Newsvine: The Wisdom Of The Crowd

The reviews are in: The people are in the drivers seat.

Newspapers are already hemoraging readership, as the web has created an extremely rich bazaar, allowing us to shop for unbundled content at every turn, while unbundled advertising models begin to sprout up to support this evolution. Well, get ready for the online replicas of the print world to begin to sweat even more. Following on the heals of the mass appeal of social wisdom sites such as slashdot and digg comes a revolutionary hybrid of mainstream media, citizen journalism and participatory editing: Newsvine.

newsvine

Taking the aggregation features of a Yahoo! News, the collaborative properties of a digg and the citizen media aspects of blogging, Newsvine is staged to completely redefine the news. The common man now has stake in the game.

Old School

Top/down delivery of content, beginning with organized knowledge, is a modern construct. Since the advent of television, these organized silos of knowledge have been optimized over the years for advertising to take advantage of explicit media buys—matching business audience demographics, psychographics and geographics to channeled, programed, bundled content. Great for advertisers and the networks/publications, lousy for the “consumer,” as we end up consuming more messaging and less news or interests which match *our* needs and desires.

These constructed, mechanical relationships define false edges of our culture, which in turn raises the value proposition of media and news organizations simply by standardizing on such lexicon. This standardization of topical interests enables a succinct inventory of sales and stories, broadcast on television news and pumped through newspapers, serving as the ying to the entertainment media’s yang.

Is it easier to entertain and pacify a child within a theme park or the natural environment of a forest?

Somewhere between the crafted, paced, 4/4 movement of greased industry palms rubbing against one another, lies our percept of reality, consistently bombarded by messaging. While we struggle with this understanding of our surroundings, back in the news room, editors—the guardians of this construct—find themselves under the thumb of the financial steerings and pressures of this propped reality. Their indoctrinated intuition places constraints on the types of stories generated, the depth of coverage, even the language a writer chooses to employ.

The innovators and early adopters of the web aren’t down with that noise.

New School

Bottom/up constructs, enabled by the personal publishing revolution, delivered with flexible subscription technology such as RSS, have empowered individuals to publish cheaply within our own crafted domains.

  • RSS allows us to digest information passively (in a centralized location), instead of actively (surfing the decentalized web), which greatly increases our level of input and conversely, fine tunes our understanding of the world, which is represented by our output (blogging, conversations, actions, etc.)
  • Those of us who publish our own information objects, apply meta-data to increase the potential of findability, both now and in future interfaces
  • Many of us participate with folksonomies, helping make our POV of all information semantically rich and contextual to our neighbors interests, our future grandchildern’s recollections of us, even the desires of a family on the other side of the planet
  • We create multimedia objects to compete with elite vehicles of capital, and fuel them through the same tactical approaches

This participatory environment is one aspect of the Web 2.0 phrase that gets tossed about. It’s enabling us humans to share our creative impulses with others, helping to constantly define and then redefine the world around us through our personal representations of both explicit and implicit lexicon.

This is an open paradigm, a transparent journey, based in accelerated trust and faith in one another.

So when these two worlds meet — old school vs. new school or modernism vs. post-modernism or proprietary vs. open source — the truth of hierarchy and the truth of individual POV’s collide. Guess what remains?

A truthier truth.

Newsvine has taken a position of mixing mainstream feeds with user submitted, tagged and collaboratively greenlit content. Even more revolutionary, they’re mixing the standardized embedded lexicon of our culture—topical categories—with the co-occurance generated wisdom of the people creating relevant content living within such silos:

newsvine-tags

The secondary navigation points are all dynamic, altering over time as the co-occurance of tagged objects within a topical category shifts. This is how I think—how I search, discover, build my own archive in this blog—so in and of itself, the concept doesn’t blow me away. What does blow me away is that by simply placing this paradigm next to, say, The New York Times, Yahoo! News, my pseudo-innovative hometown Greensboro News & Record and a blog aggregator like Greensboro101, none of these domains can compete if Newsvine gains a participatory, critical mass audience.

Newsvine provides AP feeds (like a Yahoo! News), yet allows anyone to seed *any* story, from *any* site (like digging or del.icio.us tagging). Let me try to clearly paint how disruptive of a strategy this is.

  • With only the AP feed, Newsvine could potentially evolve to become a successful News aggregator
  • The addition of the digg and del.icio.us features completely change the game. Newsvine now becomes populated by the very content from the news sites (New York Times, News & Record, etc.) that it’s competing against for advertising
  • The better the content, say, a New York Times produces, the more likely it’ll end up in Newsvine, but with more context (meta-data) and a thriving, participatory readership.
  • Content will begin to be valued differently at a New York Times — as prices might become reduced at the domain, while new, shared models will be created at sites like Newsvine. Good for the Times, as they have a new market for revenue, but it will effect their organizational structure. The big advantage for Newsvine: they don’t have to completely readjust due to their recent entry into the arena and their nimble stature (compared to large news organizations)
  • Community blog aggregators could possibly fall to the wayside, simply due to the fact that people can seed their own local posts, as well as their neighbors, and leverage unbundled advertising services. The very concept of “community” will be redefined on much more granular levels, moving towards a flickr existence, as explicit tags begin to define groups of interest

The Final Touch

Mike Davidson obviously knows what he has here; not only an opportunity to provide a rich, participatory environment for the redefinition of what news means to us as a collective, a community and as individuals, but this service could very well challenge the embedded constructs of editorialized media.

In the final analysis, if Newswire succeeds, it’ll be because of the participatory nature of people. If Davidson wants to make his mark on this planet, he’ll devise a revenue model to incentivize swarms of citizen editors to contribute to the domain—editors removed from the burden and balancing act of management and politics, reduced simply to individuals focused on making our communities that much more aware, educated and inclusive.

If an incentive program can be devised along these lines—some type of a micro-payment structure based on Karma points and click-throughs for both editors *and* authors—he’ll be responsible for creating the Mechanical Turk of the news world. That could change the news media as we know it forever.

Reputable journalists could become more enabled by freelance opportunities, as news organizations would need to drastically reduce their overhead and change their business models because advertising money wouldn’t be channeled into one out of six corporate funnels. Then maybe the people will get the issues covered the way they need to be covered; maybe then we’ll uncover opportunities to 2.0 the hell out of government.

2005: A Year For Change

fireworks

The funny thing about running into the posting wall, is that it almost always comes out of the blue, often at the most random of times. Well, unlike past years, in 2005 I hit the wall at the most appropriate time of the year.

So in order to get back up on the blogging horse, I’m now going to confront what annoyed me the most over the past week or so by presenting you a better late than never (maybe), hodge-podge list of the best stuff I personally experienced in 2005:

Going freelance
Yeah, I know you can’t buy this or go see it, but it was somewhat of a life-changing moment for me. And while I’ve gone back and forth between full-time and freelance gigs over the years, unless the perfect full-time opportunity to build smart experiences and flex skills with like-minded people arises, this time I just might not go back.

Beginning to blog full-time
While I’m still a bit of a beat-down blogger, I’m pretty amped that I’ve been writing consistently since last April. Because my last job consumed so much of my time and energy, my posts were few and far between in 2004 and without writing, sketching, or being creative on some level for me and me alone, I begin to lose it. Maybe I won’t post as much this year, but when I do, they’ll be accompanied by original creative output (illustrations, music, podcasts, etc.).

Working with Media Matters
Admittedly, before I took the gig to collaborate on the redesign of the Media Matters site, I had never heard of David Brock. So as I researched Brock and Media Matters the week prior to starting the job, I became fascinated with his story, especially how the concept of his book literally became a functional venture (the Media Matters for America non-profit) to clean up the media. Does the released information architecture of the site exactly reflect my vision for a forward-thinking domain? Not quite, but it’s getting there, and man, does our media need a real-time ecosystem of accountability.

Picking up my father’s habit of watching the 11 o’clock news
My father is religous in catching the local 11 o’clock news. Aside from catching the weather for the following day (ever notice how the weather is placed at the end of the newscast?), it provides him daily insight into the local news that he feels he needs. Well, I’m now picking up his tradition by religiously catching The Daily Show. Yes, with the amount of in-depth news I catch on my aggregator, I need Jon Stewart’s take on our twisted planet to close out my day-to-day.

Returning to The Chuck Nevitt Invitational
In 1999, the innaugural CNI season, my handicapped parkin’ squad ended up tying for first place. Thanks to Carver High, an invite was extended to me six years after I released my entire fantasy baseball squad due to the real-life threat of a strike (I thought they’d never get over that one). I’m only a few healed players away from having the trophy living in my den for the next year, so Bonzi, Emeka, hurry up and get healthy!

Becoming active by donating to causes I believe in
Historically, I’ve backed organiations by talking them up and defending their practices within mixed crowds. Similar to how I viewed my ability to become a Big Brother (not responsible enough), I also thought that one needed to be rich to financially support an organization. Well, after giving a few hundred dollars to EFF and TerraPass, I’ve come to realize that one doesn’t have to be wealthy to contribute. This year, I’m looking to expand my philanthropic range, so I guess I’ll just have to kill a few magazine subscriptions and keep my heat down at night.

Really Simple Syndication: For real
I’ve been using feeds for years, but not to the degree I used them this past year. Bloglines has become my primary source of information and news from around the world. Out of my 130+ subscriptions, less than ten would be considered mainstream media, so for the first time in my life my perspective is being primarily influenced by people like me. This is a post all in it’s own.

Moving to Greensboro, North Carolina
As I posted before I left JC to come to Greensboro, I’ve a bunch of mixed feelings. On one hand, going from a long-distance relationship to living with Angela has been great. Just as cool has been seeing my brother much more than once every six months. Greensboro is a laid back town, larger in scale than my one-time home of Williamstown, but similar in vibe; small enough to get away from the hustle and bustle, but large enough to ensure that your girlfriend isn’t one degree away from your doctor, dentist, shrink, yoga instructor, etc. On the other hand, it’s not New York City.

Well, that’s that. This post isn’t chock full of top movies or albums, but hey, those types of posts probably annoy you just as much as they annoy me. If 2005 was my year of change, then I’m thinking that 2006 will be the year of transparency across the board. The internet has far too many dedicated, passionate people and easily accessible, open hooks to not dig into rich domains (such as government) to create open, honest conversations.

Transparency and accountability in 2006.

All News Is Good News

they-live

A few years ago I ranted about my fear of a society where the media is absolutely controlled by corporate interests.

My head wasn’t in the sand; I obviously realized that we were already living in such a world, as money drives practically everything in this country. I was more concerned with the audacity of the FCC to even consider the type of deregulation it ended up approving. Sure, it happens every day; legislation lobbyed for by those in power increases the empowerment of those same people. I mean, this is how the free market works. But this legislation goes beyond just making money for the upper class.

The fact is that Americans are glued to the tube and this type of conglomerate legislation—spanning all media (television, print, radio and the internet)—has now allowed for a greater possiblity to create a lasting, singular, corporate perspective in the psychology of the moment and beyond. Consume messaging has been given even more proximity to our children’s brains.

They Live shades are looking pretty good right about now.

So without the prospect of landing a pair of alien sunglasses, what exactly can be done to defend ourselves from this destructive approach to creating a consumer culture at all costs? As a contributor to public discourse, I’ve always believed that the ‘net (in 1997), and specifically, blogs (over the last five years) were a key development in the fight to present a perspective to battle corporate marketing and/or government disinformation.

  • With blogging, there’s no managing editor around with advertising pressures to censor (or generate) a particular perspective. (well, that is until the corporate structure jacks blogging to apply its usefulness to its bottom line, thereby reducing its effectiveness in the wild)
  • Blogs are also a time permitting endeavor; you can publish many times a day or once a year. There isn’t a revenue figure to drive towards, which allows for individual perspectives to be expressed at will

This break from the days of publishing via the standard print revenue generation model is something akin to the advent of the printing press, yet with the merchant nation-state taking the place of the previously empowered Church. Okay, maybe that’s a little pre-mature, but the possibilities are there. And what are the possibilities?

Over the past few years, the blogging revolution has become more and more accessible and mainstream with the advent of RSS and aggregate readers. With Yahoo! adding access to RSS feeds to their My Yahoo! content modules, blogs are one step closer to being mainstream. But this last step is a big one, steeped in moral conviction.

Until blogs are automatically indexed as viable, alternative feeds when running, say, a news query at Google or Yahoo!, they are going to, at best, sit on the periphery of the conscious of the world’s inhabitants. The average person does not have the time, nor the patience, to sift through the pedagogy of managing RSS. Bookmarks are about as much as they can handle. Blogs do return in general search queries, but this “general return only” pre-supposes a value level to the quality of the information being retrieved. You know, a perspective or opinion or even investigative research presented by a blogger has less value than a feed from the New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.

That’s why this information retrieval concept would have to be one generated out of moral conviction. By keeping news sources limited strictly to incorporated, staffed and vested (in the economic structure of) newspapers, Google (or any other news search engine) is basically saying that only these sources can report and editorialize news. Even though Google has gone a long way in presenting perspectives from small and foreign sources, providing the chance opportunity for conflicting perspective, it’s still not enough.

It seems to me that with a search capability, news aggregator and a blogging tool, Google and Yahoo! are best poised to create convergence between the “professional” news organizations and blogging communities, within the boundaries of their individual interfaces. How accessible blogs become in the presentation, will be a litmus test of their commitment to providing contextual channels within the information age, while creating usable interfaces for digesting a world of information overload and disinformation.

It’s completely doable and an ongoing commitment to data mining and information presentation doesn’t seem to indicate that such domains will shy away from heading in this direction. Well, as long as blogs don’t impact their institutional investors or advertisers in a negative light.