Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It's NOT Open Data After All !

The zzzoot blog points out that 'open data' is not open and subject to 'terms of use'

While it is a great positive change that data is being released through numerous efforts around the world, data release is not the same as Open Data release. A number of Canadian cities have announced Open Data initiatives, but they are not releasing Open Data. They are just releasing data. Of course, this is better than not releasing data. But let's at least be honest ...

Monday, July 19, 2010

Interactive Journalism Tools ?

As a devoted McLuhanite, one would think that I would be prevented from falling into the trap of rear view mirror thinking, right ? But the goblins of technology will mesmerize and trick you time and time again. Never think you're safe from being fooled.

How was I fooled this latest time ? Well, my thinking about the future of new media, and how it can be used as an engine to drive public discussion has always referred to text, video and images... because those bits of content have been the building blocks of expressing an idea for a long time now. On this blog and elsewhere I talk about stories versus graphs with explanations. Sometimes I have considered interactive graphs, but haven't considered rich interactive tools.

But this is no longer the case.

The Washington Post Article on Top Secrecy in America provides an interactive application, a scrollable map, search engine, articles and intro video on one page. Will such a website eventually replace what today we call the 'news story' ?

Interactive media are the grown-up descendant of video games, and great-great-grand child perhaps of toys. And they can express things in ways that static content can not: by allowing the user to enter a model of what is being described, rather than view a diagram, or read a description; by showing motion (of money, or information for example) ; by showing complicated relationships such as many-to-many relationships between entities. We saw this latter example in the recent UK Gov interactive application that showed relationships between political contributions and contracts.

The possibilities for a new model raise other questions: who will be the audience for such tools ? will such tools be able to provide long views of how the modeled entity (government, for example) operates or will these be one-off toys ?

Keep watching the skies.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Open Gov As Healthcare Consumer Tool

From Tech President:

On a press call earlier this afternoon about launch of the Obama Administration's new HealthCare.gov, I asked HHS Chief Technology Officer Todd Park whether the country's major health care insurance companies are on board with releasing the specifics insurance plan prices that are slated to be added to the new site by October 2o1o, which is three months from now. With refreshing directness, Park responded, "We'll find out."

Government providing a tool to assess the market and assist consumers in getting the best deal possible regardless of what advertising says. I think it gives the consumer a new advantage, but is it too Soviet ?

Monday, July 5, 2010

News Reports NOT News Stories !

Julie Starr on the Evolving Newsroom blog talks about the "tyranny of the 10 per cent".

She says "I wonder how much our perception of ‘the news’ would change if news stories as a whole were curated, packaged and distributed differently. "

News is designed to meet the requirements of those who consume that news. So it's understandable that a news meant for wide distribution can only provide a limited amount of depth to a mass audience. Luckily for Julie and for me, the channels for delivering news are evolving quickly, and the packaging and distribution is changing as well. So we have more options to look at in comparing said packages.

What new options do we have, or more interestingly what might we see over the next few years ? To answer that at a high level, look at how television changed when the number of channels increased. Television producers began to narrowcast into smaller niche segments, that demanded specific programming. Even if the low-quality shows persisted, there were more choices - including a new array of high quality programmes.

Today, the web is changing now news works. From the experience with television's narrowcasting, I expect the web should provide those of us who want higher quality news with a product geared to me. But, how will it be different ?

The answer to that question is revealed in what Julie wrote about a 'handful of stories'.

A story is a narrative arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Stories may offer us a moral, but they don't offer much to our real lives. They contain information, but they are not information of themselves. But they are popular. As a result, today's news is predominantly narrative, i.e. story-based. News stories are a necessary construct of a news market that meets the needs of the mass of consumers.

I am part of a growing segment of the public that wants more from the news, that wants information, without too many stories.

I don't care if the masses want their stories - crime, the misnamed "human interest" story, or celebrity gossip - in fact, I like those things as much as anyone. But I'm also a member of interested public who wants to consume something that filters out the noise. We need to get news 'reports', not news stories. There's nothing elitist about this, I just want a news product to help make sense of this world we're living in. Personally, I get enough stories in fiction. There is always a human element in a news report, but added personal perspectives on stories feel, too often, like filler to me.

Here's an example of how I would like to see my news packaged for me into a 'report':

If the government pledges to provide resources in order to found a program to create jobs, then a media outlet should provide the interested public with the information for that project from the outset: by providing the resources allocated, and the projected goals (eg. new jobs created) over a timeline.

A report can start giving us information from day 1, with updates given periodically just as happens with a well run project. That report can be a small narrative, with a few graphs - quite simple. At key milestones, we can evaluate whether the objectives are being met. The report can make use of the interactive aspects of new media as well, by existing on the web as a bookmarked link or an RSS feed without having to do it all in a few pages read one time through, as a story does. At any time during the project, the interested public will know from the report how it's progressing towards its objectives.

A news story on the same subject typically only happens a few times during the course of the project, and is be replete with political spin, and would undoubtedly feature the trappings of narrative: characters, conflicts, some dramatic images and the like meant to 'tart up' the information given in order to give it mass appeal. With a report, I can add the most of the analysis myself if I like.

If the media make a concerted effort made to frame and provide information - reports rather than stories - then intelligent members of the public will be drawn to those channels, and will better equipped to make decisions in an era of change. And hopefully the higher order news consumer will be drawn to such channels, and would bring attention to them.

Those of us who see the need for such a change now need to start talking about it now.

The Guardian UK Goes Diving...

The Guardian UK tries a little deep diving, looking into underlying data on the success of medical procedures. As Dr. Ben Goldacre explains here, there are problems however let's celebrate that something new appears to be happening.

News sources are increasingly moving towards providing richly supported information that can be analyzed and discerned by intelligent, and presumably influential readers.

With the advent of point-to-point communications via the web, we once again have a 'public' versus the masses. And the public wants good information, not mass marketing.