Joho the BlogMarch 2006 - Page 3 of 9 - Joho the Blog

March 25, 2006

[berkman] Tom Gerace of

[This is 5 days after the fact because I’ve been on the road.]

Tom Gerace of is giving a Berkman Tuesday lunchtime talk. The company has raised about $9M, including an investment from Minnesota Public Radio. Jake Shapiro, in introducing Tom, says Gather is like “MySpace for grownups.” [Note: As always, I’m paraphrasing and summarizing in real time. As a result, I’ll get at least some of what Tom says wrong.]

User driven content is big, says Tom. MySpace has passed the NYTimes, AOL and CNN in reach and page views. “User-driven content is where user-driven retail was in the early days of eBay.” eBay let the community evaluation create credibility.

Now it’s easy to create content, Tom says. But how do you enable people to find the best content on a topic. Gather wants to do this for an audience that doesn’t know technology well. So, at Gather you can publish articles. To enable community-driven organization, you can create tags. You can publish for select groups of people, for organizations within Gather, or to anyone. Anyone can create a group for. Groups can be public or private, moderated or unmoderated. Groups are a content filter, Tom says, making sure you get focused attention on a topic.

Gather is working on being able to bring in content via RSS. And they will allow bookmarking of off-site content. Gather articles have permalinks, but you have to be a Gather member to comment.

There are about 20,000 members of Gather, 150,000 readers per week. They built membership via NPR. There are 36,000 unique tags.

There’s social network: Family, friends and colleagues. You can publish your content to any of those.

Articles are rated anonymously. Political articles tend to get rated by partisanship, not quality. So Gather is moving towards looking at standard deviations.

“We’re looking at letting our community own the community.” E.g., there is an open forum where people can tell Gather what they think, even though that might help Gather’s competitors. (On the back of Tom’s business card is the text of the First Amendment.)

“Community enforcement is an increasing focus” to handle tag-spammers, people not categorizing content as “adult,” and other ways of gaming the system. There’s a flagging system now. Gather needs this because Gather compensates contributors, sharing the ad revenue.

You will be able to subscribe to an RSS feed for a particular author.

Tom says the focus is on finding and making available the best content. “We want to focus the community on the most interesting and best content.” Gather wants to reward the best authors. They’re thinking of assigning a default ranking to an article based on the author’s average ranking in order to keep people from seeing and ranking over and over an article they don’t like. They’re also playing with a “discover” facility to surface articles not yet popular. Also, there’s an editorial team that hand picks articles.

In response to a question, Tom says that Gather is not a “walled garden”: more than 90% of its content is available publicly. Adding RSS will help.

Demographic: 25-55 yrs. 55/45 f/m. They thought it’d be the NPR demographics but they’re skewing a little younger.

A power law distribution is developing: Some articles get lots of reads/comments, and then there’s a long tail.

Q: (me) The development of a power law distribution of readership of articles would be a sign that Gather is succeeding in locating good content, but it probably discourages community because most people won’t be highly read and thus may be discouraged.
Q: (Erica George) You could have lots of little communities, each with its own thought leaders.

A: The audience can comment and authors can react.
Q: But which is your vision of success — surfacing a relative handful of great aricles or enabling lots of small communities to emerge with their local favorites?

A: It’s up to the community. We let the community identify the best of the best. But we do focus visitors on what they’ve chosen.
Q: (Rebecca MacKinnon) But recruiting George Will isn’t bottom up…

A: Sure it is, because the community can decide whether he’s a thought leader.
Q: (Jake) Which way does your business model push you?

A: This is a true marketplace of ideas. The best contributors will rise to the top. No doubt people with brand recognition have an advantage, but because it’s community selected stuff, we hope it will find the highest quality stuff. My gut is that if you take 100,000s of people writing on a topic, one will write an article better than what the professionals are writing on any given day.

Q: (Erica) It’d be good for high-quality comments emerge as well.
A: I completely agree.

Q: How do niche sites do?
A: Initially we had an editorially-defined taxonomy and user tags. We’ve eliminated the taxonomy because everyone thought they had a new topic that they should be top level, but no two people ever proposed the same one. [Everything is miscellaneous :) ] People were using the tagging system five times more often than they were using the taxonomy. The tag system allows people to drill down into the site.

Q: Is there a novel type of discourse coming out of this?
A: Engaged, informed discussions. Not focused particularly on tech.

Our aim, says Tom, is to connect people around shared passions. Connecting people around the very best content on a topic is a great way to build community. [But the site is structured to surface a handful of the best authors. What effect will that have on community?] [Tags: ]

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[ia summit] What is information architecture?

I’m at the Information Architecture Summit, which I’m greatly looking forward to.

At the opening cocktail party, there were three common topics of discussion, at least from my non-statistically-relevant experience: 1. “Did you see how dramatically attendance is up this year?” 2. “I don’t really call myself an information architect.” 3. “How can I arrange to move to Vancouver for the rest of my life?”

I’m giving the opening keynote, a choice that has me bewildered and terrified. I rewrote it last night and I’m about to change the chunks again. (No, “change the chunks” is not an alimentary euphemism.) As it stands, I’m trying out a couple of ideas that have surfaced late in the course of writing the book I’m working on; as my talk progresses, the ideas get flakier, which is not a good thing.

Well, I’ve got to get back to un- and re-writing my presentation. I will feel better — or possibly much worse — after this morning. [Tags: ]

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March 24, 2006

China has started blocking,, and They are not (yet) blocking the page those sites pointed to, which is on Ethan’s site. (At that page you’ll find a request to use the tag freehaowu if you blog about him.)

Ethan also has an important post on disintermediating advocacy. [Tags: ]

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March 23, 2006

[library of congress] John Van Oudernaren, World Digital Library

John Van Oudernaren, senior advisor to the World Digital Library, talks about the global library initiative. It grows out of the American Memory project in 1994, an effort to being 5M references on line. The Global Gateway grew out of that, an effort to put selected material from international libraries online, working with Russia, Brazil, Spain. the Netherlands and two other countries [which I couldn’t see on his slide…sorry]. Projects provide thematic coherence, e.g., life in Alaska and in Siberia. The interpretive text is bilingual; not every individual artifact is translated.

The scanning is being done in three spots in Russia, and in Brazil and Egypt. Almost a million images have been scanned. Images include maps, illustrations, and the full text of books.

He says the project is a success, but it’s still too tied to American history and is difficult to scale. Plus, each project is in only two languages, which is a limitation. The next step is to build the World Digital Library. Dr. Billington proposed this about a year ago. It intends to digitize selected materials to enrich particular themes highlighting various cultures. It is not a mass digitizing of libraries. Scholars would advise on which items to scan in. The project is still in the planning stage, supported by a $3M grant from Google. [Tags: ]


[library of congress] Bev Godwin of FirstGov

Bev Godwin, Dir, talks about “Government of the Future: 7 Predictions.”(She’s speaking for herself, not FirstGov.) [Note: As always, I’m paraphrasing. I am sure to get some of what she says wrong.]

Her assumptions: By 2015 [the year the conference is about] people will never not be on the Internet, and access will be provided by the government.

In 2000, there were at least 24,000 federal web sites. There are now at least 40M documents. There are way too many sites. Many are out of date. Her mantra to her group: “Let’s manage the content we have.” If you type “mold” into the FirstGov site, you get 127,322 hits. (There are 3,541 active top domains. 1,476 are federal. 1,811 are state, county or city. 81 are sovereign nations.)

Prediction #1: There will be dramatically fewer government Web sites and pages.

Prediction #2: The design debate will be over. They’ll all be arranged basically the way newspaper front pages are: Title at the top, color image to direct the eye to the lead story, etc.

Prediction #3: US gov’t sites will have a common look and feel. She points to .gov sites that are wildly different in their format. She believes they all should look basically the same, using usability-tested layout. [Usable but boring.] They can vary in details but have the same navigation bar in the same place, the country logo in the same spot, etc.

Prediction #4: No gov’t Web site will be launched without usability testing.

Prediction #5: “The .gov naming convention will actually make sense to the public.” There will be a taxonomy that’s rational.

Prediction #6: “The public will be able to perform the tasks they want on gov’t websites.” Gov’t should think of it as a retailer of services, not a wholesaler.

Prediction #7: Content will be aggregated to serve the public. It will be intelligent about your interests and needs: It’s time to renew your driver’s license, here’s the contact info about your elected officials, here’s your tax refund status, how long until you can collect social security, etc. [Tags: ]


[library of congress] Panel

Dan Pelino, General Mgr, IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences, talks about the move towards patient-centric healthcare. He paints this as a requirement as the boomers get older, especially since we spend as much in the last five years of our lives as we do in the rest of our lives.

Lee Strickland spent many years in the intelligence community but is now at the U of Maryland. He says we need to restructure the intelligence community, revitalize the discipline of analysis, and rationalize our policies.

In intelligence today the technology supporting the efforts is neither a backwater nor state of the art. The community is moving from stove-piped, proprietary solutions to one in which info is ubiquitous.

“We tend to ignore the uniquely human aspect of intelligence.” Intelligence is, he says, the human mind converting information into knowledge, in light of the entire context, through a rigid process of hypothesis and testing.

He suggests five points to improve security:

1. Rationalize and restructure. Organize around intelligence priorities and then apply intel sources and methods and technologes required for the task. Don’t let the collection machinery drive the train.

2. Institute performance-based measurement.

3. The Cold War culture of secrecy is no longer appropriate. Secrecy inhibits the efficiency of intel analysis because secrecy inhibits access. But lack of secrecy imperils sources.

4. Revitalize the practice of analysis. “Analysis is nothing more or less than the scientific method in action.”

Agencies are adopting federal IT standards. Digital info enables the creaation of ad hoc communities of practice. The digital tech provides a platform, but it’s a platform for human work.

S. Abraham Ravid, an economist at Yale School of Management and Rutgers talks about the declining cost of transmitting entertainment and the legal battles regarding piracy.

He begins with a quote that seems to excoriate music downloading but that turns out to be a case from 1908 in which the owners of sheet music sued the creators of piano rolls. The Supreme Court went against the composers. He says that this type of suit has continued, but the new technologies have actually increased the market.

Abraham thinks that the current struggles will be resolved with a new business model that works out for both the producers and the audience. The new model will “distribute the cost savings among all participants.”

“Intellectual property” [yech – I hate that phrase] will be available everywhere, any time. “We just have to make the contractual environment amenable to this.” He does not think theaters will go away, even though attendance is declining. (The peak in terms of absolute numbers was in 1929, he says…an amazing fact.) People will go to the theater and buy the DVD later, he says.

Content production is being democratized, he says. “Things are moving very quickly and it will take a while before settle into a new model. I’m very optimistic.” [Tags: ]

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[Library of Congress] Dr. James Billington

I’m at an event at the Library of Congress put on by the Federal Library and Information Center Committee. The event was opened by Dr. James Billington. I took some notes by hand. Here’s my impression of his comments:

Dr. Billington presented a progressive vision for the future of libraries. The digital revolution is the most profound change in knowledge since the codex was introduced in the 4th Century BCE…more important than even the printing press. “The cascade of digital information calls out for human intermediaries” and for physical places, he said. [Note: As always, quotes are actually paraphrases and are undoubtedly wrong.] We need “knowledge navigators” more than ever.

Nevertheless, he said, the Library’s fundamental mission hasn’t changed: To make accessible the world’s knowledge. There will, of course, be changes. Libaries will collect at the point of creation; libraries will complement traditional categorization and navigation systems with free search; the Library will “continue to work with legislators to balance copyright vs. the need to access information.” [Yay!]

“Libraries are ideologically important to democracy,” Dr. Billington said. They are inherently “islands of freedom,” an antidote to fanaticism, and inherently pluralistic because “books stand next to books that disagree with them.” Libraries unify communities and yet celebrate diversity.

He talked briefly about the World Digital Library being built by the US with six other national libraries. The collections will be full blended digitally. “Globalization has to happen intellectually and perceptually,” he said.

[Jeez, I love librarians.] [Tags: ]


March 22, 2006

Sambrook on citizen journalism

Richard Sambrook, the forward-looking director of global news at the BBC and blogger, writes about how he sees the rise of citizen journalism. His overall point: It’s here, it’s real, it comes in four flavors. [Tags: ]


Graphic display of quantitative information 2.0

This is one of those ineffably cool sites.

Try searching for words. For example, did you know that “squeamish” is one unit more frequently used than “hypnotist”?

The site was created by Jonathan Harris, who also did these. (Thanks to Pito for the link.) [Tags: ]


Cognitive Dictionance

There are 598,000 hits on “matzah” at Google and only 328,000 on “matzoh.” Google doesn’t recognize “matzah” as a word legitimate enough to have a dictionary link in the blue strip at the top, but it does so recognize “matzoh” (“Results 1 – 100 of about 328,000 for matzoh [definition]”).

I wonder how often that happens.

And I wonder if someone can come up with a clever name for when a variant with more Google hits isn’t recognized as a word by Google’s dictionary sources. [Tags: ]

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