Friday, April 29, 2005

The Vulcan Mind-Meld

Techdirt has a story on a concept called 'Napster' for news which describes a trend in which individuals have become to reporters as bloggers were to newspaper pundits.

With bloggers getting press passes, citizen journalists creating ambitious open source news networks, and Wikimedia trying their hand at news, newspapers are running scared. Instead of trying to squeeze money from these flailing members, Scripps general manager and editorial director propose that the Associated Press reinvent itself as a digital co-op, a sort of "Napster" for news.

One example it cites is Now Public, where ordinary guys file news and video stories: click a button to "email in footage" it says: and why not you? What has made this possible is widespread Internet connectivity and the availability of cheap consumer video cameras. Readers may recall how the really spectacular footage of the tsunami which swept the Indian was provided by tourists who happened to have been at the disaster sites. That demonstrated how anyone at the site of breaking news could become an instant correspondent. Now Public emphasizes video and has a surprisingly wide collection of stories. Many of those filed from the Middle East focus on the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. And did you know that Scott Ritter predicts a US attack on Iran in June 2005?

While professional journalists may be tempted to poke fun at these early efforts the quantity of these observer-provided stories is likely to grow and its quality likely to improve. The sheer volume of information that will become available is going to make the world both more and less opaque. More opaque because the relatively simple plot lines provided by the mainstream media will be replaced by a flood of filings telling literally all sides of story. Whereas one used to be able to "understand the world" by reading the New York Times lead and grooving into the standard world view, no such simple, consolidated tales will be served up by the oncoming news avalanche. There will be no suggestive lead, no magisterial peroration, no drastic simplification. Instead there will be detail in mind-boggling abundance. The good news is that the world will become more transparent to anyone with the tools and services needed to sift through that deluge of information. The existence of so much collateral information will make it very difficult to lie on any scale. It will be possible to "know" something about an event in detail inconceivable a decade ago. There will never again be a new Walter Duranty who can foist a fraud on a reading public for any length of time from the vantage of privileged access. In short, the world threatens to become a news reader's nightmare and an intelligence analyst's paradise.

The choice of the phrase 'Napster' for news to describe the ways information will flow between these decentralized nodes is extremely apt. When individual nodes are able to transfer information in a peer-to-peer fashion to any other node perception will propagate at rates never before seen. Original presence at an event will be as definite a concept as original music CDs in this age of digital reproduction. It will make the stock phrase "you are there" almost literally true. This surfeit of raw information will overwhelm even the most avid information consumer and will probably spur a demand for aggregation and analysis services of various kinds. Perhaps readers will clamor for the return of Walter Durantys to reinterpret the world in ways that they prefer. Illusion always gave the truth a run for its money. Information, like freedom, is a burden sometimes too great to endure.