All those kickstarters are great but if someone could point me to a reliable umbrella and a small teapot with an ok pour I’d be happy.
I was riding from Surry Hills to Rozelle, racing to meet Polly, when I noticed my tyre was a bit soft. Within a few seconds I could feel the rims.
I got off and started to walk across to Anzac Bridge when a guy – his name is Richard – saw me and asked if everything was ok. Did I have a spare tube? No. Tools? No. Pump? No.
No worries, he said. And pulled me to the side and proceeded to pull off my tyre, check for the culprit (a glass shard), replace my tube with one of his and hand pump it back up.
And then wouldn’t even take money for the tube.
There's this thing I'm calling 'platform dysphasia'.
I know, there's a real dysphasia – where damage to the left side of the brain, responsible for language and communication, impairs speech and writing – and maybe the name isn't right, but it's absolutely real.
For a while, it seemed like each new online platform was going to displace the previous one. IRC to ICQ to MSN, MySpace to Facebook to Twitter, email to something better. But more and more, I find myself having conversations that slip between platforms. Was it voice mail, Twitter DM, email? If only I could find the message.
So many conversations, and each one a subtly different way of presenting yourself. I guess it's a multi-tasking problem.
There's a lot of published literature out there about the “networked self“, for example the way travel writers and backpackers use blogging and Twitter to build and establish profile.
But we're all doing it. If you're part of a hashtag conversation on Twitter or a LinkedIn group – or leaving comments on blogs – the bits we leave behind in this trail of personality across the web are only meaningful in relation to the network of conversations on those platforms. And it's hard to keep track.
I like Meghan Casserley's take on this for Forbes with what she calls “the many faces of me.”
What this means is that while social media has afforded us many things—FarmVille, unflappable knowledge of everyone’s birthdays, countless memes—it’s also given the uncanny ability for a single person to become many different people. All at the same time.
As science writer Mark Changizi wrote in a 2010 post:
Whereas individuals were traditionally members of just one community, and risky ventures such as entrepreneurship, science and the arts could get only one roll of the dice, in the age of Social Web 2.0 people can split themselves into multiple selves inhabiting multiple communities.
I'm not into splitting myself across multiple Twitter accounts. But even though it's less overt, what we do on all these platforms is much the same thing.
It's always useful to think of the extreme case – so think of the difference between your Instagram pics and your LinkedIn profile. They might as well be different people, right?
Now think about your profiles on Flickr, Pinterest or Tumblr, your Twitter, Facebook, your blogs. I've found it really interesting with the growth of platforms like about.me or connect.me that aim to link up your personal network of social platforms. And bringing them together can be jarring.
As we split ourselves into these subtly different personas, there's a fuzziness to thinking about conversations happening on each one.
Think about the rich way you might know someone on Twitter or Facebook and the way that doesn't seem to really inform your face to face relationship or your correspondence on email.
There's something surprisingly fragile about all this. We talk, talk, talk, but where does it all go? Someone's mining all that data, and if not they will be, but for us it's a surprisingly ineffective outboard memory/mind.
Dorie Clark on HBR thinks it's time to cut back on our social platform, but quotes Robert Scoble saying there's:
no alternative to constant, ubiquitous engagement and held up a spare battery he carried for his smartphone, so he'd never run out of juice. No time to respond to tweets? Do it while you're walking down the hallway.
I asked on Twitter if anyone could “help me find research on the costs/benefits/confusion working & having conversations across mult platforms (twitter/fb/text/email/etc)?” I got nothing, but I'd love to read more (especially evidence based research) on the topic.
The Week has folded. The Global Mail doesn’t seem far behind, though it’s still publishing good stories. New Matilda is hanging on with crowdsourced micro-dollars.
Everyone assumes there’s a next thing for journalism, me included. Because if there isn’t, what then? What kind of democracy would we have without the fourth estate?
But while the bastions of media in this country fight to stay afloat, their upstart competitors aren’t exactly blowing up.
So how do you make a media company for a world where content is increasingly distributed through sharing and social media instead of the old print and broadcast channels? That’s the question asked by BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti in an email republished on Chris Dixon’s blog.
It’s a great, optimistic email – and I’d be interested to know how much Peretti’s vision matches up with the reality at BuzzFeed.
It’s not like the challenge is finding readers. Across the board, there are more readers than ever, or maybe more reading than ever. The challenge is sustainable business models for journalism, since the coincidence that wound up with advertisers cross-subsidising journalism seems finished.
Last year, I read a terrific manifesto of a piece from Craig Mod
On ‘Subcompact Publishing,’ it see-sawed between a very designerly aesthetic and the kind of pared back simplicity of message that I think most writers would aspire to. It stuck with me.
Referring to Clayton Christensen’s idea of the innovator’s dilemna – that “the perception of the incoming disruptors is that they’re low quality, and therefore not really worth paying attention to” – Craig talks about Honda’s N360, a light or sub-compact car. He imagines the car’s engineers looking at the sum total of cars created to that date, and asking:
What’s the simplest thing we can build with this?
In the software industry, they call it the “minimum viable product” – or MVP.
As Craig explains, newspapers or magazines are simple, generally intuitive objects. They’re easy to read. Most media apps and sites aren’t.
His ‘subcompact publishing’ manifesto is:
Subcompact Publishing tools are first and foremost straightforward.
They require few to no instructions.
They are easily understood on first blush.
The editorial and design decisions around them react to digital as a distribution and consumption space.
They are the result of dumping our publishing related technology on a table and asking ourselves — what are the core tools we can build with all this stuff?
They are, as it were, little N360s.
I propose Subcompact Publishing tools and editorial ethos begin (but not end) with the following qualities:
- Small issue sizes (3-7 articles / issue)
- Small file sizes
- Digital-aware subscription prices
- Fluid publishing schedule
- Scroll (don’t paginate)
- Clear navigation
- HTML(ish) based
- Touching the open web
It’s prescriptive, and great creative projects are going to make their own rules. But dumping our publishing knowledge on a table and asking what can we build with it is a good place to start.
I had a very modern moment yesterday while searching for Craig Mod’s piece
I read Craig’s piece last year, but for the past couple of months, try as I might, I couldn’t find the right combination of search terms to find it again.
So I asked my Twitter community – I had, after all, tweeted it at the time. The first time I asked, it went nowhere.
Yesterday, I asked again:
So frustrated! Super inspired by manifesto for a new mobile/online news site that popped up a few months ago. Now can’t find it! @bronwen?
This time I tagged Bronwen Clune, who tweets about media innovation and runs the excellent email list Newsgraf, and she came back asking for more clues – “Australian? US?” I replied:
@bronwen think US, seemed more conceptual than case study. Led by a tech/startup person, not a media person. Very lean. Seemed v practical.
Great links and suggestions started coming in from great people like Amy Denmeade, Gavin Heaton, Paul Wallbank and Bronwen.
- The Magazine – media site from Instapaper’s Marco Armente
- Summly – 400 word summaries of the news from 16 year old Nick D’Aloiso
- Quartz – Atlantic Media’s digital startup, see Poynter’s guide
- Circa – allows you to follow an often-changing story in bite sized chunks
I hadn’t yet found what I was looking for and Bronwen captured the frustration of the fruitless search:
@matt_levinson Gah, now I’m searching for one I loved and can’t find.
But Amy Denmeade’s mention of Marco Armente’s site had given me the clue I needed. See the first half of this post 😉
We don’t have the US’s huge media ecosystem, or the catalytic funding of organisations like the Knight Foundation and their terrific News Challenges, and our startup scene is much more focussed on data-driven projects (a rich vein to tap).
But there is a huge gene pool of creative media makers coming out of community radio, zine making, blogging and subcultural writing, as well as the mainstream of journalism schools, and there are stacks of senior, seriously experienced journalists out looking for work.
Our strongest digital media projects so far: Crikey, Mumbrella, the Spectator group (recently sold to News Limited), Mamamia, Andrew Jaspan’s The Conversation, sustainability website The Fifth Estate, News and the ABC’s opinion sites (The Punch, The Drum), CNET, ZDNet, maybe even The Monthly’s latest thing Politicoz – they’ve all started with a fine focus, and in some cases expanded.
In contrast, the sites and publications suffering… most are generalist, generally unfocussed – maybe that’s the point.
People are taking the old adage of faking it until you make it to its logical conclusion.
I often start writing with snatches of ideas from wherever I’ve found them, so I get it.
I scribble in my notes, kick off with bits of inspiration from whatever I’m reading. It’s a way to get the ideas flowing, to sidestep a dreaded blank page. As I work my way through and finesse the concepts, story, style into something that’s more my thing it usually takes its own shape.
But over the past year or so serious plagiarism has popped up again and again, and in unlikely quarters.
- Time editor and CNN host Fareed Zakaria who borrowed liberally from New Yorker writer Jill Lepore
- Jonah Lehrer who first ‘self-plagiarised’ his WSJ blog at the New Yorker, then made up Dylan quotes
- Psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed whose SMH column borrowed from the New Atlantis
But with content farms and ‘curated’ blogs, under-resourced newsrooms and everyone being pushed to file more and more stories, it seems to be getting more prevalent.
Here’s one today. Dan Keogh picked up that Scientific American blogger Bec Crew‘s post had been plagiarised by a reporter from the Daily Mail.
Here’s Dan’s tweet: http://twitter.com/ProfessorFunk/status/261295777140338688/photo/1
He picked it up using a tool created to help Wikipedia pick up ‘duplicates’.
So a couple of days ago Dan Ilic posted an animated gif of Chris Wu. They were both at a festival in Porto, Portugal.
Que set up a Tumblr and that’s where it picked up steam.
It’s amazing. Now up to 12 Tumblr pages of inspired superimposition and image manipulation. But it hasn’t gone viral. It’s still in our extended, very prolific gang.
I wonder what it takes to flip to viral?
The most amazing thing about Leonard Cohen being number three on Billboard is that it only took 41,000 records to get there.
Adele’s been at the top end of the charts for 19 weeks now, but number one – Lana Del Rey – got there with 76,000 copies of her ‘Born To Die.’
Twenty years ago, record labels could buy truckloads of singles from key record shops to build momentum and heave records into the charts.
With no suggestion that Right Said Fred played the system, they topped the charts 20 years ago with ‘I’m Too Sexy.’ The song went platinum in the US, signifying over two million copies sold. I know that’s comparing albums with singles, but even the album (‘Up’) went gold, selling half a million copies.
The numbers are so much smaller now, but the cultural stakes are just as high. Are we in a time when it’s easier than ever to game the system?
In the last magazine circulation figures, FHM’s numbers halved. It’s now lower than The Monthly. But across the board, from Masterchef to Big League, magazine circulation was down in the final six months of last year compared to the same period a year before.
Australian Geographic, which dropped from 121 to 95 thousand in the same period, had more than 200,000 subscribers when it was sold to Fairfax in 1995.
There’s a lot of criticism around of social metrics like Klout, PeerIndex and Alexa. But clearly many old metrics are failing.
There are so many datasets: Spotify, last.fm or Rhapsody listens; pinterest, Facebook or Digg shares; views, downloads, tweets. Aggregating measures is a fraught process, at best, but in our splintered world don’t we need a way to make sense of it all?
What people usually do when they sign up to Twitter:
- This is so naff. I mean, hello tweeps!
- Where do I start? Where do I find good people to follow? Is it really just what people had for breakfast?
- Oh I get it. This is kind of cool.
- You need this.
Maybe someone will formalise it into some kind of social media law. Right now it’s more like a working hypothesis. People sign up and step through a relatively predictable series of states before ultimately becoming evangelists.
(Behind the scenes picture at last year’s Bonn climate change talks – a familiar scene)
I’ve been wondering about the evangelism/reflection balance in social media for a while.
A Bill Keller piece in the New York Times got me thinking:
The most obvious drawback of social media is that they are aggressive distractions. Unlike the virtual fireplace or that nesting pair of red-tailed hawks we have been live-streaming on nytimes.com, Twitter is not just an ambient presence. It demands attention and response. It is the enemy of contemplation. Every time my TweetDeck shoots a new tweet to my desktop, I experience a little dopamine spritz that takes me away from . . . from . . . wait, what was I saying?
Keller, who edits the NYT, attracted heavy blog and social media criticism. For example, Gizmodo: New York Times Editor is a Horrible Troll Who Doesn’t Understand The Modern World.
But I reckon there’s something to it, and seeing ABC’s Natasha Mitchell talking Twitter in Brisbane a few weeks ago, I could hear she was getting even closer.
I like that Natasha – who presents Radio National’s All In The Mind – uses it as a crucial part of her role as a science journalist. But I love that she is not an evangelist. In a crowd of social media geeks at the #media140 conference, she could talk clearly about who you’re interacting with on those social media. And while it’s an influential, interested group, it’s far from representative.
I’ve been on Twitter long enough that my followings have built up cumulatively, a few a week, to something that looks impressive on a cursory glance. Long enough that it’s really a big part of my life, and that I sometimes put hashtags into emails or refer to people by their Twitter handles instead of their names. Long enough to see it appearing in my job description from time to time.
But… talk about Twitter tends to be either reductive criticism by people who don’t get it, or loved up recommendations from social media evangelists, which is what we all become, eventually.
From that Gizmodo post:
The thing is not that we’re dumber, or that our cognitive advance has slowed or reversed. It’s that we need different mental abilities to process information and the modern world.
We don’t simply use new technologies, we become immersed in them. We live in an era of information assault. Data is everywhere. Ads come at us from all sides. Email pours into our boxes. The Web, and television, and radio and, yes, fucking newspapers spew information at us like, well, like newspapers once spewed from printing presses before they began drifting into irrelevance.
Memorization was once a tool for preserving information. But today the more important skill is the ability to process and filter it. To quickly decide what needs to be analyzed and responded to, and what ought to be ignored. That’s not a cognitive loss, it’s an evolutionary advancement.
Almost two years ago, I was on a panel about “slashies” – people who do more than one creative job, as in actor/model, or in my case, editor/broadcaster/communicator. I felt a bit weird about this slashie role. I already felt like it wasn’t working that well – to be a seriously great radio maker, or writer, or painter, or whatever it is you do, needs focus.
There’s an obvious value to firing your synapses with stacks of interesting, different experiences and ideas. But while preparing to chair the session at Creative Sydney, I read up on the research into multitasking. Every time you swap tasks, it costs. Concentration and focus are the main casualties, switching subjects means constantly dumping the contents of your working memory. The Pavlovian experience of social media amplifies this, massively. Switching, constantly. Forgetting what you’re working on. You’re firing with ideas, but are you following through on them?
In many ways, the rise of social media has made us all slashies. But I hope that’s not the end, because at the end of the day we’re still the same people, effectively, as we were decades before the internet. Our brains aren’t evolving as fast as the chip’s evolution. This technology might enable a whole lot of new behaviours, but…
…our brains haven’t been rewired, maybe it’s happening, and there’s evidence they’re a lot more mobile than we thought. But the really complex issues we have to face – climate, population, development, etc – are complex, they’re hard to explain, but easy to reduce down to meaningless catchphrases. They’re easy to take sides on, but harder to find a real middle ground and develop shared understanding. Twitter forces people to take sides, condensing an argument down to 140 characters forces you to strip out the nuance. It has the potential to bring people together, but because you make your own filter on the global Twitter stream, you tend to zero into a bubble of self reinforcing arguments.
Twitter’s powerful. But who are you actually talking to/with? are you just endlessly restating and fixing your position, or do you find time/space for deeper thinking?
Quick backgrounder: the ambitious science magazine SEED started a blogging network, which attracted some of the biggest names in the science blogging world. Opinionated, informed and entertaining blogging. But the whole thing collapsed in a storm of controversy around a sponsored Pepsi blog.
Barely raised a blip in Australia, though online and on Twitter it was hard to miss. For a less concise, but more insightful history see @mjrobbins’s Storify – including a series of tweets from @mims about how ScienceBlogs started.
We were looking for ways to build traffic to, of all places, Seedmagazine.com. #SBhistory
It was impossible not to notice all the excellent science blogs that were then scattered across Blogger and self-hosted sites. #SBhistory
Intern made a spreadsheet including estimated traffic. We sorted by that field, invited the top 20. #SBhistory
It was a success, even outliving Seed magazine. But from @mims’ tweets, doesn’t sound like the publisher ever really got it, with most of the budget going to the in-house website and publishing team, while the bloggers were out in the cold.
A few weeks ago, I was on a panel at #media140 Brisbane to dissect the story, with Wilson da Silva and Becky Crew from Cosmos, Darren Osborne from ABC Science Online, and Peter Griffin from the NZ Science Media Centre and SciBlogs.co.nz. Disappointing not to have Tim Lambert from Deltoid or anyone from The Conversation. Still, a great panel. Listen to it here.
That’s two panels on blogging in a month (I was on a panel about hyperlocal/place blogs at Reclaim The City, at the University of Sydney, in April). It’s weird, blogs as news all of a sudden. Bloggers like celebrities, and at the other end of the spectrum a growing awareness of the writing and thinking on blogs. Which is great, but I feel weird getting up on panels like it’s some new thing. Still great.
(Pepsigate panel at Media 140, Brisbane – photo by UQ journalism student Pakwayne)
So the panel on Pepsigate was interesting. I guess my main point was that like blogger outcry over the fake Coke Zero blog in 2006, the idea of a digital or social media crowd getting angry about dishonesty is nothing new. People get angry when they’re misled. It’s just now social media gives people an outlet.
What’s new to me is the potential for science blogs to be a serious alternative to the often superficial coverage of science in the mainstream media. The panel talked about the way Nature/Science dominate their respective coverage. One of the most attractive things about science blogging is how by sharing ideas, by articulating ideas and by being exposed to ideas, it creates a fertile space for innovation.
Anil Dash takes this up, saying by expanding on ideas you’re reading (instead of just tweeting or retweeting), you’re forcing yourself to articulate newly conceived ideas.
One of the most hilarious things to come out of my hyperlocal blogging panel – chaired by the lovely Jesse Adams Stein – was a comment by one of the panelists that what we do as place bloggers is “elite”. If you can write an email, you can write a science blog. Any blog, really. Though great writers *are* something special. As great writers (or thinkers) are anywhere. What’s elite isn’t the blogging platform, but the potential you create by taking part.
The other issue with #Pepsigate is the rise of branded or sponsored content. It’s nothing new in the papers, but the protocols online aren’t as well established. See Wired‘s response to The Independent doing it online. Readers, overloaded with advertising, are getting better at filtering out the direct material, which is why advertisers are increasingly using sponsored content, product placement (an audience member suggested Haruki Murakami had paid products in his books, though I doubt it). And though ScienceBlogs was a very niche corner of the web, it had a large, dedicated and well educated readership. Prime for Pepsi’s (probably very good) scientists to flex their credentials.
But if it was going to be good, relevant content to the blog network, then it should have made it there on its own merits. Blurring the line is no good in magazines or papers – eg those “special supplements” in the Herald. But it’s happening as an increasing desperate publishers look for the elusive business model.
Fast forward to the end of the story, and Seed boss Adam Bly cancelled the deal after a massive outcry, and the week of the talk in Brisbane, National Geographic announced it had taken over the blogging network.
I planned to write a bit more about Media 140 Brisbane, but it hasn’t happened. Fortunately there were plenty of fantastic bloggers and thinkers on hand. Click Kristin Alford, Craig Thomler, Kate Carruthers, Andrew Maynard and Peter Griffin for insights.
So discounting is what retailers do – at Christmas, to seize the momentum of buying ahead of Christmas, and, in June, to get cash rather than debts on the books ahead of the end of financial year.
But it’s something we all do. Think about the choice between watching TV or doing exercise. We know going for a run is better for us. Thinking for next month, maybe even next week, you probably imagine tying your laces and doing it. But faced by the decision today, we tend to choose the TV. It’s easier. We know it’s better to do exercise, but the immediate satisfaction of sitting on the couch is more attractive.
Gareth Hutchens explains, in an SMH op-ed, that’s why we use credit cards – the hit from buying something with our credit card now trumps the cost of the interest we’ll pay down the track.
We “discount” future consumption in favour of present consumption. The question is by how much, and that depends on our “discount rate”.
To find the discount rate, economists ask: How should we compare the welfare of future generations to the welfare of the current generation?
There are two ways to answer it. We can base our calculations on market interest rates (the positive approach), or we can base them on ethical judgments about the relative values of people’s lives (the normative approach).
Seems simple, but this simple idea of discounting underpins everything we think about the future, from building infrastructure to dealing with climate change.
2. The climate debate is a failure of data visualisation – can we tell data stories better?
Anyone who’s sat through a climate science talk intuitively knows this. It’s serious. Talk to climate researchers offline and they’re compelling. Go to a talk and – with notable exceptions – it’ll be a glacial drift of excel graphs.
Illustrators and other artists used to be crucial parts of research laboratories, though in most labs they’ve long since been let go. Watching Ben Hosken (from Melbourne data visualisation powerhouse Flink Labs) talk last week at #media140 in Brisbane, I couldn’t help but see it as a renaissance of the artist’s role in research.
Flink Labs did this project for #apps4nsw using real time Sydney Buses travel data (it’s not real time now though – the RTA removed public access to the data within hours of the program finishing). I love the potential of these kinds of projects for real time city governance – the sort of projects MIT’s Media Lab and Stamen have specialised in.
The #media140 talk was fairly introductory, not much new. But what I found interesting was Hosken’s broad principles had little to do with the technical side of data crunching, writing algorithms and doing graphics. Here’s a series of my tweets from the session:
Expressing data’s story in a way that doesn’t obscure the truth… also need to tell a really good story.
Data viz is telling a story you can interact with and explore, not broadcast
Tell the story, don’t just show data
& any storytelling RT @allinthemind: “not about the average”.. biggest & smallest sometimes reveal most enriching data viz stories
It’s finding the story in the data – not just processing the data unvarnished. Though as Natasha Mitchell (Radio National’s All In The Mind) said, using outliers to tell the story is ripe for misrepresentation. Take care.
Stanford’s Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer wrote a great paper on telling stories through interactive visualisation. German visual analytics researcher Enrico Bertini (from Fell In Love With Data) blogged the key points in a guest post on Andrew Vande Moere’s Infosthetics blog:
1. The table with the design space can help you during the design phase to understand what components you can use in your solution. Choose a genre, a visual narrative tactic, and a narrative structure. You can also think creatively and see if there are useful combinations of these elements that have never appeared before. Alternatively, you can think out-of-the-box, and come up with new solution altogether.
2. Be careful with the level of interactivity and messaging you provide. This is probably a choice that you have to take early in your visualization project: do you want to give lots of freedom and risk that the message is not conveyed clearly or you prefer to guide the reader but remove the thrill of exploration?
3. The hybrid models are ready-cooked solutions that you can use right away. Again, these can both serve as a way to find a model that suits your message, or just as a starting point to create new hybrid models.
3. Long form journalism
A big trend’s just about always complemented by its almost opposite. So while Twitter’s firing, there’s a balanced explosion in long form writing. You can see it in the thriving New Yorker magazine. Yes, Twitter is limited to 140 characters, but it’s driven by the deeper content of features, books, documentaries, conferences, movies and a hundred other things.
Annabel Crabb wrote a typically great piece for ABC’s Drum on the topic.
And the truth is, even though reading long articles on screens can be fiendish, especially when you are – as so often social media users do – breaking off every 30 seconds to check Twitter or let your intimates know that you’re up to page six and you feel a bit like a burrito, the internet is also coughing up new ways to recover, locate and enjoy longer pieces.
I was a music writer for ages, though I seem to be having a break. Editing Cyclic Defrost magazine, we shifted short reviews to the web and focussed the magazine around long feature length profiles and essays. With in depth music writing all but gone from the papers – most dailies get syndicated copy, and the magazines get more and more concise – we wanted to give more context, looking at creative communities and the broader culture. And that’s something you can’t approach in the usual 15-30 minute, 500 word feature.
Doesn’t need to be in print, either. Dan Hill’s great blog City of Sound is a case in point. He’s leaving Australia with this piece on planning in his wake. There are a stack of other writers doing much more interesting critical writing on blogs than anywhere – Alison Croggon, Anwyn Crawford, Linda Carroli – mostly because there isn’t the space in print publications for that depth.
4. Other good stuff
Greplin is a personal search engine that allows you to search all your online data in one easy place.
Scribble notes while you surf the web with Markup.
Fascinating Cindy Frewen Wuellner series on future cities at her Urban Verse blog.
Kate Carruthers asks if innovation actually helps.
And N+1 magazine on elites.