Tracking News

Dan Gillmor has been publishing chapters of his book “Making the News” on his blog to get feedback. Chapter 8 is entitled “The Future Just Started.” An excerpt:

The [new] technologies will be part of the architecture of tomorrow’s news. They’ll help us do something essential: keep better track of conversations. Here’s an example. I would like to be able to track news of, say, innovative applications for my Treo smartphone. The news includes conversations among people I respect, not just standard journalists. If someone in the group I trust posts an item about the Treo, I want to know about it, of course. But I also want to know what others in that group — and people they designate as trustworthy or well-informed — are saying about this news. I want software that tracks not just the top-level item, which in this case could be a news story or blog posting or SMS response, but how the conversation then takes shape about the item across a variety of media. Now imagine having the same ability to track conversations about local, national, or international issues. Today, this is impossible except in a laborious and time-wasting way. Web services will eventually make it possible.

Among the missing components in this hierarchy is a way to evaluate a persons reputation beyond the crude systems in place today. A reliable reputation system would allow us to verify people and judge the veracity of the things they say based, in part, on what people we trust say about them. In a sense, Google is already a reputation system: Google my name and youll discover a lot about me, including where I work, what Ive written, and a lot about what I think about various issues — and what some other people think of me (not all flattering by any means). So is Technorati; the more people linking to you, the more “authority” you have. But it’s important to note that the majority of blogs tracked by Technorati have nobody linking to them. This doesn’t mean the blogs lack value, because no doubt there are people close to the bloggers who trust them. No matter who you are, you probably know something about some topic that’s worth paying attention to.

Someday, a person who is interested in news about the local school system, which rarely rates more than a brief item in the newspaper except to cover some extraordinary event, will be able to get a far more detailed view of that vital public body. Any topic you can name will be more easily tracked this way. Just in the political sphere, the range will go beyond school governance to city councils to state and federal government to international affairs. Now multiply the potential throughout other fields of interest, professional and otherwise. And when audio and video become an integral part of these conversations — it’s already starting to happen as developers connect disparate media applications — the richness of the conversations will deepen.

Particpatory Panopticon

[via Smart Mobs] Jamais Cascio asks: “What happens when you combine mobile communications, always-on cameras, and commonplace wireless networks?” and answers:

Mobile phones and PDAs with cameras are increasingly common; one in six phones sold in 2003 had a camera in it, and last year cameraphones actually out-sold other digital cameras…Within a decade, your phone will likely be able to take pictures at least as good as your present-day digital camera.

The bigger change will come from an entirely-new class of hardware — what I call the “personal memory assistant.” Both Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft have built test versions of wearable cameras designed to record the world around you as you go about your day (the HP wearable always-on camera is the illustration at the top of this post). Nokia and HP are working on the software required to make such cameras usable. If you’ve seen or used a TiVo, imagine a TiVo for your day-to-day life. If you don’t think that’s revolutionary, consider that human memory is notoriously faulty; what happens when a person can have perfect recall?

There is no reason why wearable personal memory assistants wouldn’t be linked to wireless networks. There are good reasons why they would be, in fact: to let others see what you’re seeing (so that they can help you); to access greater computing power for image-recognition (including, eventually, facial-recognition routines so that you never forget a face); and for off-site storage of what you’re recording, giving you far greater capacity than what you could have on-camera (and keeping the images safe if the unit was lost or damaged). I suspect that nearly all of these systems, once they come to market, will have wireless communication built-in.

Mobile systems combined with GPS and GIS and social software and RFIDs and “smart dust”… These are tools to reshape your relationship with your environment, other people, and even your sense of self.

I offer up this scenario in order to ask: if we know these devices are on their way, are really already here in crude form, how can we use them as tools for good? Are these systems the harbingers of a Transparent Society, or are they the makings of a Panopticon Singularity? Does the sousveillance concept make sense, a world where we are all have the ability — and responsibility — to “watch the watchmen?” Would these be the perfect tools for corporate whistleblowers and anti-corruption activists?

Information Management

Diego Doval writes:

what I was thinking about was that no topics with any degree of depth can be properly discussed in one or two pages no matter how good you are and how much care you put into your writing; there just isn’t space enough to do things justice.

This made me wonder about more complex and consequential matters, which also get alloted similar amounts of space, and it reminds me that when I see an article on which I know the background, I can make a different judgment, but what about articles where there can be no background because it is evolving news? Until time passes, there is no other source of information on what’s going on aside from 1,500 word articles and 5-minute news clips. Overtime you get books, documentaries, etc, and more and more we’ve got weblogs to cover part of the picture. But the reality is that, for the most part, we’re still subject to the vision provided us by those brief news items. And that’s not enough.

I have a habit, which is to keep track of threads within newspapers and across them. I don’t do this formally (not that obsessive :)) but I do it. So what I was thinking was whether this idea of reading of “trails” of news on given topics is something that could be formalized in some way, and what would be the requirements. In true blog fashion, and since I have to get other things done, I will simply ask a bunch of questions, provide few if any answers, and then cart off riding my faithful donkey into the sunset, with my extra large sombrero, laptop in one hand, bottle of tequila–worm and all–in the other, under the fading desert sun.

Dann Sheridan thinks of Outlook as the information hub: “Numerous tools are coming together to make Outlook the application through which all of your information will flow. From RSS feeds (Newsgator) to publishing to your weblog (OutlookMT and Newsgator Plugins). My migration to MoveableType will make this all possible. I already have all of my faxes and voicemails coming into Outlook. Outside of RSS feeds and my weblog, the only other information streams I have are my Onfolio collections, which should be published as RSS feeds, exportable to OPML, and integrated into Outlook. A lot of people may ask why Outlook? Because that is where the major of my information email already resides. I want a single application through which I can control my world of information. It is the same reason why network operation centers, emergency response teams, and command! and control centers all what a single interface for their operators and staff: it keeps people focused.”

As I read both these, my thoughts went back to the Memex series I had written about a year ago. I think we really ought to think about getting it done…its what we need to manage the information flows.

A Manifesto for Collaborative Tools

Eugene Eric Kim writes:

Improving collaborative tools boils down to this: We must be people-centric when designing and building applications, and we must work with other developers to make our tools more interoperable.

These are the steps for improving collaborative tools:

  • Be people-centric. This applies both to how we design our tools, and how we market them.
  • Be willing to collaborate. We all belong to a community of like-minded tool developers, whether or not we are aware of it. Working together will both strengthen this community and improve our tools.
  • Create shared language. Our tools share more similarities than we may think. Conversing with our fellow tool builders will help reveal those similarities; creating a shared language will make those similarities apparent to all. As a shared language evolves, a shared conceptual framework for collaborative tools will emerge, revealing opportunities for improving the interoperability of our tools.
  • Keep improving. Improvement is an ongoing process. Introducing new efficiencies will change the way we collaborate, which in turn will create new opportunities to improve our tools.

    Finally, never forget Doug Engelbart’s fundamental tenet: Computers should help us become smarter and work together better. Remembering this will keep us on the right track.

  • Local Search

    Gus Venditto writes:

    For consumers, local search will be a time saver, in the house and in the car. But for businesses, it will represent a shift in buying habits that may give the local storefront a chance to regain the ground it ceded to online stores.

    The first impact is sure to be Web development for small business. Right now, it’s estimated by the Kelsey Group and ConStat’s Local Commerce Monitor that only 48 percent of small business who advertise have a Web site. Lester Chu, vice president of marketing and strategic planning at Verizon, believes that 60 percent of all businesses don’t have a Web site.

    Today, many of those Web-unaware businesses are able to keep their online base covered by buying listings through the Yellow Page directories. For a few extra dollars, 1.4 million businesses who advertise in print Yellow Pages have the option of buying online listings that appear at SuperPages, Yahoo and other portals. And if it weren’t for Google, all local businesses would compete on a level playing field, because they would all have an equal chance to buy their way into the same online directories.

    Google’s impact could be seismic because it will rank the pages, and that will re-define the meaning of a good retail location. A small store on a remote side street can build more foot traffic with a good Web site than it could with a busy corner location. All the lower-rent store needs is a better education in the intricacies of search engine rankings.

    At the global level, brand marketers will need to pay attention to how the new patterns affect product selection. Online stores allow consumers to select the exact brand and model they want instead of settling for what they found on the shelves. Will local search turn consumers into precision shoppers within the neighborhood? A national brand manager will have to do more than help franchises and regional chain stores buy co-op ads and regional radio. They’ll need to do a better job at helping local dealers show up in online catalogs that are optimized for local searching.

    Mirror of our Lives

    Esther Dyson writes:

    According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, of which I’m on the advisory board, more than 53 million Americans — or 44 percent of U.S. Internet users — have contributed some kind of digital content beyond private e-mail to the online world. Of those, 21 percent have posted photos, 17 percent have posted text (on a message board or via consumer-feedback mechanisms like that at Amazon), and 13 percent maintain their own Web sites.

    The implications for businesses are broad, starting with relatively reduced demand for “asymmetrical” bandwidth, such as cable or satellite, where there’s lots of communication capacity to download content but not much to upload it. People aren’t just downloading music; they’re uploading their own creative efforts.

    Aside from communication, this is a whole new source of competition for consumers’ attention.

    The trick for businesses is not to compete with user-generated content, but to co-opt it, by becoming the platform where users can post their content and invite their friends to see it. For example, instead of e-mailing my Estonia photos to my mom and friends, I can just send them a link to some provider’s site. And then, of course, if the business model works, more and more of my friends will start sharing and annotating the photos at the same site.

    As we live more and more of our lives online, it makes sense that we’d want to decorate our virtual space with photos, just as we decorate our living rooms. From the business point of view, the challenge is to be the real estate that people want to decorate. In real life, that usually requires good schools. Online, it requires good tools.

    Of course, there’s always a delicate tension: People want to build online nests in spaces as individual as they are — but they want the validation, and the more broadly shared experience, of a brand name.

    AOL, Yahoo! and probably Google (spreading out from its Orkut social network platform) are all vying to support the online neighborhoods of choice.

    TECH TALK: As India Develops: Distribution Hubs (Part 2)

    RISC (Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons) is an economic model for the transformation of Rural India, proposed by Atanu Dey. According to Atanu: Fundamentally, the specific market failure that RISC addresses is that of coordination failure. RISC is designed to coordinate the activities of a host of entities-commercial, governmental, NGOs. It synchronizes investment decisions so as to reduce risk. It essentially acts as a catalyst that starts off a virtuous cycle of introducing efficient modern technology to improve productivity that increases incomes and thus the ability of users to pay for the services, and so on. It creates a mechanism that reduces transaction costs and therefore improves the functions of markets.

    Atanu and Vinod Khosla co-authored a paper on RISC in August 2003. The monograph outlines the challenges in dealing with rural India and a framework to solve the many inter-linked problems to build a new urbanised rural India.

    The economic development of Indias 700 million strong rural population presents formidable challenges and also great opportunities. A model called RISC Rural Infrastructural & Services Commons is presented that has the potential for achieving the multi-faceted goals of sustainable economic development through more efficient utilization of available resources by focusing them into a minimum viable economic size. Five thousand such rural centers, built around existing infrastructure like railway stations, haats (informal weekly markets currently in operation in rural India), or Tier III/IV towns could place most of the rural population within a bicycle commute of ACCESS to many modern resources (like power, communications and education). The model calls for concentrating existing and ongoing investments into critical mass population chunks rather than spreading them out into individual villages in uneconomic sizes and at exorbitant cost. Then it allows the invisible hand of markets, not planned activities or industries, to drive growth, and direct resource usage on an economic basis.

    The basic premise of this model is that markets can be enabled or made far more efficient in rural India. The set of activities for these markets and the capabilities are different from those of the national or global economies. Local development matched to the skills, resources, capabilities and infrastructure of rural India and its local markets is the first stepping stone to participation in the national and global economies.

    Fundamentally, the model focuses on all investments in critical mass chunks (minimum economic size) in scale and diversity, and allows for the use of these resources by the highest economic use, while providing most rural Indians with ACCESS to facilities they need rather than spreading them out into individual villages in uneconomic sizes and at exorbitant cost. It essentially acts as a catalyst that starts off a virtuous cycle of introducing efficient modern technology and aggregating demand to create markets and to improve product diversity, competitiveness and productivity that increases incomes and thus the ability of users to pay for the services. It creates a mechanism that reduces product costs, transaction costs, improves information and knowledge and therefore improves the functions of markets. An efficient market with sufficient scale and product and services diversity will make the economic system autocatalytic.

    Revolutions in the information and communications technologies have the potential to remove the information asymmetries that are impeding the working of markets that are critical for economic growth. The forces of globalization have created opportunities for the integration of rural populations in a larger marketplace than was ever available to them before, and more importantly, in the rural context of local markets, local product needs, using local skills. In this context it allows for a gradual increase in skills and market and production efficiency mechanisms like information, knowledge, education, specialization, scale etc. Full participation in the global economy is not required or necessary in our view, in one step. Rural economic activity can access and make selective contributions to the global economic products and services.

    Tomorrow: Distribution Hubs (continued)

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