Writing 2.0: On Being Transparent

transparency

We who blog, incessantly rave about the progressive attributes of transparency. It’s not a beckon call that we own; political activists have been screaming for transparency in government since, well, forever. Transparency provides credibility. The truth shall set you free. You pick the cliche, they’re all spot on.

Well, in this Web 2.0 world that we live in, transparency is beginning to take root in interesting ways. Take the age old process of writing non-fiction; I’m starting to see authors not only openly talking about their books in gestation, but reaching out to Joe Q. Public for participation in the writing process itself.

Since April of last year, Chris Anderson has been publicly blogging his thoughts about The Long Tail, the term he coined proper in 2004. His blog tagline describes his transparent approach as, “A public diary on the way to a book.” One of his recent posts, Death of the Blockbuster, is a perfect example of the transparent methodology I’m talking about:

I’ve been collecting data on just how bad it’s getting in the music industry, and this useful list of the 100 all-time bestselling albums offered another lens on the meltdown. I looked up the release dates of each and grouped them in half-decade bins. The data speaks for itself:

Chris Anderson graph

If you want to do your own analysis, the underlying data is in this spreadsheet.

Anderson engages with his audience, invites them to participate in his thesis and provides the underlying data behind his perspective. The above post has generated a link from USA Today, numerous comments and two follow-up posts that further this particular aspect of Anderson’s thesis. Aside from his trademarked phrase, “The Long Tail,” the entire blog is registered under a Creative Commons license, a copyright permission which allows anyone to replicate his content (as I did above), as well as to use his research finding for their own use (as long as they give proper attribution to Chris wherever they publish).

Share and share alike and build a better world.

This is how open, collaborative, iterative development works. Chris is writing a book, one which he’ll profit from, but his open-thinking and shared research and knowledge will undoubtedly assist others in their ventures, impacting industry in various degrees.

everything

David Weinberger, who is knee-deep in the process of writing his latest book, “Everything is Miscellaneous,” employs a similar approach to writing.

Joho the Blog isn’t a 100% topical slave to the complexities of data, information and knowledge (I rather enjoy his political and cultural posts), but when David does dive in, you can sense where his head is in the writing process. With some posts, he’ll directly reach out for assistance and perspective, while other posts are less direct with explicit ties, but steeped in organizational memes. David blogged before he took on his latest book, so he understands the value of releasing ideas out into the ether. Hell, he co-wrote the book on it.

Ideas out, ideas in. Links out, links in.

Now, this approach is far from widespread, as the majority of books still hit “the shelf” with guarded marketing plans as the only touchpoint into the potential reader community. Authorship equates with authority in many circles — circles which seem to care more about ownership of a thesis, rather than the conversation surrounding the subject matter and the avenues newfound knowledge takes once digested. But since the shelves themselves are changing and mainstream journalists and authors are beginning to blog themselves, this just might catch on and become SOP.

What would be the ramifications of such transparent collaboration beyond the target of binding particular pages?

David hosted an interesting thread about hyperlinks subverting hierarchies a few weeks back where the conversation shifted between the lines of power, organization and connections between people. Following that premise within the context of this post, imagine if authors who write life and death non-fiction (say, covering the war in Iraq) opened up to allow for community participation… Could the impact be greater than the explosion of citizen media alone?

Methinks so.

2005: A Year For Change

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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.

My Progressive Platform For 2006

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Terrance, over at The Republic of T, asks a simple, yet provocative question in preparation of the 2006 elections: What’s Your Platform?

Okay, I’m game. Here are my most imperative policy reforms, in no particular order:

1) 2.0 the hell out of government
Congress was only able to see “finished” intelligence before voting to give the Bush administration power to go to war (as a last resort). In my world, anything that the Executive branch sees, the Legislative branch sees. My voice is represented by my state officials, not the president. This one example of a non-transparent government directly led to the deaths of more than 30,000 human beings.

The most applicable 2.0 philosophy for reforming government is the philosophy of openness. From open source to open content, imagine the possibilities of employing a government that makes all de-classified government documents, congressional voting records, appointee resumes, etc. instantly available in a relational database with open APIs for public use. All of this information is available now, but it’s not prepped for accessibility and reuse. This is the future of accountability. Up communication and transparency, reduce the “Fuck You!” noise of the left vs. the right blogosphere to constructive collaboration… that is until government tries to pull something, and then we get back on them like white on rice.

2) Create a nominal tax to directly supplement teacher salaries
Great teachers are few and far between nowadays. Why? Well, you try dealing with kids, administrators and parents all day, adhere to and circumvent the red-tape and legalities of this age with the grace of a seasoned politician and pull in ~$45k per year.

I’m talking about, say, a .1% tax that goes directly towards teacher salaries. I gotta admit, I got the idea from Mini-Me when he appeared as a genius teacher on an episode of Boston Public a few years back. His thesis was that the degree to which students are prepared by their public school years directly impacts their earning potential, so reward their hometown education system with a nominal, flat tax return to impact teacher salaries. Tell ’em. Verne!

3) Rip up the Patriot Act
As alluded to in the first part of my platform, transparency of government will lead to politicians being held accountable to create humane national and global policies. It’ll also foster the innovation of extremely real-time and smart communication user experiences, which can then be applied by government in the authenticated realm of classified material.

This edict of transparency cannot be applied to individuals. Our individual right of privacy is what has distinguished us from the rest of the world for centuries. The Patriot Act is legislation with language that allows for the control, intimidation and investigation of Americans through the guise of terrorism. It’s like the old censorship debate; who defines what is terrorism? The abuse of American rights have already begun.

4) Election reforms
First, all television campaigns are free. Each major candidate (there would have to be some way to determine “major,” possibly something akin to the BSC polls/stats via past political progress made) is provided a set amount of credits to apply to the “purchase” of air time. This opens up the playing field to a diverse class of politicians who can focus on the issues, not their fund raising. I bet Tom Delay would even go for this.

Second, ensure that voting is both easy to access and secure. All voting systems could easily be tied together into one database, while creating alternative voting options, such as over the internet and by phone. We’ve been to the moon people…

5) National health care for everyone… Yes, you too
Riddle me this: Large corporations get major discounts on health care coverage due to the amount of employees they staff, right? Okay, then why not treat congressional districts as semantic equivalents of large pools of employees (citizen residents) by submitting them as huge groups into the bidding process? C’mon, try to tell me why that doesn’t make any sense.

6) Incentivize industry to reduce our dependency on oil and clean up the environment
I know, the oil industry has major power claws dug deep into our political system, but this is my platform, so I’ll risk the blunt gas nozzle to the back of my head. This current administration gave tax breaks to manufacturers who create hybrid vehicles, but capped the production of cars to 60,000 that qualify for the break. Yeah.

First, we create California-like emmission standards and apply it nationally. Second, we apply money to develop alternative forms of fuel instead of planning a trip to Mars or building that damn bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Third… well, I’m not that smart, but these people are.

Well, that’s my platform. God knows there are other extremely important issues (like getting out of Iraq, impeaching Bush, etc.), but that’s all the brainpower I have for tonight. I’m sure many of you want to label me as a liberal communist or some other disparaging nomenclature, and if I just described your take on me, my message to you is grow the fuck up. These are serious times, calling for serious people. The longer you avoid engaging in honest discussions along these lines, the easier it becomes to spot your agenda.

To the rest of you, let’s work together to get these bozos out of office in 2006.

Yahoo!: A Change Agent At Work

kevin-sites

About a month ago, the Economist published an article about Yahoo!’s schizophrenic nature as a company. Yahoo!’s history as an Internet pioneer moved me to christen them as a change agent for Web 2.0—the complete opposite of a flaky AOLish operation.

Well, those wacky Yahooligans are off their meds again. God bless ’em.

In a few weeks, Yahoo! plans on releasing In the Hot Zone, a first person, solo journalism (SoJo) effort by Kevin Sites, who’ll cover the most war torn areas of the globe; areas which receive little to no mainstream coverage in the US. Here’s a taste of the Yahoo! approach:

Our Principles:

We will be aggressive in pursuing the stories that are not getting mainstream coverage and we will put a human face on them. We will not chase headlines nor adhere to pack journalism but vigorously pursue the stories in front of and behind the conflict, the small stories that when strung together illustrate a more complete picture.

We are professional journalists and will apply to our work the ethical code of conduct as outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists:

  • To seek and report the truth.
  • To minimize harm.
  • To act independently.
  • To be accountable.

We strongly believe, as stated in the preamble of this code, “that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”

We also will add four more criteria to our work that will take us above the journalistic code. We also pledge in our reporting and storytelling:

Transparency
An honest and authentic accounting of both our failure and successes, to pull back the curtain on our editorial and technological process. We refuse to propagate the myths of the omniscient, infallible correspondent.

Vulnerability
We will strive to live, breathe, and experience the lives of the people we are covering — including the daily dangers they’re exposed to from combat, disease, and hardship.

Empathy
We may not always agree with our sources, but we will make every effort to understand their positions and report them with clarity, so that our audience may have context and perspective.

Solutions
Our site will contain links to organizations and groups that are working to aid victims of these conflicts and assist in their peaceful resolutions.

Will Yahoo! succeed in this venture? I don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter, because by just making this announcement, Yahoo! has already set the tone for alternative news reporting in a mainstream, internet portal format. Even if they fail in the tactical attempt based on any number of conflicts (remember the Chinese reporter incident?) more sites will undoubtedly take on the challenge and pick up the baton running. A change agent, when all is said and done, is about the change. Steering change through it’s evolutionary course isn’t necessary the goal.

Yahoo! is leading at the point where Web 2.0 crosses over into the real world. Sweet.