News Challenge Round 2: MetaLayer Turns Anyone into a Data Scientist

News Challenge Round 2: MetaLayer Turns Anyone into a Data Scientist

The goal of the Vibrant Data Project (#vdat) is to enable a massive democratization in our collective ability to convert data into personal and social good. How can we enrich a Vibrant Data Ecosystem that increases access to economic opportunity, protects civil and political rights, improves environmental sustainability, increases human health and wellness, and sparks radical advances in science and education?

This advert for the Guardian imagines what modern day coverage of the story of the three little pigs versus the wolf might be like in print and online, following the story from the paper’s front page, through social media discussions.

What is Digg?

Digg.com

I’ve been a huge fan of Digg since at least 2006.  I was never really swayed one way or another by the ‘revolts’ that rocked the site. I just used it find good stuff to read and that was enough for me.

What I liked about Digg was that it wasn’t Reddit.  Don’t read into that too much, Reddit is awesome, I just use it in a different way.  It’s so full of inside jokes and community self-references that I go there more to socialize than to consume.  Whereas Digg, even at its peak was accesible to anyone, whether they were cool enough to be a part of the inner circle or not. 

A number of things have changed at Digg over the last few years and I find myself using the site less and less.  Today I decided to figure out why.  For me, it was far too easy to explain it away as a result of better places for discovering content coming around. There have always been better places for discovering content, this used to be among the best. So what changed?

1. Digg was my prism for the web.

Twitter is a wonderful serendipitous maze for discovering things you didn’t know you were looking for during the process of finding the things you were. For me, the point of Twitter is to consume more than I need so that when I do need something specific I have more places to find it.  

Facebook, assumes that I care what my ‘friends’ are interested in.  I don’t. My friends are my friends because of what we don’t share in common, not necessarily because of what we do.  Therefore, the ‘interest graph’ of people who are my friends is often completely and utterly irrelevant to me.  This is because algorithms have yet to get good at figuring out what interests me about each friend and when.

So where do I go when I don’t want a firehouse of random pieces of information, but I also don’t want to use my friends as curators?  

Well, that place used to be Digg.  I could let strangers do all the work of finding good stuff to read.  Not my friends, strangers.  This is because I want to know what people who aren’t necessarily like me think.

2. Too Much Choice

Digg used to be simple.  “Here is the most popular stuff from around the web today.” That’s it.  Simple value proposition, thus what I expected of the site was obvious. More or less they’ve kept that experience. That is, until you actually start navigating the site.  

What is this thing and why do I need it? What is it telling me? It looks cool and I’m sure it’s useful but this gives me more options when I actually want less. I clearly haven’t even taken the time to figure it out, because I don’t want to spend any more time doing anything but reading content.  I’m just here as a news consumer.

3. Following Individuals Doesn’t Add Value For Me

I mentioned I like letting strangers curate what’s popular from around the web for me. Strangers with an ’s’, as in collectively. This is because it made for an interesting ‘picture’ of the web as assembled by many.  

If I wanted to follow the particular interests of individuals I’d be happy just going to back to Twitter or Facebook.  At least there I also get bits of their personality.  Here it’s just random links. I prefer my web refracted by a prism, not the laser focus gaze of a single person.  What about following my friends?  Not my thing, See #1.

4. What is the difference between a Newsroom and Newswire?

Both have categories. Both have other filters. Both exist on a site that I thought was already my filter.  These features seem to add more complexity where what I really want speed and simplicity.

Newsroom…

Newswire…

5. Too many ‘Tops’

Top News in All Topics used to be an authoritative list on what was the ‘best of Digg’ and therefor, one communities take on what was the best of the web.

Now, because there are soo many Top choices on other parts of the site, I don’t have a clue what is the more valuable list to pay attention to.  

This is perhaps because some users are looking for nuanced mechanisms for discovery out of Digg, and Digg has obliged. But I’m just looking for simple discovery.  This is because the site has always leaned more towards that sort of offering and so that’s where the utility lies for me. This is because I’m here to consume content, not engage with the middle man delivering that content.


I’m not slagging off Digg, these are just observations of my own behavior as it relates to the site.  I am a content junkie.  I dive deep into discovery with applications like Google Reader and the plethora of tools out there for mining Twitter.  Google+ and Facebook seem to think they can tell what I’ll find interesting algorithmically.  Fair enough, sometimes that’s useful too…but what I miss is my human prism of the web. 

Photo by Lowercased

Web Citations are Broken, Here’s a Fix

Today I’m happy to announce I finally got around to releasing the MovableCite code on GitHub.  MovableCite began as offering a simple javascript plugin for writers, bloggers, and journalists who quote websites but want to make sure their citations stay up-to-date, even when the remote site changes, adds, or updates facts or fixes mispellings.

However, the bigger implication is to allow remote websites to correct themselves if they’ve accidentally been quoted citing facts that are inaccurate or that have been updated upon further investigation.  Think of it like an easy, unobtrusive, way to create read/write < blockquotes >.

My original blogpost from earlier this year frames the problem in more detail:

One of the ideas I’ve been mulling about recently is how to solve the problem of updates to articles after they’ve already been quoted and reposted by other websites or blogs. You find my entry to the MoJo Challenge here.

This problem affects the news industry in a big way as journalists, bloggers, and other media groups can end up inadvertently propagating outdated information.  So the idea with the MovableCite project is to create an easy, open way for one website to communicate to another, to check for updates to specific portions of text that may have been quoted.  

Here’s a list of some of the projects that offer page change notification as a service: changedetection.com, changedetect.com, femtoo.com, followthatpage.com, websnitcher.com,  watchthatpage.com, feed43.com, and one from Google.

However, as far as I know, this specific problem remains unsolved.  The existing solutions mentioned above require the user to monitor alerts or notifications that will make them aware of changes.  However that means a human has to monitor, understand and then make the required changes and humans don’t scale very well. None of these will make the changes for them, and using RSS or XML doesn’t work for people who are quoting specific portions of a text body.

MovableCite was developed with my friend Ahmed Maawy in Kenya and we’re looking forward to seeing how it evolves as an open source project.  If you are a journalist or blogger who is using Movable Cite, join us on our Google Group.

MovableCite: Keeping Web Citations in Sync

The Knight Foundation and Mozilla are sponsoring a contest that asks “What should a news website look like in 2011 and beyond?”. The contest is dubbed MoJo, for Mozilla+Journalism. One of the ideas I’ve been mulling about recently is how to solve the problem of updates to articles after they’ve already been quoted and reposted by other websites or blogs. You find my entry to the MoJo Challenge here.

This problem affects the news industry in a big way as journalists, bloggers, and other media groups can end up inadvertently propagating outdated information.  So the idea with the MovableCite project is to create an easy, open way for one website to communicate to another, to check for updates to specific portions of text that may have been quoted.  

Here’s a list of some of the projects that offer page change notification as a service: changedetection.comchangedetect.com,  femtoo.com,  followthatpage.com,  websnitcher.com,  watchthatpage.comfeed43.comand here’s one from Google.

However, as far as I know, this specific problem remains unsolved.  The existing solutions mentioned above require the user to monitor alerts or notifications that will make them aware of changes.  However that means a human has to monitor, understand and then make the required changes and humans don’t scale very well. None of these will make the changes for them, and using RSS or XML doesn’t work for people who are quoting specific portions of a text body.

Also, many of the aforementioned services are paid and/or proprietary, while I think this needs to be an open standard for the sake of citizen journalists.  The idea here is to cache a profile of the original content, then run a background process that looks for edits or modifications.  Watch the video below and follow MovableCite on github to find out more this project.

Wanted: An E-reader for Comics

Although the Apple tablet has yet to prove itself as fact or fiction, I hope the new speculation about tablets for periodicala will include the thriving comicbook and manga businesses. Websites like Zuda and Marvel successfully translate the comic reading experience to the web but to be honest, the last thing I want to do is read a comic book on my laptop. I want to be able to read them in the bed, in the back of a cab or on a plane. As the seats in planes shrink (or I get bigger) my 13" Macbook has proven to be too large, while any netbook has too small a screen to be useful.

There’s some pretty cool readers for the iphone like Comic Reader Mobi (above video) but the iphone isn’t really a good medium for reading an entire comic book. Unless the art is reduced to a panel by panel reduction, the screen is simply to small. I haven’t purchased comics regularly in a decade but I can actually see myself getting back into them if I could purchase with the click of a button on a store like itunes. However, I’m not impressed by the stuff Apple is doing with motion comics at all. Comics are comics because they’re printed, animation is animation because it’s animated. Does the world really need an in-between?

This Week in Web News

I’ve been very much preoccupied with my web conference, Appfrica, so I haven’t blogged much lately but there’s been some really big shakeups this week in the Web sector.

The biggest is the announcement that Flickr co-founders Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield have decided to leave the company they sold to Yahoo! in 2005!  This is big, not only because they’ve been pretty adamant about staying involved with their pet project but because Yahoo! is in the middle of formulating new strategies to appease angry shareholers after that much publicized Microsoft acquisition failed.  They’re also under increased pressure to breathe life back into their stock which has also suffered in the wake of that same deal.

Technorati announced some new funding, no doubt related to the longtail business model they just unveiled.  Technorati essentially plans to allow bloggers and publishers of all levels of popularity to sell ads.

The Huffington Post is also making a major step towards becoming an even bigger news media outlet.  They intend to compete in localized news markets initially offering a Chicago, Illinois portal and eventually expanding to include other regions of the country. This is apparently part of a larger strategy to move beyond solely political blogging, which has obviously been critical in this election year.

“We are aspiring to be a newspaper in that we want to covering all news [sic], not just the political blogging the way we began,” Huffington said.

I’m almost certain this will either lead to acquisition offers by the major media news outlets who are (or should be) afraid of Huffington’s growing dominance on the web.

Lastly, Facebook surpassed Myspace to become the most popular social network worldwide. Considering it was valued by analysts at over a billion dollars only a few months ago, this adds more validity to speculation that Facebook will file for an IPO and go public soon.