Sunday, September 11, 2005

ISSUE: What is journalism anyway? Consider NowPublic.COM


Please review this blog posting and website for Tuesday. Question to discuss: Is journalism? Why or why note? What problems does this sort of "news gathering" present for traditional journalists?

-- bill



Posted: September 11, 2005

NowPublic: Emergent Journalism?

By Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd, President/COO of Corante, is a well-known media subversive, and an internationally recognized authority on real-time, collaborative and
social technologies. His personal blog is A Working Model.

Following a tip from JD Lasica, I took a long look at, a very interesting experiment in social news gathering and dissemination.

The premise is pure swarm logic: individual contributors create news stories, and may hyperlocalize them down to the country, state, and city level, as well as adding any sort of tag that might be used to characterize them. Visitors can find leading stories through most recent or most popular views, or by searching by tags, keywords, or location. The use of tags is facilitated by the prominent provision of a tag cloud at the top of any view.

Registered users can additionally vote on new stories, increasing their popularity, and moving them to the top of the search results for key words, tags, and general popularity. In this way, the "front page" is laid out based on the collective social gestures of thousands of registered users. Note that in true blogospheric fashion, there are as many potential "front pages" as there are keywords and tags: a front page for every interest, passion, or obsession.

I signed to fool with the site, and discovered that I was user #4324, based on how my first story's url was structured. The user interface was simple, and I rapidly created the following piece, about an antiwar concert scheduled on my birthday, in DC:


I have already received 24 votes!

NowPublic provides a great level of control on the sharing of "footage" -- imagery of various sorts. I have not experimented with that element of the service, but I intend to do so.

NowPublic allows contributors to pull stories from other locations -- such as blogs -- via RSS. I set things up so that entries that I post at my personal blog, A Working Model, are now accessible for reposting at NowPublic. Here's the RSS feed selection interface:


And the resulting story, reposted from my blog:


For those not already blogging elsewhere, NowPublic provides free basic blogging, and supports RSS feeds from them. Oddly enough, blog posts are not automatically posted as stories, and importing through the RSS feeds doesn't work: NowPublic gives an error message when I try to import my NowPublic blog content as news stories (although I was able to import that feed into Feedigest, and to import the exported feed from Feeddigest). Also odd: none of the tag or rating architecture that supports news stories have been integrated in the blogging technology: there is no way that authors can tag their blog posts and readers cannot search via tag cloud, nor rate blog posts. A strange omission, perhaps intended to get folks to push their blog posts into the NowPublic news channel.

All in all, I am fascinated by what NowPublic represents, on many levels. As a student of citizen journalism, NowPublic represents a great example of the power that social architecture, well-implemented, can put into the hands of everyday people: the power to shape, channel, and make explicit the implicit dialogue that underlies news coverage. As someone tracking the adoption of social architecture, I believe that NowPublic demonstrates the key elements of all future, successful social media, in particular the primacy of emergent, bottom-up characterization by tags and the importance of aggregated social gestures -- in this case "votes". As the president of Corante, I have specific interest in the ways that social architecture principles -- like tag clouds and user ratings -- are likely to become a commonplace in the world of social media, and how quickly we at Corante should be adopting them for our own publishing.

I had a chance to speak briefly with Michael Tippett, the founder of NowPublic, and he stated that NowPublic is a work in progress, and that recent spikes in activity -- particularly around Katrina -- have accelerated plans to streamline and scale the implementation. His interest is twofold, I was s glad to hear. First, to support the NowPublic website, was an interesting activity in and of itself, and as a showcase of the design elements of the NowPublic technology, and second, to license the technology to others seeking to apply it in similar ways.

I can't make a judgment on NowPublic's likely impact on conventional media, although I beleive that all media outlets will find themselves going through "social shock" in the next few years -- being redefined and reworked by social architecture. NowPublic's experiment suggests just how radical a change that may be.

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