Joho the BlogJune 2013 - Joho the Blog

June 30, 2013

Are there journalists?

Jeff Jarvis [twitter:jeffjarvis] has a good post asking us to think about journalism as a service provided to a culture, rather than worrying about who is or is not a journalist:

Thanks to the Snowden-Greenwald NSA story, we are headed into another spate of debate about who is and isn’t a journalist. I’ve long said it’s the wrong question now that anyone can perform an act of journalism: a witness sharing news directly with the world; an expert explaining news without need of gatekeepers; a whistleblower opening up documents to sunlight; anyone informing everyone. It’s the wrong question when we reconsider journalism not as the manufacture of content but instead as a service whose goal is an informed public.

There are of course times when we have to make a decision about who is a journalist and who isn’t. For example, who do you let into a press conference? But almost always those are decisions forced by the limitations of the physical world, and it’s a shame to let those limitations drive our understanding. Jeff’s way is more useful.

Why more useful? First, because it can forestall a whole bunch of pointless arguments premised on the idea that there is a precise definition of “journalist” that we can establish, that’s useful, and that we can agree upon. That’s not how language works. Second, and more important, worrying about journalism-as-service rather than who is a journalist lets us think about how to build an ecosystem that enables the maximum amount of useful journalism no matter who is doing it. From my point of view, this is a way of thinking about how we can build better and better knowledge networks for understanding what’s happening now in the context of history and a pluralism of cultures.

Now, the very best such ecosystem well might have paid professional journalists in it. In fact, I’ll be shocked if it does not. But thinking about journalism-as-service (or as ecosystem or as network) seems to me to be the more inclusive frame.

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Things to Worry About #645

See also: First World Problems

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June 27, 2013

Relevant differences unresolved

After yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions, I’m just so happy about the progress we’re making.

It seems like progress to me because of the narrative line I have for the stretch of history I happen to have lived through since my birth in 1950: We keep widening the circle of sympathy, acceptance, and rights so that our social systems more closely approximate the truly relevant distinctions among us. I’ve seen the default position on the rights of African Americans switch, then the default position on the rights of women, and now the default position on sexual “preferences.” I of course know that none of these social changes is complete, but to base a judgment on race, gender, or sexuality now requires special arguments, whereas sixty years ago, those factors were assumed to be obviously relevant to virtually all of life.

According to this narrative, it’s instructive to remember that the Supreme Court overruled state laws banning racial intermarriage only in 1967. That’s amazing to me. When I was 17, outlawing “miscegeny” seemed to some segment of the population to be not just reasonable but required. It was still a debatable issue. Holy cow! How can you remember that and not think that we’re going to struggle to explain to the next generation that in 2013 there were people who actually thought banning same sex marriage was not just defensible but required?

So, I imagine a conversation (and, yes, I know I’m making it up) with someone angry about yesterday’s decisions. Arguing over which differences are relevant is often a productive way to proceed. You say that women’s upper body strength is less than men’s, so women shouldn’t be firefighters, but we can agree that if a woman can pass the strength tests, then she should be hired. Or maybe we argue about how important upper body strength is for that particular role. You say that women are too timid, and I say that we can find that out by hiring some, but at least we agree that firefighters need to be courageous. A lot of our moral arguments about social issues are like that. They are about what are the relevant differences.

But in this case it’s really really hard. I say that gender is irrelevant to love, and all that matters to a marriage is love. You say same sex marriage is unnatural, that it’s forbidden by God, and that lust is a temptation to be resisted no matter what its object. Behind these ideas (at least in this reconstruction of an imaginary argument) is an assumption that physical differences created by God must entail different potentials which in turn entail different moral obligations. Why else would God have created those physical distinctions? The relevance of the distinctions are etched in stone. Thus the argument over relevant differences can’t get anywhere. We don’t even agree about the characteristics of the role (e.g., upper body strength and courage count for firefighters) so that we can then discuss what differences are relevant to those characteristics. We don’t have enough agreement to be able to disagree fruitfully.

I therefore feel bad for those who see yesterday’s rulings as one more step toward a permissive, depraved society. I wish I could explain why my joy feels based on acceptance, not permissiveness, and not on depravity but on love.


By the way, my spellchecker flags “miscegeny” as a misspelled word, a real sign of progress.

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June 25, 2013

The kids are reading more than we thought

A fascinating new report from Pew Internet includes the following:

As with other age groups, younger Americans were significantly more likely to have read an e-book during 2012 than a year earlier. Among all those ages 16-29, 19% read an e-book during 2011, while 25% did so in 2012. At the same time, however, print reading among younger Americans has remained steady: When asked if they had read at least one print book in the past year, the same proportion (75%) of Americans under age 30 said they had both in 2011 and in 2012.

In fact, younger Americans under age 30 are now significantly more likely than older adults to have read a book in print in the past year (75% of all Americans ages 16-29 say this, compared with 64% of those ages 30 and older). And more than eight in ten (85%) older teens ages 16-17 read a print book in the past year, making them significantly more likely to have done so than any other age group.

Also:

…younger Americans have a broad understanding of what a library is and can be—??a place for accessing printed books as well as digital resources, that remains at its core a physical space.

Overall, most Americans under age 30 say it is “very important” for libraries to have librarians and books for borrowing;

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June 23, 2013

Top, oh, 14 ways to tell you’re in a hip hotel

  1. It’s named a letter, a number, a letter or number spelled out as a word, or has some completely generic name, like “Hotel.”

  2. The entire staff at the reception desk put together weighs less than one standard American.

  3. Color in the lobby is taken as an affront to style.

  4. The minibar only has liquors you’ve never heard of, except for the beer which is Bud.

  5. Your room’s waste basket is so well-hidden that you don’t discover it until Day Three.

  6. They would rather let the shower flood the bathroom floor than put in a shower curtain or frosted door.

  7. There’s a full-length mirror in the shower.

  8. There’s a window to the outside in the shower. (Not only have I been in that hotel, but the window was frosted up to waist level. Holy sexist voyeurism, Batman!)

  9. Irregular furniture has sharp, shin-barking edges that are invisible at night.

  10. The pad of paper on the nightstand is made out of hemp and is accompanied by an old-fashioned pencil to encourage you to be authentic.

  11. The hotel restaurant (if there is one) only serves tiny, tiny food.

  12. If there is a concierge, and there probably isn’t, that person is called “city coach” or “wrangler,” or anything except “concierge.”

  13. If there is room service, the menu offers only kiddie food, but at adult prices: PB&J for $14, grilled American cheese on white bread for $18, and the mac ‘n’ cheese requires a credit check.

  14. The TV only gets ironic channels.

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June 22, 2013

What I learned at LODLAM

On Wednesday and Thursday I went to the second LODLAM (linked open data for libraries, archives, and museums) unconference, in Montreal. I’d attended the first one in San Francisco two years ago, and this one was almost as exciting — “almost” because the first one had more of a new car smell to it. This is a sign of progress and by no means is a complaint. It’s a great conference.

But, because it was an unconference with up to eight simultaneous sessions, there was no possibility of any single human being getting a full overview. Instead, here are some overall impressions based upon my particular path through the event.

  • Serious progress is being made. E.g., Cornell announced it will be switching to a full LOD library implementation in the Fall. There are lots of great projects and initiatives already underway.

  • Some very competent tools have been developed for converting to LOD and for managing LOD implementations. The development of tools is obviously crucial.

  • There isn’t obvious agreement about the standard ways of doing most things. There’s innovation, re-invention, and lots of lively discussion.

  • Some of the most interesting and controversial discussions were about whether libraries are being too library-centric and not web-centric enough. I find this hugely complex and don’t pretend to understand all the issues. (Also, I find myself — perhaps unreasonably — flashing back to the Standards Wars in the late 1980s.) Anyway, the argument crystallized to some degree around BIBFRAME, the Library of Congress’ initiative to replace and surpass MARC. The criticism raised in a couple of sessions was that Bibframe (I find the all caps to be too shouty) represents how libraries think about data, and not how the Web thinks, so that if Bibframe gets the bib data right for libraries, Web apps may have trouble making sense of it. For example, Bibframe is creating its own vocabulary for talking about properties that other Web standards already have names for. The argument is that if you want Bibframe to make bib data widely available, it should use those other vocabularies (or, more precisely, namespaces). Kevin Ford, who leads the Bibframe initiative, responds that you can always map other vocabs onto Bibframe’s, and while Richard Wallis of OCLC is enthusiastic about the very webby Schema.org vocabulary for bib data, he believes that Bibframe definitely has a place in the ecosystem. Corey Harper and Debra Riley-Huff, on the other hand, gave strong voice to the cultural differences. (If you want to delve into the mapping question, explore the argument about whether Bibframe’s annotation framework maps to Open Annotation.)

  • I should add that although there were some strong disagreements about this at LODLAM, the participants seem to be genuinely respectful.

  • LOD remains really really hard. It is not a natural way of thinking about things. Of course, neither are old-fashioned database schemas, but schemas map better to a familiar forms-based view of the world: you fill in a form and you get a record. Linked data doesn’t even think in terms of records. Even with the new generation of tools, linked data is hard.

  • LOD is the future for library, archive, and museum data.


Here’s a list of brief video interviews I did at LODLAM:

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More than 3 is many

Some book I read as a kid, possibly Mathematics for the Million by Lancelot Hogben, said that prehistorical humans could count up to three, and after that it was just “many.” I don’t know if there is any actual evidence for this, and it’s always struck me as fishy since prehistorical people had more than three of many things, including children. And, sure, there are ways to track stuff without counting — old timey shepherds would take a pebble for each sheep when they left in the morning so they could tell if they were coming back with the same number — but why 3 and not 4 or 11?


But our modern rhetoric retains a trace of this “more than three is many” idea.


Imagine you are writing an essay about what’s the last thing you’d like to see before you go blind, or what musician affects you more than any other. If you choose to structure your essay by beginning with choices you’ve contemplated but rejected, you have to list three. If you only list two, it will seem like you have singled them out as the only two competitors; two signals completeness. If you list three, you’re indicating that there are in fact many more you could discuss. For example: “Jazz is too free-form. Hip-hop is too talk-y. Folk is too kumbiyah. But show tunes…well, show tunes have it all going on.”


Notice, by the way, that the third in the list is an opportunity for a joke, because the basic structure of a joke is two + punchline. It’s “A Brit, a German, and a Jew walk into a bar,” not “A Brit, a German, a French guy, a Belgian, a Swede, a Pole, a Laplander, a guy with a parrot, and a Jew walk into a bar.” I believe this is because you need two to claim that it’s a pattern, but since the pattern itself is not amusing, adding more examples only annoyingly delays the disruption of the pattern by the third. So,joke = two + punchline.


Hey, I don’t make the rules.

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June 21, 2013

[lodlam] Kevin Ford on the state of BIBFRAME

Kevin Ford who is a principle member of the team behind the Library of Congress’ BIBFRAME effort — a modern replacement for the aging MARC standard — gives an update on its status, and addresses a controversy about whether it’s “webby” enough. (I liveblogged a session about this at LODLAM.)

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How I supported the NRA this afternoon

I just got a phone call from a firm getting paid to do a survey for the NRA. They’re calling patriotic gun rights supporters in Massachusetts. Would I be willing to listen to a message from Wayne LaPierre (the NRA leader) and answer a few questions?

“Sure,” I said.

Wayne then told me that the government wants to take all our guns from us and “refuses to catch the bad guys.” Because if there’s one credible criticism about Obama, it’s that he’s not going far enough in trying to catch bad guys.

After the message, a live human asked me if I agreed with Wayne LaPierre.

“Absolutely not,” I said.

“Thank you very much,” the guy said as he was about to hang up.

“You’re hanging up on me because I disagree? That’s how you do a survey? That’s completely corrupt.”

“Ok, fine, you want to answer the questions, I’ll be happy to ask them.”

The questions were both of the “Did you know that Obama is on record saying…” sort. One was about banning all guns. The other was about taxing guns.

I answered truthfully “No” to both.

So, in the end, the NRA won.

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[lodlam] Kitio Fofack on why Linked Data

Kitio Fofack turned to Linked Data when creating a prototype app that aggregated researcher events. He explains why.

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