I’m at an Annenberg event at Penn on the hyperlinked society. I’m not sure exactly what this is about but will soon see. Liveblogging as energy allows….
Joe Turow of Annenberg, the organizer, begins by presenting the link, I think, in the old context of old and controlled media: “Who decides what links we see and don’t see?” We all do, I say. “When are links good for society and when are they harmful?” Harmful. A link is speech. Speech is not harmful. “Should we encourage link literacy… and link ethics?” That’s more interesting. I think the link ethic is at least partially formed and it’s something I explain to big-media people when they throw out echo-chamber canard: We link to that with which we disagree and by doing so, we are telling people to go and decide for themselves. That is our fair and balanced. And, of course, there is link evil: spam.
Jay Rosen moderates the first panel. I wish he were leading a discussion of journalism and linking but they have him with corporate folks talking about links and their businesses.
Ad-guy and blogger says that a turning point in the history of the link came with Google. Yes, Google valued links. Hespos says that doing that was evil because he gets link spam. I disagree. What Google did was empower the wisdom of the crowd as embodied in our links — that is, we link to that which we value and Google values that. Can that be prostituted? What can’t be? Is it a problem? Yes. But that does not negate the value of valuing links.
Rosen repeats his favorite quote, which I’ve quoted often in turn, from sociologist Raymond Williams: “There are no masses, there are only ways of seeing people as masses.” Jay says the age of mass media has lasted 300 years. He says we have whole industries of people engaged in regarding people as masses. He says these ways are all coming apart. So we need to see people “as a public, as a community, as knowledge producers as well as being consumers.” He said the mass media were very good as connecting people up to centers of power. Aha. And the internet connects us across, to each other. Welcome to the horizontal world.
Jay talks about his own blog and how it changed his lot in life: passing his ideas about journalism through journalists. As Nick Denton once said in an IM to me when I asked why we liked blogs so much: “No editors.” And now Jay can “talk about the press without the press’ approval…. So for me, linking has been associated with intellectual freedom.”
David Weinberger says he is “a congregant in the church of the hyperlink.” He is also blogging this.
: Now a buzzy panel: Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia, Nick Carr not of Wikipedia, Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices, and Martin Nisenholtz and Saul Hansell of the NY Times. Saul says to think of this in terms of quantum mechanics; the internet is a cyclotron that takes all the compounds of media and reduces them to their essential atomic particles that link again into compounds. (I spent the morning yesterday at Bell Labs — more on that later — where they are working hard to create the quantum computer and need to do so because the progress of computer technology is about to butt heads with quantum physics…. kismet.)
Nicholas Carr (whom I met in affable moments last night after our various linked disagreements…. I introduced myself as antimatter to his matter) talks about the book he is working on about the economic impact of the web. He says that unbundled media needs to stand naked in the marketplace. He says “the market works well with toasters and toothpaste but not so well with books and articles and the other constructs of culture.” He says that media provides cross-subsidies: classifieds send a reporter to cover a war; circ revenue brought on by Brangalina’s baby supports investigative reporting. And he argues that the highly targeted advertising that supports the web (so far) will not support unpopular topics; there is no advertising for malaria. “What the hell kind of market is this that says that everything has to have the same price and that price is zero.” I’d say that regretting the horses that have left the barn is not as productive as breeding new horses. And where Carr and I disagree most fundamentally is that he believes a class of editors (broadly defined) is best to make these decisions; I have learned to trust the market — the public, the people, us.
Martin Nisenholtz (one my my many bosses; disclosure here) talks, wisely, about trying to breed the horses: acknowledging that people are now coming in via search and perhaps don’t read the paper itself but there is a business here.
Jimmy Wales asks Martin how many employees About.com has. Martin says about 150. Jimmy says Wikipedia has three. Martin asks, What are your revenues? “They’re sufficient,” says Jimmy. This is, indeed, a key issue. “Communities can come together and they can build content that other people want to see and they can do it in a business model that is radically cheaper,” says Jimmy. The panel is turning into a panel about economics.
And economics are about control, aren’t they? Cue Herr Marx.
Ethan Zuckerman says the system of mainstream media, for which he has esteem, is not without problems, which includes the inability to cover much of the world. So Global Voices aggregates bits from around the world in a new news service. “These tools are incredibly subversive,” he says, in that they allow people to say things they cannot otherwise say. Blogs have the most traction in countries with the worst press repression but a certain level of technology. See: Iran.
Now to the Wales/Carr main event. Carr says that what he hopes to see is the death of the mythology that has grown around Wikipedia. It has evolved, he says, into more hierarchical structure — ironically, the structure that Carr respects more, as I see it. He says you could “throw out all the communally created good” in history and not miss them; he values individually created goods. He complains that Wikipedia sucks the air out of the market for professionally created model. He fears that this new model will destroy the professional sector or force the professionals to recreate themselves in the image of the amateur model. Jimmy says that Wikipedia has never been written about millions. On the question of whether Wikipedia destroys alternatives: “I don’t know, I don’t care.” He says, though, that the German equivalent of Brittannica has seen its sales grow as Wikipedia grows in popularity. Maybe it’s because people see that encyclopedias are cool, are good. A Wired writer says there is a tension in what Carr says and asks whether what Wikipedia has found with its hierarchy is a way of professionalizing the amateurs. Carr asks how good Wikipedia can be because the labor is free. “It is a very mediocre thing,” he says. He argues that this will yield less choice. Jimmy says that just looking at the blogosphere, we see incredible new choice. Martin joins in and says that the myth of newsrooms is that they are mostly reporters; The Times is an editors’ newsroom, with about two editors for every reporter trying to get to the facts. Martin says the question on the table is whether the one set of activities fundamentally destroys the other set of activities. Can these two worlds coexist? “We think they can,” Martin says.
A professor asks the standard question: what about students using Wikipedia? Jimmy says he gets at least one email a week from a college student asking for help because he got an F on a paper for using Wikipedia. And Jimmy says: “You’re in college, why are you relying an encyclopedia?” Martin says that students aren’t using Wikipedia so much as they are using Google and in the atomization of content, there is less of a link to sources (that is, I’d say, the classic definition of trust in media).
Someone asks what kind of society the link is creating. Ethan speaks eloquently about the ability of people to talk with each other that never existed before. Saul says this is a time when anyone can turn their lives into a media property. Carr says we are created a “shallow society” where people are “hydroplaning across information from link to link.” He throws out the old herring: we are losing our attention span. Saul asks whether that didn’t happen with TV. I say that the old aggregators — newspapers, bookstores, magazines — were themselves products of hydroplaning, only others hydroplaned for me. Now I can go as deep as I want to and need to, much deeper than I ever could before. Will I? Only when it is relevant to me. I think Carr makes the mistake of assuming that all of society read everything before. I also think it is more productive to see take advantage of these new opportunities than to decry and avoid them. Saul says that because people can now create media they will be more savvy about media than generations before.
: Next: Mapping linking
Matthew Hindman of the U of Arizona maps the top 40 political blogs, as determined by traffic. He says that they represent half the traffic in all political blogs. Don’t know his source for that calculation (who knows how many political blogs there are?). He says there is little linking across the liberal/conservative divide. He says that audience in the conservative side is highly concentrated; 45 percent goes to Free Republic; he says that’s because it gives lots of traffic to five other conservative sites. He says that liberal surfing patterns (among liberal sites) are less concentrated. He says this shows that we should question “or at least reframe” the talk about democratization. I think we should question, in turn, the implicit assumption that the blog world is balanced as newspapers tried to be. Blogs are people talking. That is democratizing itself. Do Democrats hang out at Republican conventions or meet-ups? No. But their separate acts join together to make a democracy.
Other panelists give fascinating analyses of the links among blogs but without the PowerPoint and laser pointer, it’s hard for me to summarize.
: In a session on navigating nodes of influence, Lee Rainie of Pew says that in research most people approach the internet skeptically (we ain’t as gullible as we look). But most people end up satisfied: 87 percent of searchers find the links they want most of the time. He said that when people are confused about something, they ping their networks; they send things around to get help.
David Weinberger — an act I will always catch — says that links are by their nature generous; they say to readers that we like you and we think you will like this and so go there. The link is a selfless act. It is a moral act. And it is the architecture of the web. So that architecture is moral. He also said that the link does not carry more data — as in, a positive link or a negative link — and he likes that because the link text or the text around the link gives much richer information than structured data.
Seth Finkelstein says that Google measures popularity, not authority, because popularity does not distinguish between fame and infamy. Nor, he adds later, does it carry subtlety.