Archive for the 'facebook' Category

The building blocks of news: topics and people too!

I’m glad Jeff Jarvis has returned with a vengeance to his blog. My suspicion is that he’s been saving up this New Building Block piece, making due with fun pointers to the serious topic while buried in his book.

Yesterday, he wrote about (one aspect of) a subject near and dear to my heart. The radical unbundling of the news. In a post titled “The building block of journalism is no longer the article,” Jarvis writes, “I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic.”

He’s only half-right, though. As I’ve said way too many times, in way too many ways, on this blog, the new architecture of news—its new elegant organization—is two-fold.

On the one hand, yes, topics are central. We’re talking ideas, brands, memes, beats, events, and more. On the other hand, however, PEOPLE ARE CRITICAL.

Consider these data points:

At the time, I linked to that post, called “Towns are hyperlocal social networks with data (people that is).” That bit of link bait caught his eye, and he excerpted a chunk of it in a follow-up post called “It’s about people” a few days later.

In fact, my post, called “Grokky Jarvis Has Something to Say about the News,” was about more than people. I wrote, “The bits of content must be contingent on the people they discuss. The people, and also the issues, who constitute the story, as it were, must be liberated from the confines of the article.”

Ouch, that syntax makes me cringe, but there it is nonetheless: the PEOPLE and the ISSUES.

See here, here, and here for the details. That’s networked news.

News Graph?

Mark Zuckerberg once upon a time extolled facebook and told us about this thing called a “social graph.” Bernard Lunn has just talked about an “innovation graph.”

What about a “news graph”? Hubs and spokes—call them nodes and bridges.

Nodes are the people who are the subjects of the news. Like Karl Rove or Paris Hilton or Chuck Prince. Maybe nodes can also be groups of people acting as a single agent. Like the 100th Congress or the Supreme Court or maybe even something really big like Disney Corp.

Bridges are the news issues connecting the people to whom they are relevant. Here, the bridges have substance apart from mere connection. It would be like a social graph having connections indicating different kinds of friendship—a solid line for a great friend maybe, and a dashd line for a business acquaintance. Think of bridges like tags, just like those you might in delicious. You find a piece of news, which comes in the form of a newspaper article or a blog post, for example, and you assign issue-tags to it. Then, in turn, you assign that article or post to the people-nodes whom it discusses. The issue-tags flow through the article to the people-nodes to which the article or post is assigned; the pieces of news fall out of this picture of the news graph.

When people-nodes have issue-tags thus associated with them, we can indicate when certain people-nodes share certain issue-tags. If we represent those shared characteristics with bridges that connect the people-nodes, we’re graphing the people in the news and the substantive issues that bind them all up into the story of the world at some slice in time.

Just note once more how the pieces of the new—the bits of content, as I call them—fall away and liberate the news and the people and issues it comprises from the narrow confines created by the printing press and furthered by HTML. (Check out Jarvis’s more than mildly inspiring post.) This kind of news graph would, at long last, make the bits of content contigent on the people and the issues they discuss. It’s the elegant organization for news.

This is, by the way, the third component of networked news. This is the data-driven network of the people and the issues in the news.

Facebook Hacked? My Identity Too?

So very many people use facebook. So very many people, though they may not realize it, rely on facebook to establish a real presence of themselves for others to see. That presence happens to be online, but no matter. It’s identity.

That’s why it may shock very many people that they have put their identities in the hands of a private company—one that seeks profit, naturally enough—the guts of whose website has been revealed. Techcrunch says that just “a quick glance” reveals “hidden aspects of the platform” that “give a potential attacker a good head start.” That said, many of the comments on that post take the whole thing to be a hoax.

Anyhow, note that facebook seems to have a comment at Techcrunch verifying a problem. If the comment had been left at Google News, would there be any doubt?

It doesn’t make much sense to wonder whether Web 2.0 projects like facebook are “due” for some wildly major breach, for lots of reasons, like the fact that no particular person with a facebook profile is due for such a serious intrusion. So far, so good….

Scoble Apologizes For Flooding Facebook

But this very well may be facebook’s “problem,” and I don’t think that’s a surprise. Scoble didn’t write facebook’s newsfeed algorithm, after all.

For instance, facebook may be more likely to add Scoble’s items to his friends’ newsfeeds because he has many friends (I won’t share the number, because Scoble already has…a few times, anyway). But if this is a matter of many, many friends, facebook can simply throttle that down.

Or it may be because many of us click, or have recently clicked, on the items he posted or the applications he added. I certainly used to click on lots of Scoble’s posted items and other bits of activity. “Oh, Scoble just added that application! Let me check that out!” I don’t practice so much nearly blind experimentation anymore. That’s nothing against Scoble, but I just don’t get as much value as I used and as I thought I did. I like his blog more. Anyhow, facebook can fix this too. Facebook can stop its newsfeed algorithm from presuming that other people still care about Scoble’s added applications just because I used used to.

For any problem I can imagine, facebook can fix it. Then it’s just got to worry about the side-effects, and the two solutions above don’t strike me as portending awful consequences. Can you think of others—perhaps some clever catch-22 or truly gordian knot?

Screenshot from Facebook News Feed“But is there something I can do?” Scoble asks in the comments to the post in which he apologizes for taking over facebook. “I’m certainly looking through the setting to see if I can turn down my own noise level.” He protests that he’s “reading thousands of people, and I respond to them. So I look ‘noisy’ to lots of people.” Scoble frets, wrings his hands, and writes, “I know, but not sure what I can do about it.”

Haha. I have just one idea. Scoble doth protest too much, methinks.

But let’s get one thing clear. It’s not his responsibility to mind how facebook builds its own newsfeed. He can do what he likes with it, and we can choose whether we want to be his friends in view of that. But as long as Scoble really, really wants to find something he can do, I’ve got a suggestion. It all starts with Bill Tai’s video on kite sailing. What’s the issue? It’s in my newsfeed twice—once because Scoble gave props to his boy and once because Scoble then posted the video for all to see. It’s a fun video (though I gotta be snobby on the Coldplay front). Just posting the video, with a comment, would have probably gotten back to Mr. Tai. To the extent that that’s probable, it’s also probable that the original props are redundant. Don’t leave a comment and then also post the video. Pick one. Just an idea.

Applying the Three Components of Networked News

For a goodly time now, expect to see this blog try to flesh out this concept of networked news by reviewing isites that concern themselves with the news, either completely or substantially—from the New York Times to digg to Google Reader to Mario Romero’s awesome Google Reader Shared Items app for Facebook to Topix to Memeorandum to Pageflakes to Thoof to Streamy to whatever else with which I may cross paths.

I’ve got my three metrics, and it’s time to make sense of them. Maybe along the way we’ll figure out what some bright person could do to satisfy Arrington’s appropriately underwhelmed feeling about online news. Maybe we’ll figure out that “networked journalism” has something to do with networked news. Maybe not.

But what’s first?

Google Reader Shared Items: Questions

What’s the scene here? Why the seeming discrepancy between these two screenshots, captured at the same time?

google reader shared items screenshot

Above, Hal Espen’s page of shared items: Espen seems to have shared the Network(ed)News post called “What Is Networked News?”

google reader shared items screenshot

Above, my page of shared items: Aside from my own share, only Mario seems to have shared the Network(ed)News post called “What Is Networked News?” Wait, where’s Espen?

What happens when someone shares an item already shared? Is shared ‘original’ item x the same thing as shared ‘shared’ item x?

Consider the following case: I post to Network(ed)News and someone like Mario gets my feed and shares it such that his facebook application registers that act of sharing and tells me as much, as it does above. Did Espen maybe see my post because he subscribes to Mario’s shared feed and then share the post himself? It doesn’t look like it, since the “via:” attribute says “Network(ed)News,” not something like “mario’s shared items in Google Reader.” It looks like Espen just subscribes to my feed, so why no aggregation? The post is relatively new, so I don’t think the issue is one of time—in which, for instance, Mario shared the item fewer than twenty-four hours ago and Espen more. But who knows really.

Haha. I need all the aggregating help I can get.

Aggregate Them This Way, That Way, Your Way, My Way

People are into this new facebook application called Google Reader Shared Items, developed by a nice guy named Mario Romero. That’s natural, because the application takes a couple steps down the path toward truly networked news.

Denise Howell loves how it lets her discover the feeds of people with whom she shares facebook group memberships. The app lets her check out individuals’ lists of shared items or grab the url for their shared items’ respective feeds and pull them into Google Reader. Scoble agrees: “This app has already helped me find some great new feeds. It’s interesting to see what you all are reading and sharing through Google Reader.”

All that’s great for what it’s worth, but the Shared Items application’s ability to aggregate is where the real gold is buried. When Mario can fully dig up that code, we’ll behold something of a real treasure. I’ve written before, in response to a thoughtful post by Jeff Jarvis, about how I think “the article”—or, more generally, bits of content like blog posts, newspaper articles, podcasts, etc.—”has taken the story hostage.” Bits of content strike me as an inelegant medium for the news, even if they seem roughly economically necessary. Aggregating those bits of content and then paying attention only to the popular ones that float to the top of the stack helps us move toward the story.

This is a tricky point—one I hope I can tease out here. When we look at the list of “Top Shared Items,” we’re looking at something more than popular newspaper articles or blog posts. We’re looking at something greater. We’re looking at bits of content that have grown into stories. This isn’t digg, where from the beginning we would vote because we wanted to hop on the accelerating train just because we hoped it was going someplace. These votes are, at least at this early point, done in private. Maybe others play it like a game, but I share an item because it’s equivalent to starring it and saving it for later and because that item gets sucked into my blog’s sidebar. (Well, I also share all my own posts just because they’re one share more likely to make the list of Top Shared Items.)

These bits of content grow into stories because we’re all reading them. They undergo a process of sublimation—from a private unit of discrete information to a public unit of shared importance. They go from data to meme.

Descending from the clouds, a list of the ways I’d love to slice up facebook’s shared items from google reader:

  • by most shares universally
  • by most shares within facebook networks
  • by most shares within facebook groups
  • by most shares among people I select ad hoc
  • by tag, as I pointed out to Mario on his good facebook group
  • by tag AND by most shares within networks, groups, or my ad hoc selections

Mario’s already built the first and the second. What his application offers with respect to groups is access to the shared items of each member. For small groups especially, the data must be very scarce, and so pulling the top shared items from groups is less important to me. What I’m really axed for, however, is my own ability to choose which people’s shares I aggregate. And then I want to focus on certain topics, like “facebook” or “news” or “iraq” or “alberto gonzales,” within those aggregations.

Also, Google Reader is still a better place for me to read posts. I’d like it to be able to pull in a feed of the various Top Shared Items. I’d love to subscribe to a feed that comprises posts that receive, say, ten shares in twenty-four hours. Note the deep curiosity here. Different instances of Google Reader pull in publishers’ feeds. Those instances of Google Reader produce different feeds of their own; publishers’ feeds have become readers’ feeds. Facebook then pulls in those readers’ feeds, aggregates them, and displays those aggregations. If facebook could turn those aggregations into a feed, I’d read them back in Google Reader. Then readers’ feeds have become Readers Feed.

Thus each post would have traveled an odd, inspiring, and transformational course: Google Reader to facebook and back to Google Reader. And that, at long last, is why facebook has astonished us all as a platform. Yes, facebook as platform can help us network our news. I wouldn’t have dreamed of that when I signed up for facebook in 2004.

Also also, I’m sure Mario’s thought about this, but it would be super nice not to have to navigate away from my facebook profile page in order to view other lists.

Also also also, @mario, in Google Reader my posts for Network(ed)News are full-length, but in facebook, they’re truncated. How can I keep them full-length in facebook?

Google Reader Shared Items Needs Fewer Friends

I have only one “friend” who has the application. That’s Robert Scoble, and I’d rather browse his link blog in Google Reader itself. There’s no reason for me to check it out in facebook.

There’s a mismatch between a facebook friend, who’s someone I usually know personally and often care about a great deal, and someone whom I’d like to include in the limited group of people whose Google Reader preferences I care about.

I’d love it if lots of my favorite bloggers kept “shared” their favorite posts and brought all that into facebook. I’d love to have Jeff Jarvis’s favorite reads. I’d love to have Doc Searls’s and Dave Winer’s. Yada yada.

But I’m not sure I want them to be my facebook friends. I don’t know them, haven’t met them. Equally as true, if not more, is that they are unlikely to want me to be their facebook friend.

The Google Reader Shared Items application should move away from the conception of “friend” native to facebook. Call the new conception a “follower,” and don’t allow the followed any choice, once they’ve hit shift+s in Google Reader, about whether I snoop in on what they’re reading. After all, I don’t have to know, or even like, Scoble to pull the feed for his link blog into my Google Reader.

I want to use this facebook app to actively subscribe to many individual’s shared items feeds. That’s because, in the end, there’s really only one important feature the app needs: aggregation how I want to aggregate.

Maybe that’s by tag. Maybe that’s by my favorite tech bloggers. Maybe the time comes when I can pull together the recommended reads from my favorite dozen political blogs—Think Progress, Matt Yglesias, Josh Marshal, Kevin Drum, Scott Horton, and others. Maybe I want to aggregate by my best friends forever. It should be up to me.

Love Scoble’s Facebook Yammering!

Robert ScobleI love it so much that I think I’ll add more. But let’s be kinder to ourselves—for good reason!—and not call it yammering. Blabbing? No, that won’t do either.

How about exegesis-ing? Ya, that’s perfectly highfalutin. Facebook is serious stuff, man.

And so I come to point out that Facebook should allow each of us to dismiss items in our News Feeds. Then they could learn what don’t like. In turn, that would free up lots of valuable real estate for news items we do like. The result is a personalized News Feed we all appreciate a little more.

But what to do about ads? Does it make sense to allow us to dismiss those as well? Will miserly users like me automatically dismiss all ads just to spite the advertiser? Maybe, but other users may dismiss only ones they really don’t like and make room for Facebook to serve up ads they do. Being able to separate the wheat and chaffe, of course, allows one to reap more value from the wheat.

While we’re on the topic of Facebook, meanwhile, I’d also love it if I could browse the items on the Google Reader Shared Items app by tag. I would click on a tag in the feed and then see the most popular posts, among my friends or universally. That would be one small step toward a new world of news in which the bits of content that discuss people and issues are actually contingent on those people and issues (well, in this case, issues, anyhow). That would be one small step toward letting the “story” wiggle free from the “article” or “post”—the “bit of content,” as it were. (I posted my request on Mario Romero’s dedicated “request features” discussion board.)

UPDATE: Mario responds to my request, which I called “pie-in-the-sky” on Facebook: “Josh: Thanks for the tip that is DEFINITELY on the to-do list!” Nice!

Josh Young's Facebook profile

What I'm saving.

RSS What I’m reading.

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.