Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Utterly useless but mesmerising mashups No. 197

Did you ever wonder what Wikipedia pages were currently being edited by anonymous users and where in the world those users were?

No, I've never wondered that either. But I'm captivated.

Try Wikipedia Vision at your peril.

It uses Google Maps to show you where anonymous users are editing Wikipedia and what page they are editing.

It's amazing to think that there is a list of Ambassadors from the United Kingdom to Italy, never mind that someone is updating it.

Ditto Yard ramps

Damn you New Scientist for bringing it to my attention.

I think my point is that something doesn't have to be at all useful to be engaging; it just has to be fascinating (to some people).

Friday, 26 October 2007

Viral internet stars video

Many thanks to Piers for alerting me to this excellent Friday video.

Newspaper video practice

Thanks to Editors Weblog for drawing my attention to this interesting research on the use of video by online newspapers.

The survey was conducted by Andy Dickinson (which sounds quite like Angie Dickinson, doesn't it? Great name).

Anyway, the results are interesting:

* The average length for video is between 2 -3 minutes
* The average production time is between 2 -4 hours
* The most common camera used in newsrooms is the Cannon XH-A1
* The most common edit software in use is Final Cut pro
* Daily papers produce around 4-8 videos a week compared to 1-4 for weeklies
* Publishers with daily and weekly papers produce 2-4 videos a week
* It takes 1 hour to produce 1 minute of video

Useful benchmarks if nothing else.

Sheffield Wednesday can't unmask 'saloon-bar moaners', says libel judge

Interesting slant on the question of defamation on discussion forums. On this occasion the question is not about culpability but about whether or not the comment is serious enough to warrant forcing the publisher to reveal the identities of the people who wrote the comments.

According to OutLaw, the case concludes that comments that are "strictly defamatory" can still be so trivial that they do not warrant an invasion of the authors' privacy rights:

Depute Judge Richard Parkes QC noted that the order, if granted, would disclose "the identities, or at least the e-mail addresses, of users of the [website] who must have expected, given their use of anonymous pseudonyms, that their privacy would be respected."

In yesterday's judgment, Parkes wrote: "the court must be careful not to make an order which unjustifiably invades the right of an individual to respect for his private life, especially when that individual is in the nature of things not before the court."

Making reference to the Data Protection Act, he added: "Equally, it is clear that no order should be made for the disclosure of the identity of a data subject … unless the court has first considered whether the disclosure is warranted having regard to the rights and freedoms or the legitimate interests of the data subject."

Parkes said it was relevant "to consider whether the words complained of were, even if strictly defamatory, more than a trivial attack which would not be taken seriously."

"I do not think it would be right to make an order for the disclosure of the identities of users who have posted messages which are barely defamatory or little more than abusive or likely to be understood as jokes," he wrote. "That, it seems to me, would be disproportionate and unjustifiably intrusive."

A comment by a user called 'cbrbob' fell into that category. It replied to another's posting about a trip abroad by the club's manager and its chief executive to watch players with a view to making a signing. "They blew all the money on hookers," wrote cbrbob. Someone else replied, "It's not a hooker we need, it's a striker," to which cbrbob retorted, "they wouldn't know the difference."

Parkes wrote: "The Claimants are not, it appears, concerned about the suggestion that they spent the club's money on prostitutes, which I presume they accept might have been unlikely to be taken seriously, but with the suggestion that the [chief executive] would not have known the difference between a hooker in rugby and a striker in football, which would have been understood to mean that [the chief executive] would not have been capable of spotting a competent player.".

My thanks to colleague Kieran Daly for spotting this.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Editor 2.0 - the editor as curator

This blogging thing is great, isn't it I don't have to do any work other than reproduce bits of other people's thinking. This one is about the role of the editor as curator and the decline of the website as content producer.
Scott Karp on his Publish2 blogs writes:

Jeff Jarvis challenges news organizations to define the role of editor in the 21st century, i.e. Editor 2.0. Jeff connects a number of dots that involve a significant, even radical shift in the traditional editorial role, such as new search/tag editor positions. But one of the most radical shifts taking place is that editors are now being asked to curate OTHER news organization’s content in addition to their own.

In the age of limited, monopoly distribution, editors were able to focus exclusively on the product of their own newsrooms, because that was the only content their readers could get in most cases. Now that the web and search has made ALL content from EVERY source easily accessible, many media brands are realizing they can’t just be in the business of creating their own content — they need to bring their readers the ENTIRE universe of content on the web.

A number of traditional media brands have already started curating content from other news organizations — these efforts typically employ a traditional, command-and-control, single editor model, but they nonetheless represent a sea change in the disposition of news organizations towards content produced inside their walls vs. content produced outside their walls. In a networked media world, no content brand can do it all by themselves — news consumers, empowered by search and news aggregators, know this, and that’s what’s driving news organizations to take this radical step.

There are examples on his excellent post.

It's an ill wind...

There's nothing like a forest fire story for moving web news forward. We've had our own equivalents here recently and it's brilliant for helping focus the mind on what news is really about.

Martin Stabe reports how a San Diego TV station:

has responded to the crisis on its patch by taking down its entire regular web site and replacing it with a rolling news blog, linking to YouTube videos of its key reports (including Himmel’s), plus Google Maps showing the location of the fire.

There are links to practical information that their viewers will need at this time, including how to contact insurance companies, how to volunteer or donate to the relief efforts, evacuation information and shelter locations.

It’s an exemplary case study in how a local news operation can respond to a major rolling disaster story by using all the reporting tools available on the Internet.

Update: Mark Potts has a great blog post looking at the online coverage of the fires. What’s missing from local media’s coverage, he says, is user-generated content. Not so at the San Diego NBC station, though.

Both the Los Angles Times and San Diego’s public broadcasting station KPBS are using Twitter to provide rapid, rolling updates of the fires. A piece on a Wired blog explains how to do it. Both are also among those tracking their fire coverage on Google Maps.

All that and celebrities' houses in peril too. It doesn't get much more exciting than that.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Why journalists make ideal online community leaders. Maybe.

Interesting article on Online Journalism Review with the tantalising title: !Why journalists make ideal online community leaders".

Now, I kind of know where they are coming from, but the main arguments:

Journalists know how to ask relevant questions
Journalists anticipate the effect of their words
Journalists know how to find the lead
Journalists know how to promote

are a bit on the lame side really.

If the aim is to give journalists the confidence to engage with communities online, then fine but if I were recruiting, I'm not sure I'd call journalists "ideal online community leaders".

Some are of course. We have an excellent community editor who was previously a journalist, but as a recruiter, a journalist wouldn't be my starting point.

If I were going to be controversial, I might come up with an article called journalists make terrible online community leaders and my points would be:
Journalists like to decide what's important
Journalists despise user generated content
Journalists don't want to be community leaders

Not all of them of course. Just some.

The original article is here.

Oh, and as a PS, I think there's one thing I would add to the list:
Journalists are familiar with media law.

UPDATE and a PPS: Thanks to my colleague.Adam for spotting this excellent rebuttal (where do people find the time?)

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Managing (and coping with) user generated content

Two interesting and related posts about managing user generated content which I've picked up on today. One is about forums, the other about moderating comments on articles. It's the same thing really, of course. Anyway...
First off, a piece from Online Journalism Review entitled Take a fresh look at your site's posting rules which, ummm, entreats you to take a fresh look at your site's posting rules .

If you last modified your content-submission rules 10 years ago, they might not address all the conflicts that could arise today on your discussion board or in your comments sections. I'd like to offer a few suggestions for rules that you might want to consider adding to your interactive website.
And there's an interesting story about what amounts to anonymous election rigging to back it up.

There are some good suggestions for things to include and I can't agree more with the author's view that:

I've long believed that websites which accept content from users, from comments to discussion boards to wikis, ought to tell those users, in the plainest possible language, the rules that the site expects those readers to follow when they post. (The eye-glazing, mind-numbing legalese of a site's terms of service or privacy policy isn't enough.)
And I would add that it's also good practice with a genuine community such as in a discussion forum, to occasionally ask users which rules they agree and disagree with because:

  • On the whole, they will agree with sensible rules anyway
  • They will be pleased and engaged to be asked for their opinion
  • They might actually read them
  • If they've agreed with them, they're more likely to observe them

The second article is from The Guardian. In Open door the "readers' editor" Siobhain Butterworth explains the difficulty in moderating user-generated content responding to pieces abotu the McCann case.

At least 20 pieces involving the McCanns have appeared on [Comment is Free] since Madeleine McCann went missing in May. Not all were blogs commissioned by Cif, some were comment pieces published in the paper and automatically transported to Cif. Hundreds of comments were posted to a few articles in September, after the Portuguese police named the McCanns as formal suspects, with headache-inducing consequences for the moderators. Discussion threads on four pieces were closed, or closed early. The Guardian's talk policy does not allow defamatory postings and the problem was that many of the deleted comments were no more than strong opinions weakly held - they had no basis in fact.

The moderators are not lawyers, or fact-checkers. They cannot give reasons to every user whose comments are deleted, though they try to do so when time permits. To put their task in perspective, on one Friday in September, more than 3,800 comments were posted on the Guardian website. The volume means that the moderators' approach to enforcing the talk policy has to be broad brush. The McCann postings stretched the moderating resources too far, the moderators told me. They were concerned about the number of postings they were deleting and they were aware that people were frustrated. All things considered, a decision was made to close threads down.

All sensible stuff. Interestingly, the biggest complaints came from the way the deletions and suspensions were communicated:

a short note explained that this was for "legal reasons". Some readers felt this was not so much an explanation as a lofty way of saying either "we're not going to tell you why" or "it's too complicated for you to understand".

It's easy to forget that people want to be treated as adults, and they want detail even if they aren't going to understand it. A lesson that is easy to forget.

And that - on the whole - moderators are not sub-editors; they are not steeped in media law and if in doubt, they will (or should) err wildly on the side of safety.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Facebook - the new desktop?

Probably not, but you'll forgive me my woolly thinking as I'm still jet-lagged from my umpteen hour flight from Peru (holiday, not work).

Anyhow, Facebook's decision to let anyone develop Facebook applications has led to what seems like a billion lame ideas but one or two rather brilliant ones too (Shakespearean Insult Generator). I think that we as publishers have been slow (or too poor) to take advantage of this opportunity.There's an interesting article in the Online Journalism Review about RSS2Facebook: offers design, development, installation and hosting of facebook applications that take information directly from your website rss feed and enable users to install your application and display rss feed entries through their profile. Not only will this increase return rates from users with the application installed to your site, it will also spread the word to the users’ friends. As friends are normally interested in the same things this can be seen as a form of extremely cheap targeted advertising that has shown much better results than past methods.
For business publishers, the idea that "friends are normally interested in the same things" doesn't really apply except for quite sad people, but it does reinforce the idea that Facebook is very much the new desktop cum super-application - you don't need email, an RSS reader, Flickr etc - you can do it all in one place - Facebook.

Opening up to third party applications only accelerates the process and one does wonder if it will become somewhat unstoppable.

Now all we need to do is come up with that killer app.

And, by the way, here's an interesting piece on monetising apps.