Scripting News for 8/17/07

Journalism is the new Catholic Church 

LA Times editorial on Google’s new feature that allows people mentioned in a news article to respond. Google’s new program is a very rough approximation of what truly open media provides, something the newspapers themselves should be doing.

It seems journalism is the new Catholic Church. Without the savior. :-)

Imho, the pros are right to be worried. It’s the last quarter of a game they’re losing, and the opposing team is deep in their territory. They need to get the ball back and then connect on a few Hail Marys to even be in the game. Yet all they do is weakly protest that “this isn’t journalism.” We need information. To say it’s not journalism now is like a priest saying it’s not Catholic to a bunch of agnostics. You’re answering a question no one is asking.

A news story should summarize points of view that are available in full on the newspaper website. The newspapers should try to host the blogs of the people they quote. Instead they cling to the fiction that they have the exclusive wisdom to decide which soundbites and points of view are relevant, and the reader needs nothing more than what they provide. This is wrong, the world is too complicated, and the resources of news organizations are shrinking and our appetite for information is exploding (and the tools for creating and using news are getting better all the time).

If a reader wants to find out what’s really going on they have to search thoroughly for many views of the same event and try to piece it together. The first news organization that embraces that view wins. Google is taking first steps to be that news organization.

Yesterday at Mozilla, I urged them to get aggressive with powerful RSS support in the browser. Like the news organizations, if they wait much longer, Google Reader will have too much of a lead to catch. It may already be too late. In their case, much of their funding comes from Google, and if Google is smart (they are) somewhere on their vast campus, which surrounds the tiny Mozilla building, in a corner of Google-land in Mountain View, they are working on their own fork of the Mozilla codebase, one designed perfectly to run their apps (mail, spreadsheet, calendar, maps, search, widgets, wp, etc). Mozilla is in the same place as the rest of us, about to be swamped by the Google juggernaut.

I’m beginning to think it’s already too late. Too many people rooted too deeply in the past to take a chance on the obvious future. Oh well. Happy Friday! :-)

Today’s links 

Chris Double blogs on my visit to Mozilla yesterday.

Kevin O’Keefe: “Gnomedex is about open discussion.”

Scoble interviews Marc Canter. “Life is good.”

TorrentFreak reports that Comcast is throttling BitTorrent.

Tom Morris: “I’m getting fed up of the blogosphere taking every critical remark as an ‘attack’ on a person.” Amen.

A bootstrap begins with a lot of typing 

I’m starting to play with ideas for an exchange format for movie ratings. To stimulate this thinking I needed a good list to work with, and luckily Netflix, even though they don’t provide a way to export your ratings, does provide a way to view them. A screen shot for non-members.

So I drank a cup of coffee, turned on some music, and in about an hour copied all the reviews (over 300) into a text file, organized by the number of stars I gave a movie. It was actually an interesting exercise, I changed the ratings of some movies, and thought of movies I hadn’t rated that should be included.

I think a good user interface for a new collaborative rating service would be something like Hot Or Not, where you get the name of a movie, a picture of some kind, a one paragraph synopsis, and a chance to rate it with 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1 stars. Of course it would link to a page where you could rent the movie, read reviews, or write one yourself.

One thing this project is going to need, clearly, is a web service that takes the name of a movie and a year, and returns a globally unique identifier, preferrably the address of a web page with information about the movie.

Fed cuts interest rate 

AP: “The Federal Reserve approved a half-percentage point cut in its discount rate on loans to banks Friday, a dramatic move designed to stabilize financial markets roiled by a widening credit crisis.”

This was a surprise. Now we find out if the market comes out of its downward spiral.

Friendship and blogging 

This topic has to be addressed from time to time, just to keep my head above water and make sure everyone, friends and others, know where my lines are.

In the mess with Jason Calacanis, the subject of friendship kept coming up on his blog, and here as well. It seems that Jason and others expect something special because we’re friends. But there are several kinds of friends, it seems,. At times I wanted there to be just one kind, but eventually I threw in the towel and started, along with eveyrone else, using the term several ways.

First, there are real life friends. People who you commit to being intimate with, for a lifetime. Sure, they come and go, that’s unavoidable — people move away, people die — but the intention is that we’re going to share big chunks of our lives with each other, and trust each other to tell our whole truth. These are people who come visit you in the hospital when you look and feel like shit, they help you feel a little better. And vice versa. They’re people you apologize to openly and fully when you fuck up. They’re people you trust to see your darkness and lightness, knowing they won’t abuse the trust. You can’t have a lot of people who are friends in this way, if you dilute it too much, it stops being meaningful.

Now it’s possible to have simple affection without the trust, and that can be called friendship too. People you see once in a while, or go 20 years without seeing, who you truly like, and are happy to see, who shared something good at some point, and you hope to share something good again.

And then there are the business relationships that are called friends. Just now on CNBC, I heard a banker say that another banker was a friend. I imagine that means they have dinner from time to time, speak well of each other, maybe exchange favors. These are also friends. It’s in that sense that Calacanis and I were friends, along with many other people.

Now usually, the saying goes, it’s bad to mix friendship with business. Usually it doesn’t work, the thing that makes someone a friend doesn’t turn out to be a good basis for business, and in the end you often lose a friend, and a business. But in the latter case that’s all there is, business. In my mind it’s not friendship, as much as an agreement to work together in some fashion. But let’s not argue about it, if everyone else calls it friendship, I will to. If the Eskimos have 18,000 words for snow, what’s the harm if we have 18,000 definitions of friendship. :-)

Now — the big question — which I have an answer to, btw, is do any of these kinds of friendships create a an obligation that you won’t be openly critical of the person’s work? I say no, because then you have to question your friend’s motives, and who wants a friendship to be like that. Is this person choosing to be your friend so that you won’t be able to criticize their product or employer? So that you’ll only say positive things about their work? So, for example, I can be critical of Feedster, and Betsy Devine will still be my friend (she worked for them at one time).

Yet, I feel compelled, when writing about a friend’s efforts, to not only disclose the friendship (that’s reasonable of course, it protects the reader) but also say that I really like the person I’m writing about, as if I would use this space to hurt them. I feel like a real chump when I do that, but given the atmosphere of the blogging world, I often feel compelled to do it anyway, so as not to start gossip that “Dave doesn’t like so and so anymore.” A real friend, who knew me, would know that I would never intentionally use Scripting News that way, but there are readers who don’t know and some who pretend they don’t know.

A sure way to become a former friend, is to say that I have an obligation to express my opinion privately. That was one of the most offensive things Calacanis said. Had his demo been private, and under non-disclosure, if it would have been inappropriate for me to write something positive about the product, then I could understand his concern. But I have written about his product before, publicly. I didn’t plan to write anything about more about it, but there I was at a conference, and he was explaining it, and I had a very strong reaction. When I’m exposed to something that’s wrong, you can count on me to say so. Without that, this blog is nothing. And I don’t sell anyone the right to tell me what I can and can’t write about. And friendship is the worst excuse possible to say why I shouldn’t write something. This supposed friend knows nothing about me if they think that will do anything other than provoke a very strong response of independence.

I mention this not only in an effort to close the book on Calacanis (who btw could do this much more quickly by simply retracting the things he said that crossed the line), but also to lay the groundwork for me to write about Gnomedex. See, Ponzi and Chris are friends, and I have an idea that what I think of the conference could hurt their feelings. And as a friend, more of the personal kind than the business kind, I don’t want to hurt their feelings. But, on the other hand, it is an industry event that I paid to go to. I don’t go to very many conferences, and as it stands I will not go to Gnomedex next year. I’m sure some people will applaud this, and that’s fine. Enjoy. But I have more to say about this, and I plan to. I just wanted to talk about friendship first.

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Caron Tioram on August 17, 2007 at 7:31 am

    Dave, please do your research. The Eskimo’s do not have 18,000 definitions for snow.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eskimo_words_for_snow

    Reply

  2. Posted by Nick on August 17, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Good Post Dave!

    Reply

  3. Dave, it looks like you’ve rediscovered the categories of friendship that Aristotle discovered long ago. See this article in Philosophy Now:

    http://www.philosophynow.org/issue61/61madigan.htm

    Reply

  4. Absolutely right on, Dave. I’m getting fed up of the blogosphere taking every critical remark as an “attack” on a person. If people actually took the time to read what other people had written and tried to figure out the meaning, then it wouldn’t be seen as an attack. But we’ve got into this talking heads nonsense and lost any notion of the principle of charity.

    If it isn’t out-and-out praise, it’s a critical attack. That is the mindset of some – no doubt inspired by a heady dose of Bill O’Reilly and USENET. Hence the description of the discussion you started about Mahalo ending up as a “pissy” “slap-fest”, an “outburst”, a “blog spat”, a “spanking” and so on. It quite plainly wasn’t. It was some well-meaning critical advice that was taken completely the wrong way by the blogosphere.

    This kind of nonsense is what tempts me every day to just unsubscribe to the mailing lists I’m on.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Observer on August 17, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Can we perhaps come up with a suitable punishment for people who post wikipedia links in response to jokes? It’s not quite as bad as scribbling [citation needed] on everything you see, but it’s pretty close.

    Reply

  6. Dave,

    I am on vacation but am jotting notes on the nature of friendship for an essay I will post in the coming days. However, I wanted to jump into this thread a bit. Indeed, there *aren’t* 18,000 words for snow in Inuit — merely about the same as in English. Likewise, I don’t think the word “friend” has that many different kinds of definition either. I think honesty, integrity, character, consistency, mutual trust and respect all help to determine the relationship between two people, no matter how they relate: professionally, geographically, online or off.

    Over the 3-4 years we’ve known one-another, you and I have talked seriously and jokingly, online and off — publicly and privately — about being “friends.” You and I have agreed that we are friends and I think we know what that means despite never having reviewed or agreed to any official code of Dave-Rex friendship.

    But I don’t think you or I would have ever referred to each other as “friend,” until we first discussed it. And there are many things about one-another we don’t know because our relationship centers on a discussion of ideas more than anything. When we’ve gotten together, we’ve discussed family and the types of personal issues friends talk about — I know I look forward to each time we see one-another because I know we’ll be discussing things totally unrelated to anything associated with blogging or technology. We’re friends, but are still early along the road towards “best-friends-forever-ness.”

    The Internet — and perhaps pop-culture before that — or perhaps before that, celebreties appearing on TV talk shows — have debased the whole notion and nature of “friend.” And now, that devaluation has been expedited by Facebook/social networking et al. By turing the noun friend into a verb that means clicking a button to make an online connection, the word friend is on its way be meaning nothing.

    It’s like air-kissing.

    I’ll have more to say later. However, there’s a cool breeze blowing and a novel calling me now.

    Your friend,

    Rex

    Reply

  7. I only read scripting news for the story arcs :)

    Reply

  8. I have been thinking of some kind of open review service too since you put that bug in my ear a year ago about it.

    After trying to use flickster in facebook and finding that they don’t even list movies that I want to rate.

    IMDB might not be open but at least you have a permalink for every movie and actor you can think of.

    Also http://microformats.org/wiki/hreview hreview looks like it has what you are looking for in a microformat. No need to reinvent the wheel right? Once an open web service could be established it would be great to have a facebook app that would just work how you want it too.

    Reply

  9. Dave, I vaguely remember a post of yours not too long ago (regarding Atom I think) where you expressed the opinion that two of a thing like a format, was a bad idea. Well you know there’s no need for a new format for reviews, and most of the collaborative rating stuff you describe has already been build at revyu.com. More tools to create and use this kind of information would be great, but there’s nothing to be gained from reinventing the wheel format-wise.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Wes Felter on August 17, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    Several other apps and services like Delicious Library and Swaptree are using UPC codes to identify movies. You don’t necessarily need a scanner since the number is printed below the barcode.

    Reply

  11. Wes, that sounds interesting.

    Since you showed up here, and you can give a straight answer to a straight question, whats the deal with hreview. It looks like it’s designed to be embedded in html. Are there any apps out there that use it?

    Anyone who has info, please provide it to Wes. You don’t know him, so you’ll probably behave like grownups with him. So many of you act like spoiled children when it comes to relating with me.

    Reply

  12. What about Lists of Bests and AllConsuming? Both offer movie ratings, along with other media–not on a five point scale, but still. And individual consumption and ratings get RSS feeds (check the bottom of the right hand column).

    Reply

  13. Posted by william sager on August 17, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Dave- what a brilliant bit of thought. yes, you’re right, google by all logical reasoning MUST be in development of a browser that can also access the office apps, etc. why not use the Mozilla code and then embellish it. i bet if they offered their own ‘browser’ based on mozilla code, they’d get a significant enough share of the desktops to justify the dev work and deployment.

    Reply

  14. Posted by Jason White on August 17, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Does anyone else find it ironic that an editorial (i.e. opinion, usually you own them) railing against the next version of journalism doesn’t have a byline?

    Reply

  15. Thanks for the link about the new Google feature. Interesting. As someone who writes in the traditional media as well as on a blog, I’m intrigued by the idea. What would an interviewee prefer to have emphasized?

    I construct a story around a theme, but I prefer to let my interview subjects ramble on with just the occasional guidance. They may say other interesting things, they may digress, but these can’t fit into a newspaper or magazine article with hard word limits, and I often wonder what they think of the outcome. (They almost always say complimentary things, which I hope is because they like the piece but may be because you don’t offend a wine writer who may be reviewing your wines again some day [Though I don't let personal feelings get in the way of a wine review one way or the other. I've given a meh to wines from people I like; I've praised wines from people I dislike.])

    I had one subject take offense to me calling him opinionated. Another didn’t like my description of his winery (“ramshackle”). I’d be surprised if another didn’t like my capture of a joking, slightly cynical comment he made, though I pointed out that it was a joke and it captured the winery’s view perfectly (he praised the article).

    Anyway, I for one like the idea.

    Reply

  16. I’m a journalist. I find your comparison of my profession to Catholicism deeply offensive.

    Journalism is dedicated to truth, Catholicism is dedicated to lies.

    I would appreciate it if you could retract your statement, or at least avoid using the same metaphor again in future. Thanks.

    Reply

  17. Kevin, I’m not a member of either faith, but I know a few Catholics, and I imagine they would be offended by you saying that it is “dedicated to lies.”

    Reply

  18. |gnoring for a moment the (too obtuse for me) Catholicism reference, the LA Times is right: Google News isn’t offering “the next step in journalism”. It would allow liars to continue lying. Imagine what the Chinese government would say about stories about Tianenmen Square. Or what Enron’s executives wouold say about stories about Enron. Or George Bush about stories saying the US is doing badly in Iraq.

    Journalism aims to get at facts – and peoples’ reactions to those facts. This Google service is just a bulletin board without quality control. If you think that’s an improvement, you need to explain a bit further.

    Reply

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