Old texts make us dream and build the future

I just finished the first session of Howard Rheingold’s online Think-Know course. It seems the participants are an amazing group of people dispersed over several continents. The next weeks we’ll dive into both the theoretical-historical background of intellect augmentation and the practical skills of personal knowledge management.

We’ve been reading Rheingold’s Tools for Thought (available online), As we may think (Vannevar Bush), Augmenting Human Intellect: a conceptual framework (Douglas Engelbart) and Man-Computer Symbiosis (JCR Licklider). Dates of publication: first edition of Tools for Thought was in 1985, As We May Think was published in 1945, Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 and Augmenting Human Intellect in 1962.

Why bother reading those old texts about a fast-moving technology? My personal opinion: because we don’t move that very fast. We tend to use new technology to repeat old formats. We had print books, we’ll make ebooks now which try to be as print book-like as possible. We have print newspapers, well, even this day and age newspapers online try to imitate their print look and feel. It’s like the fledgling movie industry once was, trying to capture theater pieces rather than making actual movies.

The visionaries, living during the Second World War or during the Cold War, were convinced the world becomes very dangerous and moves very fast and in very complex ways. How can we humans cope with that, avoiding some horrible self-destruction? How can we make sense of the floods of information, data and noise? Those daring intellectuals dreamed up very new ways to read, write and collaborate – in fact, new ways to think. They were often too far ahead to be of much interest to commercial corporations, but the military were more than interested as they realized what was at stake.

How do we design interfaces which allow for new, in-depth, inspiring thought and collaboration? I think that data journalism, liveblogging, fluid and stream-like coverage, 3D visualization, local and contextual meaning, crap detection, filters and curation point the way to radical change, as do the artful organization of personal learning networks and tools such as combined databases/mindmaps. All this being made possible by ever-increasing computational power (raw power, but also ever more sophisticated software) and by the ever-shrinking devices we carry around (and which make our mind-amplifying electronic tools ubiquitous and hardly visible).

This course also makes us actually experiment with all this – for instance inciting us to collectively mindmap in real-time even though we are geographically totally dispersed. Here you see our raw mindmap (we’ll straighten it out during the coming days):

our course mindmap

If you want more ‘old’ but extremely inspiring texts about mind-amplifying tools: the New Media Reader (MIT) is a must-read

A VC: Second Screen, Third Screen, …

Fred Wilson on A VC about his debate-watching experience. He is in need of lots and lots of screens. Or of better aggregation and filtering. How do we represent the abundant and real-time information so that we can cope better with a fast-moving world? 

“I had the #debates feed on my personal Nexus 7. I had John Heilemann’s twitter feed on my phone. I had Tumblr going on my laptop. And I had CNN on the family room Nexus 7. And I was actually watching the debate first and foremost.”
via Diigo http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2012/10/second-screen-third-screen-.html

Liveblogging going full circle: Circa News

Cir.ca is an interesting mobile news app. As Online Journalism Blog says:

It’s a simple idea: look at the latest news, pick stories you want to follow, and get a notification when something new happens on that story.

The key difference is that updates are not delivered as traditional articles, but as bitesize updates. In other words, as a liveblog would.

You can read a complete story, but then you can ask to get notifications for new chunks of information – liveblog-wise – rather than getting newly drafted stories which irritatingly repeat what you know already. Liveblogging often starts from a mobile device, in this case the stories are also published in a mobile-native way – going full circle, but also allowing for sharing the story either completely or just a particular ‘point’. The whole news-reading experience on this app just seems fluid. It also reminds me of the ‘living stories‘ idea introduced by Google (complete coverage of an on-going story being gathered together on one URL).

The post on Online Journalism gives some other examples of innovative liveblogging. The author, Paul Bradshaw, also analyzes this trend in his book Model for the 21st Century Newsroom Redux.
Also have a look at TechCrunch about this app (‘Circa’s New iOS App Will Change The Way You Consume News’).

Site of the Circa News app

Site of the Circa News app

There comes yet another DJ journalist

“‘If it’s not talking to each other, it’s not a market.’ Europe, despite being a political union (of sorts), does not yet feel like a real market. Part of the solution would be to know more about each other, and to talk to each other more often. That’s what ‘Whiteboard’ wants to offer: a place to find information about interesting businesses and innovation, and to talk about it.”

So yet another DJ journalist, as professor Mark Deuze would say. Raf Weverbergh left the Flemish magazine Humo and started his own venture, Whiteboard. 

He won’t be the one who is on stage all the time creating his very own content, but rather he invites contributors to talk about entrepreneurship in Europe. Which seems like a great idea, as Europe is not just that doom and gloom continent – but it needs media ventures to talk about its entrepreneurs and to facilitate the conversation between entrepreneurs. So I cannot wait to hear a thousand (or more) entrepreneurial voices on Whiteboard reporting about exciting new things in Europe! 
via Diigo http://www.whiteboardmag.com/platform-european-entrepreneurs-innovation/

Read also:
The deconstructed journalist
How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media
Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs

The deconstructed journalist

(this post reflects what I told during my presentation at the neojournalism2012 conference in Brussels, Belgium).
I remember it vividly. That particular day during the never-ending euro crisis I was covering a European Summit. My newspaper colleague was attending briefings, I was at the newsroom, monitoring about 300 people we follow on Twitter regarding the crisis. I talked to some colleagues from other European newspapers, wire services, blogs and television stations, via Twitter. Some of them where at that same summit, covering the same of other briefings. I told my colleague to contact some of my Twitter contacts, while getting a word by word translation of some statements in Italian and in Greek via other tweeting journos.

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

During that day I fully realized that the newsroom was no longer the newsroom, the audience no longer the audience, journalists no longer journalists. My newsroom was transformed and expanded. All of a sudden there were hundreds of us, at the summit, and at other ‘crucial meetings’ in Athens, Milan, Berlin, Paris… I tried to DJ all those sources into a liveblog on our site, and the people formerly known as the audience reacted, suggested new angles, referred to other sources.

Among those analyzing the events were fellow-journalists, but also economists working for banks or universities, traders in the City and on Wall Street or in Milan. It was often very difficult to see who was a journalist by profession and who was not. It did not seem to matter that very much.

Of course, the liveblog was like a stream, not like some finished, polished product. It was the reflection and part of the newsgathering process.

Sometimes I use the Twitter-site to monitor all those euro-sources, sometimes Hootsuite (a social media dashboard) or I use Flipboard on my iPad – converting the streams into a kind of glossy-looking online magazine. I use Flipboard also for other beats which interest me, but what is important to note: even though it looks like a magazine, there is no editorial staff deciding for me what I should read. It’s my selection of sources, and they come from many different media – in fact, in most cases, they are just individuals. I do not care what some newspaper or television station thinks about an important issue, but what a particular person at that organization thinks about it.

In the meantime, we are still very much involved in selling newspapers – in print, or digitally. It’s the old music industry situation: remember when you wanted to buy only one or two songs, but you had to buy the whole CD? Maybe the community wants to get the whole package about business, politics, markets and culture, but then again maybe many people would prefer just reading about one ‘beat’ or following only a few journalists. I’m pretty much convinced that we’re going through the same transformation as the music industry.

I don’t have an immediate answer in terms of a sustainable business model for the atomization of news and information. What we do at our newspaper is taking the community serious. That’s why we have liveblogs – we publish almost in real-time the raw material we see such as tweets, articles, videos, adding context and adding parts of the discussions we have. It’s a way of showing ‘the making of’, the process of news gathering, as it happens.

The liveblogs and blogs eventually lead to articles and videos, but we experiment with other forms of story-telling which of course use rich media but also have various possible entry-points. Stories do not have to be linear (my colleagues Nicolas Becquet uses Klynt for building his interactive stories). Another colleague, Raphael Cockx, uses data journalism allowing our community to analyze how their towns and villages compare, using data about income, unemployment, number of companies, growth and crime.

And of course we have long conversations with our community. I host a daily chat session and we experiment with Google Hangout On Air. It’s very different from the usual asynchronous comments on a news site – the real time interactivity facilitates more civilized, constructive conversations which teach us a lot about what people are looking for on our site.

So why deconstructon? We’re not talking about the destruction of journalism. We deconstruct it to obtain better journalism. In general, deconstruction means the questioning of boundaries, which often seem clear-cut but in reality are not (or should no longer be). The boundaries between journalists and other professions, between what is inside and what is outside the newsroom, between the journalists and the people formerly known as the audience are becoming subjects of negotiation. Not everything we discuss at the newsroom should be published in real-time, but there is a lot which can only benefit from being out there in the open.

My slides:

See previous posts for other news about the neojournalist conference:
– How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

– Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs
– The many meanings of neo-journalism
– A Storify report about the conference by my colleague Nicolas Becquet (French and English)

How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

So, is new media a revolution, changing society in a fundamental way, or is it a slow, very gradual process? That’s one of the many questions I have after having attended the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday professor Alfred Hermida (University of British Columbia) gave his vision on The Ambient News Network. Think of Twitter as millions of voices worldwide, who are constantly talking about what they consider as being remarkable or meaningful. It’s like ambient music, and when all of a sudden the rhythm changes, we become very actively aware of that ‘music’ – probably something major unfolding somewhere.
It’s not just about Twitter though. It’s about a cultural shift. While the industrial world was linear, monolithic, hierarchical, with clearly defined borders and closures, the post-industrial world is non-linear, horizontal, open, ever-changing, so Hermida explained.
Newsrooms often are industrial: they specialize in producing finished products. Think neat articles or videos, professionally crafted, existing on their own, being published in a printed newspapers or homepages trying to be yet another perfectly finished product – even of it’s only for a day or for a few minutes.
Compare this to Twitter and to live blogging. It’s a never-ending river of updates, it’s always provisional, rough around the edges, with many voices blending in while final agreement among those voices is an illusion. Blogging/journalism is not a product, it’s a process.
Hermida said something very beautiful:

Liveblogs are the unfolding truth.

Liveblogs are fluid, open, dynamic, not stable. Through the many voices, the decentered but somehow recognizable style of the livebloggers/ DJs, there is something we could call a truth which makes itself being felt. (An idea which reminds me somehow of Walter Benjamin, but do not fear, I’ll explore that in some other post).
Then again there was a presentation by Anders Olof Larsson (Uppsala University, Sweden) about the use of Twitter for a talk show. He showed how the Twitter-traffic spiked during the airtime of the show, how the host was indeed engaging in rapid Q&A-like interactions with people on Twitter. Some of those people were more visible than others – it appeared those people had a professional background which made them more inclined to use Twitter intensively.
‘Culture changes slowly’, Anders Olof Larsson told me afterwards. Political tensions in countries often are fueled by issues which opposed people generations ago. Hermida, in his presentation, also pointed out that even though learning the technicalities of Twitter was not a big challenge for most journalists, the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial mindset was far more difficult. What we talk about here are new literacies, and acquiring those is not self-evident.
During the discussions it was also pointed out that Twitter is evolving from network which is famous for enhancing worldwide conversations into what it actually was all the time: a privately owned company with its own objectives. That is not different from most media companies and conglomerates of course. But at the same time there are a number of challenges regarding technologies and literacies: how can we help people to navigate the endless streams of liveblog-updates, tweets or other streaming media? We should keep as much possibilities open as possible to suggest our own solutions for these issues – it should not be something to be dealt with exclusively by the Twitter- or Facebook-coders, Hermida pointed out.

The audio-recording of Hermida’s keynote is available on his website, Reportr.net.

Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs

Mark Deuze is a charming person, but his message to journalists is not exactly ego-boosting: don’t take yourself too seriously, he told us during the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium. Deuze has been an Associate Professor at the Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington (United States) since 2006. Until 2011 he also held a joint appointment as Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University (The Netherlands).

Not that the journalism-function is unimportant. Throughout history that function was about warning for danger, about who was in charge and what that means, and about societal norms. As the mass-media emerged during the previous century, the need for public executions seemed to diminish – the message about norms and behavior could be spread by those mass-media – I guess they were considered very newish back then – so barbaric stuff such public execution and torture could be abolished.

But it’s not because the journalist functions are important that the very specific group of people who call themselves ‘journalists’ are that important.

In these days of social networks, smartphones and tablets, media and reporting are ubiquitous. Deuze is not inclined to judge about the quality of all that reporting.

The media artifacts and activities seem to disappear, at least we are no longer very actively aware of those tools – we live in media like fish in water. In that ocean of content journalists should no longer focus exclusively on the creation of new content – because it amounts to no more than to tiny blips.

The message was probably not very rejoicing for the many journalism-students in the audience. Talking about audience, Deuze remarked that ‘the audience no longer behaves like an audience’ (except for conferences, where the old formats are still very much in use).

Deuze observes that journalists don’t seem very cheerful these days. Showing an image of DJ Tiësto, he had an urgent suggestion: journalists should consider themselves as great DJs – being experts in the stuff and sources they collect and mix together.

The many meanings of neo-journalism

I just learned a new concept, ‘neo-journalism’. There’s a conference about the theme in Brussels, Belgium, organized by the University of Louvain (UCL) and the University of Namur (FUNDP). So what is neo-journalism (there is also neo-television. Well, it’s about time – we could talk already about neo-online journalism and neo-blogging)? The conference website explains:

Can we call 21st century journalism neo-journalism? As used in artistic movements, the prefix “neo” has several meanings. First and foremost, it means returning to certain ancient forms and values. When applied to journalism, it would refer to the revival of earlier ways of conceiving and of doing journalism, that is, reinventing an existing topic.

Second, the term neo-journalism implies some criticism of the present, combined with nostalgia for an idealized past. Neo-journalism may thus arise from journalists’ criticisms concerning early experiences of the appropriation of the Internet by news organizations. Their “appropriation techniques” aiming at producing low cost online journalism lead to a standardization of contents on the web and give rise to journalists’ criticism of normative and legal vacuums.

Third, the prefix “neo” means that some characteristics of early movements are retained and reinterpreted in new settings. The focus here is on new tools that may have an impact on how journalism is conceived and carried out online (social networking sites, blogging, micro-blogging, audience measurement software).

Finally, the concept of “neo-journalism” may include a participatory ideal of empowerment: “Like the neo-television which Casetti and Odin have qualified as a space of conviviality, proximity and above all interactivity, the term neo-journalism gathers its strength from its relevance to describe a kind of horizontal communication where traditional walls separating genres and roles played by protagonists disappear (the journalist is no longer the master of the sources)” (Murhula et al. 2008, p. 86). Today, participatory technologies (blogs, micro-blogging, social networks) allow a series of actors scattered throughout places and institutions that do not correspond with the traditional journalistic field to have access to public discourse. We can then ask what distinguishes journalists from citizens, an issue that has serious implications, particularly from a legal point of view.

Hence, if there were a new paradigm, it would be radical only if it took into account ideal – or even utopian – journalistic values, reintegrating into a new framework those values criticized at the present time. The paradigm would have to be conceived as an open space where the recipient takes part in a shared, networked, and interactive verbalization process.

I’ll give a presentation here, along the “empowerment” interpretation and the deconstruction of the boundaries between journalists and the communities they work for.

For those really interested: abstracts are available (pdf). I’ll just mention one for now, about the use of citizen journalism for hyperlocal news production at the Flemish newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, research by Evelien D’HEER (IBBT-MICT – Ghent University) and Steve PAULUSSEN (University Of Antwerp):

The results of our study provide evidence for the added value of user-generated content for hyperlocal news production. Whereas the citizen journalists almost exclusively focus on socio-cultural events and sports news, professional journalists tend to cover more stories related to crime, justice and police. The study also suggests that professionals use a distinct set of news values, emphasizing criteria such as ‘frequency’, ‘recency’ and ‘negativity’ – in comparison, citizen journalists were more likely to judge the newsworthiness of an event in terms of ‘cultural relevance’ and ‘reference to persons’.

Somewhat surprisingly, the log analysis showed that reader appreciation – measured in terms of page views and time spent on the page – seems to be higher for citizen content compared to professional editorial content.

“The end of the beat”

Quartz seems to be an interesting and innovative news experiment: Jeff Sonderman at Poynter talks about 5 things journalists should know about it, but then again I’m getting wary about categories such as ‘journalists’ – the five points he mentions are important for bloggers, media entrepreneurs etc.

A point which is vaguely related with my ‘stream’-obsession:

Instead of fixed beats, we structure our newsroom around an ever-evolving collection of phenomena—the patterns, trends and seismic shifts that are shaping the world our readers live in. “Financial markets” is a beat, but “the financial crisis” is a phenomenon.

In this way a media venture with limited staff can focus on what’s relevant for the targeted community (‘global business leaders — digitally savvy, post-national executives’) rather than having people who will focus on one single beat (say, ‘financial markets’) for years to come.

Also interesting: while they are preparing to launch, the Quartz-guys are posting on Tumblr about the project. That’s another stream I’ll monitor closely!

(hat tip to Raf Weverbergh for telling me about the project and who has some projects of his own in Europa, his motto: If it doesn’t talk to each other, it’s not a market!)

(Learn)streaming

I wrote a column for my newspaper about media streams and how also education should happen in streams (it’s in Dutch, and no, it seems that translating is not something which can be automated easily). Examples I used are the videostream at The Wall Street Journal, Worldstream, and Howard Rheingold’s video about crap detection:

The message of the column is simple: the stream-format is becoming ubiquitous on the web and there are quite a few mainstream media embedding streams such as liveblogs and twitter streams. Also in education streams are being used, for instance students are required to use blogs and twitter and learn how to filter information using social media dashboards. However, there are still far too many educational projects which ignore the possibilities of ‘the streams’.

In the meantime (and not included in the column) I learned about this journalism education project, called Stories and Streams: teaching collaborative journalism with peer to peer learning (via Online Journalism Blog). Something I will look into the next few days.