Joho the BlogJuly 2011 - Page 2 of 3 - Joho the Blog

July 16, 2011

The social and the public

It seems to me that what’s new about Circles (and Twitter’s “Follows” structure) is the weird way they mix the social and the public.

Google Circles are unlike a bunch of people sitting around in a circle talking about stuff, because G Circles are asymmetric: That I’m in your Circle does not mean that you’re in mine. So, when I post to my Circle, it has elements of the social (symmetric communication, the possibility of back-and-forth conversation, and the implication of a continuing relationship) but it also has elements of the public (asymmetric communication, more difficulty engaging in a back-and-forth because of scaling issues, and no implication of a continuing relation).

What are prior analogues of this weird intermingling of the social and the public? We could always be social, and we could always be public (to one degree or another). The casual and often unnoticed mingling of the two seems to me to be genuinely new.

(This expands on my comment to Robert Paterson’s post at Google Plus.)


July 15, 2011

Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz:

  • Summer Berktern Andres Lombana Bermudez posts 12 short video interviews with Hyper-Public participants:

  • Clay Shirky advocates for chaos in the new news environment:

  • Herdict showcases its new features, including its interactive map:

  • Dan Gillmor explores online identity ownership in the context of Google+:

  • Weekly Global Voices: “TED Talk by Global Voices Co-Founder Rebecca MacKinnon”:

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July 14, 2011

Predicting SYTYCD: Reading the judges

I have a prediction about who is going home tonight on So You Think You Can Dance.

I am more certain about the boy who’s leaving: Jess. I believe the judges are setting us up for this. It seemed to me that he danced fantastically last night. His second dance in particular elicited “mehs” instead of what seemed to me to be the more obvious and more fair course: His movement is so precise. His rhythm is amazing. He stayed in character and exhibited joy. He excelled in a style not his own. But not a word about his “growth,” much less having “taken us on a journey.” Instead the judges praised the slightly less strong performance by Clarice. (Note that I know I am not a dance expert.) And Nigel gave away the game when he said that Jess is unsteady in his lifts. I.e., Jess is short. Very short.

So, I think the judges (= the producers) have decided that Jess can’t make it into the Top Ten because they will not be able to keep him from getting paired with a tall girl. So, he has to go. Thus, they’re setting it up so that tonight when he dances for his life, sending him home won’t be out of the blue. (The fact that a couple of weeks ago the judges told Ryan that her dance for her life wasn’t up to their standards but they kept her anyway pretty much confirmed that the decisions about who to cut are made before and regardless of the “dance for your life” segments.)

I’m pretty sure they’re also setting us up to send Ryan home. I personally think she’s the weakest of the girls, so I’m not as bothered. They even gave her a dance last night that featured what are supposed to be her “Hollywood” good looks and didn’t use that to boost her to us viewers. I believe her goose is finally cooked. The story will be that they gave her a chance when they rescued her a couple of weeks ago and she just hasn’t come through, although they’ll put it in more new agey language about being true to herself and being in the moment.

Overall, I think this season’s Top Twenty has been amazingly strong and even. But I’m not finding the same peaks as in many other years. (For me, Brandon and Will were two mighty peaks.) If I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Sasha Mallory.


July 13, 2011

New flavor of open

Randy Scheckman, the new editor of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — online and free — explains how the a new journal will work: scientists will edit for scientists, there will be rapid turnaround, and the journal’s acceptance rate for submissions will go way up. He positions it as more scientist-friendly than Public Library of Science.

The fact that this interview was (admirably) published in Science magazine has some significance as well.

(By the way, the authors of a report on obstacles to open access have left a hefty and useful comment on my post.)

In my continued pursuit of never getting anything entirely right, here’s a comment from Michael Jensen: “Not quite right — the new editor of what I think is a still-unnamed OA biomedical journal was announced, but Randy Schekman currently edits the PNAS, as I read it.” I have edited the above to get it righter. Thanks, Michael!

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July 12, 2011

Google author markup

I’m trying out Google Authorship, a pilot project that identifies online works with the author’s Google Profile.”To identify the author of an article, Google checks for a connection between the content page (such as an article), an author page, and a Google Profile.” It seems like a good, straightforward idea.

Setting it up entails using “rel” tags to mark content as yours, and to point to a page that will serve as your home page as an author. Google wants your Google Profile page to be the authenticating hub. (I continue to insist that Google should have called Google Profile “Whoogle.”) The link can point to your G Profile but can also point to one of your own pages.

I’m only slightly conflicted about this service. It puts Google Profile further at the center of the identity ecosystem. (You must have a Google Profile to use the service.) On the other hand, the “rel” links can point to your own pages. On a third hand, it helps Google search users find your posts and disambiguates authorship, both of which I’m in favor of. So, I’m trying it. (Search for my name or for the title of a blog post to see it in action.)

Here’s a Google blog post about it.


July 11, 2011

Remembering Persephone

My friend Persephone Miel died very young about a year ago. This afternoon there’s a discussion in her memory: “Cultivating new voices, approaches, and audiences for national and international reporting.” The official description:

Journalists Fatima Tlisova (Voice of America) and Pulitzer Prize winner Dele Olojede will join Ethan Zuckerman (Berkman Center/Global Voices), Colin Maclay (Berkman Center), Ivan Sigal (Global Voices), Jon Sawyer (Pulitzer Center) and the Miel family for a discussion and reflection on these questions, and on Persephone’s work and the journalistic values she championed.

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.

Ethan begins by saying that Berkman is a “supercollider” for people working on Internet issues. Berkman has everything from behavioral economists to folksingers. He says when people there go around the room and say what they’re working on, one of the three things happen: First, you find that people are speaking in a language you don’t understand. Second, you understand what they’re saying and you want to have a fight with them — a worthy conversational opponent. Third, you react by thinking “Thank God you’re here.” Persephone was the only person, Ethan says, to whom he had all three reactions simultaneously. She was a professional journalist, while Ethan works on amplifying citizen media. Then there were the sparks flying: Persephone was a professional journalist and Ethan loves amateurism. But, after talking, they realized that they shared one basic question: In a world that is increasingly interconnected, in which our actions have impact and meaning on people all over the world and vice versa, why don’t we hear much about the rest of the world?” Except that Persephone framed it: “In a world that is so interesting, so fascinating, why would people spend their time only paying attention to one little corner?”

Persephone came to Berkman to work on a massive project, Ethan says: Media Re:public. She worked with a great team to create a careful, skeptical analysis of the new media environment. The overview she wrote with Rob Faris “holds up remarkably well,” Ethan says. Persephone talked about many of the questions raised emphatically by the Arab Spring…questions of authenticity, legitimacy, trustworthiness. The questions journalist scholars are now asking are ones Persephone asked. How do you tell if the reports are true and are telling the story. The problem isn’t just making sure people are getting to speak, she wrote, but that those voices are reaching the public that needs to hear them. It’s not just increasing the supply of news.

Yet, Ethan says, Persephone remained an optimist. She worried about the loss of the values and virtues of professional news, but she also understood that news was not coming to the West from other parts of the world. “Maybe we just haven’t done it very well,” she said. Ethan: “When you’re doing reporting in a digital age, you have the opportunity to tell a story at different depths.” You can go long or short. You can bring in multiple media. You can bring in interactions. You can enable people to have a real conversation with the people you’re writing about. We can work not just on the supply problem, but on the demand problem.

The people speaking today, says Ethan, are figuring out not just how to report under difficult circumstances, but how to involve their readers deeply. Persephone before she died set up a fellowship so more of these extraordinary journalists can share their stories with a broader audience. Fatima Tilsova is an exemplar of this. She comes from the northern Caucuses and was the inspiration for Persephone asking to be remembered in this fashion.

Fatima begins by remembering how beloved Persephone was by journalists around the world. Fatima came from a very small village. The north Caucuses is a violent area, but her area was considered to be peaceful. She shares some of her work, beginning with a story about the torture of Russian prisoners. In one case she reported on a young man who in 2004 was found in a trash pile with all of his internal organs crushed; the story was never reported in the media. Same with other cases she has reported on. Her reports are ignored by the government. [She shows the Voice of America News site ( as the home of her reporting.]

The same is true for her stories of corruption. She shows a YouTube of the expensive cars owned by a Russian official who makes $5000/year; the video was put together from photos taken by people with their mobile phones. Counter-terrorism zones are declared in order to free them of tax requirements so Russian official can invest heavily there. In another case, when Forbes announced the ten most wanted terrorists in the world, the media transformed the list into FBI’s list, because Russians where on the Forbes list. In another case, an elderly man was beaten up for holding a mild protest sign. He took them to court, which decided there was no damage to him, despite his broken shoulder. So he took it to the European court, which brought a visit from Russian officials telling him to withdraw his suit.

These stories do not get out without help. The Pulitzer Center (for which Persephone worked) helps. Persephone was one of the few people ready to listen, and ready to help.

Dele Olojede After returning to Nigeria, Dele won a Pulitzer for his work at Newsday. He is also involved in the Global Net Initiative, which Persephone also worked on. He reminds us that we in this room are in the top one percent of privileged people. In Nigeria, 0.1 percent sits atop a vast pool of oil and gas.

He started as a young reporter in Lagos thirty years ago. His cohort was the first to come into journalism with college degrees. They were quite idealistic. That lasted about 6 years. His editor was killed by a letter bomb in 1986. They had evidence it was done by the country’s dictatorial leader, and the paper was shut down over the weekend. Dele left for the US. He went to Newsday and became “the foreign correspondent to the Hamptons.” He decided the time was right to go home. (He had not been allowed back in for a while.)

He wants to create a space where news and truth can flourish, so that at least people couldn’t say “I didn’t know.” NEXT began to publish stories about what Nigeria’s leaders are up to in politics and business. Sometimes the stories have results. The establishment found them puzzling, but then the temperature started rising as they wrote about corruption in the banking system. A few of the malefactors were jailed, but only for a few months. The establishment from trying to influence them through friendship, then bribes, then through the withdrawal of business. When NEXT broke the story about a billionaire who was paying no taxes because bribing tax officials was cheaper, NEXT’s biggest ads (telecom, banks, etc.) were withdrawn.

The president of Nigeria vanished for a few months. NEXT looked into it an discovered that he was terminally ill and the country was being run from the shadows by his wife. The constitution specified that the vice president — “who we didn’t know from Adam or Eve” — should take over. NEXT became a hero to the the VP, who recently was elected president. (His name is Goodluck Jonathan.)

Now NEXT is working on exposing the “degree of thievery” in the petroleum industry run by a “beautiful 50 year old woman who is reported to be the President’s girlfriend and who is hated understandably by the President’s wife.” NEXT discovered where bribes were being paid, and showed up for a meeting where a duffel bag of cash was supposed to be exchanged. The night before they posted and printed the story, it seemed that everyone who knew Dele called him, telling him he cannot do that. He was offered $20M not to tell the story.

NEXT now is broke. They’re losing some of their brightest employees. “We put all of this into the public arena, and nothing happened.” The Petroleum minister has been reconfirmed without a single question being asked. “What if you armed the public with information and they refused to act? What then?” It was all carefully document. They published the source documents. But nothing has happened. One choice is to change how they work. The other is to say to hell with it. “What if you did all this, and armed the public with the information they need to make rational decisions as citizens, and they don’t?”

Q: Dele, did your reporting not have an effect because no enough people read newspapers?”
A: We probably have the highest traffic web site of any news site in Nigeria. Two million of the most active, educated, privileged part of society are reading us but not doing anything. The other newspapers and media do not jump all over these stories, even though we’ve offered to share the documents.

Q: Maybe you needed to frame it more sensationally, although you probably don’t want to do that.
Dele: Maybe we haven’t found the right language. I assume people are rational and will act in their own best interest. My job is to give them the information they need. But I need to learn new tricks.

Q: Fatima, how do you report on these sensational stories without being sensationalistic?
A: You can drive people to act with a quiet whisper. Sometimes I think social apathy is a survival instinct for people in the Caucuses. People don’t always react. That’s why sometimes we need international action.

Q: [me] Ethan, you and Persephone are interested in why people don’t care about people who are not like them. But we just heard two cases of people not caring about even people like them. Is your issue a subset of not-caring?
Ethan: Hearing a story that you’re powerless to do anything about is a bummer. How do you overcome cynicism. The answer may be a non-journalistic answer. It may require you to report and invite action.
Fatima: Is it a question for me whether it’s dangerous for journalists to become involved, to become partisan activists. With human rights, if you give up a small piece, you’ve given up the universal.

Q: I’m a newbie publisher with an occasional sense of hopelessness, but then you have to remember that there is hope. Even so, sometimes getting the story out can have the opposite result. E.g., support for Ghadafi went up dramatically once news go out that the West was opposed to him.
Q: That sense of hopelessness and apathy was very much the norm in the Middle East and North Africa. People put out information for years and nothing happened. Yet at some point there was a conceptual breakthrough and the stories mattered. Sometimes you have to drop journalistic principles because we’re engaged in informational warfare.
Q:[ethan] where’s the line between journalism and activism?
Fatima: Your purpose as a journalist is to tell the story, to represent the story as it is. But you’re a human being. You can’t shut off your heart and your judgment. Just tell the story. Yet I have survivor guilt. I told their stories, but I exploited them.
Dele: There is great value in calm rationality, fact-checking, balance, and not waging a campaign, principally because we have more than enough of the other side. We have bloggers, and activists. The Internet is full of junk. But there are times when I’ve withheld information a few times because of the potential damage it could do. I’m not absolutely sure I’ve done the right thing.

Ivan Sigal begins by talking about why we follow specific stories. How do we enable ourselves to follow international stories when it’s barely possible to tell them at a national level? That question encapsulates work that Persephone did over 15 years. She had two strands of her work: structure and personal engagement. She worked to create and sustain structures for media to exist so they could tell stories fearlessly. She created social webs within which people could be confident that their work would be taken up by their own communities. The second aspect of her work was that everything that Persephone did was deeply personal. The people she engaged with were always individuals. And that’s important when you’re thinking about attention. For Persephone, the choice to engage in an issue was personal before it was philosophical or rational. Persephone’s goal and gift was to create networks that allow us to expand our perception of what is important to us. That is a long and slow task. The question of media attention too often falls into the ideological sphere, but it should begin with the personal, as Persephone understood.

Ten years ago, Persephone and Ivan tried to build TV shows to attach local and international reporters. At the Berkman Center, she worked on how to create person to person links that would scale.

Ivan introduces Jon Sawyer from the Pulitzer Center who says that Persephone was wonderful at connecting people. The Persephone Miel fellowship helps international journalists tell their stories outside of their countries. The Center had trouble choosing just one, so they awarded three. One is an Indian journalist working on Kashmir. Another is another Indian journalist working on issues of caste. A third is Pakistani journalist who has returned there to report. “Persephone was one of the most influential in our development.”

Ivan says that American international media tends to focus on just one or two big stories. We rarely hear stories from the Pakistani perspective, and that are not coming out of the geopolitical framework with which we approach that country. Pakistan is as corrupt as Nigeria and as dangerous as the Caucuses. More journalists are killed in Pakistan for what they’re doing than anywhere else. In the latest case, the US government actually came out and said that we have evidence that the journalist was killed by the ISI.

Her husband Tony talks movingly about Persephone. A slide show follows. [I lose it.]

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What’s stopping open access?

A report on a survey of 350 chemists and 350 economists in UK universities leads to the following conclusion about open access publishing:

…our work with researchers on the ground indicates to us that whatever the enthusiasm and optimism within the OA community, it has not spilled into academia to a large extent and has had only a small effect on the publishing habits and perceptions of ordinary researchers, whatever their seniority and whether in Chemistry or Economics.

The report finds that faculty members want to publish in high “impact factor” journals unless they have some specific reason why they should go the Open Access route, e.g., they need to get something out quickly. The subscriptions their libraries buy mask from them the extent to which their work becomes inaccessible to those who are not a university.

The report ends with some recommendations for trying to move academics towards OA publishing.


Modeling nature

Fascinating essay by Kristi Dykema Cheramie at the Design Observer Group blog about a 200-acre hydraulic model of the Mississippi River begun in 1943.

A snippet:

3,000 German and Italian POWs began construction on a 200-acre working hydraulic model. The ambitious model would replicate the Mississippi River and its major tributaries — the Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers — encompassing 41 percent of the land area of the United States and 15,000 miles of river. [11] It would reflect existing topography and river courses throughout the Mississippi Basin, using the best data drawn from hydrographic and topographic maps, aerial photographs and valley cross-sections.

The prisoners cleared the site of a million cubic yards of dirt and rough-graded the land to match the contours of the Mississippi River Basin. To ensure that topographic shifts would be apparent, the model was built using an exaggerated vertical scale of 1:100 and a much larger horizontal scale of 1:2000. While the existing topography offered a close approximation of the actual Mississippi Basin, some areas required significant earthmoving; the Appalachian Mountains were raised 20 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, the Rockies 50 feet. An existing stream running east-to-west provided the model’s water supply. The streambed was molded to take on the shape and form of the upper reaches of the Mississippi, and a complex system of pipes and pumps distributed water throughout the model; it was regulated by a large sump and control house sited near what would become Chicago, Illinois. To simulate flood events, Reybold needed to introduce large volumes of water over short periods of time, so he designed a collection basin and 500,000-gallon storage tower system at the model’s edge. Small outflow pipes at anticipated data collection points channeled excess water to 16 miles of storm drains

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July 10, 2011

[2b2k] My only mistake

I heart copy editors.

I got the copy-edited version of Two Big to Know on Friday, and I’ve started reading through it. My copy editor (am I allowed to say she’s Christine Arden?) has read the book with incredible care and sympathy. She unties knotted sentences, irons out wrinkly paragraphs, and generally clears the path for the reader. It is a skill and a talent not to be underestimated. (And, yes, she would undoubtedly have flagged the mixed metaphors in this paragraph.)

I’m only 1.5 chapters in, but I can already see, thanks to Christine, that I tend to misplace my “only’s.” For example, given the chance I will write “He only trained for two months” when “He trained for only two months” is both clearer and stronger. Or, to give you a real example: “Of course, the Net can only scale that large because it doesn’t have edges within which knowledge has to squeeze” now reads “Of course, the Net can scale that large only because…etc.”

I also make every other possible mistake.

On the other hand, I’m going to push for spelling “email” without the hyphen, despite my publisher’s house rules. Real words don’t have hyphens.

Thank you Christine, and thank you copy editors everywhere!


Elliot Noss — an Internet good guy, and my friend — finds additional significance in ICANN’s June decision to open up new dot-whatever names to anyone willing to pay a very hefty price:

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