Comment is Infrequent

The Guardian‘s Comment is Free site has been troubled again this week after they introduced a half hour waiting period in between comments. The accusation levelled at the commenters was that the discourse was not of a high enough standard and that a wait of half an hour would force people to calm down and think a bit harder before they posted. Thus, the assumption goes, would the conversation become more erudite, more intellectual, more stimulating.

Georgina Henry said, in her post Less is More:

[T]he sheer number of comments now coming in from individuals is making it harder to keep the quality of the debate high through post-moderation alone.

Aside from the persistent breaches of our talk policy a frequent cause of complaint is the pointless chatter that litters threads. Too many comments have nothing to do with the original post, or degenerate into back-and-forth slanging matches with others which just get in the way of reasoned argument and put off people who want to engage with the original piece.

[…] For those that want to cotinue to debate the issues raised by CiF bloggers, we’re proposing to introduce a comment frequency cap which will only allow individuals to comment once every half an hour. If it works it might make for more thoughtful contributions from those who tend to write before they think. If it doesn’t work – ie, if it simply dries up or drives away the best while leaving us with the worst – we’ll think again.

The majority of commenters were outraged at this arbitrary limitation of their freedom to post, and unsurprisingly so. They feel that it’s their site now, and that The Guardian has acted undemocratically and heavy-handedly. Commenter Sealion said:

Wow, what an atrocious idea. So what’s the problem? Cif has become increasingly popular and thats a problem for you? So you suggest that people don’t use your site, they go find another, or use a talkboard. Cif is a talkboard….did you really think it was a blog?

By your own admission, discussions have become better when the originator has come online to debate with the commentators. 1 post every 30 minutes? That’s altrui knackered then. And Sunny. In fact anyone who wants to get involved in a discussion is going to have to wait 30 minutes for a reponse from somebody they may have raised a point to, which is going to kill any debate stone dead, or persuade people to create multiple screen names to get around it and add chaos to confusion.

People will also write longer pieces because they have only one chance, and then they’ll probably go off and do something else because this isn’t much of a spectator sport.
Yes, it will probably get rid of a lot of abuse and pointless comments, the same as it will get rid of just about everything else. This will kill discussion, people will just post an essay length summary of their opinion and then leave.

Of course, it didn’t take commenters long – about 1 hour and 4 minutes – to figure out that The Guardian were using cookies to achieve their aim and that, by deleting the cookie one could post as much as one wanted.

But the reason people feel miffed is not just to do with their ability to post comments. Henry had posted previously that CiF had around 10,000 commenters, but only 100 people have posted over 207 comments each, with two having posted over 1,500 and one person approaching 2,500. This is a power-law distribution. Now, quantity is not the same as quality, but I would wager that if you plotted the quality of the comments, that too would follow a power law: the majority of users write perfectly acceptible comments and the name calling, ad hominem attacks and unpleasentness is committed by a small minority of users. Yet by imposing a half hour wait on every single user The Guardian are reacting disproportionately, as if the problem is widespread ‘bell-curve’ problem. It’s not, and the commenters know it. They feel as if they have been treated unjustly and that The Guardian has meted out an indiscriminate punishment to all without bothering to try and solve the problem posed by a minority.

After an evening of protest, Georgina Henry ceded some ground, and the system has changed so that the half hour wait is per article, not across the whole site. However, she doesn’t acknowledge that the commenters’ protests are in any way valid, and in my view fails to take in their points at all. She says:

Thank to the odd commenter who understands and supports what we’re trying to do. Just to reiterate, for the critics, there are other audiences that we’re trying to reach which this might help – they include the vast majority of people who read CiF but never comment; those who comment occasionally when they have something worthwhile to say; those who used to read us but are put off by the mindless irrelevant chatter that infects many of the threads and those who would like to engage with the original argument but have to scroll through too much rubbish before they do so.

How is this supposed to help? It’s natural that there should be a power-law of comment frequency amongst readers. I would expect nothing less – it’s how almost all these sorts of websites work. Lots of people read, some post once, and a tiny minority post frequently. This distribution is extremely common and well understood. Apart from, it seems, by Ms Henry.

There is no need to try to encourage those who don’t post to post by shutting up those who do post. Maybe the people who don’t post don’t post because they are happy just reading? Is there actually any evidence of droves of people put off by ‘mindless irrelevant chatter’? If that’s the reasoning behind limiting posting times, then I fear that there’ll be disappointment when the number of people posting doesn’t suddenly increase in leaps and bounds.

But there are a couple of themes here that CiF needs to understand. Firstly, ‘messy’ comments is not only inevitable, it can also be good. Euan Semple said:

We can tolerate a lot of apparent messiness and our ability and desire to make patterns allows us to get real value from it.

Dave Snowden was right when he said if you have a complex environment you need to have simple rules. Complex rules just result in a mess.

One mans rubbish is another man’s gold dust.

We can work together on complex activities with minimal directions.

The question is, what are the rules? Putting a wait time on posting is not a rule that is going to encourage less chaotic commenting, it’s just going to string it out over a longer period of time, and maybe destroy some valuable conversation that might have otherwise happened.

Perhaps, more important, is whether or not the original author actually takes part in the comments thread. Blogging, done well, is about a conversation, and on CiF, it seems that that conversation is rather one-sided: columnist opines; commenters comment. It that really any way to encourage an intelligent discourse?

What to do? The Guardian is – understandably – worried about not just quality of conversation, but also libel, defamation and other things that they might get sued for. This is serious shit – they cannot and should not allow libellous material on their site. They have to strike a balance between chilling out about the mess and ensuring that really nasty stuff gets dealt with.

But half hour waits will not appreciably help, especially if all it takes to sidestep the delay is to delete a cookie. Keeping the existing system will annoy people more than it will help. The Guardian will have to be more innovative than that.

Here’s a thought. How about learning from sites that face a similar problem. Slashdot is well known for having a rather low common denominator amongst the comments. Yet it’s still readable… So long as you know that you can filter out the rubbish by using the built in ratings system. Digg also uses a ratings system and comments with a low enough score are hidden from the casual reader: whilst they remain on the site, you have to unhide them to read them. Could the Guardian not improve on these systems?

It’s essential to remember that the problem is not really a technological one, but a social one. Comment ratings systems are only a tool to allow the community to look after itself, but the tool has to be well crafted in order for it to work.

Let’s consider a simple thumbs up/thumbs down system which the community can use to police itself. It can have a sliding scale of punishment, to allow for the varying severity of misdemeanours: -10 points, say, and your comment is hidden; -20 and you have to wait half an hour before your next comment is published; -50 and your comment is deleted. Extreme behaviour gets a ban.
The problem is, such systems can be gamed. Even if you have a system wherein you can only vote once for each comment, malicious behaviour from a minority can break the system. How could you combat this? Perhaps by using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk – send all comments to MTurk and pay an uninvolved strangers to answer the question “Is this comment abusive?”. I’m assuming that a combination of RSS and MTurk’s API would make it possible to integrate this seamlessly into the site so that you have an impartial input into whether or not comments are good or bad.

It’s possible to completely outsource comment moderation, but my personal feeling would be that it’s preferable to let the community have a stab at self-moderation first. The more people feel divorced from the way that a community is run, the less they care about it. I think this is why people react less well on threads where the author of the blog post doesn’t engage in the discussion, particularly when they don’t answer (reasonable) questions that are directly put to them. Taking the comment moderation and giving it to some third party, whether a room of moderators at The Guardian or an external moderation house, feels a bit like saying to the community ‘Right, you can’t be trusted’.

So I think there are a few things to pull out of all this:

  • The Guardian needs to chill out about comments. They’re not all going to be Nobel Prize winning essays, and some of them may go off topic. No big deal.
  • CiF bloggers need to interact more with the commenters and stop thinking of commenters as annoying, underemployed and overopinionated. Digs like “My guess from looking at the email addresses is that the list is overwhelmingly male” by Georgina Henry do not show much respect for the people who make CiF as vibrant as it is.
  • The Guardian needs to think about ways in which the community can self-moderate and use technology to facilitate that process, not try to use (shoddy) technological fixes to try and arbitrarily shut people up.

CiF could be a great site, but it needs some significant work and a change in attitude from the bloggers there in order to evolve from the ‘soap-box with hecklers’ model to a being a real blog.

And finally, thanks to tomper for this blog post’s title.

We’re off on holiday now for two weeks. I look forward to seeing if we’ve any comments when we get back…

Technical and cultural issues for ‘Networked Journalism’ Part I

I guess I inadvertently coined a phrase last week when I thought out loud about ‘audience-driven journalism‘. Paul and Steve shortened it to ADJ in a few comments. I can see it now, as someone says that ADJ doesn’t stand for audience-driven journalism but attention-deficit journalism, journalism for the internet age. I think I’ll stick with Jeff Jarvis’ networked journalism instead.

Jeff meant it as a replacement for the term ‘citizen journalism’:

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.

Many of the terms being used to describe this new collaboration in journalism end up placing too much authority in one party or the other, whether professional journalists or so-called citizen journalists. As Jeff says, the term citizen journalism has created an artificial divide that has hampered collaboration between traditional journalists and the public. And in my article for, I talk about how this collaboration is where the real opportunities lie.

Regardless of the terms, Paul and Steve raise some good issues, some cultural and some technical. Paul says in his comment:

You only engender trust with strict editorial control.

No. Our editorial standards give us some institutional cover when something goes wrong. But does that play into day-to-day decisions on whether our audiences trust us? No. Is it our objectivity? No. Bottom line is that our audiences trust us because on some level they agree with what we’re saying.

One of the reasons that I used to cite of why I’m proud to work for the BBC goes back to a New York Times article that I read after the Nato’s war against Serbia in 1999. Shortly after the war ended, I remember reading that Serbian citizens were in revolt against Milosevic, in particular members of the Serbian National Guard, if memory serves. Why did they revolt? I remember one of the Serbs being quoted as saying something like: “We see what is happening. We hear what they tell us on Serbian Radio, and we hear the BBC. We believe the BBC.”

Why? Was it our editorial standards? No, it was because what the BBC was reporting was more in line with what they saw. This is a pretty clear cut example. A lot of the ways that people determine whether to trust a media source is much more complex. That’s an entire post of itself, or probably a series of posts.

Also, I was always talking about a collaboration with the audience, not a pure ‘user-generated content’ proposition where people just send stuff in and journalists cherry pick what to publish. Jay Rosen has some great examples of networked journalism. But I think we’ve still got a lot of opportunities to explore when it comes to collaboration between journalists and the public.

You also said that I was using the world loyalty when I meant trust. Trust and loyalty are two different things. As Suw just said, trust means that you believe that I’m telling the truth, whereas loyalty in a media sense, means that you’ll keep listening, watching or reading my stuff. People are loyal to their media sources for different reasons.You may do that because you think I’m telling the truth, or you may just like the way I write or what I cover.

The biggest cultural leap that journalism must make is learning that our audience has a right of response, that publishing is the beginning, not the end point of our production process. This post is a case in point. I don’t necessarily agree with Paul’s comment, but I respect him enough to respond, and not just because I know Paul. It gives me a chance to refine my arguments and explore other threads. That is a huge cultural shift in how we journalists do our jobs, and it’s more of a challenge than the technical issues, which I’ll explore in the next post.

Technorati Tags: , ,

IPPR/Reuters – The Long Tail: Opportunities in a New Marketplace

The IPPR and Reuters held a seminar on Tuesday 4 July about the ‘long tail’ and niche marketing, and how it relates to IP. Speakers were Shaun Woodward MP; Chris Anderson, Wired; Azeem Azhar, Reuters. As usual, I took copious notes, a habit which will become redundant if all organisers provide the level of recording that the IPPR has for this seminar. You can read the official summary, and you can listen to Part 1: Shaun Woodward MP, Chris Anderson, Azeem Azhar (21.1MB), and Part 2: Questions from the floor and responses (16.8MB).

Meantime… my notes. EAEO.

Shaun Woodward MP

One of my most cherished positions is a cutting i have from the Sunday Times best seller list, from 1984, because for a few weeks with a co-author Esther Rantzen was top of the best seller list for book on Ben Hardwick, a small child who needed a liver transplant. The story changed pediatric liver transplants in the UK, and the profits of the book went to supporting parents.

That was 20 years ago, because now he has a chance to look back on the media and consider how it has changed. The idea of a programme pulling 20 million viewers on a Sunday night, like That’s Life did. Even when it was axed it had 5 or 6 million viewers. In the 90s, it seemed like that was a good idea. But in the future, how will the media create a programme with that kind of market share?

Media couldn’t see the future then, couldn’t see how it would develop. In the 80s there were just four channels and no one predicted that there would be things like Sky. If you wanted mass entertainment, there were only two places to go, BBC or ITV. It was supply lead, and you had two choices of channel, or nothing.

You could put together a schedule that would grab a third of the population. A winning evening’s schedule would clean up, and the challenge for the BBC was just to keep That’s Life ahead of Coronation STreet.

Now it’s multichannel, 24 hour broadcasting, and more choice than ever. Revolution in content and form, because of digital. Prospect of convergence between content and context. Trying to see the future is like trying to see round corners. You can only speculate.

The Long Tail is part of the informed speculation you can do, as opposed to the wild speculation. Need to find a grammar and a lexicon to describe what is happening across the creative industries.

Chris Anderson’s book puts on to the table some very important issues, that everyone in the creative industries need to take on board. He says that the emergent market is going to be radically different, which is right. He says that the market was about hits, but is now about misses. But what is the nature of those misses.

Advertising on TV and in newspapers is down, and they need to find somewhere else to go. This isn’t just about lower audience share and declining sales, it’s about the consequences of choice; but it’s also about new and emergent markets and services. In the old linear economy, it was controlled by the supplier and retailer. You have to sell a certain number of books/cds/cinema seats to be economic, and the key thing is space. You need enough space to break even.

In the 80s, the BBC didn’t even broadcast for 24 hours. Look at music, digital downloads are now 80% of sales; cost of digital film print is much less (1/5th?) traditional prints.

Need to be prepared for niche markets. 31 million hours of original video programming are already being produced every year and as it’s cheaper to make there will be more. Internet is incomparably cheaper than satellite or terrestrial, so will be central to this explosion. Even major film studios are considering the net when thinking about how they release film products. How you watch, where you watch, will change, but that mass market product will be up against huge competition.

This new market is about putting the power in the hands of the consumer instead of the producer. and the producer has to adapt to this. All we can be certain of is that the demand will continue to change. New markets not driven by scarcity.

This presents a new set of problems. How do you navigate through 31 million hours of video programming? Search engines are going to be very important. Whether it’s collaborative, recommendation or affinity filters. We need to recognise the enormity of the challenge that’s upon us.

There’ll be local sports clubs, theatres, schools, streaming their content. These opportunities we need to be taken in the UK. We’ll see more and more people creating their own product. Put together with prices falling for technology, wider access to more material, unlimited storage, unlimited bandwidth. This is all happening now. But we don’t know how it will unfold. The net has changed everything. And it’s going to change our broadcast services.

Mass markets of a million have changed to markets of one. But there is still a mass market, there’s still a place for the BBC, but there will be very important discussions about content, censorship, regulation and legislation. The EU want to introduce a directive called TV without Fronteirs, which wants to police content put on the web. There’s a huge growth in opportunities, in jobs, and there is a risk that a directive born of dire to protect an on-demand video market in Luxembourg, has all the hallmarks of the French wanting to protect their farmers by introducing the CAP. This directive is well intentioned, but the consequences are vast.

Have to look at the UK’s position in this revolution. 75% penetration of digital TV and by 2012 we will switch of analogue all together. Broadband three years ago was 27 pcm, now it’s 24 but 48x faster.

Have a problem with the digital divide, people with access and people without. But the truth is bigger than that. And we will look back and think that switching off analogue will prove huge foresight.

Big question is, are we ready? Challenges to content, copyright, intellectual property. Work of Andrew Gowers is important, but may be out of date in a few years. But whatever we produce now or early next year will itself need revision in a few years.

831 billion in the world creative economies. That’s 1.3 trillion now, 50% increase in five years. by 2100, 2 trillion dollars. UK employs millions in these industries.

Chris Anderson, The Long Tail: Who needs megahits?

We grew up in the era of the blockbuster. We see the world through hits, but it wasn’t always this way. in the 19th and 18 th C, culture was fragmented by geography. It moved at the pace of people.

High speed printing press, then photography, changed that. But radio and TV then changed the whole natures of culture. We were suddenly watching the same thing at the same time. The idea that you could come in to the office on MOnday, and talk about what was on TV Sunday night, we were linked by a common culture.

this defined the era I and most of use grew up in. Peaked in March 21, 2000. First day of spring of the new century, shortly after the dotcom crash. Launch of the Nsync album, No Strings Attached – sold 1 million copies on the first day, 2.4 million in the first week. This record will never be broken.

Chart of hit albums shows a peak around 2001. Number of hit albums has fallen by 50%, despite music sales being steady if you include digital. More music than ever, more artists, but fewer hits.

For TV, number of broadcast channels increasing, but network share for top four networks fell.

Ratings of top TV shows, shows a peak in the 50s for I Love Lucy, but decreases steadily as choice increases. Number 1 show wouldn’t have made top 15, 50 years ago.

Shape of 21st C is a power law – big peak where a few things are very popular and a lot of things are not. There’s a bottleneck – bookshop shelf space; spectrum for broadcast etc. When you have limits you have to be selective, and when you are selective you pick the most popular things.

Net has no limit. Infinite shelf space. So can provide for everyone.

All markets show a straight line when you show sales vs products on a log scale; same for earth quakes; same for city sizes.

Should be a straight line… but not for American box office. Around the 900th film the cinema’s run out of films. Megaplexes can show 250 films per year, so as soon as you run out of screens, films that aren’t shown start grossing much, much less. Cinema’s distribution channel can only show a limited numbers of shows, and ergo they are the popular ones. Thus there is latent demand for product suppressed by the distribution model.

Long tale is not a concept I invented, but it’s been around for a long time. All I’ve done is give it a name.

Music data for Rhapsody, 2005. Walmart is the largest music retailer in the US. If you remember real music shop, Walmart is a soul destroying experience. last year 65k new albums were released, but only 700 made it to Walmart. It only sells a tiny sliver of what’s out there, because it’s inefficient distribution and limited shelf space.

The long tale is, therefore, huge. Compares what’s available in


1.2 million tracks sold in Rhapsody; 55,000 sold by Walmart

40% of total sales are in offline retail stores

Netflix/Blockbuster, and

55,000 DVDs on Netflix; 3,000 held by Blockbuster

21% of total sales are in offline retail stores

Amazon/Barnes & Noble.

3.7 million books on Amazon; 100,000 books in Barnes & Noble

25% of total sales are in offline retail stores.

These numbers for online are growing dramatically.

What’s driving it?

getting more stuff, democratise the tools of production; blogs democratise publishing result: more stuff.

Democratise distribution; the net gives everyone access, result more sales.

connect supply and demand; results;d drive business from hits to niches.

Google provides long tail advertising. Hyperfocused ads on hyperfocused blogs. Google scaled their model down to the small people who were neglected by the old advertising models.

Ebay is the same. Allows small vendors to have global reach.

CapitalOne: long take of credit cards; people who either had great credit ratings or really bad, no middle ground. Now we have the ability to fine slice the market and offer the right credit card by offering different rates depending on individual credit rating. Lead to a huge pile of debt, but…

Open source: long tail talent. Some programmers come from odd places, like madagasgar.

Long Tail libation: “Tale Ale”. No choice in beers – have had just four national beers, but can now provide more variety on the same shelf due to stock management software.

Small is the new big.

Many is the new few.

10 Fallacies of ‘hitism’:

1. Assume everyone wants to be a star.

2. Everyone’s in it for the money. Average books sells 500 copies. Average expectation is not that they will make money – lots of reasons to write books.

3. The only success is mass success. Can be an artist with small number of fans, but be true to yourself.

4. “Direct to video” = bad. But allows you to get the right audience the right way.

5. “Self published” = bad. but allows you to reach your audience more easily.

6. Amateur = amateurish. It really means people do it for love. Knowledge, experience, wisdom, is much more widely distributed than our professional ranks would say.

7. Low-selling = low-quality. Sometimes the most refined, most perfect items are the ones that are aimed at a niche audience. The best researched book will not be a best seller. There are gems, there are diamonds in the rough. The thing is not to give up because the signal to noise ration is bad, but to look for the diamonds.

8. If it were good, it would be popular. Instead, it’s just not for everyone.

9. The economics of the head apply to the whole market. They don’t.

10. You can focus on strong signals and ignore the weak signals. Rise of the bottom-up hits, where bands that didn’t go the traditional route are burbling up from below; now the top down marketed hits aren’t doing so well. Have to listen to the weak signals because that’s where the innovation is coming from.


1. Don’t confuse limited distribution with shared taste

2. Everyone deviates from the mainstream somewhere.

3. One size no longer fits all

4. The best stuff isn’t necessarily at the top

5. The mass market is becoming a mass niche market.

He then shows the ‘Day of the Long Tail’ video.


Azeem: Can government help or hinder giving access to the long tail content?

Chris: Biggest barrier is rights. That’s the elephant in the room. Those rights were cleared for one form of distribution – broadcast, but need to clear the rights for redistribution. Given up on congress in the US, because disney controls that issue. Is there a way to do batch processing to clear the rights?

Shaun: This is at the heart of the whole deal, because the consumer has a right to access stuff, but the producer has a right too. It’s interesting to see how the BBC is changing it contracts. When you were a reporter, you signed over everything but that’s changed. I think that one of the things that … I think that the BBC is doing some interesting things, I say this because I actually think that the BBC is really looking at the 21st C, in a way that is responsible and innovative and about opening up markets to enable competition. In the management rights and repeats etc., I think they’re going down the right way.

What Chris has referred to is coming up in our program, and he’s on to something when he says copyright law in America is written on behalf of Disney. How do people with ideas for games, for e.g., develop those ideas when MS or Sony own the means of distribution. It should be ownership for everybody, because it’s access for everybody.

Larry Kay, Solicitor: Would ask Chris to turn his idea about copyright on its head. His idea is about minority interest things. IN the era of the long tail the blogger is as powerful or as powerful as bit industry and there’s a great danger that we risk throwing out the whole frame work, because it’s built on rights and if we have a problem it’s how do we efficiently identify, say, orphaned works. Need solutions at a practical level.

Chris: For books, there are 32 million title in the US libraries. 20% are explicitly out of copyright. Vast majority, 75 – 80% are in a grey area. They are probably in copyright, but the copyright holders may not be interested in upholding those rights. So if we don’t know, we default to not taking the chance. And as the result the vast majority are unavailable. This is the Google Books problem.

The thing is different rights holders, and different people have different views. At the head, you want to control the rights and exploit. The majority want readers, so they are happy to neglect the copyright if it means more readers. And then there are people who renounce copyright and use a CC license. There’s a spectrum of people’s views, but there’s no mechanism for clearing rights.

Paul Sanders, PlayLouder: We do have these two uses of copyright, two traditions – one protects the creator and the other protects the distributor. I wonder whether that can be sustained. Whether we should be using copyright rather than other rights to protect the distributor.

Chris: Right to point out that. The distributor was the necessary path to market, to rights of the creator got subsumed by those of the distributor. Creator can express their own rights now.

Shaun: It’s a fascinating question. It’s equally true in the film industry. We’re going to need to have some debates about what we value. There are things that are going to be lost. Interesting to put this in context of broadcasting and film. Good tradition of making public service broadcast, some of which is very expensive. Do we value that? Do we want it? If you value ‘stars’ in films, you’re going to have to pay for it. Now we can lose stars, or we can have them, so then you’re in to the business of who’s going to fund that? So we need to find the right questions and get busy asking them.

Simon Walker, EMI: Chris, you seem to be setting an ‘either/or’, either you are big or you are long tail. We have a long tail model, we put out lots of stuff, but we know not all will be hits; plus we have a back catalogue. Can see who business models emerging. Do we need to adapt the model.

Chris: It’s not that you have hits retailers and niches retailers, but online you have retailers who have hits and niches. In the 90s you had niche-only retailers but there was no way to start, just a big undifferentiated mess. Rather than an either/or, it’s an and business.

How do you deal with this? You scaled down. The old model involved a large advance and an asymmetrical royalty model, but the new model is people go straight to consumers on their own. So whilst it might be advantageous for you to be on our label, but we’ll do something smaller, just sell digitally, not use our sales force to get you into WalMart, and give you a bigger cut.

Azeem: Is there a consolidation of the market?

Chris: Are seeing more and more independent labels.

Shaun: Creative industries are also about risk, and some of these products take a lot of money to develop, and one of the things we have to balance here is what are we trying to protect? Have to get it wrong because, if you get it wrong it’s hard to recover.

Anon: Yes, there are many more small labels, but consolidation in things like eBay, PayPal, etc.

Chris: Many have noted that there is a short head of aggregators, like Amazon or iTunes. We’re at the first day of this. One size doesn’t fit all, but iTunes is a terrible way to get music – it’s all oriented around pop. In search, Google has a dominant share, but you have lots of different ways to search, and they realise you want different forms of aggregation for different markets. But we’re so early in this market we haven’t seen the diversity.

[My notes end here, although the debate did go on.]

Kitties in trees

I’ve just read through all of Merlin Mann’s brilliant Inbox Zero series, and have taken the step of moving all 3333 conversations out of my inbox into a ‘pending’ folder. I now have no email in my inbox. I can’t begin to tell you how weird that feels. However, I’m hoping it will help in the fight for freedom from email.

Email is broken. But I’m not gonna let it break me.

What would audience-driven journalism look like?

There has been an interesting discussion, both online and offline, about audience-driven journalism over the last few weeks. It’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about for my journalism X-project.

Leonard Witt had some ideas about how the open-source movement could inspire a reinvention of journalism (podcast here – audio 4.7MB download). And Jay Rosen of PressThink wanted to kick-start some ideas at BloggerCon IV about what he called, the ‘users know more than we do‘ journalism.

I really liked Jay’s practical approach to it. He’s asking some of the right questions.

  • What kinds of stories can be usefully investigated using open source and collaborative methods?
  • Which user communities are good bets to be interested enough to make it happen?
  • What will it take to start running more trials that could yield compelling and publishable work?
  • What needs to be invented for this kind of journalism to flourish?

Like I said in my previous post, there are some projects and audiences for which this approach is best suited, and there are other stories where quite honestly, traditional methods of journalism and storytelling work just fine. Jay set up his post by having Ken Sands of the The Spokesman-Review in Spokane Washington guest blog.

We know there are local knowledge networks. Should we try to “tap into” them, or is it better to leave them alone until something happens to make partnership possible? Correspondents— we’re familiar with them. But we don’t know how to operate a vast and dispersed network of correspondents, linking hundreds or even thousands. Does anyone?

He has a few ideas: Local sports, transportation watch, weather watch. It’s all local. It’s about things people are passionate about in their own communities.

And I couldn’t agree with Ken more when he says that there’s no traction in the citizen journalism out of mainstream media outlets. Yes, as we’re about to look back a year after the July 7 bombings here in London, everyone remembers the iconic cameraphone pictures. But I think Ken is talking more about community around content rather than the flood of pictures we now get at the BBC during large news events in the UK. Is there a sense of community, a sense of participation in sending off cameraphone pics to large news organisations? I’m with Ken who points to Flickr, YouTube and MySpace.

Those sites work; the mainstream media versions—the industry calls it user-generated content—do not. Why?

I’m going to be doing some thinking out loud about these questions over the next couple of days. But one last thought before Suw and I shut the computers off for the night. We used to talk about broadcast networks, but the future is obviously in social networks. What is the role of the journalist in the age of social networks?