Posts tagged information systems

Twitter is where news breaks; Facebook is where news goes. This is something that members of the media, who live on Twitter and regard Facebook with removed interest, take for granted. The coverage of and discussion about Facebook’s IPO may have been the clearest demonstration yet of one of the few things the service can’t seem to do: Lead the conversation.
BuzzFeed’s John Herrman • Making a wise point about how the Facebook IPO was really a much bigger story on Twitter than Facebook. Part of that, to us, is due to the way the networks work. “The site, as is, is great at building after-the-fact, heavily filtered digests,” Hermann explains, “While Tweets are like free-roaming units of information, Facebook posts live in the context of each users’ friend bubble.” We noticed the same trend when the IPO broke. And it is very telling — a level of engagement FB could never hope to have, even if it’s with a smaller audience. (via shortformblog)

Will Robots Herd us into Information Silos?

Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, writes about two information trends he worries will limit the news and ideas we’re exposed to.

The first is robots which we’ve written about here. These aren’t the tin can humanoids seen in jurassic sci-fi but rather artificial intelligence used by the likes of Narrative Science, an Illinois-based startup that turns data into written prose.

For example, as Morozov points out, Forbes uses Narrative Science to automatically generate articles on corporate earnings statements. Other organizations use the company’s data analysis and Artificial Intelligence to create articles on real estate, sports and polling.

The second trend is the personal customization that all the Internet heavies are working so hard to fulfill. For example, we know that the ads we see as we go from site to site reflect where we’ve been and what we’ve indicated we’ve liked before we arrive at the page in question.

Remove ad tracking and replace it with content and we begin to see that the content we’re exposed to is similarly customized to our tastes. Have a political slant, the recommendation engine algorithm will make sure you get your daily dose of red meat.

So what happens when you marry the two? When robot generated news articles can be endlessly produced on the fly at little to know cost and those articles are customized to a viewers taste? We have something along the llnes of what Morozov describes here:

[T]he rise of “automated journalism” may eventually present a new and different challenge, one that the excellent discovery mechanisms of social media cannot solve yet: What if we click on the same link that, in theory, leads to the same article but end up reading very different texts?

How will it work? Imagine that my online history suggests that I hold an advanced degree and that I spend a lot of time on the websites of the Economist or the New York Review of Books; as a result, I get to see a more sophisticated, challenging, and informative version of the same story than my USA Today-reading neighbor. If one can infer that I’m also interested in international news and global justice, a computer-generated news article about Angelina Jolie might end by mentioning her new film about the war in Bosnia. My celebrity-obsessed neighbor, on the other hand, would see the same story end with some useless gossipy tidbit about Brad Pitt.

Producing and tweaking stories on the spot, customized to suit the interests and intellectual habits of just one particular reader, is exactly what automated journalism allows—and why it’s worth worrying about. Advertisers and publishers love such individuation, which could push users to spend more time on their sites. But the social implications are quite dubious. At the very least, there’s a danger that some people might get stuck in a vicious news circle, consuming nothing but information junk food and having little clue that there is a different, more intelligent world out there.

The upside to this downside state of affairs is something we’ve mentioned before: automation technologies like those from Narrative Science could theoretically free up journalists to do deeper, more analytical work.

The downside to the downside: as algorithms push us into information silos nobody will actually see it.

Evgeny Morozov, Slate, A Robot Stole My Pulitzer!

What's Old is New, and Vice Versa

The Economist explores social networking history with a look at Martin Luther and the Reformation. The general takeaway: “Five centuries before Facebook and the Arab spring, social media helped bring about the Reformation.”

Interesting is the how Luther’s “95 Theses” and other pamphlets spread throughout Germany and Europe:

The media environment that Luther had shown himself so adept at managing had much in common with today’s online ecosystem of blogs, social networks and discussion threads. It was a decentralised system whose participants took care of distribution, deciding collectively which messages to amplify through sharing and recommendation. Modern media theorists refer to participants in such systems as a “networked public”, rather than an “audience”, since they do more than just consume information. Luther would pass the text of a new pamphlet to a friendly printer (no money changed hands) and then wait for it to ripple through the network of printing centres across Germany.

Unlike larger books, which took weeks or months to produce, a pamphlet could be printed in a day or two. Copies of the initial edition, which cost about the same as a chicken, would first spread throughout the town where it was printed. Luther’s sympathisers recommended it to their friends. Booksellers promoted it and itinerant colporteurs hawked it. Travelling merchants, traders and preachers would then carry copies to other towns, and if they sparked sufficient interest, local printers would quickly produce their own editions, in batches of 1,000 or so, in the hope of cashing in on the buzz. A popular pamphlet would thus spread quickly without its author’s involvement.

Pamphlets and printing aside, Luther and his allies used the multimedia of the times to further spread their message. Namely, woodcuts and song.

It was not just words that travelled along the social networks of the Reformation era, but music and images too. The news ballad, like the pamphlet, was a relatively new form of media. It set a poetic and often exaggerated description of contemporary events to a familiar tune so that it could be easily learned, sung and taught to others. News ballads were often “contrafacta” that deliberately mashed up a pious melody with secular or even profane lyrics. They were distributed in the form of printed lyric sheets, with a note to indicate which tune they should be sung to. Once learned they could spread even among the illiterate through the practice of communal singing…

…Woodcuts were another form of propaganda. The combination of bold graphics with a smattering of text, printed as a broadsheet, could convey messages to the illiterate or semi-literate and serve as a visual aid for preachers. Luther remarked that “without images we can neither think nor understand anything.”

H/T: Kottke.org.