Posts about twitter

There is no hot news. All news is hot news.

The most dangerous defensive tactic parried by legacy news organizations today is their attempt to claim ownership of “hot news” and prevent others from repeating what they gather at their expense for as long as they determine that news is still hot. It is a threat to free speech and the First Amendment and our doctrines of copyright and fair use. It is a threat to news.

The old companies — NY Times, Advance, Gannett, Belo, McClatchy, Scripps, AFP, AP, Washington Post, et al — are lining up against the new companies — Google and Twitter — on hot news as they file briefs in the TheFlyOnTheWall.com case. I’ve just read both briefs and will give you highlights in a moment.

Hot news also makes an ominous appearance in the Federal Trade Commission’s thinking about rescuing legacy news companies as it proposes a constitutionally abhorrent doctrine of “proprietary facts.” And hot news is a factor in the dissemination of Rolling Stone’s story about Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which the Times’ David Carr writes about today, scolding Time and Politico for reproducing the story because RS hadn’t (and because it was so hot).

Hot news refers to a 1918 case, INS v. AP, in which one wire service — barred from transmitting news from Britain in the war — rewrote the others’ news for its clients three time zones away. It was cited in the Fly case, in which brokers — Barclays, Merrill, Morgan Stanley, et al — complained that the web site repeated its analysts’ recommendations. Now news companies want to use hot news to restrict aggregators and others; Google and Twitter are trying to cut them off at the pass.

Hot news is ridiculously obsolete. What’s hot today? As Tom Glocer, head of Thomson Reuters, said, his news is most valuable for “miliseconds.” Hot news limitations should be repellant to journalists, even desperate ones, because every journalist builds on the facts revealed by others. It should further be repugnant to them as it constitutes a form of court-supervised prior restraint. Hot news restrictions would be suicidal to news organizations — even though they foolishly think it would protect them — because it would restrict everyone’s ability to spread the news via links and send journalists audience. Hot news should worry every citizen because the free flow of information is vital to a democracy.

The architecture of news and media — how it is gathered and shared — has changed utterly since 1918 … and 1998. That’s what makes the Rolling Stone story instructive. McChrystal’s quotes leaked and spread instantly, having significant and instant impact on news and the affairs of state. The fact of the quotes was hot news indeed. As I asked four days ago, under hot news, would the magazine have been able to prevent others from repeating these facts? Ridiculous, no? Because Rolling Stone did not publish its own story online and because it was so hot, Politico and Time published PDFs of it — even though Time is a party to the Fly brief — which Carr perhaps rightly scolds them for. But maybe he should also scold Rolling Stone for not recognizing the importance of its news and recognizing the opportunity in sharing it. Once Rolling Stone did put the story on the web, the other publications linked to it. The link economy works when given a chance. So does the First Amendment.

“Once facts are made public,” says the Google-Twitter brief, “they belong to the public.” Once McChrystal’s quotes were known, they were part of the democratic dialog. To restrict us — anyone — from repeating them is to steal from the public. (That is a key argument in my next book.) “The reporting of truthful information,” says the brief, “is one of the most protected forms of speech under the Constitution…” These parties aren’t just fighting about old and new media. They are fighting about the nature and value of the public sphere.

The two briefs illuminate the worldviews of the two camps all too clearly. The legacy companies’ brief argues that hot news is “necessary to protect the news industry’s incentive to gather and report news….” It complains about “free riders” who may repeat their news at lower cost. “One of the greatest concerns among news originators,” they say, “is inexpensive technology that allows easy aggregation of news.” The legacy companies nowhere even acknowledge the economic value of links to their news.

The news companies complain about newspapers going bankrupt, not acknowledging that fate came as the result of high debt and mismanagement. They even have the balls to whine that news is a “low-margin business under economic pressure” (though not long ago, it was a high-margin monopoly). They say they are not going after occasional use of others’ facts — since they all do it — but instead the “systematic” (read: computerized) gathering of their news. They do not acknowledge the tools — robots.txt — that allow them to cut off aggregators. It’s an intellectually disappointing, morally weaselly attempt to get anticompetitive aid from the courts while blithely ignoring the profound constitutional implications for news and the democracy.

The Google-Twitter brief issues many calls to the importance of free speech and news in a democracy that only a few years ago the news organizations would have been saluting. It cites a 1991 case, Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, in which the court said that “[t]he first person to find and report a particular fact has not created the fact; he or she has merely discovered its existence.” Thus even competitors “remain free to use the facts contained in another’s publication to aid in preparing a competing work.” Says the brief: “Central to Feist is the rejection of the notion that ‘sweat of the brow’ can itself create intellectual property rights. ‘The primary objective of copyright is not to reward the labor of authors but to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”‘” Hot news, they argue, “attempts an end-run around the Copyright Clause.”

Google-Twitter remind the court that news organizations all use each others’ facts: TV stations repeat newspapers’ reporting without attribution and now newspapers do the same to TV. Indeed, the brief says Feist establishes that “the freedom to use facts — even to “free-ride” on facts gathered by others through great effort — is constitutionally protected. Friend Spencer Reiss just told me how he moved mountains to cover Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in time for a hard Newsweek deadline only to find that his editors in New York got what they needed from TV. That is our news ecosystem; it’s not new, only bigger and faster.

“In a world of modern communications technology,” the Google-Twitter brief says, “where anyone with a cell phone may disseminate news throughout the world even as it is occurring, the notion that a single media outlet should have a monopoly on time-sensitive facts is not only contrary to law, it is, as a practical matter, futile.” They worry that news organizations would pay sources not to cooperate with competitors and that judges would become “super-editors” determining the hot time period of, in their example, news about the Times Square bombing.

Worse, even the fear of litigation would “chill the lawful dissemination of important news by fostering uncertainty among news outlets as to how long they must ‘sit’ on a story before they are free of a potential ‘hot news’ claim.” During last week’s damaging storms in the New York area, I saw a Long Islander complain that by keeping its news behind a wall, Newsday was ill-serving the safety of its community. Says Google-Twitter: “Breaking news may involve a threat to public health or security, but the district court’s opinion, if affirmed, would stifle the dissemination of such crucial facts — a particularly dangerous outcome in circumstances where the time-sensitive nature of the event is the precise reason why the facts should be widely disseminated as quickly as possible.” If Newsday has a better forecast than a competitor, could it keep the fact of a warning of danger to itself?

In the U.S. and Europe, news organizations are trying to extend copyright and limit fair use but the Google-Twitter brief is eloquent in objection. “Under Feist, this Court has repeatedly confirmed that facts must remain in the public domain, free from any restraint or encumbrance.” It quotes another case: “[A]ll facts — scientific, historical biographical, and news of the day … may not be copyrighted and are part of the public domain available to every person.” Another: “[R]aw facts may be copied at will. This result is neither unfair nor unfortunate. It is the means by which copyright advances the progress of science and art.” Another: “[A]llowing the first publisher to prevent others from copying such information would defeat the objectives of copyright by impeding rather than advancing the progress of knowledge.” Do news organizations truly want to oppose the progress of knowledge?

Says the Google-Twitter brief: “The modern ubiquity of multiple news platforms renders ‘hot news’ misappropriation an anachronism, aimed at muzzling all but the most powerful media companies. In a world of citizen journalists and commentators, online news organizations, and broadcasters who compete 24 hours a day, news can no longer be contained for any meaningful amount of time.” This fight sn’t just about a few huge companies. This fight is about our rights.

Editing your customers

“Almost everything you see in Twitter today was invented by our users,” its creator, Jack Dorsey, said in this video (found via his investor, Fred Wilson). RT, #, @, & $ were conventions created by users that were then—sometimes reluctantly—embraced by Twitter, to Twitter’s benefit. Dorsey said it is the role of a company to edit its users.

Edit. His word. I’m ashamed that I haven’t been using it in this context, being an editor myself and writing about the need for companies to collaborate with their customers.

I have told editors at newspapers that, as aggregators and curators, they will begin to edit not just the work of their staffs but the creations of their publics. But that goes only so far; it sees the creations of that public as contributions to what we, as journalists, do. And that speaks only to media organizations. Dorsey talks about any company as editor.

I have also told companies—it was a key moral to the story in What Would Google Do?—that they should become platforms that enable others to take control of their fates and succeed.

Twitter is such a platform. As Dorsey said in the video, it constantly iterates and that enables it to take in the creations of users. Months ago, when I wished for a Twitter feature, Fred Wilson tweeted back that that’s what the independent developers and applications are for. Indeed, Twitter enabled developers to create not only features but businesses atop it. But then when Twitter bought or created its own versions of these features created by developers, it went into competition with those developers, on whom Twitter depended to improve—to complete, really—its service. That’s a new kind of channel conflict—competing with your co-creators—that companies will also have to figure out as they become not just producers but editors.

Anyway, I like Dorsey’s conception of company as editor because it requires openness—operating and developing in public; it assumes process over product; it values iteration; it implies collaboration with one’s public; it still maintains the company’s responsibility for quality. An editor has nothing to edit if others haven’t created anything, so it is in the editor’s interest to enable others to create. And the better the creations that public makes, the better off the editor is, so it’s also in the company-as-editor’s interest to improve what that public creates through better tools and often training and also economic motives.

Gained something in the translation

Tweet: A tweet paraphrased my link-economy line and showed me I’ve been saying more than I thought I have. **

In Twitter today, one @rpaskin paraphrased something I’ve been saying – and said again in my talk at Web 2.0 Expo Tuesday (generously covered in that link by Aneta Hall). My line has been that in the link economy, value comes from the creator of the content and from the creator of a public (formerly known as an audience). That is, Rupert’s wrong with he says that Google takes content; it gives attention.

Anyway, @rpaskin tweeted this: “In a link economy, there are values from creating content and linking to content. There’s no value in just reproducing content (Jeff Jarvis).”

I didn’t say that exactly but I think it better expressed what I have been trying to say. Or at least it added a perspective and raised a fundamental and important question, namely:

Is there value anymore in reproducing content? Is the six-century-long reign of Guttenberg and the industries he created really over?

Wow. Maybe so. In my discussions of the link economy, I had been concentrating on explaining and defending the side of the value equation brought by Google, aggregators, blogger, Twitter, et al rather than on the loss of value brought to those who reproduced – rather than created – content. But in looking at the entire equation, what @rpaskin says stands to reason: There is no value left over for the copiers. Indeed, online, if one copies, one is considered a thief because it’s only the thieves who copy.

The problem is, of course, that it was through the making and selling of copies that monetary value was extracted and that is why it is so upsetting to those who did so that they can’t do it anymore. It’s upsetting that they don’t see other ways to recognize value. It’s what makes folks including Murdoch say silly things that betray ignorance about the workings of our new world.

I’m sure Rupert knows exactly how the scribes Guttenberg put out of business felt.

ALSO: Speaking of speaking of Murdoch, you can hear me doing so – along with Michael Wolf and Steven Brill – on Murdoch’s tilting against Google’s energy-efficient windmills.

** Once again, I’m experimenting with using tweets about posts as subheds summarizing those posts.

The temporary web

I’m fretting about forgetting things, not just because I’m getting older (on top of middle-aged surgery and its inconveniences and a dicky ticker I now have sciatica; I am a parody of age). I’m fretting about us all forgetting things because we’re using Twitter.

Twitter is temporary. Streams are fleeting. If the future of the web after the page and the site and SEO is streams – and I believe at least part of it will be – then we risk losing information, ideas, and the permanent points – the permalinks – around which we used to coalesce. In this regard, Twitter is to web pages what web pages are to old media. Our experience of information is once again about to become fragmented and dispersed.

I talked about this shift on a recent Rebooting the News with Dave Winer and Jay Rosen (audio here; shownotes here).

My own worry is that I’m twittering more and blogging less. Twitter satisfies my desire to share. That’s mostly why I blog – and that’s what makes the best blog posts, I’ve learned. I also want to store information like nuts underground; once it’s on the blog, I can find it. But when I share links on Twitter, they’ll soon disappear. I also use my blog to think through ideas and get reaction; Twitter’s flawed at that – well, I guess Einstein could have tweeted his theory of relativity but many ideas and discussions are too big for the form – yet I now use Twitter to do that now more than this blog.

It’s not as if I couldn’t and shouldn’t also blog about what I talk about on Twitter; tweets can become the trial out of town, the blog Broadway (a book Hollywood). But Twitter competes for my time and attention. It is so much faster and easier. It’s good enough for most of my purposes. So the blog suffers. And I suffer. I discuss less here; I’ll lose some of you as a result and you are the value I get from blogging. I lose memory. And I lose the maypole around which we can gather.

On Rebooting the News, we also talked about what it takes to get an idea, a meme to critical mass. Blogs, I said, are better at that because they can gather attention over time. On Twitter, an idea can, of course, be spread but its half-life is that of a gnat. I’m proud of this post – The future of news is entrepreneurial – and it got retweeted for almost 24 hours, which is forever in Twitter time. Most things come and go in matters of minutes. So Dave and I were talking about getting new conventions used on Twitter but Twitter turns out not to be a great way to make that happen because ideas and conversations disappear in smoke.

Paul Gillin just asked whether soon, everything you’ve learned about SEO will be worthless. That’s because search is turning social and our search results are becoming personalized, thus we don’t all share the same search results and it becomes tougher to manage them through SEO. Put these factors together – the social stream – and relationships matter more than pages (but then, they always have).

It means nothing that I fret or worry about any of this. Change is inexorable, even – especially – in the agent of change. But it’s always important to stand back and see the implications in change and I think we’re going to need to find new ways to hold onto memories and make memes happen. That or I have to hold true to my vow to blog more.

: OH, AND… I got distracted by reading Twitter (really) and so I forgot to mention the other Twitter issue: distraction. I’m finding it much harder to stay focused on doing one thing because I now can do so many. That doesn’t mean I’ll end up thinking less for a blog post (or book), only that the stream interrupts the thing (the post, the page) in more ways.

Tinkering with the news

This morning, Glam.com – the model of the new network model of media – extended its Twitter aggregator, Tinker.com, into news at Tinker.com/news. It’s very simple and that’s what makes it intriguing: headlines mixed with current discussion of them.

Yesterday, New York Times digital strategy head Martin Nisenholtz also talked about adding value to Twitter and news here.

“If you go out and search Twitter, it doesn’t work very well,” he said. “It’s very literal.” But if The Times can build multiple search products for Twitter that better understand context, there “is a lot of power in organizing and curating this world.” Therefore, the company is looking into building similar Twitter aggregators for what could be “thousands of categories,” he said.

Note, by the way, that Nisenholtz was misquoted in Twitter yesterday (which I retweeted) saying that 10% of Times inbound links came from Twitter. He emailed to correct. What he said was that they were about to move into the top 10 referrers, based on the current growth rate.

Also note, by the way, that Glam just reached profitability. Many media execs I know scoffed at Glam but now they’re dying and Glam’s growing. The network model works. And the link to people’s conversations – in both these examples – will not only help media but will be a key driver of value. I’ve pointed out here before that Google News causes a billion clicks a month but so does Bit.ly (and it represents only part of Twitter’s traffic). At the Knight-funded Aspen event on new business models for news, Marissa Mayer said we must find the ways to insinuate news into everyone’s stream (and, I’ll add, vice versa).

A poor craftsman blames others’ tools

Compare these two columns about Twitter: one by Mike DeArmond, a sports hack in Kansas City, and one by Roger Cohen in The New York Times. They are each frustrated that Twitter doesn’t fit into their set-in-concrete view of what they do and what journalism is – and how others fit in.

The sports guy’s column is, of course, the sillier:

Let’s quit tweet, tweet, tweeting like the birdbrains do. I don’t care what your friend had for lunch. . . .

I really don’t object to the message so much as the medium. . . .

I became a journalist because I love words. The way they can be used to paint an image, to link observation and explanation.

It is why I think it is wonderful to write about how some questions are so rambling that they climb the wall, scoot around a corner, take a stop in the men’s restroom, and only then arrive at their intended point.

You can’t do that with Twitter. You’re limited to 140 characters. And most people waste even those.

Now Cohen:

Twitter’s pitch is “Share and discover what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.” That’s what it does — up to a point. It’s many things, including a formidable alerting system for a breaking story; a means of organization; a monitor of global interest levels (Iran trended highest for weeks until Michael Jackson’s death) and of media performance; a bank of essential links; a rich archive; and a community (“Twitter is my best friend.”)

But is it journalism? No. In fact journalism in many ways is the antithesis of the “Here Comes Everybody” — Clay Shirky’s good phrase — deluge of raw material that new social media deliver. For journalism is distillation. It is a choice of material, whether in words or image, made in pursuit of presenting the truest and fairest, most vivid and complete representation of a situation.

It comes into being only through an organizing intelligence, an organizing sensibility. It depends on form, an unfashionable little word, without which significance is lost to chaos. As Aristotle suggested more than two millennia ago, form requires a beginning and middle and end. It demands unity of theme. Journalism cuts through the atwitter state to thematic coherence.

In each case, The Journalist is confronted with something new and if it doesn’t fit in with their world and worldview, they find reasons to reject it, to diminish it, to make it the province of others, not The Journalist – because it’s The Journalist who is empowered to say what journalism is. DeArmond’s going for laughs, Cohen for profundity, but they’re each only showing that they are not imaginative enough to recognize the power that comes from a new tool – no, not the tool but the connection to the people who are using it. I’d never let my students get away with that. I always try to get them to look at a tool and see how it can be used to improve journalism, not just violate its age-old dictates.

In these screeds, we also get a glimpse of these Journalists’ definitions of journalism. I say that news was made into a product by the necessities and limitations of its means of production and distribution in print and broadcast. News is properly a process, I believe. Cohen says, no, it must have a beginning, middle, and end, a narrative he sets, an order he gives, a chaos he rejects. He says elsewhere in his column that presence is necessary to do journalism; he thus says that it takes a reporter to report, that news without the journalist him or herself bearing witness to it is not real news. He puts The Journalist at the center of news. I say the journalist is the servant of news. I tell my students to add journalistic value to what is already being spread – reporting, fact-checking, perspective, answers – but recognize that the news is there with or without them. It is gathered and spread by the people who see it and need it with new tools, like Twitter. Like it or not.

: LATER: But at the same time, here‘s The Times’ David Pogue using Twitter to talk with the public to do his journalism.

geoTwitter and news and more

Twitter announced a geolocation API today and it set my mind to spinning with implications that I tweeted like a Gatling gun:

* For news, it would be possible to verify that witnesses reporting what they see are where they say they are. Twitpics can be geotagged.

* Local news organizations should build apps to track surges of activity around any address. Could be a news event. Could be hipsters congregating (telling one where hippness happens).

* News orgs could also use it as a reporting tool: the fabled pothole report via Twitter.

* A hyperlocal blog could set up a feed of your neighbors’ tweets all around town.

* Over time, the geoTwitter enables what I’ve been thinking of as the annotation layer atop the real world: diners create simple reviews of a restaurant simply around location, anyone annotating any location.

* I wonder about the commercial applications: subscribing to tweet ads near me.

The live web, the social web, and the geo web come together.

Now there are caveats aplenty. Foursquare is similar and hasn’t yet burned up the world and neither has Google Latitude. Laptops need geolocation. There are privacy concerns that may stop people from switching on geolocation (the default is off). There are dangers; geolocation could have made tweets from Iran more credible but also more perilous for the authors. I wonder why Twitter is choosing to erase geo data after time; this diminishes the value of the annotation layer.

But still, a simple API like this can make the mind spin. Now combine geoTwitter with my recent obsession, Google Wave, and imagine how live and collaborative content can be enhanced with geography. Or add geography to Marissa Mayer’s vision of the hyperpersonal news stream. The possibilities are endless.

: LATER: PaidContent sees potential for geotargeted ads. And TechCrunch writes about Foursquare’s alerts to nearby deals.

The John Henry fight of man v. algorithm

I interviewed Josh Cohen, product manager for Google News, this week for the Guardian MediaTalkUSA podcast (out early next week) and asked him how many clicks to news sources Google News causes. The answer: a billion.

And then I saw this PaidContent report on URL-shortener Bit.ly thinking of offering a breaking news service. That doesn’t seem so crazy when you hear how many clicks it causes a month. The answer: a billion.

It so happens I just wrote this in my Media Guardian column, coming out Monday, about the Microsoft-Yahoo search lashup:

Oh, search still matters. But it is beginning to matter a little less. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson recently pointed out that 14% of traffic to his blog, avc.com, comes from Google, down from 29% the year before. Wilson argues that the difference is Twitter—that is, links from people over algorithms. (Note that Wilson is a Twitter investor.)

Now I’m hardly saying that Google is being overrun by the power of mankind. Nor will I argue that every link Bit.ly sends to is news – except more of it is than news organizations would admit if they were wise enough to expand the definition of news to the hyperspecific, a word a commenter below suggested I start using instead of hyperlocal. Your friend’s concert photos are news to him and you. Note also that Bit.ly isn’t the only source of human-powered live links; there’s the rest of Twitter and its other clients, not to mention Facebook and fresh blogging.

But I do think it’s significant that given the platform to collect the power of links by people, it can quickly match the power of the algorithm. I also think there’s even more power in bringing the two together.