Remember #Pepsigate?

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.

[Reading #8] Discounting, data stories and long journalism

1. Discounting

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.

The most popular software being used by designers and others who aren’t code natives is Processing, but there’s a stack of others. Computer World reviews 22 free packages including Data Wrangler, Google Refine, R Project, Google Fusion Tables, Impure, Tableau Public, IBM’s Many Eyes, VIDI, ZOHO Reports, Choosel, Exhibit, Google Chart Tools, JavaScript InfoVis Toolkit, Protovis, Quantum GIS (QGIS), OpenHeatMap, OpenLayers, OpenStreetMap, TimeFlow, Gephi and NodeXL. Get visualising.

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.

She mentions Aaron Lammer and Max Linsky’s site longform.org and Instapaper – both fast friends with iPad owners. There’s also The Paris Review and, one of my favourites, Longreads.

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.

Think you can make a phone app one weekend and storm the appstore the next?

In June last year, Steve Jobs walked out onto the stage at Apple’s annual developer conference, and the response bordered on rapturous. Actually, it was rapturous. He was launching the ipad, and people were seriously excited. A big part of that excitement was the huge portfolio of apps already available, carried over from the iphone. A few new apps, too. But all those apps started somewhere. And as Steve Jobs reeled off the best apps on the new tablet, the only music application was from three friends who met at Katoomba High School.

That’s Eddie Dolan, Luke Dubber and Gordon Childs on their first day in the one place in at least two years – at Luke’s place in Sydney’s inner west. Luke’s often touring with one of a handful of bands, including Hermitude. Gordon’s based in Italy. And Eddie’s in the Blue Mountains. So they’re rarely in the one place, instead collaborating on Skype and online messaging. But having traded some emails with Luke for this blog post, I caught up with them on their first day in the one place in at least two years – for ABC Radio National’s By Design.

They now have three DJ scratch apps for the iphone and ipad on Apple’s app-store, and at least two of them have quit their day jobs. But what I found really interesting was that rather than being some kind of overnight, or even over the course of a year success, it was something that started brewing long before. They’re a bunch of high school mates whose friendship has twisted into something that’s now paying their rent.

Caught in an information rip?

There’s so much information out there that journalists are starting to code in languages like R or Python to weed out patterns and spikes in data sets. I’m not sure how many of these data journalists there are, yet. But there’s no question there are stories to be found (search ‘data journalist’ and you’ll find pages of guides to the emerging field).

And more and more we’re actually obsessed by information. Think about the flow of stories and observations and thoughts on Twitter. The number of blogs covering data visualisation and infographics (though that trend seems to have peaked). The way we use spatial apps in a crisis like the Queensland floods. And in the world of science, we’re building up massive troves of data.

It turns out searching is one of our primary drives.

In 1954, psychologist James Olds put electrodes in rats’ brains for an experiment. By accident, he discovered that if the probe was put in the lateral hypothalamus of the brain, and the rat was allowed to press a lever and stimulate its own electrodes, it would press the lever until it collapsed. Ever since, people have assumed that the lateral hypothalamus is the brain’s ‘pleasure centre’.

But that didn’t make sense to neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp.

The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were “excessively excited, even crazed.” The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn’t experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, “where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy”.

It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, “Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems.” It is the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. It’s why, as animal scientist Temple Grandin writes in Animals Make Us Human, experiments show that animals in captivity would prefer to have to search for their food than to have it delivered to them.

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

That’s from an Emily Yoffe piece in Slate on why our brains are hard-wired to love Google, Twitter and all those other things.

So that’s why I wade through writers’ blogs and scan feeds and pore through books and magazines. It’s powerful, very useful, and probably not particularly healthy. But is it just the way things are?

Maybe. Kristin Alford blogged yesterday about her search for ‘flow’ amids the interruptions.

Attaining flow requires sustained thinking and the creative application of our skills and knowledge to solve new and difficult problems – mastering a difficult turn for an ice skater, finding the right phrase for a poet. But when we reach a state of flow, we barely notice the time pass and gain great satisfaction.

How do we create opportunities for sustained thinking and flow in our connected world with the rush of Twitter, status updates on Facebook, hitting receive on emails and the incessant ping ping of messages on our devices? How do break old unproductive habits associated with connection?

Kristin’s solution, via Jack Cheng at the excellent A List Apart, was to think about the habit fields surrounding your work environment:

On the one hand it should be a place of quiet contemplation and flow. On the other hand it is also where we check messages, talk on the phone, pay bills, research on the internet. If you check Twitter first thing in the morning and then regularly during the day, it becomes a habit associated with that space.

Cheng noted that he deleted a certain Twitter client because he would find himself absent-mindedly clicking the shortcut key without realising. I do this regularly when I switch between applications, finding myself on Tweetdeck with no previous intention of viewing it. It has become an instinctive habit, muscle memory.

Cheng now sits in a different chair for Twitter and email, saving his desk for actual work – in his case writing, designing and coding. Physically changing the space has reduced the social media habit field at his desk.

I’m not sure sitting at a different desk, using a different computer,  is really practical for me. But the issue of ‘habit fields’ forming around these heavily used locations really chimes. As I mentioned in the comments of Kristin’s post, I think this is something we’re all struggling to get right. Twitter and whatever’s next are so good at taking us to good things, but the by-product is a Pavlovian response in our reward centres, constant refreshing, scanning and instinctively interacting. I take time out to read books, long articles and papers, and write thoughts, observations and ideas ever day, but I’m going to have to think more about those habit fields.

It definitely puts a different slant on neuroscientist David Eagleman’s prediction in The Guardian that within the next 20 years we’ll be jacking information streams directly into our brains with William Gibson-esque machine interfaces.

I’d like to imagine we’ll have robots to do our bidding. But I predicted that 20 years ago, when I was a sanguine boy leaving Star Wars, and the smartest robot we have now is the Roomba vacuum cleaner. So I won’t be surprised if I’m wrong in another 25 years. Artificial intelligence has proved itself an unexpectedly difficult problem.

Will we have reached the singularity – the point at which computers surpass human intelligence and perhaps give us our comeuppance? We’ll probably be able to plug information streams directly into the cortex for those who want it badly enough to risk the surgery.

That idea of the rewiring our ideas of humanity with sentient computers and the singularity appears to be crystallising.  Tim Flannery’s fascinating interview with Robyn Williams on ABC’s Science Show laid out the Internet, the flow of information around the planet and the increased interdependence of all of us as steps towards the development of a superorganism – he calls it Gaia – and as he describes it, it definitely calls to mind the ant colonies described by entomologist EO Wilson.

It’s a debate that’s picked up a lot of steam. Flannery’s comments were editorialised by Tim Blair in the Daily Telegraph and anonymously in The Australian.

Come on down, Gaia!

Hey, if the big guy can take out Australian citizenship by this morning and hold a cricket bat, we’ve got a job for him at the SCG.

It’s obviously speculative, but there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye – and it really taps into what we’re increasingly understanding about how complex systems work, and how Earth’s system works. Here’s a response from three scientists on the role of what’s increasingly being called Earth Systems Science.

A critical feature of Earth System Science is to recognise that human activities now form a major interactive part of the functioning and evolution of the entire planet. This is a significant departure from the past where humans have been studied separately from the environment around us. We have been regarded as villains impacting the planet’s natural systems, and victims suffering from the way the planet reacts, for example through changing climate.

This new approach means that the natural science of global environmental change must be linked with social science, economics and the humanities, that is, “global environmental change” must become “global change”.

There are real risks when we become so interconnected and tapped into the global flow of data. Personal risks, that stop us from being creative and able to deliver on our promise. Global risks, where crises like the financial meltdown brought on by sub-prime lending can cascade around the world due to our interconnected financial systems. And fundamental challenges to Earth’s inhabitants, like mass extinction of Australia’s biodiversity.

But there’s also the very real chance of good – the ability to understand each other, to have richer, far more fulfilling experiences, to come up with new ideas, to solve some of these big problems. Finding the balance is crucial.

Proving ideas in a crisis

It seems careless to think about creativity when friends and family in Brisbane are being evacuated in the face of rising floodwaters. Creeks are turning into raging torrents. Mobile phone networks have been going down. It looks like topping the disastrous 1974 floods. The scenes have been awful, and at times kind of ridiculous.

(Cyclists at New Farm Park, thanks Taezer)

(Food panic setting in, thanks to photographer Sam Hegarty)

It’s a crisis. But it’s also a showcase for good ideas.

Like wearing dive boots.

Or the ABC’s development of digital radio, and special event stations, which means it can roll out a dedicated station to keep people updated. Or the fact that it’s been toying with Ushahidi‘s Crowdmap for a month of tracking feral animals, which means it can do crowdsourced mapping of the flooded areas.

Online community manager Greg Williams (aka @lexiphanic) posted Brisbane City Council’s full collection of flood maps when the council’s site collapsed under the strain – update: Greg wrote about the process for today’s Crikey.

To help others, I put up a web page on my server on late Tuesday night with the handful of files I was able to find. I then told people on Twitter and Facebook where to find the page and went to bed.

Early on Tuesday morning, others contributed some more of the maps and I was able to pry some more from the Brisbane City Council’s flailing servers. I posted them on my page and reminded people they could access them there.

It spread like wildfire. Thousands of people shared the website address with their friends, who shared it with their friends, and so on. Google’s search engine had picked it up, too. By midnight on Tuesday night my humble page had helped 199,833 people.

Our ability to use data, particularly spatial data, has really matured in the past couple of years. And events like this are when you see its value. Contributors to the many new curation/journalism sites, including Storify and Storyful, have also swung into gear.

These and a stack of other great and prosaic ideas circulated quickly on Twitter, using the hashtags #qldfloods and #thebigwet (though they have been largely swamped by retweeted rumours and other redundant comments, hinting at the limits of the hashtag filter). We’re far from the end of this, when the floods subside there will be a huge reconstruction project to come, and there’s talk of floods in five states by the end of the week. But it’s moving to see how people pull together and help each other in a crisis like this, and how the often flippant world of social media rallies when times are straitened.

Science blogging, a rethink

In science media circles, everyone knew about NASA’s press conference last month. Alien life? A second branch of life on Earth? Unusually hyped, even for NASA, it was published in the premier journal Science.

(lead researcher Felisa Wolfe-Simon, and Mary Voytek, Steven Benner and Pamela Conrada in a Paul E. Alers/NASA photo from the press conference)

But as UK science writer Ed Yong wrote in a post-mortem it:

turned out to be nothing more than bacteria that can thrive on arsenic, using it in place of phosphorus in their DNA and other molecules. But after the initial layers of hype were peeled away, even this extraordinary claim started falling under suspicious glances.

Despite the issues, most of the mainstream media went for it (the story was barely covered in Australia, although the Science Show had a report from a partner of one of the scientists and Stuart Gary wrote a piece for ABC Science).

Did having Science and NASA on the stand draw everyone’s guards down? Probably. And once upon a time, that’s where it would have ended.

But in the past few years, an ecology of science blogs and blogging platforms has emerged: Seed’s ScienceBlogs, ResearchBlogging, Wired’s Science Blogs, Nature BlogsDiscover‘s blogs, Science Blogging, PLoS Blogs, Scientific American Blogs, Guardian Science Blogs, Lab Spaces, SciBlogs NZScience 3.0, Scientopia, Field of Science, Occam’s Typewriter, Science Magazine Blogs, and here’s geophysicist Cian Dawson on geoscientists blogging. (There’s a smattering of science blogs in Australia, some linked to radio shows, some to international platforms. As part of the Federal Government’s gov2.0 drive, they’ve set up a government blogging platform.)

Between live tweeting of the press conference, and rapid-fire analysis from key bloggers, particularly Rosie Redfield, the issues with the Wolfe-Simon et al. paper quickly emerged.

I don’t know whether the authors are just bad scientists or whether they’re unscrupulously pushing NASA’s ‘There’s life in outer space!’ agenda.  I hesitate to blame the reviewers, as their objections are likely to have been overruled by Science’s editors in their eagerness to score such a high-impact publication.

NASA and many other mainstream science communicators and journalists were quick to dismiss these criticisms as being outside the peer review process.

Do critics of the blogosphere’s reaction realise how much of the best science writing is happening on blogs? These aren’t (all) undergrads or hobbyists – when they talk about “bloggers”, they’re talking about top flight science writers and scientists. Rosie Redfield, for example, is “The Boss” of the Redfield Lab at University of British Columbia. Long time science bloggers Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders blogged about this, of course, at Science of Blogging.

In this case, it quickly spun out of control for NASA – despite their great record with blogging and social media – seems like they messed up the PR,  then got a hint of what a lot of politicians and businesses have seen in the past year or two when the social media world senses it’s being taken for a ride.

It’s a great story, but it’s not the most important story.

The real story is how much the very practice of doing science is changing. Several recent controversies have shown how conflicted the peer review process has become. It’s closed and therefore open to (perceptions of) conflict. And that closed process means there’s nothing to be learned from the interactions of peer review, which can be hilarious:

The writing and data presentation are so bad that I had to leave work and go home early and then spend time to wonder what life is about,

but could inspire new ideas and avenues too.

The reverse chronology blog feed is a style of writing that is just really well suited to science. Instead of the story beginning and ending with the latest published paper, it’s ongoing, updated as new facts come to light – in many cases by writers (scientists or not) that are following the journals (often in their own discipline).

In that sense, it’s becoming part of being a scientist. Being part of a larger conversation of ideas, being able to publish thoughts in process and comments on other work. It’s communicating science, but also about doing science, and fostering innovation. It’s not for everyone, but for the right people, blogging science and talking openly about science is powerful.

In some ways, the way we think about science blogging needs a rethink. The science community tends to think of blogging as amateur or DIY media, which it can be. But I reckon it would help if scientists started to think about blogging as an extension to what they do at conferences.

So conferences are a chance to present ideas (which may not be quite ready for the breaking paper), hear them critiqued or questioned, and do the same for others. It’s good for connecting with people.

And as well as just being interesting, that conversation is where science blogging really works too.

Do things #3

  1. This blog is so new, there’s barely a ripple of links. But once you’re a little more established, PageRankGraph can show the websites that contribute to your site’s search engine rankings. It’s far from exact, based on SEO data from Blekko. But it’s a visual clue to where your recommendations are coming from.
  2. Speaking of which, Blekko is the latest challenger to Google’s search engine crown. It launched last month – here’s a piece from Wired – and uses ‘slashtags’ to do a kind of social, more targetted searching.
  3. Thinking of visualisation and don’t know where to start? Or super experienced and want input into a book chapter on the topic? Help Paul Bradshaw with his series on gathering, interrogating and visualising data – and the tools to do it with.
  4. Sydney’s public art has boomed in the past couple of years. Here’s a story I made for Radio National about Michelle McCosker‘s Sydney Statues project this year. The council has asked for public comment on its public art strategy… Help them out.

Reading #6

  1. Reading Steven Johnson’s book, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that people around us affect our creative potential. The, uhh, Art of Manliness doesn’t examine the why, what or when, but it does look at the who of what it calls Master Minds – CSS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Theodore Roosevelt and Benjamin Franklin’s inner circles – and a seriously elite gang called The Vagabonds:

    Out in the country and driving through the rain in an old Model T, a farmer noticed five men standing by a Lincoln touring car which was stuck in the mud. He stopped and assisted in pulling the car out of the muck, at which point one of the men stepped forward to shake his hand, telling the farmer, “I made the car you’re driving.” “And I’m the man who made those tires,” added another in the group. He then pointed to two of the others, saying, “Meet the man who invented the electric light — and the President of the United States.” When the fifth man asked the farmer, “I guess you don’t know me either?” the farmer replied, “No, but if you’re the same kind of liar as these other darn fools, I wouldn’t be surprised if you said you was Santa Claus.”

  2. It’s hard to imagine anything bigger in global media and network circles at the moment than WikiLeaks’ latest dump. It’s acutely embarrassing for the diplomats and politicians caught up in it – (you can track documents released so far through CableSearch). In Mark Pesce’s piece for ABC’s The Drum, he asks: “Has Earth become a sort of amplified Facebook, where an in-crowd of Heathers, horrified, suddenly finds its bitchy secrets posted on a public forum?” He reckons it’s exactly that triviality that has those in power up in arms. Pesce says: “The mythology of power – that leaders are somehow more substantial, their concerns more elevated and lofty than us mere mortals, who must not question their motives – that mythology has been definitively busted.” Powerful stuff, and governments are hitting back. WikiLeaks has been hit on a number of fronts including Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and a triple-pronged political attack on Amazon (temporary host for WikiLeaks after the DDoS attack), everyDNS.com (their DNS hosting service) and PayPal (intermediary for the crucial donations). But Pesce’s piece shifts tone from the bleak catalogue of attacks to a far more optimistic, if radical view. Comparing this to the last days of Napster, and sounding for all the world like the early pages of a William Gibson novel, he says:

    We’ve been here before. This is 1999, the company is Napster, and the angry party is the recording industry. It took them a while to strangle the beast, but they did finally manage to choke all the life out of it – for all the good it did them. Within days after the death of Napster, Gnutella came around, and righted all the wrongs of Napster: decentralised where Napster was centralised; pervasive and increasingly invisible. Gnutella created the ‘darknet’ for file-sharing which has permanently crippled the recording and film industries. The failure of Napster was the blueprint for Gnutella.

    In exactly the same way – note for note -the failures of WikiLeaks provide the blueprint for the systems which will follow it, and which will permanently leave the state and its actors neutered. Assange must know this – a teenage hacker would understand the lesson of Napster. Assange knows that someone had to get out in front and fail, before others could come along and succeed. We’re learning now, and to learn means to try and fail and try again.

  3. With the media in such weird contortions – WikiLeaks is radically reinventing the idea of a publisher, and at the same time The Australian newspaper seems to be focussing a huge amount of effort on a handful of Twitter users – it’s easy to swing back to thinking of Marshall McLuhan. Here’s a series of quotes from a 1974 piece in the Journal of Communication (dug out by McLuhan Galaxy):

    As new media continue to proliferate, the nature of “news” will naturally change too, along with the perpetually renewed revolution in information speeds and patterns.

    Among the unexpected features of the information revolution are the extraordinary diminution of private identity and egotistic conviction, as a result of major involvement in the lives of other people, and the extraordinary enlargements of the public sector. We have moved into an age in which everybody’s activities affect everybody else, and therefore the whole matter of privacy is suspect, even as it is impractical.

    A spectacular paradigm of the information revolution has been developed for the world at large by the Watergate affair. While it seems to specialize in matters of political espionage and image- building, it also draws attention to the fact that the entire educational and commercial establishments, as much as the political and military establishments, depend on data banks of total information concerning both producers and consumers, both the governors and the governed. The Watergate affair makes it quite plain that the entire planet has become a whispering gallery, with a large portion of mankind engaged in making its living by keeping the rest of mankind under surveillance. The FBI includes among its responsibilities keeping under surveillance individual members of the CIA. We thus have a complete scheme of baby-sitters for the baby-sitters — chaperons for chaperons — and it is the business of every commercial establishment to keep all other commercial establishments under surveillance as a minimal condition of survival

Jay Rosen

It’s been a busy week.

Captivating talks by Intel’s Genevieve Bell and NYU’s Jay Rosen (in the pic above) – more here on Jay’s talk, here’s how it looked in my tweet stream.

Off to see @jayrosren_nyu talk

“news is arbitrary, improvised due to drive of production routines”

“what happens when production revolutionised by web?”

“what if your laptop got updates for software you don’t have installed? This is what news does every day”

“Stories like This American Life’s Giant Pool of Money ‘install the software’ to fire that interest”

Need understanding of big picture before you’ll be interested in incremental news

“journalists should be producing public understanding, not just incremental updates”

@jayrosen_nyu calls for ABC to create backgrounder for topical areas of news – extension to Background Brief?

Puts hand up RT @matt_levinson: @jayrosen_nyu calls ABC to create backgrounder for topical areas of news – extension to Background Brief?

“do things like NYT’s Topics pages and Google’s Living Stories actually help improve understanding?”

Someone just commented on “anthopomorphic” climate change. Obviously a mistake, but ironically encapsulates the issue.

To go see another @jayrosen_nyu talk or get lunch?

@isabel_lo I think it’s going to be a late lunch!

@tmgrimson yes, giving several talks today. on journalists as explainers, citizen journalism, and business models. just the little stuff.

RT: @girlinblack From the Accidental Art file: @matt_levinson’s twitpic from a @jayrosen_nyu talk he’s sitting in right now: http://twitpic.com/2e6wxy

“NYT introduced ‘geek squad’ of 50 to newsroom – clever way of changing to more collaborative culture”

“The Guardian able to be nimble because it’s a trust – needs to ensure sustainable future, despite mid term risks”

Lots of questions about Assange and WikiLeaks – “first global media org”? Anarchist? Hacker? Adaptive to say the least.

“have to find places where closed systems (media – verification) and open (accessible, participatory) work best”

“a journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen”

Growing up from Triple J

Triple J cops a lot of flack in Australia, but it shouldn’t and not for the usual reasons.

Even with changes in media distribution, it still carries a hell of a lot of sway in exposing new acts and national exposure. So it’s no wonder people have a lot invested in the station.

Anyone who has followed music in Australia will have seen several rounds of people dismissing the station as selling/blanding out, but often in reference to the same periods – critics pine for the so-called golden era of the station in the ’90s, but while that era was playing out, the same sort of critics were pining for the freedom of the station in the ’80s.

Our memories are rose-tinted.

We find out about new music and think the source of that music is breaking new ground. You hear more and eventually exhaust that source – it can’t provide that depth AND provide for the broader audience. So you become a critic of the station or you listen to community radio and increasingly online options.

But whether or not Triple J cuts it musically isn’t my point. In fact, it’s got nothing to do with music.

I reckon one of the things the station does really well, is introduce a new way of operating to the rest of the ABC.

One of the things I like about Triple J is that because of its clear target audience, its presenters don’t get inculcated into the stuffy national broadcaster sound. They speak clearly, but like real people.

ABC GM Mark Scott tweeted recently that “All across the ABC I meet people who started at triple j.”

And as presenters like Steve Cannane and Fran Kelly move out into Radio National and ABC TV and the like – obviously a process that’s been happening a while – they’re taking with them quite a different audio aesthetic.