Generative Media Networks: Fueling growth through action: Patterns to the future

Given the impressive rate of change happening in the digital market we have to consider how long this model will be relevant.  Is it days, months, years, decades?

The repeating pattern in this market seems to be an exponential curve of exciting new activity that eventually results in overwhelming complexity.  When the curve reaches a certain breaking point, instability reigns and new players suddenly enter the market.

John Battelle recently wrote about this idea in terms of “Signal, Curation, and Discovery.”  He said:

“I have a new discovery problem: There’s simply too much content for me to grok. (For more on this, see Twitter’s Great Big Problem Is Its Massive Opportunity). Add in Facebook (people) and Google search (a proxy for everything on the web), and I’m overwhelmed by choices, all of them possibly good, but none of them ranked in a way that helps me determine which I should pay attention to, when, or why.

It’s 1999 all over again, and I’m not talking about a financing bubble. The ecosystem is ripe for another new player to emerge, and that’s one of the reasons I went to see the folks at Tumblr yesterday.”

Similarly, Amit Kapor of Gravity sees the pattern moving from ‘Their Web’ to ‘Our Web’ to ‘Your Web’ in a post called “The Future Will Be Personalized“:

“Once the web knows your interests, it can start to change… Any website or app can use knowledge of your interests in order to give you a personal experience.”

The new dominant players that break through during these unstable moments in the market seem to accomplish two things: 1) creating a new layer of activity that simplifies the complexity in the network, 2) commercializing access to or on top of that activity.

In the very early days of the web it was easy enough to find what you wanted just by clicking from page to page in your web browser.  The web was a simple map of documents with hyperlinks.

But it didn’t take long for the number of documents on the web to explode.  Activity accelerated, and, as a result, soon the network became too complex.

The instability created opportunity which was captured in the form of a directory (among  other things).

What started literally as a list of links called Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web became Yahoo!, a directory that simplified the network for people.

The business model was very sensible.  Yahoo! sold display ad units on their web pages which were relevant in the context of user’s actions…browsing for things.

By January 3, 2000 the company reached a market cap of $80 billion.

But the directory got full, and the Internet felt too big and complex again.

Then even Yahoo! couldn’t track everything being published on each web site across the whole network in a directory.  More and more people arrived and more and more organizations and individuals published more and more documents.

The volume of information being published on the web went through another exponential growth curve.  Too much activity resulted in too much complexity.

Google’s answer to simplifying the network won out by parachuting people directly into the page on a web site that had the information they wanted.  Of course, they also devised an ad platform to match people’s actions…ads targeted to those very specific search queries.

Subsequently, Google earned over $20 billion in revenue last year and currently have a market cap of $200 billion.

Activity across the network grew exponentially again.  In 2008, Google indexed over 1 trillion documents.  And, you know the story now, the increase in activity brought with it complexity.

Google began to struggle with maintaining a good search-to-result ratio, and the amount of activity happening online made findability a challenge again.

The next breakthrough to simplify the network came in the form of human filters.

People coopted other people to make the Internet feel more accessible again.  The social filter changed the balance of power in our relationship with shared knowledge, and information felt like it began to find us.

Facebook and Twitter resolve this by reducing complexity and also benefitting from activity.

Just like its predecessors, Facebook has found ways to sell ads against these social filters by targeting ads in the context of people’s actions…sharing information.

Facebook will earn an estimated $2 billion in 2010 and has an estimated $50 billion market cap in secondary markets.

The social world has a lot of growth ahead of it, but this will change, too.

Not only will more people join the party, but more networks will get connected and dump large piles of information onto the Internet, not just simple documents.  When more machines and devices flood the network including everything from phones to cars to household appliances the connected experience will become overwhelming and too complex yet again.

Your friends and family won’t be good enough at helping you to manage your experience.  The concept of a friend itself will get murky and overwhelm you with too many options.

We are now in yet another wave in the pattern, the exponential curve resulting from increasing activity online.

These waves appear to come in about 5 year increments, so it’s possible that the breakthroughs that will mark the end of this wave and the beginning of the next are either right in front of us today or just around the corner.

What kinds of breakthroughs will happen now?

I won’t answer definitively in part because I honestly don’t know but also because this is where invention happens.  Invention happens because humans solve problems with their own creativity, hard work and luck, not because markets predetermine what happens next.

On the other hand there are some healthy and very tangible conditions for change staring us in the face right now.

Smartphone apps, for example, are reducing the complexity of the network for people.  There’s a convenient business model for selling apps to people.  And the devices that distribute  apps are proliferating.

Smartphone makers shipped over 80 million smartphones worldwide in Q3 2010 which is actually up over 90% from a year ago.

Similarly, social activity online is changing the shape of the market.  The number of relationships we all have through all of our social apps and the amount of lifestream data we’re expected to catch is overwhelming.

Given the history of the network, it’s not likely that Facebook or Twitter are going to be able to solve the problem they are creating, just as Google and Yahoo! before them have so far failed to solve the problems they’ve created.

Might there be a pattern in the pattern?

Could it be that Yahoo!, Google and Facebook are all now contributing to a complexity problem in concert?  And, if so, then isn’t the next breakthrough one where the network itself is given a new lens through which to reduce the complexity that then benefits from activity?

Could the answer be about new visual languages and storytelling?  reputation?  hyper-distribution?  data?  all of the above?

…or perhaps even a total rejection of the network itself?

I would hate to see the anti-network movement prematurely subvert the potential of what is being accomplished today.  But if it is an inevitable response to the network’s growth then I hope the characteristics of that movement are equally constructive and empowering.

Regardless, the trick to understanding meaning in the longer pattern whether its about language, devices, data, social activity, anti-networks or whatever is knowing your own context and where you want to go, what you want to be.


This series is an attempt to assemble some ideas I’ve been exploring for a while.  Most of it is new, and some of it is from previous blog posts and recent-ish presentations. I’ve split the document up into a series of posts on the blog here, but it can also be downloaded in full as a PDF or viewed as a sort of ebook via Scribd:

Generative Media Networks: Fueling growth through action: Modeling commercial success

Most media organizations measure success in terms of a cost model, a profit model, or a growth model.  The key decisions are about either operating at peak efficiency, increasing revenue while decreasing cost, or acquiring more customers, respectively.

Actually, most media organizations operate along those three axes simultaneously and have one or two additional hooks that make them unique in their market.

However, there is another way to model success in the digital market.

If there’s one lesson to learn from the growth of social software it’s that value can be found in the relationships between people.  The more relationships, the better.  The more activity across those relationships, the better.

Social networks understand that there is value in each person in the network, but also, and perhaps more importantly, that there is value in the links between people, too.

They model success using graph theory.  A mathematical graph is “an abstract representation of a set of objects where some pairs of the objects are connected by links.”  This graph, for example, has 3 nodes and 6 edges:We’re all familiar with the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon theory that any actor or actress can be linked through their film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps.  This is a graph, too.

What a media organisation needs to learn from this approach is which things need to be connected and how to fuel value in those relationships.

Importantly, the graph must be self-reinforcing.  In other words, nodes in the network must benefit from both the existence of new nodes and activity along the edges between them.

One of the projects developed at the Guardian in a recent ‘Super Happy Dev Day’ (aka hack day) demonstrated how powerful a simple self-reinforcing graph can be.  It’s called The Social Guardian.

After logging on with your twitter account, The Social Guardian will show you a page with 3 columns of content and some navigation.  It includes the editorially chosen featured articles from the Guardian home page, a most recent articles list, and a list of articles other users are reading right now.  The left-hand column shows you who is reading the site simultaneously with you, recommended articles based on what you’ve read , and a profile of topics it thinks you like.

The Social Guardian backend is a very simple database of users, urls, and tags.  Each user, url and tag is a node in the graph.  There’s a simple directed graph that could be visualized like this:

If it also included each person’s social graph (all their friends and followers), then the recommendation capabilities could get even stronger.

Of course, you can then imagine a very powerful ad platform optimised not only against the profile of users but also against both the live activity happening on the site and behaviors extracted from connected and other similar users.

Advertising becomes incredibly powerful when a system is optimized to match activity against marketing messages.  The unique characteristics of this particular application are the individuals’ profiles, the content they are looking at and the live nature of the experience.

Therefore, the appropriate ad platform would offer advertisers the ability to target messages to users based on what their profiles say about them and to be able to adjust the content of the messaging based on what content the users are viewing…and to do it right now.

Clearly, the graph in this kind of model gets complicated very quickly.  These nodes each grow massively.  The edges have different value, and there are multiple edges between nodes.

This is one of the many reasons that the concept of an Active User is so useful.  It gives the system permission to throw out any data it deems irrelevant after 30 days or to abstract the last 30 days’ data into smaller data chunks.

But let’s be real here, these are only some of the nodes a media organization cares about, and none of them are very clean and easy to work with.

  • We have different concepts of what a user is, and users appear in many different ways to the business.
  • Content used to be associated with a single canonical URL, but the influx of very small pieces of data and data within datasets make the concept of content much more complicated.
  • Ad campaigns can come in all different shapes, sizes and values with different intents and purposes.
  • Distribution platforms and digital products have different user experiences with different rules of engagement.
  • The different sources of content will have different usage models to them.  One of those sources is the user.

Trying to take all that into account becomes an incredibly challenging graph problem.

However, there’s a beauty in such a design which is that the edges convey an action.  And those actions are where success will be discovered.

Success in a graph-centered media model is one where you can clearly measure the impact of the edges.  Rather than think about increasing the size of the nodes, think about increasing the activity in areas that encourage the nodes to grow.

As the saying goes, “If you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves.

For example, rather than think about how to acquire new users and build the total user number up, the graph helps you think about what activities are going to encourage more users to participate.

If the system works better for each individual when each individual brings their friends along into the system, then the network will do all the work of building the user numbers up for its own selfish gain.

In the Social Guardian example, the incentive to encourage more users to join is natural.  You want other people to bubble up interesting content for you, and you might like to read it along with them. Your experience gets better with more users, therefore you want to add users to the system.

Everyone wins.

And that’s the lesson: generative networks build value for all those who participate.

It works in lots of different contexts, and the media business is incredibly well suited for it.

Of course, publishers with open approaches to the network have an easier path toward generativity, but it’s certainly not limited only to those with open platforms.

As Steven Berlin Johnson once noted about the amazing power of Apple’s more closed ecosystem:

“…if you get the conditions right, a walled garden can turn into a rain forest.”

The key is to build generativity in the business model, a business architecture that creates value for everyone as opposed to the more simplistic industrial era give-and-take relationship with customers.  Value must form as a result of more participants contributing more activity.

More specifically, advertising must match and relate to the activity happening across the system.  Products offered for sale must add a layer of value on top of what’s possible within the network.  Partners using the system must be able to profit while also adding value the system can’t otherwise offer on its own.

Crucially, the business must be open to giving away control to the participants in the platform, or it risks failing to be generative.

Jonathan Zittrain argues in his book “The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It” that openness is a prerequisite to generativity.  Owners of generative platforms need to understand the impact of what they are doing and to act responsibly for future generations.

“the pieces are in place for a wholesale shift away from the original chaotic design that has given rise to the modern information revolution. This counterrevolution would push mainstream users away from a generative Internet that fosters innovation and disruption, to an appliancized network that incorporates some of the most powerful features of today’s Internet while greatly limiting its innovative capacity—and, for better or worse, heightening its regulability. A seductive and more powerful generation of proprietary networks and information appliances is waiting for round two. If the problems associated with the Internet and PC are not addressed, a set of blunt solutions will likely be applied to solve the problems at the expense of much of what we love about today’s information ecosystem. (p. 8)”

via David Weinberger


This series is an attempt to assemble some ideas I’ve been exploring for a while.  Most of it is new, and some of it is from previous blog posts and recent-ish presentations. I’ve split the document up into a series of posts on the blog here, but it can also be downloaded in full as a PDF or viewed as a sort of ebook via Scribd:

Generative Media Networks: Fueling growth through action: Conclusion

The existential discussion often percolates when the challenges ahead seem overwhelming.  In the face of such a daunting task there’s a natural tendency to question why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Fortunately, the Guardian has a mission much larger than itself and a funding mechanism that supports its goals in the form of the Scott Trust:

“The Scott Trust was created in 1936 to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian. The sole shareholder in Guardian Media Group, its core purpose is to preserve the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity, while its subsidiary aims are to champion its principles and to promote freedom of the press in the UK and abroad.”

It doesn’t take long to work out why we’re here when you understand the Scott Trust.

The harder question isn’t “what’s the point?”  The harder question is “what are we going to do about it?

In today’s connected world, media organizations need to measure success by the value of the actions they influence on and across the nodes in the network.

First, we must inspire people to do things, meaningful things, useful things.  Without triggering a spark of some sort we’re merely shouting into the abyss.

Then we must improve and benefit from the activity happening around us…the things we make, how people use them, what ideas people are sharing and contributing, and our ability to evaluate what’s happening.

The circle must complete itself and begin to bloom into its own self-reinforcing network of activity.  That’s when the brand reaches hearts and minds, when journalism impacts what’s happening in the world and gives power to the voices and ideas that matter, that the business earns real, meaningful, sustainable income to support the organization into the future.

Conversely, the cost of failing to inspire people into action is worse than losing money…it’s becoming irrelevant.

The beginning all over again

In his 2006 book “The Wealth of Networks”, Yochai Benkler explained what kinds of changes we’re experiencing right now living and working in a networked information economy and what they mean for individuals and society as a whole:

“A series of changes in the technologies, economic organization, and social practices of production in this environment has created new opportunities for how we make and exchange information, knowledge, and culture.

These changes have increased the role of nonmarket and nonproprietary production, both by individuals alone and by cooperative efforts in a wide range of loosely or tightly woven collaborations.

These newly emerging practices have seen remarkable success in areas as diverse as software development and investigative reporting, avant-garde video and multiplayer online games.

Together, they hint at the emergence of a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century.

This new freedom holds great practical promise: as a dimension of individual freedom; as a platform for better democratic participation; as a medium to foster a more critical and self-reflective culture; and, in an increasingly information dependent global economy, as a mechanism to achieve improvements in human development everywhere.”

Mark Zuckerberg made a slightly more concise but similarly inspiring comment in his interview at Web 2.0 Summit this year that speaks volumes about why journalists and everyone in the business of media should be very optimistic about the future.

There was a giant map on stage that was used as the symbolic backdrop for the whole dialog at the event.  The intent of the map was to show how the various players in the market were occupying and competing in different ways…it was titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy“.

Mark walked on stage, sat in the interview chair, looked behind him and said:

“Your map is wrong.  I think that the biggest part of the map has got to be the uncharted territory. Right?

One of the best things about the technology industry is that it’s not zero sum. This thing makes it seem like it’s zero sum. Right? In order to take territory you have to be taking territory from someone else. But I think one of the best things is, we’re building real value in the world, not just taking value from other companies.”


This series is an attempt to assemble some ideas I’ve been exploring for a while.  Most of it is new, and some of it is from previous blog posts and recent-ish presentations. I’ve split the document up into a series of posts on the blog here, but it can also be downloaded in full as a PDF or viewed as a sort of ebook via Scribd:

MasterCard site partially frozen by hackers in WikiLeaks ‘revenge’

Just as I was getting my head around the whole WikiLeaks issue and where I stand, this happens…


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “MasterCard site partially frozen by hackers in WikiLeaks ‘revenge'” was written by Esther Addley, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th December 2010 12.02 UTC

The website of MasterCard has been hacked and partially paralysed in apparent revenge for the international credit card’s decision to cease taking donations to WikiLeaks.

A group of online activists calling themselves Anonymous appear to have orchestrated a DDOS (“distributed denial of service”) attack on the site, bringing its service at www.mastercard.com to a halt for many users.

“Operation: Payback” is the latest salvo in the increasingly febrile technological war over WikiLeaks. MasterCard announced on Monday that it would no longer process donations to the whistleblowing site, claiming it was engaged in illegal activity.

The group, which has been linked to the influential internet messageboard 4Chan, has been targeting commercial sites which have cut their ties with WikiLeaks. The Swiss bank PostFinance has already been targeted by Anonymous after it froze payments to WikiLeaks, and the group has vowed to target Paypal, which has also ceased processing payments to the site. Other possible targets are EveryDNS.net, which suspended dealings on 3 December, Amazon, which removed WikiLeaks content from its EC2 cloud on 1 December, and Visa, which suspended its own dealings yesterday.

The action was confirmed on Twitter at 9.39am by user @Anon_Operation, who later tweeted: “WE ARE GLAD TO TELL YOU THAT http://www.mastercard.com/ is DOWN AND IT’S CONFIRMED! #ddos #wikileaks Operation:Payback(is a bitch!) #PAYBACK”

No one from MasterCard could be reached for immediate comment, but a spokesman, Chris Monteiro, has said the site suspended dealings with WikiLeaks because “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal”.

DDOS attacks, which often involve flooding the target with requests so that it cannot cope with legitimate communication, are illegal.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

WikiLeaks: Internet backlash follows US pressure against whistleblowing site


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “WikiLeaks: Internet backlash follows US pressure against whistleblowing site” was written by Charles Arthur, technology editor, for theguardian.com on Sunday 5th December 2010 14.49 UTC

American pressure to dissuade companies in the US from supporting the WikiLeaks website has led to an online backlash in which individuals are redirecting parts of their own sites to its Swedish internet host.

Since early on Friday morning, it has been impossible to reach WikiLeaks by typing wikileaks.org into a web browser because everyDNS, which would redirect queries for the string “wikileaks.org” to that machine address, removed its support for Wikileaks, claiming that it had broken its terms of service by being the target of a huge hacker attack. (See What is DNS?)

Without a DNS record, it is only possible to reach WikiLeaks by typing in the string of numbers which, for most web users, is too unmemorable to make it feasible.

That, campaigners say, points to the principal weakness in the internet’s pyramidial DNS setup, where a limited number of site registrars can control whether a site is findable by name or not.

Website hosts are being encouraged to add a “/wikileaks” directory into their sites, redirecting to which redirects to http://88.80.13.160/, run by the Swedish hosting company Bahnhof.

At present, that location redirects users to a Wikleaks page at http://213.251.145.96/, which is run by a French company, but if pressure from the French government pushes Wikileaks off that host, it will still have the Swedish location.

At the same time, scores of sites “mirroring” WikiLeaks have sprung up – by lunchtime today, the list was 74-strong and contained sites that have the same content as WikiLeaks and – crucially – link to the downloads of its leaks of 250,000 US diplomatic cables.

The backlash has also gained its own tag on the microblogging service Twitter, where people who have linked to the main site are using the hashtag #imwikileaks.

The technical details of how to make a site’s subdirectory point directly to the WikiLeaks site are described by Paul Carvill, a British developer, and Jamie McClelland.

“I’ve done this as a simple gesture of my support for WikiLeaks and my opposition to arbitrary censorship of the web by governments and corporations,” Carvill says on his page, while McLelland says that adding his support “seems like a good way for us all to really pitch in and share the risk that the folks at WikiLeaks are taking all by themselves”.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.

Building mobile apps using WordPress

I’ve been wanting to test a hypothesis, but I think my time (and skill) are going to come up short.  So, I’m hoping I can use my blog here to get people to help me and shortcut some of the madness that comes when tinkering with code for hours on end.

The idea is that WordPress could be used as a mobile app publishing platform.  Ideally, people with little or no technical expertise could build, deploy and manage really good apps.  If WordPress can do that for publishing on the web, then why can’t it (or something similar) do the same for publishing in an app container?

So, what I’m trying to do is pump topical articles, images and video from the Guardian’s API into a WordPress instance that will then render everything in a nice HTML5 theme.  And then I want to package up that experience which is mostly just for the iOS web view into an app for the app store.

I’ve asked a few people about this, and after we get through the common debate, “why should it be a native app and not a web site?” the conversation about the approaches then varies quite a bit.  (I’m not convinced it should be an app and not a web site, but I want to try it nonetheless.)

To start with, there aren’t many known iPad-friendly themes for WordPress.  There’s WPTouch which is very popular (1.3M downloads).  And Mobility which looks very nice.  But there’s a lot of room for theme developers to come up with some better iPad options.

Then there’s the issue of flowing content into WordPress.  Is it better to pull the API via a plugin or to post content via XMLRPC?

We have a plugin that could be reused to accomplish what I’m after with some tweaks, but I want to simplify it to something that’s essentially invisible to an editor.  I was playing with the auto-post via XMLRPC idea the other night, and stumbled into a Simon Willison script meant to make this easier.  Is there any advantage to one solution over the other?

Now, let’s say we solve the theme and auto-posting issues…how do we package up the app for delivery via the app store?  The iOS publishing tools seem pretty incomplete, so far.  I nearly had Titanium Appcelerator setup before finding my Mac is incapable of running the iOS SDK.  I’m stuck on the deployment part of this project at the moment.

Anyhow, if you accept the premise that WordPress could be a useful delivery platform for mobile apps, then I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to do that.  Obviously, it could easily be a flawed idea in the first place, and I’d love to hear other solutions to the problem.

Making smaller things have bigger meaning

The atomization of everything digital is a wonderful direction of travel which seems to create more and more opportunity the deeper we go.

It’s only going to accelerate, really.  More and more raw data is getting published.  Short-form dialog is proliferating.  More apps are on more devices responding better to ever-smaller information signals.

The problem is that this massive growth of small things also creates some challenges when meaning gets lost in the detail.

By deconstructing and isolating everything we understand, from data in a news article to the exact position of a device on the planet, we can then assemble new views of the world and reinvent knowledge itself.  It’s heady stuff when you start seeing how time and space converge onto small points.

But globalizing small things also creates imbalances. It means that the weight of the world’s attention can crush unstable information.  It means chunky and complicated ideas have to compete with individual and often out-of-context datapoints in the same environments.  And small things can be elevated to have more meaning than they deserve.

Glenn Beck famously uses such tactics by saying things like ‘fear is up 6%.’

The atomization of everything often seems to happen at the expense of context. That isn’t good. Atomization and context should at least co-exist if not actually reinforce each other.

I was reminded of how important it is to develop context more when Joris Luyendijk, a Dutch reporter and author, visited the Guardian the other day to talk about what he’s working on.

Joris has been applying some interesting approaches to reporting, collaborating very explicitly with experts to educate himself and therefore his readers on big themes.  He’s asking the question, “Is the electric car a good idea?”  The collaborative process he’s using is fueling a community of shared interest that includes among its members thought leaders, scientists, officials and challengers in addition to an increasingly engaged community of more peripheral readers.

He needed to step out of the news cycle in order to do the work properly.  Joris said that competing at the pace of news means that reporting must focus on the changes happening in the world, the abnormalities.  The variance becomes more important than the purpose of reporting something. The result is a news popularity contest.

We saw this with the US midterm elections. The witchcraft variant squeezed out the slower-paced topics such as repealing healthcare law.

News should be more than an expression of normality variance.  News is not a changelog

Computers are complicit here. They are brilliant at finding variance in streams of data. The Google News algorithm is a great example of how effective machines can be at discovering and amplifying new information. But when a machine-driven system becomes successful at amplifying small things, new machines will find small things to create in order to get amplified.

For example, 70 Holdings is an SEO business that targets Google News through a sort of network of blogs.  They simply produce content that will attract attention. The company elicits “clicks and ad impressions on content simply because it ranks among the highest–and supposedly most trustworthy–results on Google News,” according to CNET. And this is not much different from what Demand Media is up to, too.

That kind of ecosystem fools itself into thinking that it informs people or that it understands intent, but all it really does is direct click traffic patterns, casting a huge net hoping to catch a few fish.

What it fails to understand is that the signals they are using to interpret intent, variances in data flow, lack any awareness of the context of the activity observed by the machines.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee suggests journalists need to surface the stories in the data:

“Journalists need to be data-savvy. It used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way some times.

But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country.”

Experts, inside sources, stories, commenters, readers and even data are all going to benefit from the existence of each other and the new knowledge each contributes when they are connected via context, a theme, an idea. And if the human inputs to an idea all benefit from the existence of eachother then the story will find itself at the center of a new kind of network effect.

Consequently, the business models around network effects can be incredibly powerful.

News then becomes connective tissue for people who share an interest in an idea.

Some view linked data as the connective tissue and news as a transport vehicle for ideas to spread.  Zemanta and Storify both tackle the problem this way.  Zemanta finds related context when you write a blog post from around the web through linked data.  Storify helps you connect things you write with things people are posting on twitter and youtube.

The fact that the Internet makes it possible to connect to people around the world so easily should mean that it’s easier to engage with things that matter to us, but it often feels like the opposite is happening.

The noise makes us numb.

We need to amplify meaning when it matters. We need to value the small things in some sort of understandable scale.

Without these dynamics, we will lose the forest through the trees and find the flood of media in the world overwhelming and increasingly useless to us. That’s already happening to many.

While social filters are helping with this problem, they are also atomizing relationships and creating even more noise.

In a recent blog post “The False Question Of Attention Economics“, Stowe Boyd wrote about the need to innovate around our relationship to information rather than give up and drown it:

“I suggest we just haven’t experimented enough with ways to render information in more usable ways, and once we start to do so, it will like take 10 years (the 10,000 hour rule again) before anyone demonstrates real mastery of the techniques involved.

Instead, I suggest we continue experimenting, cooking up new ways to represent and experience the flow of information, our friends’ thoughts, recommendations, and whims, and the mess that is boiling in the huge cauldron we call the web.”

Our world would be much worse off if the flow of information slowed down or reversed.  There’s so much to be gained still.

I think the solution, rather, is to fuel meaning and understanding by directing atomization toward a purpose, giving it context, and framing it in a space that makes it matter to people.

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My new role at the Guardian

Today I start a new job, Director of Digital Strategy at Guardian Media Group.  The change is part of a wider move happening here at the company (see below).

The job will probably have a few different aspects to it, but the overall intent is for me to work very closely with GMG CEO Andrew Miller (my new boss) and Editor Alan Rusbridger and everyone in the business to align what we’re good at with where the market is going.

I’ve learned a few things about that already.  The question I get asked more than any other when people want to learn about the Guardian’s Open Platform is, “How did you convince the business to back it?

To be honest, I don’t know how to answer that. There was a lot of powerpointing to define a view of the market we wanted to play in. We benefited from establishing some important vision statements like “weaving the Guardian into the fabric of the Internet”. I had tireless support from Mike Bracken and an engineering team that already knew what to build.

But nobody needed to be convinced.  The hard part really was figuring out how to get from idea to launch. And then I just acted as shepherd.

To me, the more interesting question isn’t about selling an idea but rather one of culture, “What is it about the Guardian that makes it possible to be so bold digitally?

There are some obvious reasons like the ownership structure, the people, the tradition of openness, etc.  Editor Alan Rusbridger expanded on our operating philosophy here in an article titled “Openness, Collaboration Key to New Information Ecosystem” which was published by Poynter in the September report “Brave New Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape (pdf)”:

“To us it seems fairly evident there are two features of this new information ecosystem which it would be foolish to ignore, whichever camp you’re in: openness and collaboration. …I don’t see that as particularly Utopian. I think of it as a basic necessity for survival.”

If we dive deeper into the strengths of the culture here and embrace (and occasionally influence) the changes happening across the digital world then we could create some real magic.

For example, the Guardian brand resonates naturally in the US, but we know it can mean a lot more there. The Guardian has done some very pioneering work with crowdsourcing and data journalism, but making those efforts more systemic like we’ve already done with community and blogging is going to require more people to get involved and to iterate on the ideas more rapidly. We have a very strong advertising business and some solid revenues from several digital products, but the social marketplace has created commercial opportunities we’ve only just begun to demonstrate.

My new job is going to be about those kinds of issues. I won’t be answering all those questions as much as trying to define what the right questions are and creating the space for the answers to happen.

The stuff I’ve been involved with so far like the Open Platform and Activate Summit are going to keep growing, too. We have filled some jobs and opened some others related to the Open Platform. In particular, we’re now hiring a Product Manager for the Content API (apply here). And Activate event producer Robin Hough is building momentum for a big 2011 which will include events in both London and New York City.

Anyhow, lots of exciting stuff for me personally and for the Guardian. And hopefully this will mean more blogging, too.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Miller announces GMG reorganisation” was written by Dan Sabbagh, for theguardian.com on Monday 15th November 2010 09.46 UTC

Andrew Miller, the new chief executive of Guardian Media Group, is planning an internal reorganisation aimed at aligning the company more closely with its flagship newspapers and websites.

The simplification comes as the company divides itself into a “core business” – the Guardian and Observer titles and the guardian.co.uk website network, which includes MediaGuardian.co.uk – from its “investments” – its other media interests, ranging from local radio through to shares in the Auto Trader and Emap joint ventures.

Miller, who was appointed in July, said in an internal memo that he believed that the chief executive of GMG “must be closely involved in our core business” and added that he believed that the newspapers would be his “primary focus” in the job.

He will chair a new company committee that combines the old executive commitee of GMG with the board of Guardian News & Media, the division that publishes the two national newspapers and guardian.co.uk.

However, Miller told GNM journalists that were no imminent plans to sell any of GMG’s investments, despite recent speculation that a flotation of Auto Trader will be announced soon. GMG owns 50.1% of Auto Trader parent company Trader Media Group in a joint venture with the venture capital group Apax Partners.

Speaking at a staff briefing, Miller indicated that operating losses at the Guardian and the Observer would be in line with last year’s deficit, as the downturn in public sector advertising offset cost savings made from a voluntary redundancy programme. A year ago, the newspapers lost £37.8m before exceptional items.

In the 12 months to the end of March, just over 200 staff left GNM, reducing the total workforce to about 1,500.

GMG had about £260m of cash and short term investments at the end of March 2010. Auto Trader, meanwhile, has been valued at £1.5bn, although the used car website is loaded with debt.

Guardian Media Group is owned by the Scott Trust, which exists to safeguard the future of the Guardian in “perpetuity”.

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Kevin Kelly: Technology is as great a force as nature

Kevin Kelly is always fun to read.  I share his optimism for technology, the Internet, in particular, and its role in progressing civilization.


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Kevin Kelly: Technology is as great a force as nature” was written by Tim Adams, for The Observer on Saturday 23rd October 2010 23.05 UTC

Kevin Kelly is a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and co-founder of Wired magazine, where he remains editor-at-large. He has been an irrepressible prophet of our digital future for 40 years. His most influential book was Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World (1995) – mandatory reading for all the actors in The Matrix. His latest book marks a development of such thinking. In What Technology Wants (newly published in the US by Viking), Kelly sees technology as an extension of evolutionary life, a selfish system with its own urges and desires. Kelly takes technology in its broadest sense to include all invention, including language and culture. Some of the things that technology wants are diversity, beauty and complexity. Technology may be, Kelly writes, “as much a reflection of the divine as nature is”. As well as being a devoted evolutionist, Kelly is a Christian. He is 58. He lives just outside San Francisco.

At one point in your book, you write that “technology is as great a force as nature”. How so?

Well, I am arguing that technology is both an extension and acceleration of natural evolution; what I am trying to suggest is that it is greater than the organic. Tools and technology drive us. Even if a problem has been caused by technology, the answer will always be more technology.

You sense that we are in a special moment in technology’s journey; do you think every civilisation has felt that?

We like to think that the most marvellous organ in the world is our brain, but we obviously have to remember which organ is telling us that; we have a natural tendency to put ourselves at the centre of things. But I do think it is true that we are always at the edge of this process and have been for 10,000 years. The first singularity was language, 15,000 years ago. That was the first great technology. Are we at another cusp? I think we are. A lot of people say the invention of the internet was like the invention of fire, but I’m going further – I think actually what is happening right now might be comparable with the invention of language.

And you see that as an overwhelmingly positive fact. Is that just because you are an optimistic character?

If I am totally honest, I would have to say that all this is part of my temperament. When I was a younger man, instead of going to college, I went to Asia, and travelling there I caught this disease called optimism. Right before my eyes, I saw an entire continent begin to transform itself using technology from third world to first world-plus. You could see progress happening daily. When I was growing up, we prayed for the starving people of China; pretty soon they might be praying for us. So I have come to believe in the impossible.

It is technology that creates these impossibilities?

If I went back now 20 years and told you that all of the world’s information – second-by-second stock quotes, a constantly revised encyclopaedia, 24‑hour news – would be available to you for free, at all times, in your pocket, you would have dragged me off the stage as a lunatic…

Does technology change the underlying dynamics of what it is to be human?

It is very clear that our media change our brains – to what extent, we are still working out. Literate people think differently to illiterate ones and the internet will no doubt have a similar effect. And if it changes the way we think, then it changes our identity and therefore it changes the way we live and the way we love. Right now, the changes are small. But I think in the long run bigger change of who we are is inevitable.

And in your terms these will inevitably be changes for the good?

The orthodoxy is to say technology is neutral. I acknowledge the fact that there are many destructive problems created by technology. But what I am saying is that despite all the problems, there is always a small advantage to the good, and if you multiply that small advantage incrementally, then over years and generations it becomes a very positive thing. Even if there is only one-tenth of a percent more good than bad in technology, or if we create one percent more than we destroy each year, then that compounded is how civilisation progresses.

Should we describe this purposive force, this compound interest of goodness, as God?

I call it exotropic force. We can’t describe it without supernatural language. It is the force that runs counter to entropy – the force of life if you like. This energy is not evenly spread in the universe but we happen to live in a little corner where exotropy is greatly accelerated to produce not only life, but also minds and now technology from those minds.

And the purpose – what technology wants – is understanding?

The point of technology, I would say, is to create structures that organics cannot. What life is trying to do is to discover all the possible ways to evolve. What we are seeing is that there are possibly minds in the universe that biology cannot get to, but technology might be able to get there. We are making minds that biology can’t make. The long-term trend will be to make as many different kinds of mind as possible, because only in that way can we comprehend the universe.

Is more of this exotropic energy found in California than elsewhere?

A hotel clerk in Delhi once said to me that the centre of the universe is where there is least resistance to new ideas. The hippy origins of the computer revolution are well documented. Changing consciousness and changing tools, they have always gone together, and in our lifetime California is where this has happened.

How would you describe yourself in religious terms?

I’m a Christian.

A Christian with caveats?

We go to a rock’n’roll church in San Francisco. I’m an evolutionist but I happen to believe that Jesus was some incarnation of God. My epiphany for that came from looking at virtual realities, god-games. Those who create the rules always want to put themselves inside the world they have made to see how it feels. There it was: the Christian story. I believe that we are creators and that we will create in the way that we were created. The minds we create will eventually have free will. When we achieve that we will start to appreciate the complexities of godhood.

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