Joho the BlogApril 2009 - Page 3 of 7 - Joho the Blog

April 22, 2009

SpokenWord.org getting excellenter

Doug Kaye keeps on polishing SpokenWord.org, a free site that collects spoken word podcasts (well, it only collects pointers to them) and lets you find, rate, discuss, and hear them. You can also add ones links to ones you like to the collection (i.e., share them). SpokenWord is getting quite useful and usable. Give it a try. (Disclosure: I’m on its board of directors; it’s a non-profit.)

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April 21, 2009

[berkman] Dan Gillmor on journalism supply and demand

Dan Gillmor is giving a Berkman lunch on media literacy.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He whips through a history of media, from stone age to now, in about ten seconds. He cycles through a dozen sites doing interesting work, compressing twenty minutes of his normal talk to about 20 seconds. He says he’s no longer very worried about the supply of good journalism.

He says the question of “Who is a journalist?” is the wrong one to ask. Better to ask “What is journalism?” It’s an And, not an Or, situation. NGOs and individuals have been doing good reporting. The best reporting on Guantanamo has come from the ACLU, not from professional journalists. As Clay Shirky says, there’s no barrier any more between ideas and action. Try things out, let them fail, try again. Dan quickly shows some student projects at ASU, where he teaches, ProPublica, NYTimes APIs, etc. “I’m just pretty sure we’re going to get enough journalism.” But, says Dan, that doesn’t solve the quality problem.

He says he is really worried about demand. There’s too much information. Not all of it is accurate, including info in the mainstream media. “The ecosystem is in bad need of repair.” He talks about principles for “consumers” (he puts it in quotes) and suppliers.

For news consumers, he says we need skepticism and judgment. We need to have our “bullshit meter” working all the time. “It’s a mistake to think of credibility as starting at zero.” We should be thinking of it as having a negative starting point. Anonymous comments start with negative credibility. “They’d have to work really hard to get to no credibility.” Sometimes there’s something good in there, but …

Anonymous speech is crucial, Dan says. It’d be a big mistake to try to ban it. “It’s a bad idea” to refuse to stand behind your words in most cases, but it’s crucial when we need it. People should assume that a personal anonymous attack on someone is a lie. Assume it’s false.

Another principle: Do research. Ask your own questions, especially when making big decisions. E.g., Wikipedia is often the best place to start, and usually the worst place to stop. Dan says that WP is getting better and better and becoming one of the most valuable sources of info on the planet.

Another principle: Get outside your own comfort zone. E.g., Global Voices.

Another principle: Question your own beliefs. Dan used to keep a list of things he believes, and every six months he’d relentlessly attack it. E.g., these days he’s thinking Google is getting worrisome, doing things that are “anti-trust worthy” [nice pun!] He needs to revisit and ask if that trend is true.

Finally, we need to learn the techniques by which media is created and manipulates us. Sourcewatch, NewsTrust, MediaCritic (for Phoenix AZ)

The principles for journalists include all of the above, plus: Asking the readers what they know; thoroughness; accuracy; fairness (enabling right of hyperlinked reply); independence; transparency. Dan’s example of the need for transparency: The NYT won a Pulitzer for exposing the Pentagon’s coopting of military experts showing up on TV shows in the run-up to the Iraq War, but the network news did not mention that when covering the Pulitzers. Transparency means “you’ll be believed less but trusted more.”

Dan is creating a users guide, under the name mediactivecom. It’ll be a book and a site. He’s also exploring the nature of books. Perhaps the slower moving stuff will be in the book and the faster stuff will be online. He’ll write it entirely in public.

Q: Is the media organization the right unit of trust? Maybe we trust the NYT for tech reporting but not on Iraq…
A: Yes. There are reporters who I trust and others I don’t so much. And good reporters sometimes get things wrong. We’re looking for people to help us develop systems that combine population and reputation, and reputation is an incredibly complicated word…

Q: Your principles for journalists look like an updated version of the professional code of ethics for journalists. The code hasn’t been updated since 1996. Maybe that’s a framework for you…
A: One of my beefs with the NYT and WaPo is how routinely they violate their own standard. BTW, you’ll notice the word objectivity occurred nowhere in my presentation.

Q: I’m worried that money + anonymity (or fake identity) means that people can be shills. And someone who has to work all day can’t contribute as much to citizen efforts.
A: It’s going to be messy. But we’ll have more good things. Manipulation via money is not a new problem. Relentless media criticism is the best sunlight. I don’t know if it’ll be enough. As far as the inability to participate: There will be various scales. Most people can’t do media criticism all day. They have a life. People are now aware that if the see something newsworthy and they have a cellphone camera, they should record it. They don’t all know what to do next, and that’s an area for education.

Q: At our university, all students must take media literacy. Do you have advice for students.
A: I wonder if it’s too late by college. We need to do this when kids are young. But to teach critical thinking in grade schools would get you fired as a dangerous radical in half the school districts.

Q: (eszter) Even if we agreed that literacy is something we need, it’s not clear whose jurisdiction it falls under.
A: I know of one university that has a course devoted to this required of all students: U NY Stony Brook.

Q: The best media criticism today is on Comedy Central. We need the political will to do this work.
A: The Daily Show has some of the best criticism of television news, but that’s a very narrow part of journalism in terms of its content. You want to see bad news watch local tv news.

(lisa williams) What happens when local newspapers go?
A: I challenge your assumption that there will be no daily paper in the top 50 cities in the US. There’s still a business to be had in print journalism for some period of time (but not forever). The problem is most of these guys have so much debt. If the Boston Globe goes, within weeks there will be two smaller newspapers that will be better than the Metro. They won’t be comprehensive. There will be no lack of information, though it’ll be harder to find the things that trust. Messiness is not something merely to fear.

Q: (cbracy) How do some sites/papers get past zero in credibility? E.g., Talking Points Memo
A: From the beginning, TPM told you who he was, stood behind his works, had some journalistic background. Then, over time, it’s earned our trust.
Q: Rush Limbaugh uses his own name …
A: But an important criterion is that what you say is true. I have nothing against Fox existing. I just despise the slogan “Fair and balanced” because it’s a lie. We’re never going to agree on everything, so the reputation system needs to include knowing the opinion of people who broadly think about the world as I do but also what people who don’t think the way I do, because I want to make sure that I read that to. I prefer the uncomfortable world of nuance and uncertainty than one to which we simply accept the news as given.

Q: (harry lewis) Where is the right place to teach people not to beleive anonymous stuff?
A: The best single thing we could do to have better journalism is to have journalist be covered by some other journalism. It sure as hell made me better. It a smart world, getting burned would not be the way you learn. But for some period of time, people are going to have to be burned by believing something anonymous and telling their friends. It’ll take a generation…

People will miss the current newspapers because they are a unifying force. Also, what about objectivity>
A: Objectivity is a nice ideal that is hopelessly impractical. The principles I outlined add up to something better. No one should ever believe only one media source. And, no, I’m not happy about the dissolution of forces that gave us some common ground. But I see all these self-organize things happening… Before it’s over, everyone will have heard Susan Boyle sing. We have a better chance of figuring things out now that the information accretes over time to a place where there’s more clarity. And, by the way, I do not buy the echo chamber idea; I think that’s easier to do in the era of broadcasting.

Q: (darius) I’m skeptical. Aren’t lazy users aren’t lazy. They work hard all day and then want to be entertained
A: They’re not lazy in their lives, but they’re being lazy in what they believe about the news. The era of mass media has encourage an intellectual and civic laziness that’s dangerous. We all to take more responsibility for knowing what we know.

Q: You’re worried that the demand side isn’t strong enough. Even if every university had a course in media literacy, but the 2/3’s of the country that doesn’t go to university …
A: There’s lot of work going on in media literacy at all levels of education. I avoid the phrase “media literacy” because it works better than Ambien in putting people to sleep. It has to start with parents. Journalists should have been working on this for years; it would have given them a reason for existing.

[Posted without being re-read. Sorry!] [Tags: ]

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April 20, 2009

Pam Samuelson on the Google Books settlement

Pam Samuelson has written a brilliant piece about the Google Book settlement. It goes in the must-read (and highly readable) pile along with Robert Darnton’s eloquent NY Review of Books piece and James Grimmelmann’s more wonky explanation.

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Obama’s common language

Adrienne Redd uses her research into the expectations of nation-states since WWII to analyze the language in Obama’s town hall talk in Strasbourg a couple of weeks ago. She finds evidence of an understanding that the fate of sovereign nations are nonetheless intertwined…

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April 19, 2009

Obama’s CTO

Tim O’Reilly explains why we should be excited by Obama’s choice of Aneesh Chopra as national CTO. Tim makes a compelling case.

I’m excited.

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April 18, 2009

Jonathan Zittrain on Facebook’s open-ish governance

JZ has a terrific post on the new participatory governance announced by Facebook. I found myself nodding as I read it, and sometimes even rubbing my chin thoughtfully. It is a fascinating experiment.

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The sort of achievement that boasting about is itself humiliating

I’ve once again made it into the list of winners at the Daily Show’s anagram contest. The headline to be anagrammed was: Gay Rights Groups Celebrate Victories in Marriage Push

My answer was: Man hitches goat? Girl buggers strap? I praise every curio!

But I actually preferred Dharam’s: I say great, but priggish Vermont preacher: “Sacreligious!”

Dharam is consistently excellent at this.

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Hyperlink aggregation circa 1689

Ann Blair sent me an illustration she showed during her fascinating talk on the history of the book:

1689 cabinet for arranging notes
Click on image to download large version

The cabinet was designed by Vincentius Placcius. It had 3,000 hooks for topics, each with places where you could hang scraps of paper with notes pertaining to those topics.

BTW, I came across a fascinating blog on note taking that says that Leibniz had perhaps a million notes on scraps of paper, and owned a Placcius cabinet. Leibniz certainly corresponded with Placcius.

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April 17, 2009

[ugc3] Final panel

I went first. I talked about exceptionalism, responding to Eli Noam’s challenge at the beginning of the conference that if we’re going to think the Net is going to bring about substantial changes, we have to be able to point to characteristics of it that are different from other technologies that also looked revolutionary but that turned out to be rather prosaic.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Len Downie was executive editor of Washington Post. He’s not going to propose any new form of delivery of the news. He’s not sure the old will die out completely. WaPo is reorganizing itself as a news operation and as a company. They have Facebook and iPhone apps, etc. When it comes to UGC, “this is not a zero sum game.” On WashingtonPost.com you find lots of user comments, participation in blogs, user photos and videos, crowd-sourcing. E.g., Amanda Michel’s “Off the Bus” crowd sourcing, which went through professional editors. (Amanda is now at ProPublica.) They hope the Net will help end the traditional alienation from their readers. And the Net has made their audience bigger than ever before.

The big problem is the loss of classified advertising. Hundreds of millions of dollars lost, hitting local newspapers especially hard. Also, display ads have been driven down. Local news stations are covering fewer stories. There’s less reporting. That’s the problem Len is going to examine in his new academic role at Arizon State.

There are some things the government could do, but not a “bail out,” Len says. Maybe newspapers will become 501C3’s. Maybe they’ll become LC3’s, so they could still be profitable and yet receive tax-exempt contributions. Maybe convert them into endowments, although Len says there isn’t enough money for that: You’d need a ginormous endowment to generate the requisite funds. There are more and more non-profit investigative reporting organizations. There’s a lot going on. It’s impossible to tell what’s going to happen.

Q: How much does investigative reporting cost?
A: At ProPublica, they do it in the best way, and it’s tens of thousands of dollars, mainly for the reporter’s time.

Q: In Germany they’re aggregating news and selling access [I got this wrong] …
A: I’d have to look at it.
Q: Isn’t that what AP does?
A: Don’t get me started. AP is supposed to be a collaborative. If we don’t all charge at the same time, we won’t be able to raise enough money. Alan Mutters [sp] suggests that we all decide on July 4 to start charging. The Obama admin is concerned about the future of news. They’re going to look at loosening anti-trust regs so newspapers can band together, but you don’t want to create another cartel like AP.

Q: If the NYT shut down its presses and went totally online, how would that affect their costs and prices?
A: The Times might save 40-50% of their costs, but it would take away 90% of their revenue. Kindle is great for books but not very good for newspapers. Looking forward to the big multimedia tablets.

Q: The NYT is doing well on the Web. But last year their Web revenue increased just 1%. What’s the future business model?
A: That’s what I’m trying to figure out.


Greg Lastowka (law prof, Rutgers) is going to talk about legal aspects of UGC. First question: What is UGC? It’s a fuzzy concept. “User” is an important term because of copyright. Copyright is not about monetizing the works of authors. Copyright is there to promote the progress of science and the useful arts. Our Constitutional mention is based on the earlier British Statute of Ann that took control away from publishers and gave it to authors, in order to promote education.

Greg predicts that copyright won’t change very much in the next ten years. Copyright law will probably ignore UGC and be large unaffected by it. UGC will be treated as a problem, it will change the rules somewhat (through litigation), but the fundamental shape of copyright law won’t change in response to UGC (says Greg). Ten years ago, he was more optimistic about it. He thought UGC was a huge social boon that was a very bad fit for copyright law, so copyright law would change to reflect that value. The Web was meeting the goals copyright law was established to meet.

Four changes to get copyright law to fit the Web: 1. Simplify the law. 2. People want credit for their work even when they’re happy to have it spread. People get copyright law mixed up with plagiarism. We should work the attribution right into it. 3. Reform terms of service and their enforcement. 4. Subsidize free access content. Copyright is a subsidy for authors.

Greg was arguing this ten years ago. Not much has changed, although there’s progress in open access to academic work. Why haven’t there been more changes? Maybe because our legislators don’t understand what’s happening. The better, sadder, answer is that Greg’s politics were naive. Copyright law today is realistically about protecting big money incumbents. Dan likes copyright and blockbuster movies, but thinks there should be an ecology that enables them and UGC. We’re unlikely to strike a new social contract that reflects the rights of amateur creators.

Q: To what extent is international trade motivating maintaining strict copyright?
A: Legislators certainly care about it.


Stefaan Verhuist (Markle Foundation) presents his model of UGC: Mediation 3.0. It has three new mediating functions that converge to create a new type of mediation. Those functions can be accelerated and made more valuable by making sure they are cheap, deep, and speed. The success depends on four challenges: the 4 Ps.

Setfaan draws a triangle: 1. Establish relations. 2. Provide a new kind of resource that has value for users and that may be created by the users. 3. Remix. Ensure a relation that creates a resource that may be remixed. Their convergence creates UGC. If you can provide resources that are cheap, deep (the value for its users, related perhaps to a geographical location), and speediness. But it can be hard to be cheap, deep and speedy; that’s the challenge.

The 4 Ps: Privacy (relationship), Property (remix), Public sphere obligations and responsibilities (resource), Push and pull (in the center of the triangle) of information. The push-pull presents the policy challenges.

[Posted without re-reading. Gotta run.]

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[ugc3] Sustainable business models and long tails

Andres Hervas-Drane
Begins by noting the long tail in the market share of products. There’s empirical evidence that this is happening online. Why there? Standard answer: Supply side. But he wants to look at factors on the demand side that can affect this distribution.

He sets up a case where consumers have difference preferences and come to the market uninformed. In the offline world, search happens through word of mouth. They can search with evaluations or with recommendations. Recommendations come from consumers who searched with evaluations. Word of mouth results in a high concentration of sales.

Almost a third of Amazon’s sales are generated by recommendations. These are generated by users as meta-content, finding consumers who have similar preferences. This is taste-matching and it reduces sales concentration.

Then there are “artistic markets”: that increase the demand for niche producers and results in long term cultural variety.


Peyman Faratin talks about a case study of prediction markets. His main point: Scarcity is at play even in the UGC system. The new scarcity is of attention.

An incentive engineering problem is at foot in prediction markets. When you can’t bet real money, the incentives go down. The reward streams are delayed. You have to search for the market. There are significant transaction costs [which he goes over in some detail, but too hard to capture briefly…sorry]. That’s why prediction markets aren’t going very well; they’re lonely.

Solution: Reward the big hitters. Let them transfer their reputations. Give them content management rights. Rank markets and reputations. “Invisible hand of the algorithm: Recommendations.” Use widgets to let the market come to the user. [I missed the end of this. Sorry!]


Chris Derllarocas talksabout “Your Operations hvae become your New Marketing.” “Every customer is a potential brand ambassador or a lethal bran assassin.” E.g., in 2006, Comcast spent $100 M in advertising, wiped out by the youtube of a sleeping technician. UGC can make or break your business.

Most influential UGC occurs spontaneously and represents non-representative experiences. Companies need to take preventive measures. Consumers use UGC to decide if they should consume a product. Once they have, they decide what to report. Companies need to “Strategically re-engineer the consumption experience to spontaneously provoke the right mix of consumer content.”

Rules: Pay attention to extreme events. Move towards a culture that pays attention to outliers, positive and negative. “Redesign your monitoring practices and career incentives to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.” Also, “reasses yesterday’s yield management practices.” That is, make sure you do not systematically produce a small number of unhappy customers” (e.g., but routinely overbooking, or by routinely selling undesirable hotel rooms at very low rates). Also, get to know your power customers, i.e., the ones more likely to be vocal. They should receive “the special teratment that loyal big spenders used to receive ten years ago.” Also, not sock puppetry. Also, maybe have a Chief Perception Officer.

Q: You’re proposing an operational hit since we won’t be selling all the seats or rooms.
A: Yes. That’s the decision to be made. We need to make these decisions holistically. We don’t have the complete answer, There’s room for innovation.

Q: [me] This morning we heard that the population is not nearly as adept at using these tools as some of us (= me) would like to believe. This afternoon we hear about markets that are adept. How did you hear this morning’s research?
A: It varies by market. And consumers aren’t necessarily savvy. The UGC has effect even when they’re not savvy. You need to tier your efforts, taking account of the consumers’ Web savviness.

Q: How’s it work in other countries?
A: We haven’t done that research. Happy collaborate…

Q: How does this apply to B2B?
A: More limited.

Anindya Ghose will talk about combining textmining with econometrics. Firms want to know if there’s any economic value to social networks and UGC. How can they monetize UGC?

There’s economic value embedded in the content. E.g., product reviews, geo locations, online purchase behavior. His software mines the text and assesses the economic value of, say, a positive review and even more particular comments. E.g., “good packaging” lowers the value by $0.56 because customers expect superlatives. Particular keywords have particular monetary effects.

Hypothesis: The increasing availability of UGC is reflected in sponsored search metrics. And, yes, he found a correlation between the frequency with which key words are used in blogs and their cost-per-click on search sites. He’s researching whether there’s some sort of causal effect, but it’s not an easy problem. Hence, UGC can be monetized through sponsored search.

[Posted without re-reading. I have to prepare for my unprepared comments. I’m on a panel that’s supposed to be reflecting on the day.] [Tags: ]

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