The Great Online Journalism Lie
I enjoy online media: reading, watching, listening, and producing. Working on the web has immense potential. But there is a lot of foolishness playing itself out, often in the form of mindless cheerleading that brings little thought and no historical perspective. Apparently Henry Blodget is in that company.
This is the same guy who was a Wall Street analyst touting dot com businesses and one of the voices crying that the old models of business -- you know, the ones about needing revenue and a way to work toward a profit -- were dead. All you needed was a market willing to invest, also known as the greater fool theory. You invest money and wait for a bigger fool to pay you more for the shares.
And now, as an online journalist covering high tech, he's apparently found his latest cause: claiming that the old media are dead
. And, in one sense, I'd agree that newspapers, certainly, are facing some major problems and many are not going to survive. And according to the report of a talk he recently gave at a conference, some of his points were good.
But in one area he makes a critical mistake, assuming that setting down words, and even finding facts, is the same as journalism:
Henry also pointed out that journalism isn't dying, it's just old-line newspapers which aren't adapting. In the new model, with 1 billion potential fact-checkers, if Watergate were to occur today, the underlying documents would have been posted to smokinggun.com. [Emphasis from the original.]
His argument is specious. The vast majority of information on Watergate didn't come from documents someone could find online or even in a physical public file. It came from investigative reporting, speaking with hundreds of sources and using relationships developed over years. Getting the story out took a frighteningly large number of hours by teams of reporters, and all the resources they needed, at a number of major dailies. Having fact checkers is nice, but someone has to go get the facts in the first place. If Watergate were to happen today, not only would the world of potential fact-checkers be useless, but most of the writers, including Blodget himself, wouldn't have a clue as to how they would even begin reporting this type of story.
Just look at what the Washington Post had going for it: a couple of tenacious reporters on staff, the resources to allow the reporters to concentrate on all the related stories for months on end, the money to hire any necessary legal help, and the prestige to help attract potential sources. You won't find that at most online sites, and no large collection of enthusiastic crowds that don't have the time and money to pursue such reporting can help.
The real pity is that by the time most people realize this, it will be too late. So much of online work depends on original news reporting that a good deal will fall away.
Labels: journalism, newspapers, online
Building Artificial Faces
Don't like your face online? There's software that can automatically swap out features from a library of other people's mugs
. It looks like a variation on morphing, only the software is taking eyebrows, eyes, mouth, nose, and so forth, from one face and blending them into another's. It could be used to protect privacy -- but it also increases that unease over the nature of reality when that world meets a digital realm. Don't like your face on Match.com? Change it. I understand the desire for privacy, and yet I also appreciate how quickly we are slipping through the looking glass into a place where nothing is as it seems, literally.
Labels: online, photos
New Words for New Communications
Today, the term blogtificate
came to me: the process of unloading one's unqualified opinions, unsupported by fact, into a blog because no one else wants to hear them.
That got me thinking that there must be plenty of others:
- imaway - (adj.) When you set your Internet messaging software to away status so people will stop bothering you as you try to get something done.
- blackberryed - (adj.) The state of having a Blackberry filed with so many emails that you will never be able to respond to all of them.
- iphoney - (n.) A technology poseur who purchases some trendy device but hasn't yet learned how to turn it on.
So what others can you think of? There are comments on this blog for a reason.
Labels: definitions, Internet, online, words
Missouri Lawmakers Want to Outlaw Cyberbullying
This seems to me one of the biggest opportunities for unintended consequences and no good deed going unpunished: Missouri lawmakers want to criminalize cyberbullying
"It used to be that adults would pooh-pooh bullying as a phase, but we're seeing increasing violent actions resulting from it," Sanchez said in an interview.
"The problem with cyberbullying is that kids aren't even safe in their own home, because they're being harassed through the computer or cell phones 24/7 potentially," she said.
How about turning off the damned computer and taking an interest in what your kids do online? How can you possibly define "cyberbullying" in such a way as to prevent abuse without completely tossing out protected freedom of speech?
Labels: freedoms, Internet, online
Gamers to Decide SciFi Show Directions
The SciFi Channel is combining a new television series with a massively multiplayer online game
(MMOG) to create a hybrid entertainment that hasn't worked before, but might this time, according to an LA Times report. Instead of having people watch once a week, the channel hopes to get them involved all week long, with the way fans play the game shaping what happens on the show:
"This is the Holy Grail for us, without a doubt," said Dave Howe, president of the Sci Fi Channel, which has teamed with Trion World Network, an on-the-rise gaming company based in Redwood City, Calif. "This is groundbreaking, and I don't say that lightly."
Sci Fi Channel executives are mum about the title of the show and game and their premise, but they do hint that it will be set 80 to 100 years in the future on an Earth that looks very different from today. The team has summer 2010 as the targeted launch; more details are expected to be announced in July at Comic-Con International in San Diego.
It's an interesting concept, and one treading on ground that has and hasn't worked out in the past. The American Idol and Survivor type shows have been wildly successful, letting audience members vote on the results. But television and online gaming are quite different. One way the studios get people to come back every week is to leave the results in doubt. But in an online game, can you keep participants in the dark, the way you would with a vote, or will some of the suspense dissipate, as people must know what is going on to a significant degree to actually play?
Labels: games, online, television
200,000 Computer Generated Books
The New York Times has an article about Philip M. Parker, a management professor who uses computers and programmers to cull information from the web and turn it into books
. He's created - I don't want to use the word "write" - 200,000 of them that he sells through Amazon.com:
If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.
And he is laying the groundwork for romance novels generated by new algorithms. “I’ve already set it up,” he said. “There are only so many body parts.”
I've heard of the sausage factory approach before, but this is one high volume production line. The idea of having boilerplate language with specifics filled in to create a "new" document isn't new. But I wonder how much of the added content is really free of copyright restraints and available for legal use.
Labels: automation, books, computers, online, publishing
Washington Post Photoshop Express Review
I haven't bothered trying Photoshop Express, not only because of the potential rights I'd have to give up
, but, owing to being in a rural part of the country, there's no broadband in them thar phone wires - and no cable connection to even miss broadband. And if you're going to edit photos over the Internet, dial-up is the last thing you want to contemplate. However, Washington Post writer Rob Pegorano has a review on the product
. From what he says, it seems that while there are some basic abilities, this is not really close to being Photoshop, and is slow, clumsy, and buggy, at least as of early April. If you want real photo editing without spending a lot of money, here are some choices that I've covered
Labels: editing, online
(Still) Getting the Online WSJ for Free
The Machinist blog has a great tip on getting the online version of the Wall Street Journal for free
. Remember Rupert Murdoch's talk about making the site free, and then saying that they were going to keep the subscriptions and probably increase them? Well, that much was true, but to drive attention - and advertising - to the site, they also need to show up on the search engines. So the engines have to get in, which means that people can, as well. The blog entry gives two different methods of getting to the articles you want without sending a cent to Murdoch.
Labels: newspapers, online
Fifteen Seconds of Fame and Fleeting Audiences
I caught myself doing something that makes me nuts when it's done to me - the fifteen second reading indulgence. I had followed a link to a column that former litigator Glenn Greenwald writes for Salon.com
. The topic, mentioned in an email news list, that caught my attention was a critique of a reporter's coverage of John McCain, but I accidentally stumbled onto an earlier post about the unintended consequential results of hate speech laws
. The topic caught my attention - I think that there are probably enough laws to cover pretty much anything that one person might do to another, and that legislating intent and thought is both dangerous and more than a little useless.
I finished reading, nodded to myself, and then was ready to head off elsewhere and suddenly knew that even though I just read two pieces back-to-back from the same author that seemed solid, I had no intention of checking back in the future for further posts. There is something more than a little peculiar about how many of us approach the world as readers, these days. We see something of value, but it is as though these items appear out of nowhere, have no connection to any one person, and certainly could not be evidence that more of the same might be found there. It's as though much of humanity had become thoughtless intellectual cattle, roaming about, grazing here and there, but never drawing any conclusions as to the best places to munch based on experience.
I'm sure people do bookmark spots, I do at times, but perhaps there is just too much out there and trying to keep up with it all has become more burden than freedom. Or maybe there is just so much out there that some of us are sitting tightly in a pool of serendipity, figuring that the interesting things will show up eventually. But I'm wondering how much of value I miss because I don't follow up - even for the few sites where I have a paid subscription.
Labels: Internet, online, reading, web, writing
Do They Know More Than a Fifth-Grader?
While on a long car trip driving a friend of my daughter's back to her home, the friend was playing a cell-phone version of the game "Do You Know More Than a Fifth-Grader?" One of the questions involved identifying an adverb - and the answer was peaceful. Sound odd? It did to me, so I checked at Merriam-Webster online. It's clearly an adjective. In another question, you had to identify where music was written. The choices were notes, rests, tempo, and clefs. What was missing? Staff, on which you write the music in combinations of rests and notes. What answer did the game give? Clef, even though the clef only indicates the key identifying note for the staff. Sounds like if you want your kid to be smarter than a fifth-grader, a different game might be in order.
Labels: game, online
Wikipedia Has Inner Ruling Circle
One of the fascinating things about Wikipedia has been the concept that it runs on an open system of commenting and participation. But The Register reportered that top administrators in the organization have a secret mailing list
that they use "to crackdown on perceived threats to their power." And, according to the report, this double existence is hardly new:
Kelly Martin, a former member of Wikipedia's Arbitration Committee, leaves no doubt that this sort of surreptitious communication has gone on for ages. "This particular list is new, but the strategy is old," Martin told us via phone, from outside Chicago. "It's certainly not consistent with the public principles of the site. But in reality, it's standard practice."
If correct, then Wikipedia carries the seeds of its own ultimate destruction, or at least of what it claims to be. You cannot focus a group on internal politics and hope to keep upholding a mission of truth and public information. And when the secret talk moves to constant prowling for "enemies," then there is enormous trouble on the horizon.
Labels: online, Wikipedia
Carnegie Mellon's Online Books
Carnegie Mellon University has scanned more than 1.5 million books
into a freely-available online service, according to the Associated Press. Over half the works are supposedly out of copyright or included with the permission of the coypright holders. (Makes me wonder about the other half.) Interestingly, it appears that 970,000 of the books are in Chinese, 360,000 in English, 50,000 in a language of southern India, and 40,000 in Arabic, which would seem to be an interesting statement on the demographics of the school. If you're interested in checking this out, click here
Labels: books, library, online
Time Turning to Cafeteria Style Subscriptions
In a break from the traditional way of subscribing to particular magazines, Time Inc. is trying something new
. Customers will be able to get things from different magazines on a pay-as-you-go basis. This could have some interesting repercussions in the publishing world. For a long time, comapnies ahve assumed that people would take everything in all issues of magazines through subscriptions. There was no way of telling what people actually found of value.
But now, editors and publishers could actually learn what interests readers, rather than assuming, via focus groups, that what they do in general is the driving factor of sales. Maybe it's not. What if, over a large group of people, you see what they really want is one or two columns only? Not only does this have the possibility of letting publishers get a lot smarter, but it could take a lot of hot air out of editorial egos. Think of some of the questions you could ask. Do certain writers drive sales, or is it topics? Do the personalities and "brands" of editors matter at all? Do some topics drive print sales but not individual article sales? What happens when readers no longer have to buy an entire magazine to get the promised answer to some come-on line on the cover?
If this is successful at all, you can expect that things could start changing radically on the publishing front in the next few years - assuming, of course, that publishers and editors really want the answers that might now be possible.
Labels: magazine, online, subscriptions, Time Inc.
The Late Robert Heinlein Goes Online
A cooperative project between The Heinlein Prize Trust and the UC Santa Cruz Archives have put the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives online
. That means all the published works with the associated notes, research, drafts, and edits. You can actually see evidence of his creative approach. These are all digitized versions of his files. An example is Time Enough for Love
, which has the following:
- Part 1, 184 pages, contains 66 pages of working notes, mostly calculation of genetic scenario. Manuscript pages listed “Discarded Pages” (but the content is included in the book; not new content). Pages of bugle calls music sheets (as used in the index of the book). A calendar picture of an attractive young lady, unclothed (looks like the book’s descriptions of Dora & Minerva). Article about cloning.
- Part 2, 199 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 3, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 4, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 5, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 6, 119 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 7, 230 pages, contains first draft of novel (titled “Lazarus Long”, no edits, manuscript pages 1-216.
- Part 8, 234 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 216-453.
- Part 9, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 454-692.
- Part 10, 245 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 693-936, end.
- Part 11, 230 pages, contains first draft of novel (titled “Time Enough For Love”) with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 1-219.
- Part 12, 231 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 220-453.
- Part 13, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 454-692.
- Part 14, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 693-936, end.
- Part 15, 220 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 1-218.
- Part 16, 226 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 219-450.
- Part 17, 230 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 451-676.
- Part 18, 223 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 677-902, end.
- Part 19, 210 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 1-204.
- Part 20, 211 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 205-413.
- Part 21, 210 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 414-621.
- Part 22, 221 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 622-841, end.
- Part 23, 307 pages, contains proof copy of novel, no edits.
But don't head for the browser yet, because there are a couple of catches. One: it still costs money. The Time Enough for Love
files are $69, though not everything is that expensive. For example, the novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
, with 4 pages of typed and handwritten notes as well as 186 pages of typewritten manuscript are $3. The other catch is that you'd better have a fast Internet connection:
Most of these files are extremely large. The largest files--such as "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" at 2194 pages--have been broken down into files of less than 300 pages each. These will still result in downloadable files of 80-200mb. A broadband connection is strongly recommended. Don’t try this with a dial-up. Dial-up download speeds are not supported.
You have been warned.
Labels: archives, Heinlein, online
Thinking About Gresham's Law and Internet Discourse
A few months ago, someone emailed me with a passing reference to Gresham's Law
. I had never heard of this before, but apparently it is an economic formulation essentially saying that bad money drives out good. Gresham was an English businessman during the 16th century. In that time, money was metallic coins made out of some rare material - gold or silver. All the money was treated as legitimate currency and citizens were forced to accept it, but many people would shave some metal off the coins they held, keeping the scraps because they had their own value, and then use the coins at face value. Or sometimes governments would mix the rare materials with base ones to stretch them and keep more of the valuable metals themselves.
Eventually people got wise to this scheme and would keep the coins with more metal and spend the devalued currency. Thus, the "bad" money dominates the "good" because it tends to be the one in circulation, as people first spend the ones they know to be of lesser intrinsic value.
On it's own this is an interesting phenomenon. But it applies in other areas. According to the Wikipedia article, for example, lemons can push good vehicles out of the used auto market, because people want to dump the cars with problems, so the lemons recycle more quickly into the used market and, depending on their total number, can come to dominate it. So why not apply it to Internet discourse? I've seen firsthand more than once how unpleasant discourse in specialty online forums, driven by a few people, can cause more thoughtful and knowledgeable folk away. The result is that as new people come in, they see the "victors" as the long-time denizens and associate them with a greater understanding of the topic in question.
In other words, people online are collectively promoting misunderstanding and poor knowledge and effectively rewarding those who actively drive out others because of their own psychological peculiarities. It's another example of collective intellectual and emotional degeneration. What do we expect of younger generations, who spend so much time online, when these are the examples of "success?"
Labels: discussions, forums, Gresham's Law, Internet, online
Faking Interest Online
The New York Times had an interesting letter to its ethicist
. Apparently the writer had interned at a magazine where the editor wanted him or her to post a comment on the publication's blog, but while pretending to have no affiliation. This would be considered a significant ethical lapse in any journalistic circle, as the BBC learned when it had to respond to staff calling in to programs, pretending to be audience members.
I have sympathy for the problem. I remember many years ago hosting a radio call-in show and having absolutely no one telephone. Eventually a friend of mine, the technical director, went to another room and called in to try and spark a conversation. So I understand the difficulty and discomfort of waiting for comments that don't come. However, we were young and foolish. Some might perceive faking an audience as a form of marketing, but it's dishonest.
There are situations and times at which you say, "No, I won't do that." The magazine could have disabled commenting for a while on its blog. Or it could have borne the terrible stigma of not having people care for its opinions - if anyone even noticed or cared. Instead, it choose to manipulate its audience, search engines, and anyone else who might pay attention. To me, that is on the same side of the line as peddling snake oil. I've found in my own blogs that I must insist on moderating comments because I've seen examples of interested people with clear agendas attempting to appear as though they were readers happening onto a topic. Too bad there isn't an equivalent function when you are in the audience and not running the forum.
Labels: comments, magazine, marketing, online
Used Booksellers Skew Older
If you're curious as to who is selling used books online, AbeBooks.com, which operates a network of such dealers, has some answers
. The company surveyed 1,949 online sellers that do business with it and found that 79% are over 45, most were in white collar jobs, and 20% work 51 or more hours a week. Many are on the road buying books, 60% operate strictly online, and a third read between five and 10 books a month. So much for graceful early retirement.
Labels: AbeBooks.com, books, booksellers, online, used
Online Photography Collections
I had caught misreading an article, thinking that a major museum in Cleveland was uploading its photography collection onto the web. But that got me wondering about what collections might be available for online views. I did some searching, and here are some suggestions:
Labels: collections, online, photographs, photography
Free Novel in Progress from Nobel Laureate
Elfriede Jelinek, Austrian feminist playwright and novelist, is experimenting with posting her new novel Neid - German for Envy - onto the web in parts as she completes them. Here's
her web site - though the three chapters she has posted, as most of the site, are in German. If you'd like a sense of her writing, go to the site, look under the 2007 posts, and click on the Bambiland - Translated by Lilian Friedberg
Labels: Bambiland, Elfriede Jelinek, laureate, Neid, Nobel, novel, online
15 Sites for Free Online Books
When I wrote about DailyLit.com, I thought of Bartleby.com and Project Gutenberg, which got me wondering about other online spots for free books. Got the itch to read but nothing new at hand? Here are 15 places to scratch:UPenn: The Online Books Page
(25,000 free books from the University of Pennsylvania)Internet Public Library
(not just books, but also some of the best research archives of online resources you'll find)eLibrary
(directory of ebooks with over 330 free titles)Project Gutenberg
(17,000 free public domain ebooks)Bartleby.com
(classic literature and reference books)Read-Print
(Thousands of free classics)bibliomania
(free classics, some references, articles, and interviews)Children's Books Online
(online antique illustrated children's books)FreeTechBooks.com
(free online computer science and programming books and lecture notes)Classic Bookshelf
(free online classics with a customizable interface)Daily Lit
(get free classics sent to you via email on a daily basis, chunk at a time)Page by Page Books
(hundreds of online classics in an online page format)Great Books and Classics
(great books from many fields; not just the "usual suspects")Turning the Pages
(online gallery of rare manuscripts from the British Museum)Classic Reader
(classic books, plays, poetry, and drams online)
Labels: books, classics, free, online