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.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.