Scripting News for 12/21/2007

My Long Bet with Martin Nisenholtz 

In March 2002, I made a bet with Martin Nisenholtz about the relative importance of weblogs and the New York Times. I was and am a blogger, and Martin worked then, as he does now, for the Times. For the actual terms of the bet, read the piece on the LongNow site, and a story I wrote to announce the bet.

A few comments.

1. It seems now is the time to decide who won the bet, if either of us did.

2. The world that I hoped would come about did not. While blogs have broken many stories, they have not, in general, turned into the authoritative sources I hoped they would in 2002. When the blogosphere resembles journalism it’s often the tabloid kind.

3. I wouldn’t mind losing the bet. That is, I wouldn’t mind if the Times fully embraced the web, and I suspect Martin wouldn’t mind if blogs rose to the quality of the Times.

4. If the bet had been held a year later, it seems there would be a pretty good chance that Martin would have won the bet because they recently took down the firewall at the Times, allowing search engines to index the full content. In the past, articles would remain visible for a couple of weeks then you’d have to pay money to access them. I believe they have a special deal with Google and other crawlers that allow them to get past the membership wall. For most of 2007 the Times articles were behind the firewall, and were less likely to be pointed to (which is how they rise in rank at Google).

5. It certainly is fun to speculate, but the decision about who won belongs exclusively to the Long Now Foundation. They have to decide who determines what the top stories of 2007 are, and imho they should consult with search experts to determine how to do the queries. Apparently it makes a difference how you do it. But ultimately it’s their decision.

6. Whether Wikipedia has more or less results seems to be a sidebar to the bet, which only talks about blogs and the Times.

7. Another interesting sidebar is rich media. In 2002, before podcasting had taken hold, before YouTube existed, it would have been hard to forsee the story of the South Carolina beauty queen, or the Don’t Tase Me Bro guy. Questions about the future are always framed in the context of the past. Did the question Martin and I asked have any value in 2007, or did it just say something about the world of 2002?

Update: Paul Boutin who arranged the bet, apparently in conjunction with Google (I didn’t know this) in 2002, weighs in.

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