besides founding Jaiku, Jyri has produced some quite thought-provoking pieces on the role of social objects in forming social networks.

It’ll be interesting to see where Google surfaces the UI for entering Jaiku microblog posts and where it surfaces the posts themselves.

And most important, of course, is whether Jaiku will be renamed Jaigoo or Jookle. [Tags: jaiku twitter google blogging Jyri_Engeström ]

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