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October 06 2011

14:30

Blackout in Italy: “The first time Wikipedia worldwide has done anything of this kind”

For the past two days, Italian Wikipedia replaced its site’s standard content with a message:

Dear reader,
at this time, the Italian language Wikipedia may be no longer able to continue providing the service that over the years was useful to you, and that you expected to have right now. As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced by Law to actually delete it.

As the message continued, it became a manifesto: The Italian Wikipedia website had gone (voluntarily) dark as a protest against DDL intercettazioni, an anti-wiretapping bill being proposed in Italy’s Parliament. The law (its title loosely translates to “Wiretapping Bill”) is apparently a reaction to recent wiretapping escapades that have caused trouble for, among other Italian officials, prime minister Silvio Berlusconi — who’s been caught both dismissing Italy as “a shit country” and making some rather crass comments about Angela Merkel.

The bill’s most contentious section is paragraph 29, which stipulates that, should any blogger publish information deemed to be defamatory — deemed to be so not by a process of judicial review, but simply by the subject of the alleged defamation — then the blogger will be forced to print a correction within 48 hours of publishing the offending entry. Or else pay a fine of €12,000 (nearly $16,000).

Arbitrary/reckless/dangerous/ridiculous/a further blow to press freedom in Italy — insert your preferred objection here.

The outrage over the proposed law has been brewing for a while now, but it gained force this week, as the bill’s being debated in the Italian Parliament. And Wikipedia’s blackout of all its entries in Italian — around 800,000 of them — brought the protests to a head. The Wikimedia Foundation itself voiced its support for the protest, couching its argument in the idea that Wikipedia is self-policing, and therefore beyond the auspices of government regulation:

The Wikimedia Foundation stands with our volunteers in Italy who are challenging the recently drafted “DDL intercettazioni” (or Wiretapping Bill) bill in Italy. This bill would hinder the work of projects like Wikipedia: open, volunteer-driven, and collaborative spaces dedicated to sharing high-quality knowledge, not to mention the ability for all users of the internet to engage in democratic, free speech opportunities.

Wikipedians the world over pride themselves on their ability to rapidly remove false information from their project. Wikipedia has established methods to receive complaints or concerns from individuals or organizations and a strong system exists to remove incorrect or false information, and if necessary to remove complete articles in an effort to prevent vandalism. For Wikipedians, there is no value nor need for this proposed legislation.

Jimmy Wales put it more bluntly: “Wikipedia Italy is on strike against an idiotic proposed law.”

As Wales explained to Chris Potter, the Perugia-based director of the International Journalism Festival, “Italy already has perfectly fine laws against defamation, and this proposed law overreaches dramatically. I have never heard of any law like it anywhere else in the world.” The decision for this week’s blackout, he continued, “was taken by the Italian community in part because they felt that there was no genuine avenue for protest in the mainstream media without a bold action.”

And it looks like the protest may have worked — sort of. Yesterday, the Italian government announced that it will be modifying the proposed law to include only large online news sites — meaning that any information outlets that don’t fall into that category, Wikipedia among them, will be excluded from the law’s reach.

So: good news? The hashtag #graziewikipedia, which popped up in response to the development, would suggest so. But while the update, and today’s return to a blackout-free site, may represent a superficial victory for Wikipedia — and a nod to the encyclopedia’s network-effects-rooted power as, yep, a political lobbying force — the bill still holds. And the episode overall is a good reminder of the generally dismal state of press freedom in Italy. Berlusconi owns the influential private media company Mediaset; he exercises direct control over state television. Italy’s 100,000 professional journalists, to get work, must belong to the Ordine dei Giornalisti — a group that is, in effect, a modern-day guild. This year’s Freedom House survey of global press freedom, citing “heavy media concentration and official interference in state-owned outlets,” ranked Italy as only “partly free.”

It’s a worrisome state of affairs — one that Italian journalists are both keenly aware of and, as the DDL intercettazioni episode suggests, largely powerless to fight. As La Repubblica’s Vittorio Zambardino, the paper’s “Scene Digitali” blogger, told me when I met him in Perugia last year, over-regulation of journalism and the online space is a constant threat in Italy. And, for that matter, in Europe (and elsewhere) more broadly. “There’s a wide array of social processes that are produced by the Internet that are also endangering the virtue and the value of the Internet,” Zambardino said. He continued:

Freedom is going to be killed by strict regulation taken by governments. In Italy, we are very worried about this. But it’s not only Italy: the European Union has very strict views about privacy, about anonymity, about what they call “the freedom of the Internet.” In an ironic way — because they don’t believe in the freedom of the Internet.

July 19 2011

19:15

Wikipedia Taps College 'Ambassadors' to Broaden Editor Base

From what I can tell, most of my fellow educators spend more time criticizing Wikipedia than engaging with it.

The conversation tends to go round in a fairly tiresome circle: The first educator points to an article on the subject of his/her expertise and points to a glaring error to demonstrate that the whole enterprise is worthless. The interlocutor responds with a (highly debated) study to argue that "Wikipedia is more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica."

wikipediachart.jpg

But neither side comes to terms with the real Wikipedia revolution: It represents a restructuring of the architecture of knowledge. In the decade since its founding, the crowdsourced platform has grown exponentially, radically improved its content, and established a firm foothold in the online environment, now ranking as the fifth most-visited site in the world. The entire enterprise is based on Wikipedia's utopian vision, as spelled out on the back of the staff business cards: "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge."

Campus Ambassadors

That said, many observers -- starting with the Wikimedia Foundation itself -- realize that this vision is far from realized. This has led the foundation to launch a series of initiatives designed to improve the infrastructure and broaden participation. One of the most intriguing developments is the Public Policy Initiative and its corps of campus ambassadors.

The challenges are formidable. Let's leave aside, for the moment, the two-thirds of the world's population that has yet to gain access to the Internet. The creation of Wikipedia content has striking limitations, even among the 400 million users who visit the site every month. According to Wikipedia's own estimates, only 0.02-0.03 percent of visitors actively contribute to articles.

And although technically, content can be created by anyone with an online account, the pattern of participation is admittedly skewed. According to Barry Newstead, the foundation's chief global development officer, "Eighty percent of our page views are from the Global North, and 83 percent of our edits." The English language Wikipedia's content and participation far outstrip those for its 270 other languages, especially non-Western. Of the active contributors, between 80 and 85 percent are male, and half are under 22. Furthermore, participation has plateaued (and even declined) over the last few years, settling in at somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 active editors per month in all languages.

What are the obstacles to growth? First of all, "Wikipedian" culture is known for its contentious behavior, especially toward newcomers who haven't mastered the arcane style and coding. One result is that the content has become skewed toward geek topics, featuring state-of-the-art articles on technology, science fiction and military history, with more erratic offerings in the humanities and social sciences.

straightening a skewed pattern of participation

wikimediafoundationlogo.png

In early July, the Wikimedia Foundation renewed its efforts to improve the balance by holding its first Higher Education Summit as part of the Public Policy Initiative. According to the foundation leadership, the goals of the year-old project are to:

• bring in more quality content in underserved fields, starting with public policy;
• narrow the gender gap by recruiting increased female participation;

• improve diversity of contributors, and

• make the initiation process more user-friendly.

Backed by a new strategic plan and a $1.2 million grant from the Stanton Foundation, the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative was born. The foundation decided that the natural focal point for the effort was academia. Colleges and universities were, after all, the traditional centers of learning -- and it made sense to look to students who were researching and writing papers as potential contributors of content.

Mentoring Professors and Students

The missing link was the Wikipedia knowledge. This was addressed by the creation of a cohort of Wikipedia "ambassadors" to coach and mentor professors and students through the wickets. Fifty-four campus ambassadors were selected over 2010-2011, charged with offering on-site support in classroom and personal tutorial settings.

These were often students with an extensive (and successful) record of creating and editing Wikipedia content. In other cases, they were university librarians, tech support, and other staff who took on the challenge as part of their classroom support services. (At the summit, Sue Gardner, director of the Wikimedia Foundation, proudly pointed out that almost half of the campus ambassadors are female.) The campus ambassadors were complemented by 91 online ambassadors, experienced Wikipedians who offer support to students in any school.

The United States was divided into 10 regions, each assigned a regional ambassador. Professors from 24 colleges and universities signed up as inaugural Wikipedia Teaching Fellows to participate. In return, the professors made a commitment to assigning Wikipedia content creation as part of their course requirements, and to stage the assignments over the course of the semester, to allow for an editorial learning curve.

By coincidence, I had created an unwitting control group for this effort. Last fall I assigned my Media & Society class at Bard College to write or edit a Wikipedia entry, unaware that there was a Wikimedia program for classroom support. I had a few Wikipedia edits under my belt, but I was unprepared for my students' struggles with Wikipedia policies on issues such as notability, verifiability and sourcing. These policies are highly specific, not always intuitive, and don't necessarily mirror academic practice.

My international students writing on foreign subjects had far more trouble than my U.S. students in publishing their articles, even if they were of comparable quality (partly, I believe, because it's harder to provide approved citations for local information about countries such as Afghanistan and Burma). I was also remiss in not directing my students toward the sandbox to develop their articles before posting them -- leading to some swift and merciless deletions.

For many of us, the Higher Education Summit was a welcome opportunity to meet campus and online ambassadors and to hear how fellow professors worked with the project in the classroom. I was surprised to learn that while some of the professors were experienced Wikipedians, many of them had little editing experience with the platform. This was not regarded as a problem. The program was structured to task the ambassadors with Wikipedia skills, allowing professors to focus on shaping syllabi and course content. (The summit's invitees included professors of law, anthropology, political science, and literature.)

More User-Friendly Editing

whats hot public policy.jpg

At the same time, there are many signs that the Wikimedia Foundation is eager to make the editing process more user-friendly. It has been conducting usability studies to see where the bumps are. Wikipedia has been expanding its live help and a rich trove of learning materials for newbies. These resources are scattered across the Wikipedia terrain and not easy to locate, but the foundation is taking active steps to both build out and codify the materials. It's also sponsoring some friendly competition with a leaderboard to monitor which classes are posting the most contributions over the semester, as well as a "What's Hot" list of most edited articles by students.

The Wikimedia Foundation states that over the next five years it hopes to increase the number of readers to a billion, and the percentage of editors in the Global South to 37 percent. The international initiative is starting with Brazil, India and the Middle East/North Africa, which have already begun to receive advance guards of campus and online ambassadors. (The summit included academics from Brazil, India, Germany, the U.K. and Canada, as well as the U.S.)

The Wikimedia Foundation's Newstead told the summit attendees that the organization is still struggling with the challenge of adapting to mobile platforms, the bridgehead for online media in much of the world. "At this point you can't edit on mobile; it's read-only," he reported. "Most people who move to mobile stop surfing the web. They just surf apps."

Whatever the challenges, the Wikipedia ambassadors are recruiting a new generation of professors and students to carry the vision forward. There are all kinds of creative challenges to adapting classroom assignments to the mission. Students like publishing their classwork online, but express frustration at team members who don't pull their weight. Professors enjoy the classroom enthusiasm, but struggle with the mechanics of grading collaborative writing projects and articles that are edited by a broader community. Nonetheless, there's every indication that the Wikimedia Foundation's experiment in higher education will take Wikipedia to another stage of its wildly unpredictable ride.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She consults on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. Her most recent book is Red Orchestra. She tweets as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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June 26 2011

20:21

Fallen in love with Wikipedia? It's time for a love button (this week)

ReadWriteWeb :: Wikipedia is an undeniably good source of information on almost any topic. To keep quality, the community-edited site needs a continuous flow of volunteer editors, and studies show that people are more willing to do that if they have been shown support by other people on the site. With compliments getting harder to come by and criticism more available than ever, it's time to add a love button.

Wikipedia and its love button - continue to read Marschall Kirkpatrick, www.readwriteweb.com

March 01 2011

22:28

Shankbone's Wikipedia Photo Portraits Spread Like Wildfire

David Shankbone is arguably the most influential new media photojournalist in the world.

He has taken over 1,000 portraits of prominent people across a variety of fields for articles on Wikipedia.com and its foreign language equivalents. Because the pictures are copyleft -- or free for reproduction, alteration, and distribution -- they are used by numerous non-profits, schools, authors, television programs and well known publications, such as the New York Times and the Miami Herald.

He has also interviewed leaders ranging from Al Sharpton to former Israeli President Shimon Peres and given presentations in the United States and abroad about Wikipedia, new media and Internet culture.

250px-Taylor_Swift_by_David_Shankbone.jpg

But, as a recent Columbia Journalism Review article about this famous Wikipedian revealed, Shankbone isn't even his real name and journalism isn't his profession. It's David Miller and his day job is doing legal work on Wall Street.

In spite of all that, Miller -- as Shankbone -- has had a big influence on the development of web culture. In a discussion conducted via email, I asked Shankbone about his controversial contributions to Wikipedia, the way the web and WikiLeaks are changing journalism, and what he thinks legacy media organizations need to do to survive in the digital age.

Your portraits of famous people range from Taylor Swift to Gore Vidal, and they have been used by news sites ranging from Vanity Fair to Forbes. Do you identify yourself as a photojournalist, artist, or what?

Shankbone: Probably more of an artist. Information is realist art and I create information. The challenge to be empirical was more exciting for me than infusing my work with my own perspective.

A few years ago your photo documenting the making of an adult film was banned by the Australian government. Do you think the Internet pushes society's limits of what is acceptable, or does it reflect what is already there?

Shankbone: Knowledge pushes those boundaries. Few aspects of society are hidden any more and Wikipedia's approach to unadulterated information plays a hand.

Explicit images on Wikipedia have been very controversial, but time is on the side of the editors who want little censorship of reality. There's a rational line to be drawn, but what kind of porn researcher would be surprised and offended to see an example of how it's made on the pornography article [in Wikipedia]?

Another one of your photos, "Palestinian Boy with Toy Gun in Nazareth" (below, left) you placed on the Wikipedia article Children and Minors in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. This caused controversy because some critics believed you were trying to push a political view, since you had taken it on a press junket that was funded by the Israeli government. What prompted you to choose that photo?

250-Palestinian_boy_with_toy_guy_in_Nazareth_by_David_Shankbone.jpgShankbone: I saw the photograph and thought about the debate over whether children playing with toy weapons increases violence. A few years earlier in Israel, a child with a toy gun was shot by a soldier -- something that also happens in the United States with the police. There was also a study in Israel about the psychological effects the conflict had on children. So, given all of that, I thought the photograph of a child in Israel with a toy gun worked.

It was only a few people who took the worst possible interpretation, which is that I was portraying this child as a terrorist. At the same time I placed Palestinian Kids in Nazareth, a photo of his friends hugging, on the Friendship article, and that photo is now found on the Palestinian people article.

How do you feel about the role digital media is playing in the Middle East protests?

Shankbone: Satellite and Internet make it impossible to control what people know. I am as nervous as anyone about how it will all look a year from now, but the desire of a nation to be freer and find its own voice is something to be cheered, even when it's not clear that it's in America's best interest.

What impact have the Internet and bloggers had on journalism?

Shankbone: Corporatism hurt American journalism and the Internet exposed that it was no longer functioning as the Fourth Estate. New York Times executive editor Bill Keller admitted that the government vetted the Wikileaks cables before [his paper] published them. What a far cry from the Pentagon Papers. It's a problem. We need the media. But everyone across the political spectrum is angry because too often journalists fail at what they purport to do.

WikiLeaks is a polarizing force in American media. Is the radical transparency espoused by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange changing traditional journalism mores?

Shankbone: WikiLeaks means the public will expose lies, horror, and hypocrisy if the media won't. The best analysis is on blogs and the best journalism is public or foreign. American reporters crave 'access' -- and their editors demand it, no matter how much it corrupts.

250px-Tom_Brokaw_by_David_Shankbone.jpg

I recently had a drink with a writer from Gawker and I said, 'You guys must be invited to so many incredible parties.' He replied, 'Believe it or not, we aren't because people are worried that we will write something unflattering.' A real journalist should be able to say the same. Instead, I photograph them on red carpets.

Sadly for the foreseeable future, hacks will reign at the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times will be a degraded mess, the New York Times will fumble along, and cable news will be little better than talk radio.

What changes would you like to see legacy media organizations make in the digital age?

Shankbone: They think to be neutral is to be uncontroversial and to not assert the truth. They think balance means two opposing views and that somewhere in the middle is moderation. Such ridiculous notions have come to define the attempt to present reality to their audiences. The jig is up: Everybody knows that it's impossible to be totally neutral.

Don't shout from the rooftops that you have a perspective, just stop insisting that you don't and try your damnedest not to let it bias your facts. Mimic the example of the profitable Economist magazine, the most respected publication in the world. Fox News would be great if it was a place where the interesting nuance of conservative thought was hashed out before its viewers.

Be daring. Try new things. Newspapers should involve local citizen reporters in their articles, with talent the only barrier to consideration. Discover the good local bloggers and photographers and develop relationships with them. Dispatch them. Pay them a nominal fee. Have regular reporters work with locals and give them one of those "additional reporting by..." credits. That would help foster a cohesive bond with the communities that they serve.

All images by David Shankbone, via Wikipedia.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the Internet since 1997. In the last two years, she has collected over 200 interviews on the future of journalism, and was one of the first Communication Managers for Wikipedia. She specializes in community management, collaboration, and artisan branding. Her official site, Collaborative Nation, is a home for tecno-activists. She also heads up the Facebook page, Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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February 23 2011

17:00

The context-based news cycle: editor John O’Neil on the future of The New York Times’ Topics Pages

“There’s are a lot of people in the news industry who are very skeptical of anything that isn’t news,” says The New York Times’ John O’Neil. As the editor of the Times’ Topic Pages, which he calls a “current events encyclopedia,” O’Neil oversees 25,000 topic pages, half of which — about 12,000 or so — include some human curation.

While the rest of the newsroom is caught up in the 24-hour news cycle, constantly churning out articles, O’Neil and his team are on a parallel cycle, “harvesting the reference material every day out of what the news cycle produces.” This means updating existing topic pages, and creating new ones, based on each morning’s news. (The most pressing criterion for what gets updated first, O’Neil said, is whether “we would feel stupid not having it there.”) A few of the Times’ most highly curated topics include coffee (curated by coffee reporter Oliver Strand with additional updates by Mike White) and and Wikipedia (curated by media reporter Noam Cohen),  as well as more predictably prominent topics like Wikileaks and Egypt.

The Topics team includes three editors and two news assistants, who work with Times reporters. “People give us links to studies they’ve used for stories or articles they’ve looked at, and this is something that we do hope to expand,” O’Neil said.

But half of the topic pages are “purely automated,” O’Neil said. And O’Neil is even contemplating contracting the number of curated topic pages, as people and events drop out of relevance. (The Topic pages garner 2.5 percent of the Times’ total pageviews.) O’Neil said he had read a statistic that roughly a third of Wikipedia’s traffic came from only about 3,000 of its now more than 17 million pages. “We’re concentrating more on that upper end of the spectrum.”

In a phone conversation, I talked with O’Neil about why the Times has ventured into Wikipedia territory, how the Times’ model might be scalable for local news organizations, and why creating a “current events encyclopedia” turns out to be easier than you might think. A condensed and edited version of that conversation is below.

LB: How did the topic pages develop?

JO: Topic pages began as part of the redesign in 2006. Folks up in tech and the website realized they could combine the indexing that has actually gone on for decades with the ability to roll up a set of electronic tags. The first topic pages were just a list of stories by tag, taking advantage of the fact that we had human beings looking at stories every day and deciding if they were about this, or were they about that. Just that simple layer of human curation created lists that are much more useful than a keyword search, and they proved to be pretty popular — more popular than expected at the time.

LB: What’s the philosophy at the Times behind the topic page idea?

JO: Jill Abramson’s point of view when she started looking at this: When she was a reporter, she would work on a story for days on end, weeks on end, and pile up more and more material. You end up with a stack of manila folders full of material, and she would take all of that and boil it down to a 1,200-word story. It was a lot of knowledge that was gained in the process, and it didn’t make it to the reader. The question was: How can we try to share some of that with the reader?

My impression is that people find these pages terrifically useful. Not everybody comes to a news story with the knowledge you would have if you’d been following the story closely all along. News organizations are set up to deal with the expectation [that people] have read the paper yesterday and the day before.

LB: How do you go about transforming news stories into reference material? What does the process look like?

JO: What we found, as we did this, is that the Times is actually publishing reference material every day. It’s buried within stories. In a given day, with 200 articles in the paper, about 10 percent reperesent extremely significant developments in the field. Now we can take a small number of subjects, like Tunisia or Egypt or Lebanon or the Arizona shootings, and keep on top of everything, set the bar higher. We can really keep up with what the daily paper’s doing on the biggest stories.

LB: As you note, there’s a lot of wariness among “news” folks  around putting  effort into topic pages. For instance, when I talked with Jonathan Weber of The Bay Citizen, the Times’ San Francisco local news partner, about topic pages, he told me: ”people are looking for news from a news site….We’re not Wikipedia. You don’t really go [to a topic page] for a backgrounder, you go there for a story.” How would you respond to that?

JO: Our experience has been that that’s never been entirely true, and it’s becoming less true all the time. Look at the pound-and-half print New York Times, and think how much of that is about things other than what happened yesterday. Even in the print era, that was a pretty big chunk.

Then again, it makes sense for folks at a place like The Bay Citizen to be more skeptical about topic pages. A blog, after all, is all about keeping the items coming. And a site focused on local news would feel less need to explain background — hey, all our readers live here and know all that! — than if they were covering the Muslim Brotherhood, for instance.

LB: So what about the Wikipedia factor? Why should the Times be getting into the online encyclopedia business?

JO: I think Wikipedia is an amazing phenomenon. I use it. But there’s no field of information in which people would find there to be only one source. On Wikipedia, there’s the uncertainty principle: It’s all pretty good, but you’re never sure with any specific thing you’re looking at, how specific you can be about it. You have to be an expert to know which are the good pages and which are the not-so-good ones.

Our topic pages — and other newspaper-based pages — bring, for one thing, a level of authority or certainty. We’re officially re-purposing copy that has been edited and re-edited to the standards of The New York Times. It’s not always perfect, but people know what they can expect.

LB: What’s the business-side justification for the Topic Pages?

JO: We know that the people who come to the topic page are more likely than people who come to an article page to continue on and look at other parts of the site. It helps bring people to the site from search engines.

It’s also brand-building; it’s another way people can form an attachment. People can also subscribe to topic pages. (Every page produces an RSS feed.) We’ve begun to do some experimenting with social media. There are lots of people who want to like or follow or friend The New York Times, but a topic pages feed gives you a way of looking at a slice of this audience. It turns the supermarket into a series of niche food stands, so to speak.

LB: The Times obviously has a lot more resources than most local news outlets. Is developing topic pages something of a luxury, or is it something that makes sense to pursue on a more grass-roots level?

JO: At the Times, less than one half of one percent of the newsroom staff is re-purposing the copy. That makes it of lasting value, and makes it more accessible to people who are searching. If you think about a small regional paper, three editors would be a huge commitment. On the other hand, the array of topics on which they produce a significant amount of information that other people don’t is small. There’s a relatively small number of subjects where they feel like, “We really own this, this is key to our readership and important to our coverage.”

If people think of topic pages as the creation of original content on original subjects, it never looks feasible. If you think about it as re-purposing copy on your key subjects, I think it’s something more and more people will do.

February 01 2011

15:30

Could BiblioBouts, an online sourcing game for academia, offer lessons for media literacy?

Karen Markey had a fairly straightforward idea: Teach students to steer clear of unreliable sources of information through the use of a game.

What the University of Michigan professor wants her students to focus on navigating is academic research. But instead of citing credible references on the rise of the Medici family, what if we could apply a similar game to distinguishing the credibility of news sources?

“The problem is today’s students still don’t know where to go for authoritative, good information that is trustworthy,” said Markey. “But they sure do know how to go to the web.”

If we swapped out “students” for “readers,” you’d have the basis of an argument for media literacy and the importance of finding a way for readers (and journalists themselves) to find good information.

The game Markey created, BiblioBouts, could potentially be an example to educators, j-schools or nonprofits on how to teach media literacy. It’s an idea that’s getting investment, like the Knight Foundation’s funding of the expansion of a civics and news literacy program in West Virginia called Globaloria.

In BiblioBouts, students gather citations from library databases or online sources and rank them against each other based on credibility, content, and relevance to assigned topics. The game is built off Zotero, an open-source online citation tool that lets users organize and share research. In a way, the game is a little like the academic equivalent of Final Fantasy or World of Warcraft: You assemble the best team possible and hope to come out on top. Though maybe it’s a little like the Legend of Zelda in a “gather the tools you’ll need for the journey” way. (Then again, I may just be a big nerd.)

Through rating and tagging each other’s citations, students evaluate what makes a good source, with (hopefully) the more thorough and useful sources rising to the top. If competitiveness is any kind of factor students will look at the winning sources and want to emulate that process, Markey said. “It puts people in situations where the game-like features encourage them to continue playing,” she said. “And if they continue playing, hopefully they’ll learn more.”

It’s arguable that doing research has never been easier, thanks to the likes of Google and Wikipedia. Markey said professors aren’t surprised by studies saying students lend too much credence to search rankings in Google rather than relevance or authority. But Markey is clear that she’s not entrenched in an anti-Internet camp when it comes to research. She said there are plenty of good tools (Google Scholar, for instance), as well as sources for surfacing information — but students need to learn to be more discerning and know when to look deeper.

BiblioBouts may seem like a technology solution to a technology problem, in that you’re using one system to try and bring order to another (solving the “there’s too much information” problem, or perhaps the filter failure problem). But Markey thinks making more critical readers is the answer, and in that way BiblioBouts is just a tool.

“I think we need to teach people methodologies,” she said. “When you retrieve something on the web, you need to ask questions about what I am looking at and whether the information can be trusted.”

Markey can see a ready analog in journalism and the idea of media literacy. A similar game, call it truth-squading or BS-detecting, could be used either in training would-be journalists how to ferret out information, or creating more shrewd news consumers. “We need to be critical consumers of information to make decisions that impact our lives,” she said.

Image by Kimli used under a Creative Commons license.

December 16 2010

16:00

Jonathan Stray: In 2011, news orgs will finally start to move past the borders of their own content

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2010 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Today, our predictor is Jonathan Stray, interactive technology editor for the Associated Press and a familiar byline here at the Lab. His subject: the building of new multi-source information products, and whether it’ll be news organizations that do the building.

2011 will be the year that news organizations finally start talking about integrated products designed to serve the complete information needs of consumers, but it won’t be the year that they ship them.

News used to be more or less whatever news organizations published and broadcast. With so many other ways to find out about the world, this is no longer the case. Professional journalism has sometimes displayed an antagonistic streak towards blogs, Wikipedia, and social media of all types, but it’s no longer possible to deny that non-journalism sources of news are exciting and useful to people.

Unencumbered by such tribalism — and lacking content creation behemoths of their own — the information technology industry has long understood the value of curating multiple sources, including traditional news content. Google web search was the first truly widespread digital public information system. RSS allowed readers to assemble their own news feeds. Mid-decade, Wikipedia exploded into the one of the top ten sites on the web, used as much for news as for reference. The business practices of news aggregators angered publishers, but there’s no getting around the fact that they are tremendously useful tools. The most recent change in information distribution is social. Twitter has become an entirely new form of news network, while Facebook wants media organizations to use their social infrastructure to reach users.

But as of yet, there are few integrated products. Flipboard comes closest with its slick integration of socially filtered news, and now they’ve announced collaborations with several news organizations for seamless delivery of professional content — the user no longer has to open a link in the browser to read an article from, say, The Washington Post. Flipboard aims to be the starting point for my exploration of the news, whereas a news product that refuses to provide me with high-quality filtering and curation of the rest of the world’s information will only ever be an endpoint, a place I might arrive rather than the place I start from.

In 2011, news organizations will finally start to realize that they need to be in the business of serving the consumer’s information needs, not just producing content, and any tool that allows them to serve those needs is fair game. There’s no getting around the fact that integrated products are beloved by users; this is part of the appeal of Google’s and Apple’s offerings. And being loved by users is essential, regardless of whether your revenue strategy is advertising, subscriptions, or philanthropy.

This is also about being multi-platform. One of the great things about Facebook is that I can access it fluidly on any device; Facebook isn’t a website, it’s a product. So far, no news organization really offers a seamless experience across platforms. Several are aiming for it, CNN is pretty good at it, and the Huffington Post and The New York Times are not far behind. But I suspect that the industry will slowly discover that multi-platform will not be enough to compete with multi-platform and multi-source. I expect to eventually to see much more incorporation of search and social content, and many more syndication deals.

This is a discussion that I expect will enter into the mainstream of the journalism business by the year’s end. But I don’t think the news industry will release any truly competitive integrated products in 2011. Flipboard and other startups will pick up most of that slack, and it will be a few more years before most news organizations complete the organizational and philosophical changes they need to compete successfully.

November 01 2010

19:33

Why MediaBugs Won't Take the Red or Blue (State) Pill

MediaBugs.org, our service for reporting errors in news coverage, has just opened up from being a local effort in the San Francisco Bay Area to covering the entire U.S. We're excited about that expansion, and we've spiffed up various aspects of our site, too -- check it out.

But with this expansion we face an interesting dilemma. Building a successful web service means tapping into users' passions. And there's very little that people in the U.S. are more passionate about today than partisan politics.

We have two very distinct populations in the country today with widely divergent views. They are served by separate media establishments, and they even have their own media-criticism establishments divided along the red and blue axis.

So the easiest way to build traffic and participation for a new service in the realm of journalism is to identify yourself with one side or the other. Instant tribe, instant community. Take a red-state pill or a blue-state pill, and start watching the rhetoric fly and the page views grow.

I'm determined not to do that with MediaBugs, though it's sorely tempting. Here's why.

The Road Less Traveled

I don't and can't claim any sort of neutrality or freedom from bias as an individual, and neither, I believe can any journalist. Anyone who reads my personal blog or knows my background understands that I'm more of a Democratic, liberal-progressive kind of person. This isn't about pretending to some sort of unattainable ideal of objectivity or about seeking to present the "view from nowhere."

Instead, our choice to keep MediaBugs far off the red/blue spectrum is all about trying to build something unique. The web is already well-stocked with forums for venting complaints about the media from the left and the right. We all know how that works, and it works well, in its way. It builds connections among like-minded people, it stokes fervor for various causes, and sometimes it even fuels acts of research and journalism.

What it rarely does, unfortunately, is get results from the media institutions being criticized. Under the rules of today's game, the partisan alignment of a media-criticism website gives the target of any criticism an easy out. The partisan approach also fails to make any headway in actually bringing citizens in the different ideological camps onto the same playing field. And I believe that's a social good in itself.

It would be easy to throw up our hands and say, "Forget it, that will never happen" -- except that we have one persuasive example to work from. Wikipedia, whatever flaws you may see in it, built its extraordinary success attracting participation from across the political spectrum and around the world by explicitly avowing "a neutral point of view" and establishing detailed, open, accountable processes for resolving disputes. It can get ugly, certainly, in the most contested subject areas. But it seems, overall, to work.

Fair, Open System

So with MediaBugs, we're renouncing the quick, easy partisan path. We hope, of course, that in return for sacrificing short-term growth we'll emerge with a public resource of lasting value. The individuals participating in MediaBugs bring their own interests and passions into the process. It's the process that we can try to maintain as a fair, open system, as we try to build a better feedback loop for fixing errors and accumulate public data about corrections.

To the extent that we are able to prove ourselves as honest brokers in the neverending conflicts and frictions that emerge between the media and the public, we will create something novel in today's media landscape: An effective tool for media reform that's powered by a dedication to accuracy and transparency -- and that transcends partisan anger.

I know many of you are thinking, good luck with that. We'll certainly need it!

October 29 2010

15:00

Roanoke Times wikifies a series about a highway

When a newspaper decides to dedicate months of a reporter’s time, plus the efforts of the tech team, to a project, there’s usually a whiff of scandal in the air. But in the case of The Roanoke Times’ package on Interstate Highway 81, I-81: Facts, Feat and the Future, it was more or less reporting for the sake of reporting.

“There is a rock in the field, let’s turn over the rock and see what’s under there,” reporter Jeff Sturgeon explained to me, describing how he approached the story. “We simply said, here’s this major community asset — how well is it working?”

The four-lane highway bisects the community of about 300,000 people. Almost 60,000 people drive the route everyday, 1 in 4 of whom are truckers — a source of anxiety for lay commuters. “Many people are scared to drive on the Interstate,” Sturgeon said. “Our goal was to find something newsworthy to tell our readers about our road.”

In the end, Sturgeon’s data-driven reporting revealed that, despite fears, the road is statistically safe and truckers are some of the best drivers on it. Where perhaps just a few years ago Sturgeon’s story would have come and gone in the print edition of the paper, it now lives on at its own context-rich online home. The Times created a hub for the series that lets users interact with the data, read all the stories easily, and leave comments. The web component is a finalist for a Knight Public Service Award, presented by the Online News Association. The winner will be announced Saturday at ONA’s annual conference.

The project is a traditional piece of journalism in the sense that it ran as a series in the print edition of the paper, written by a trained reporter. But both the topic and online presentation are ideal for a news environment steeped in the web. Sturgeon’s story isn’t a scandal-driven, passing tale, but a systematic look at an important local topic, updated as new public data is released. Rather than scattering information across the site, URLs are grouped alongside video, user comments, and an interactive map of accident data. It’s a nice example of the type of journalism Matt Thompson might call Wikipedia-style journalism.

Building the story overtime was valuable for readers and for Sturgeon as well. “We wanted the site to sort of grow with the series,” he said. “The commenters had several impacts on me. They were sort of cheering me on. They, in part, sustained me, over the almost one year to get this project done. It created a connection that kept me going as I slopped through months and months of research and writing and everything it takes to get a package together.”

As new accident data becomes available, Sturgeon says they’ll continue to publish it on the interactive and let users comment. “This road is in our future,” he said.

August 31 2010

18:02

Wiki life

“Everyone brings their crumbs of knowledge to the task and if they don’t, we’re the lesser for it.” I love that line about encouraging more people to bring more knowledge to Wikipedia, from a conversation yesterday with Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.

Gardner had just presented the results of a gargantuan, one-year-long strategy project made with about 1k Wikipedians in a few dozen languages producing 26k pages and a lot of good ideas, including expert review of articles; offline, distributed use of Wikipedia; and the wiki-based university, where research and knowledge aren’t lost.

Gardner says they started the project with the knowledge that there would be “a high likelihood of failure.” It was possible, though unlikely, that no one would have come to the party. It was more likely, I’d say, that it would be taken over by fringe interests and nutty ideas. The foundation had to invest in success, hiring a facilitator who understood the dangers and a consultant who gave the project “a bedrock of information.”

There’s a lesson there — a lesson in all of this — for companies and government agencies learning how to do their business in public. It’s possible to collaborate at scale even on strategy. It’s risky. It needs care and feeding. But it can and should be done if you want to work in public, collaboratively, with your constituents, as they will expect.

Among the priorities that came out of the project are expanding and deepening Wikipedia in its developing markets and bringing diversity to its developed markets. Gardner quoted Clay Shirky — it’s a law, you know; we social media people are required to do it once a day — separating “let it happen” from “make it happen” projects; the English-language Wikipedia is the former, Hindi the latter. Again, there’s a lesson there for other enterprises: When you can create a platform that lets it happen, do; but also invest in what’s needed and make that happen.

Wikimedia then has to understand the motives of people who will help in either kind of task. They’ve found that people share their effort on Wikipedia in high-minded support of making the world a better place and they’re more likely to do so because Wikipedia is independent of other interests. They also want to show off their mastery. If you’re a news organization, allowing comments on your articles reaches neither of these motives. Helping people improve their own communities would.

The result for Wikipedia is astounding. All the work of these volunteers in nonmonetary exchanges of effort have created an asset worth an estimated $5 billion with impact on the industry that is probably greater than that. The foundation calculated the value of the effort that goes into just editing of Wikipedia – not research or writing – and after ascribing a low per-hour labor value to the work, they were amazed that it added up to $700 million a year. There’s the economic premise Clay Shirky’s (now I’ve met my quota) Cognitive Surplus: Given the time, opportunity, tools, support, and desire, we can create countless Wikipedias of incalculable worth.

So how does one apply these lessons to government and companies? I asked Gardner whether the Wikimedia Foundation would consult or build platforms for others. She said it’s tempting but it’s not their job. I’d like to do research via CUNY on the lessons that Wikipedia and other such collaborative enterprises can teach journalism. Other sectors would be wise to watch and rethink how they operate — and strategize.

The first reflex of open-government folks, I think, would be to bring this experience to policy-setting. That’s OK, but difficult. I see opportunity to create the means for citizens to take over some tasks of government. Recently — for my book, Public Parts — I interviewed Beth Noveck, head of Obama’s open-government initiative, and she raised another example I liked: The Social Security web site needs to present content in other languages. If users could translate Facebook collaboratively, couldn’t citizens translate the site and its information? For that matter, couldn’t they also translate the English into English, making bureaucratese understandable from a nonofficial distance? Of course, we could. We need someone like the Wikimedia Foundation to invest the effort to help us make it happen.

Companies, too, could use this thinking to, for example, get input into product design. Look at Dell: Customers have, since the start of the web, helped each other with service. Since the start of Dell Idea Storm, they’ve given Dell ideas. There’s a huge middle ground in design and manufacturing that could be helped by customers if they had the platform to do it. No, I’m not expecting to see computers designed by democratically run committee or looking like Wikipedia (now that would be Dell Hell) but I do think that customers could help improve any product if companies have the structure and investment, like Wikimedia, to listen. I also interviewed Local Motors‘ Jay Rogers for the book and he will describe just such a process.

The point, in the end, is that Wikimedia by its DNA operates in public and benefits accrue — not just as product and engagement and promotion and distribution but also as strategy. That’s the next step in creating the truly public company or organization.

One more observation: Among the top 50 web entities, Wikipedia stands alone as a the only public service enterprise there. It has gathered not just content but also people, the Wikipedians who create that content and now worked together on their shared strategy. As we discuss issues that matter to us as a new society, there are lessons in the Wikimedia Foundation’s work an structure. What can more of us do together to protect the high-minded purpose and possibility of our internet?

August 16 2010

12:00

Truth-o-Meter, 2G: Andrew Lih wants to wikify fact-checking

Epic fact: We are living at the dawn of the Information Age. Less-epic fact: Our historical moment is engendering doubt. The more bits of information we have out there, and the more sources we have providing them, the more wary we need to be of their accuracy. So we’ve created a host of media platforms dedicated to fact-checking: We have PolitiFact over here, FactCheck over there, Meet the Facts over there, @TBDFactsMachine over there, Voice of San Diego’s Fact Check blog over there, NewsTrust’s crowdsourced Truthsquad over there (and, even farther afield, source verifiers like Sunlight’s new Poligraft platform)…each with a different scope of interest, and each with different methods and metrics of verification. (Compare, for example, PolitiFact’s Truth-o-Meter to FactCheck.org’s narrative assessments of veracity.) The efforts are admirable; they’re also, however, atomized.

“The problem, if you look at what’s being done right now, is often a lack of completeness,” says Andrew Lih, a visiting professor of new media at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. The disparate outlets have to be selective about the scope of their fact-checking; they simply don’t have the manpower to be comprehensive about verifying all the claims — political, economic, medical, sociological — pinging like pinballs around the Internet.

But what if the current fact-checking operations could be greater than the sum of their parts? What if there were a centralized spot where consumers of news could obtain — and offer — verification?

Enter WikiFactCheck, the new project that aims to do exactly what its name suggests: bring the sensibility — and the scope — of the wiki to the systemic challenges of fact-checking. The platform’s been in the works for about two years now, says Lih (who, in addition to creating the wiki, is a veteran Wikipedian and the author of The Wikipedia Revolution). He dreamed it up while working on WikiNews; though that project never reached the scope of its sister site — largely because its premise of discrete news narratives isn’t ideal for the wiki platform — a news-focused wiki that could succeed, Lih thought, was one that focused on the core unit of news: facts themselves. When Jay Rosen added attention to the need for systematic fact-checking of news content — most notably, through his campaign to fact-check the infamously info-miscuous Sunday shows — it became even more clear, Lih told me: This could be a job for a wiki.

WikiFactCheck wants not only to crowdsource, but also to centralize, the fact-checking enterprise, aggregating other efforts and creating a framework so extensive that it can also attempt to be comprehensive. There’s a niche, Lih believes, for a fact-checking site that’s determinedly non-niche. Wikipedia, he points out, is ultimately “a great aggregator”; and much of WikiFactCheck’s value could similarly be, he says, to catalog the results of other fact-checking outfits “and just be a meta-site.” Think Rotten Tomatoes — simple, summative, unapologetically derivative — for truth-claims.

If the grandeur implicit in that proposition sounds familiar, it’s because the idea for WikiFactCheck is pretty much identical to the one that guided the development of Wikipedia: to become a centralized repository of information shaped by, and limited only by the commitment of, the crowd. A place where the veracity of information is arbitrated discursively — among people who are motivated by the desire for veracity itself.

Which is idealistic, yes — unicornslollipopsrainbows idealistic, even — but, then again, so is Wikipedia. “In 2000, before Wikipedia started, the idea that you would have an online encyclopedia that was updated within seconds of something happening was preposterous,” Lih points out. Today, though, not only do we take Wikipedia for granted; we become indignant in those rare cases when entries fail to offer us up-to-the-minute updates on our topics of interest. Thus, the premise of WikiFactCheck: What’s to say that Wikipedia contributors’ famous commitment — of time, of enthusiasm, of Shirkian surplus — can’t be applied to verifying information as well as aggregating it?

What such a platform would look like, once populated, remains to be seen; the beauty of a wiki being its flexibility, users will make of the site what they will, with the crowd determining which claims/episodes/topics deserve to be checked in the first place. Ideally, “an experienced community of folks who are used to cataloging and tracking these kinds of things” — seasoned Wikipedians — will guide that process, Lih says. As he imagines it, though, the ideal structure of the site would filter truth-claims by episode, or “module” — one episode of “Meet the Press,” say, or one political campaign ad. “I think that’s pretty much what you’d want: one page per media item,” Lih says. “Whether that item is one show or one ad, we’ll have to figure out.”

Another thing to figure out will be how a wiki that will likely rely on publishing comprehensive documents — transcripts, articles, etc. — to verify their contents will dance around copyright issues. But “if there ever were a slam-dunk case for meeting all the attributes of the Fair Use Doctrine,” Lih says, “this is it.” Fact-checking is criticism and comment; it has an educational component (particularly if it operates under the auspices of USC Annenberg); and it doesn’t detract from content’s commercial value. In fact: “I can’t imagine another project that could be so strong in meeting the standards for fair use,” Lih says.

And what about the most common concern when it comes to informational wikis — that people with less-than-noble agendas will try to game the system and codify baseless versions of the truth? “In the Wikipedia universe, what has shaken out is that a lot of those folks who are not interested in the truth wind up going somewhere else,” Lih points out. (See: Conservapedia.) “They find that the community that is concerned with neutrality and with getting verifiable information into Wikipedia is going to dominate.” Majority rules — in a good way.

At the same time, though, “I welcome die-hard Fox viewers,” Lih says. “I welcome people who think Accuracy in Media is the last word. Because if you can cite from a reliable source — from a congressional record, from the Census Bureau, from the Geological Survey, from CIA Factbook, from something — then by all means, I don’t really care what your political stripes are. Because the facts should win out in the end.”

Photo of Andrew Lih by Kat Walsh, used under a GNU Free Documentation License.

August 11 2010

10:56

Subs’ Standards: A sub-editor’s defence of Wanky Balls

Following yesterday’s post on the perils of wikipedia as source material, Fiona Cullinan takes a look at sub-editing errors from a sub’s perspective and takes issue with those who simply brand it “lazy journalism”.

There’s such a thing as “lazy commenting” too, she says, and plenty of reasons other than laziness that can cause such errors, funny as they may be.

Full post on Subs’ Standards at this link…Similar Posts:



August 10 2010

13:47

Wanky Balls festival: Wikipedia-reading journalists welcome

According to the Independent on Saturday’s print edition:

The Big Chill was founded in 1994 as the Wanky Balls festival in north London.

Always good to be reminded of the perils of lifting from Wikipedia – unfortunately the page has since been updated, but the Google search snippet sheds some light:

(Hat tip to Kat Arney)Similar Posts:



July 27 2010

10:19

Cooliris brings Wikipedia to the iPad with new magazine-style layout

Wikipedia will soon be available on the iPad with the launch of new app, ‘Discover’, according to a report by cnet.com.

Discover is the first app from software company Cooliris, which already produces an iPhone app that enables its users to turn photo collections into “interactive 3D wall” art.

The new app uses content from Wikipedia and organises the data into sections which can be browsed in a magazine format instead of having to scroll down a long browser window.

The end result is a Wikipedia with larger text that can be read like an e-book and photos that can be thumbed through and scaled up to the iPad’s full resolution. The app also takes advantage of orientation to reposition, expand or consolidate the data it’s showing. Along the way, Cooliris serves up advertisements, which is where it can make some of its money given the app’s free price tag.

Discover has been submitted to the App Store and users are invited to sign up here to be notified of its availability.

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July 13 2010

21:10

What Working for Wikipedia Taught Me About Collaboration

A little over three years ago, I started working as the communications manager for Wikipedia. I had just moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., and was ecstatic to hear that this quirky website, which had begun to pop up in many of my web searches, was based there. Having grown up in New York, my culture radar detected that this was a one-of-a-kind project that attracted eccentric individuals. Needless to say, my radar never fails me.

At that time, Wikipedia's internal structure did not match the widespread success and attention it was beginning to enjoy. I found myself working in a thrifty "rent-by-the-month" office building with three other employees: An administrative assistant, a fundraiser/hardcore Wikipedian, and a CFO. I was told that most tasks, including the communication projects, were carried out by a large network of international volunteers.

I immediately began to review the public relations materials available to me, and almost immediately went into panic mode. There was no polished press kit, press list or, dare I say, communication strategy. In fact, the majority of individuals on the communications committee had little to no public relations training, and were more intellectual and techie than the average PR practitioner at that time.

Crisis Mode

A few weeks into the job, with little training and a very primitive understanding of the wiki ethos, I encountered my first PR crisis. A hardcore and well known Wikipedian, Essjay, had lied to the New Yorker about his credentials. Not surprisingly, the years of crisis communication training I received was useless in the context I found myself in. For a brief moment, I honestly thought that my career as a PR specialist had come to an end. The New Yorker, in my mind, was the bible of the media world; there was no way that our online encyclopedia was going to survive the PR damage.

In the midst of my concerns, I soon became a believer in the power of collaboration. That crisis was the moment when the new media landscape unfolded before my eyes.

Essjay.jpg

The volunteers took charge. They created a Wikipedia entry that documented the event in gruesome detail. It was honest, direct and, amazingly, had no PR spin. In fact, for most Wikipedia members, the biggest concern was that Essjay had used his false credentials in content disputes. It was apparent to me that there was never any malice or hidden agenda. Essjay himself had revealed his real credentials on his user profile when he was hired by Wikia, a company owned by Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales. In fact, in the months that followed, I found the community became self-correcting by encouraging the use of real names and identities. It found a way to help prevent this type of issue from happening again.

At the time, some critics argued that the incident ruined Wikipedia's reputation. Of course, this was the farthest thing from the truth. Since then, the site has grown both in content and in language versions. (My husband is a philosophy professor, which means I regularly meet academics who are quick to point out how "surprisingly accurate" the site is, and how fascinated they are with how it has impacted how our society views information.)

Learning From Collaboration

As someone who identifies herself as a bicultural New Yorker who specialized in cross-cultural communication in college, I was not a stranger to collaboration. In fact, that was my biggest criticism of American culture -- we were too individualistic and not group focused enough. But nothing prepared me for the wiki world. I learned some valuable lessons about collaboration and how to make it work. Below are some of the key learnings.

  • Trust the Crowd; Its Smarter than You -- The sooner you trust the group and empower it, the sooner it can produce high quality results. The group can make up for any weaknesses you may have as an individual. The idea is to bring out the strongest skills and downplay the weakest in each person.
  • Diversity and Creativity Are Intrinsically Connected -- Creative brainstorming is significantly improved by diversity. Individuals not only challenge each others' ideas, but they also inspire each other as well.
  • Collaboration is Messy -- When Jimmy Wales said "[Wikipedia is] like a sausage: you might like the taste of it, but you don't necessarily want to see how it's made," he wasn't kidding. Chaos, in many ways, seems to be the spark of great collaborative endeavors.
  • Be Open to Receiving and Giving Criticism -- When working collaboratively, it is important to let go of your ego. Learn to not take things personally and be honest about what you think without being disrespectful.

Wikipedia still receives a lot of flack -- it's an easy target for institutions and individuals who are desperately trying to survive in a digital world. However, I feel grateful for having worked for a short time with the "free culture" trailblazers behind the project who are responsible for making the world a bit more open, democratic, smarter, and much more collaborative.

Sandra Ordonez calls herself a web astronaut who has been helping organizations navigate the internet since 1997. Currently, she helps run OurBlook.com, a collaborative online forum that gathers interviews from today's top leaders in the hopes of finding tomorrow's solutions. Since December 2008, the site has been conducting a Future of Journalism interview series. Sandra also heads up the Facebook page, "Bicultural and Multicultural People Rule." Previously, she was the Communications Manager for Wikipedia. She graduated from American University with a double degree in International Relations and Public Relations.

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May 20 2010

11:02

Wiki journalism: the experiences of WikiCity Guides

I asked Pat Lazure, co-founder of the wiki journalism project WikiCity Guides, to tell me more about his experiences with the project. This is what he said:

Key Factors Driving Citizen Journalism

There has been a lot written about citizen and crowd-sourced journalism, and to this end, several entrepreneurs and creative folks have aggressively explored the widening opportunities within this space. I could write a chapter on why this is happening but instead, boiling it all down, there are two key factors driving these opportunities:

(i.) Reduced barriers to entry: The cost and technical skills required to publish content continue to drop.

(ii.) Technical advancements in advertising: Advertising revenue has been the lifeblood of media ever since the advent of the penny press in the 1830’s. However, the proliferation of self-serve and pay-for-performance ad schemes (CPC, CPM, collective buying platforms, etc.) have left many traditional media models haemorrhaging; thus making them smaller, and thereby creating market opportunities for the citizen journalist.

Journalism �" The New Wild West

So for the time being, journalism �" in its most loosely defined terms �" is now the Wild West. We’ve witnessed the push for hyperlocal, we see thousands of bloggers emerge every day, and we’ve even seen non-profit news organizations emerge. Yet, no single entity claims to offer a convincing, economically viable solution for what’s next. Instead, fragmentation abounds, there’s a lot of clutter, and the rest of us continue to experiment.

WikiCity Guides

WikiCity Guides is one such experiment that I co-founded last year. WikiCity Guides provides local content on places, events, and people who would be of interest to those associated with any of its 22,000 U.S. towns. It serves these communities much like a local blog, yet using the same open source MediaWiki software that powers Wikipedia; any of its readers are allowed to contribute content. By providing town-specific content and other topical resources including local business listings, news, weather, and classified ads, WikiCity Guides allows local users to enhance their town’s pages by adding deep community content that interests them most. With over 13 million pages, WikiCity Guides is now the largest wiki in the world and is located at www.WikiCity.com.

The project itself continues to evolve, and now that much of the site has been built, we are shifting our focus towards growing our audience. Most recently, we launched a partnership with the Wahoo Newspaper, which is located in Wahoo, Nebraska. We’re still fine-tuning the model, but the initial premise was to create a wiki platform that reinforces the newspaper as the hub �" not the spoke �" for all of the happenings within the community. To this end, the site continues to evolve as a collection of hyperlocal facts, figures, businesses, and opinions that will continue to grow in size and usefulness with each edit. So far the project has been well received, and has generated an incremental 7% monthly page views for the newspaper’s website, albeit within a very small market.

Looking ahead, the extent to which wiki journalism is embraced by the masses remains to be seen, but some of the barriers to entry continue to fall. Like Wikipedia and so many other wikis, fewer than 5% of visitors actually participate in the editing process. Part of this is due to the not-so-friendly wiki syntax that are inherent to most wikis.  Not to fear though… The wiki community has recognized this draw-back and is in the process of introducing its new Usability Initiative, which will help avoid some of the confusion and encourage more users to contribute.

April 24 2010

21:16

Questioning the health of Wikipedia

At the final session of the ISOJ 2010, Andrew Lih, University of Southern California presented his research into the health of Wikipedia (PDF).

His interest is prompted by talk about Wikipedia reaching its limits and a slowdown in the growth of the site.

Lih notes that Wikipedia had grown so quickly that from 2006-2009 there was no data, until a massive data dump towards the end of 2009.

Stats from 2009 started to show a leveling off of edits to Wikipedia, with new article production flattening out from 2007.

Lih showed that edits leveled across many languages, aside from Russian.

Some reasons for this decline could be the arcane wiki editing system and more rules about submissions and edits.

Stats show that between an eighth and a quarter of users create an entry but never hit save. To prove the point, Lih showed videos of users expressing confusion about how to edit entries. Basically, everyone found it very difficult to add and edit.

When Wikipedia starting, it had very simple rules such as neutral point of view. Now, there are a stack of rules which create barriers to entry to the community.

The Wikimedia Foundation argues that the community is stabilising. But Lih questioned this would enough to sustain the site and ensure a steady stream of new additions.

He suggested one possible scenario was a slow steady decline in quality, or a lack of timely content. And Lih noted that there was a slow trickling in of spam content into Wikipedia.

April 13 2010

16:00

“The 24/7 News Cycle”: David Carr, Arianna Huffington, and Mark Russell debate the future at ASNE

Earlier this morning, David Carr, Arianna Huffington, and the Orlando Sentinel’s Mark Russell gathered to discuss “The 24/7 News Cycle: New Opportunities, New Pressures.” The panel had, surprisingly, a more elegiac tone at the outset than some of the previous events at this week’s “NewsNow Ideas Summit“; near the start of the conversation, Carr mentioned starting as The New York Times’ media columnist during a time when mass layoffs at papers and other media organizations were already the norm. “For a while I was thinking, ‘Does this end with me typing my own name into a sentence about layoffs?’” he said.

Now, though, at least according to the panel, things are turning around. Despite the recognition of context, optimism — tempered by pragmatism — was the talk’s overall sensibility. “I think we’re getting to the good part,” Carr said. “That’s what it feels like to me.”

Below, three (by now familiar) ideas that emerged, again and again, during the conversation:

1. The core need for context in addition to, and as part of, news narrative.

“We need to go back to getting stories,” said Huffington. But we need, she continued, to tell stories in a new way — to bolster them with background information, smart framing, and, overall, context. “How do we do impact journalism — especially at a time when so many institutions are crumbling?” Huffington asked. Which is also to say: “How do we do journalism in a way that is transformational?”

One answer to that question, she said, is to leverage the expertise of editors. Even in the aggregative work The Huffington Post is engaged in, Huffington pointed out, “the editorial function is paramount.” If a story is “surging” — i.e., getting heavy traffic and pass-around — it’s up to an editor to decide whether to increase its reach and impact, she said. Is the story, ultimately, “worthwhile”?

Context also demands stepping back from the tumult and taking time to process information as well as produce it, Carr pointed out. “I think because we’re so busy pushing media out, that it makes us dumber and dumber,” he said. (Later, he added: “This thing about iterating, iterating, iterating — great. But every once in a while, pick up the gun and shoot it.”)

“Editors are always saying, ‘Do more with less,’” Carr said. “We know that’s baloney. We know that’s not true.” He echoed a comment Mark Russell had made earlier: Know your strengths, he said, and focus on those. “We have a guy named Brian Stelter, who every time he moves his elbow, media pops out,” Carr pointed out. But Stelter is a digital native, Carr said; not everyone can — or should — be like him. Pick your battles.

2. The need for strategic use of new technologies.

“The cloud enriches what we do in ways that we don’t even see — because it happens slowly,” Carr said. And it opens up the possibilities for journalistic creation. “There’s this cereal box of things I could be doing every single day,” Carr pointed out. But, then again, “just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it.” Again, be selective.

And that’s a rule for preserving not just journalists’ sanity, but also their journalism itself. “It’s not how many times you tweet,” Huffington said; rather, “it’s how effectively we can use the new media and the new technologies.” And it’s about taking advantage of the new connectivity that the web allows to improve journalistic storytelling. “Technology has allowed millions of people to express themselves as they’ve never been able to before, she said — to the extent that “self-expression is the new entertainment.” And leveraging that expressive explosion is to everyone’s benefit.

(As to the payment question: People ask why people edit Wikipedia for no money, Huffington said. People ask why people tweet for no money. “But nobody asks, ‘why are they watching seven hours of bad TV for no money?’”)

3. The need for respecting readers and their desires for the news.

The patriarchal days of journalism are over, the panelists suggested; today, news is about determining what readers want — and not only giving it to them, but giving it to them where they are. Social media aren’t merely valuable as crowdsourcing mechanisms; they’re valuable as distribution platforms. “That’s the stage you have to be in because that’s what the users expect,” Russell said. Ultimately, “we have to be in the spaces they’re in.”

4. The need for collaboration.

We’re in a time that finds discrepant news approaches colliding with each other. “Arianna’s marching toward us in terms of some things that she’s up to; and we’re marching up toward her,” Carr said. It’s “insurgent warfare” — “and we’re at a disadvantage because we have all of these legacy costs and systems,” he pointed out of the Times. “The frictional stuff that’s going on is breathtaking to behold.”

One thing to remember, though: When news outlets become casualties of our transforming news system, their loss “is not collateral damage,” Carr said; it’s a real reduction in our ability to cover communities. Which makes collaborations — which are, among other things, hedges against news vacuums — increasingly valuable.

A lot of these hybrid models — “which I thought were, frankly, baloney when they first launched,” Carr said — are now playing an indispensable role.

March 31 2010

13:53

Sourcemap Makes Data Visualizations Transparent

Yesterday colleagues of mine at MIT were brainstorming plenaries for an upcoming media conference. Data visualization came up, but each of us grumbled. "Overdone," one of us said, to nodding heads. We'd done a session on that at every one of our conferences and forums, as had others at theirs. Data visualization had become tragically hip, as if we were in charge of a music festival and one of us had just proffered Coldplay.

But as we teased out our reservations, we realized that it wasn't visualization that we had an issue with; yes, we agreed, it's an overdone topic, but it's still incredibly useful. Rather, data was the problem. Despite the great leaps made in representing information, we were disappointed in the relatively teeny steps taken to explain how that information is collected, organized, and verified. (In the meeting, I half-jokingly suggested adding a credit card company executive to a plenary, given their companies' dependence on accurate data. It wasn't dismissed out of hand.)

The key issue, it turns out, is transparency throughout the entire data-collecting process (something we wouldn't expect to get from a credit card exec). Matt Hockenberry and Leo Bonanni here at MIT's Center for Future Civic Media try to address this issue with their project Sourcemap.

While pitched as a way to create and visualize "open supply chains," Sourcemap's real virtue is that the data itself is fully sourced. Like the links at the bottom of a Wikipedia article and the accompanying edit history, you know exactly who added the data and where that data came from. You can take that data and make counter-visualizations if you feel the data isn't correctly represented. Sourcemap's very structure acknowledges that visualization is an editorial process and gives others a chance to work with the original data. For example, here's an example of a Sourcemap for an Ikea bed:

In another example, the Washington Post yesterday published a piece about food fraud -- food whose contents or origins are misrepresented. You could use Sourcemap to out companies that lie about their food products. But using the same data, a food producer could use Sourcemap to show how consumer prices are lowered by using certain substitute ingredients and not others. The same goes for visualizations of campaign contributions, federal spending on hospitals, rural broadband penetration, your mayor's ability to get potholes filled, etc. The key, though, isn't necessarily good visualization but good data.

I don't want to understate the genius of good visualizations. But as they say: garbage in, garbage out. Without well collected, well organized, transparent data, you never know if you're looking at a mountain of trash.

March 25 2010

15:11

eCampus News: Journalism students urged to write Wikipedia articles

Despite very well-heeled objections to the site in academic departments the world over, students in the University of Denver journalism school are contributing to Wikipedia as part of their course:

“There’s a sense of anxiety about it, because professors have a pretty negative attitude toward Wikipedia,” said journalism instructor Christof Demont-Heinrich, who first assigned the Wikipedia writing to students in his introductory course taught during the university’s recent winter semester.

“Students are leery about mentioning Wikipedia, because they might be subjected to criticism (…) But I tell them it’s an online source of knowledge that just has some information that might be questionable, but that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss all of [its content].”

Demont-Heinrich goes on to add that, even though Wikipedia doesn’t require “old-school shoe leather reporting”, students are being taught how to “thoroughly research a topic before publishing to a site viewed by more than 68 million people a month”.

Full story at this link…

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