Posts about interactivity

Interactivity: They’re just people

I never cease to be amazed how flummoxed media people can get over having to interact with the public they serve.

The common mistakes they make are to think that communities do not need tending (your real communities do, why wouldn’t those online?) and that communities should be judged by their worst elements (every town has its criminals but not every town is full of them) and that there’s nothing you can or should do about it except complain (don’t just drive by the crime, people, call the cops) and, finally, that we all need to be told who the bozos are and protected from them (we all have good bozodar, don’t we).

But I see news people throwing up their hands at the first nasty troll who enters a conversation, ready to abandon it all. It’s like owning a restaurant and when a drunk disrupts the diners, rather than getting rid of the guy, you just close the restaurant. No, you deal with it. And you don’t concentrate on that drunk. You concentrate on all the nice, civilized, happy diners you’re serving. Right?

I’ve just seen a flurry of posts from people trying to give advice to flummoxed media types. See Ryan Sholin, my former and present colleague Kevin Anderson, and Mark Potts. [all via linkmeister Stabe]

My earlier advice on interactivity is here.

And note, for amusement, the Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill, declaring today a bad-mood-free day on its story comments. Note, though, that they don’t take comments on the story about comments.

‘Radical’ transparency

Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, puts forth the means of what he calls radical transparency. Pardon my blog triumphalism, but I think it takes the culture he has learned in the blog world and tries to lay it over the big-media world. And that is good.

But I do think the truly radical transformation would be to stop looking at the magazine as a thing — a product in print or online — but as a community, for that is what magazines really are and always have been: people who rather around the stuff they all like or need. See my earlier blather on the notion here. The point is that what you really want to do is open the windows on either side of your house and let the people standing around talk directly to each other, with or without you. You do your job, still, creating some stuff that people want to gather around. But then you enable them to share more. And now you have a new role — helping them. So you end up bigger than a magazine.

That said, I like Anderson’s tactics and I think they’ll work:

1) Show who we are. All staff edit their own personal “about” pages, giving bios, contact details and job functions. [e.g. -ED] Encourage anyone who wants to blog to do so. Have a masthead that actually means something to people who aren’t on it. While we’re at it, how about a real org chart, revealing the second dimension that’s purposely obscured in the linear ranking on a traditional masthead? . . .

2) Show what we’re working on. We already have internal wikis that are common scratch pads for teams working on projects. And most writers have their own thread-gathering processes, often online. Why no open them to all? Who knows, perhaps other people will have good ideas, too. . . .

3) “Process as Content”*. Why not share the reporting as it happens, uploading the text of each interview as soon as you can get it processed by your flat-world transcription service in India? . . . After you’ve woven together enough of the threads to have a semi-coherent draft, why not ask your readers to help edit it? . . .

4) Privilege the crowd. Why not give comments equal status to the story they’re commenting on? Why not publish all letters to the editor as they’re submitted (we did that here), and let the readers vote on which are the best? We could promise to publish the top five each month, whether we like them or not: “Harness our tools of production! Make us print your words! Voting is Power!” . . .

5) Let readers decide what’s best. We own Reddit, which (among other things) is a terrific way of measuring popularity. Why should we guess at which stories will be most popular and give those preferential treatment? Why not just measure what people really think and let statistics determine the hierarchy of the front page?

Ah, but those two tactics still separate the magazine from the crowd. It’s still about commenting on what the magazine does (‘but enough about you…’). Go the next step, Chris: Recognize that the crowd has stuff to say that may have nothing to do with what the magazine may be working on but that is of value to the rest. Or as a group, they have information that is valuable to the group. I’ve been saying I want to know the best-selling books among New Yorker readers. I also want to know the best-selling phones among Wired readers (and why).

The magazine is the crowd.

6) Wikifiy everything. The realities of publishing is that at some point you push the publish button. In the traditional world, that’s the end of the story. It is a snapshot in time, as good as we could make it but inevitably imperfect. The errors (and all articles have them) are a mix of commission and omission–we hope for the best yet brace ourselves for the worst. But what if we published every story on a wiki platform, so they could evolve over time, just like Wikipedia itself? . . .

Believe it or not, I almost think that last one may go too far. There is still a role for authorial responsibility. That doesn’t mean control — yes, by all means, show us the corrections and suggestions ,but then do the work to verify and edit. I don’t think you can necessarily hand over your work to the public but you can , indeed, improve your work with the public.

Again, I think the starting point is not what the magazine had but perhaps what the magazine doesn’t have: A wiki of helpful knowledge the public wants to share. And then the editors can come in and polish and verify and report. So then the editors becomes the handmaidens of the crowd. Now that’s radical transparency.

Instant TV

YouTube started a new feature called Quick Capture allowing you to record a video directly to the service from your laptop camera. So I tried it out. Didn’t work so well for me. And it took hours for the video to appear online. When they get the bugs worked out — and they will — this will lead, I think, to an epidemic of video conversation. Imagine forums in video.

Brit twit wants to regulate conversation

See updates, below.*

The head of the UK’s Press Complaints Commission — which is an oddity to my American free-speech, First Amendment, independent sensibilities — wants there to be a voluntary code of conduct for bloggers.

What’s the appropriate British word for that? Bollocks, I believe.

Here’s someone else who doesn’t understand what blogs are. They are people talking. Do you suggest you should regulate the speech of people over the phone and set up a complaints commission to deal with that? Or on the street? Or in bed? It’s conversation, fool. Believe it or not, bloggers don’t want to be newspapers. They want to talk. That’s not controllable and that is precisely why it has exploded and why the deposed controllers in media and regulation are so scared of it. But codes and commissions are not the answer. Listening is. If you don’t like what you hear, click away and reply because you can now, without having to go through a commission to do so.

: The Times of London sums up blog reaction to this foolishness over there in its fine comment blog, concluding:

But in the end sanity triumphs and truth outs. The blogworld doesn’t need codes of conduct and regulation because human societies, when free, have a natural tendency to what a clever Austrian called spontaneous order. It would be hilarious though for the State to give regulation a go, just to watch the mauling and the quickest u-turn in history.

: * LATER CLARIFICATION: I heard from Tim Toulmin, head of the PCC, who said that the BBC story didn’t represent him properly. When I emailed him what I was saying — that blogs, like other conversations, can’t be regulated — he agreed.

: * AND MORE: Toulmin objects to the headline. I recant it. He says in email: “If I had said what I was originally
reported to have said I’d agree with it.” But he did not. So he is not a twit.

So much for free speech

So the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric it cutting down its so-called Free Speech segments (and I’ll bet they’ll be dead altogether before long).

I recorded a Free Speech segment and I bet as I made it that it would never run. Reason: I talked about Dan Rather. I shot it the first week Couric was on the show. It’s now mid-November, so I think it’s now a sure thing that it won’t air. They said they were waiting for a peg. I think that peg was global cooling in hell. They also would not send me a copy of the segment to show my CUNY students (contrasting that with the version I made using the same script) because it would violate CBS policy. One is amazed that they apparently have a policy for everything.

Here’s what I was going to say on CBS but can still say here, thanks to the free speech of the blog. My 1:30 script:

The war is over. No, not that war. I mean the war between mainstream media and bloggers.
It never really was a fight – because we are on the same side. We all want the truth:
When bloggers called Dan Rather on errors in 2004, he dismissed them as partisan operatives. But when bloggers recently exposed faked photos from Beirut, Reuters thanked them.
So we are making progress.
Together, professional and amateur journalists can gather and share more news than ever. Bloggers just forced two senators to admit they were secretly blocking a reform bill. And bloggers goaded Dell and Apple into recalling burning batteries. Dell, which once ignored bloggers, now blogs itself.
See, it doesn’t hurt. Bloggers are just people talking. We are your viewers, your voters, your customers, your neighbors.
Now that we, the people, are armed with our own printing presses, old media have nothing to fear and everything to gain – so long as they’re wise enough to trust us.
Trust us to be smart; if you can’t, then what’s the point of democracy?
Listen to us and what we truly care about – and that’s not endless Jon Benet.
And let us share your best reporting: The networks should be fighting to get the most stories watched on YouTube – for those are the stories that are part of our conversation….
Just because newspapers and networks are shrinking, that doesn’t mean journalism must whither. No, we have to expand the definition of news and change the role of the journalist from oracle on the mountaintop to member of our community.
We’re in this together.

The CBS idea was doomed for a number of reasons. For one, they made much too much hooha about producing the segments; I wrote about that here, comparing the dozen or so people it took for them to produce this segment for the cutting-room floor vs. what it took for me to produce it in my den. For another reason, as Howie Kurtz reports, the rest of the CBS News structure was jealous of any seconds giving to outside voices. But most of all, it was controlling in the old media way. They had to approve what I was going to write about. They went back and forth on whether I could mention Rather. They were in control. That aint’ free speech.

For a better model — one that still doesn’t go far enough but at least heads farther in the right direction — see the BBC’s Newsnight, its major nightly news show, telling people to produce their own segments and send them in — or actually, just post them on YouTube or Blip or such and send in the link. That means that you don’t need the BBC to show your opinion; you’ll broadcast before they do. The editors will pick the best, in their judgment, and then the public will decide what makes it to air: The Survivor of News. They will get our more unvarnished, unproduced, uncontrolled voices. That’s closer to free speech.